The Biggest Offseason Priorities for the Packers
The Green Bay Packers have gone 26-6 over the past two regular seasons since they won Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season. The Packers have also won back to back NFC North titles. However, the Packers have also seen their postseason end with a resounding thud the last two seasons.
The Packers have a number of priorities that need to be addressed this offseason. The team doesn't need any major changes, as there is still plenty of talent on the team. That talent will continue to come to Green Bay, thanks to the drafting prowess of Ted Thompson and his scouting staff.
The Packers have an excellent coaching staff as well, although many fans have clamored to see defensive coordinator Dom Capers replaced. That does not appear to be a likely possibility, at least based on the remarks by head coach Mike McCarthy at his season-ending press conference.
Still, there is work to be done, if the team expects to get back to the Super Bowl again in the near future. I have listed five priorities that the Packers need to address this offseason.
Solidify Both Lines on Offense and Defense
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You have all heard the adage that football games are won in the trenches. That is why the Green Bay Packers need to make sure that they have their best players out on the field, both on the offensive and defensive lines. Plus, the Packers need to make sure there is quality depth behind the regular starters.
On the offensive line, the Packers need to address a couple of things. For one, Jeff Saturday will not be back, as he is retiring. Saturday was replaced anyway at starting center by Evan Dietrich-Smith late in the 2102 season.
The Packers also have back right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who suffered a fractured hip midway through the 2012 season. The Packers ended up using undrafted rookie Don Barclay at right tackle in Bulaga' absence, and Barclay did a nice job overall.
The Packers were somewhat hamstrung at the offensive tackle position last season, as former first round draft pick in 2011, Derek Sherrod, missed all of last year due a leg he broke in two places late in the 2011 season.
The Packers hope that Sherrod will be ready to go in 2013.
The left tackle of the Packers, Marshall Newhouse, seemed to be better than he was in 2011, but when you really look at his performance closely, he wasn't.
So, what to do?
It has been suggested that the Packers make Bulaga their starting left tackle next season (the position Bulaga played at Iowa), while keeping Barclay at right tackle. Newhouse and Sherrod would be in reserve.
The interior offensive line would remain the same, with T.J. Lang at left guard, Dietrich-Smith remaining at center and with Josh Sitton at right guard.
The Packers need to address the depth on the line in the 2013 NFL Draft though, as the Packers need a back up at center, who preferably can play a number of positions on the offensive line.
The defensive line needs to get bigger, especially at the end position. That is where the draft would help. Someone like Margus Hunt would have an immediate impact.
The Packers also have questions.
Veteran Ryan Pickett had a nice 2012 season, but he's not getting any younger, as he will be 34 years old this season. Plus, Jerel Worthy needed to have knee surgery to repair an torn ACL, and it could be a difficult rehab process for the former Michigan State Spartan.
The other key members of the defensive line will be back in 2013. This group includes B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Mike Daniels.
Bottom line, none of the current members of the defensive line have the prototypical size (6'5" or taller) needed at the defensive end position in the 3-4 defensive scheme. That is why the Packers should try to address that situation in the draft.
The play in the trenches is very important to how successful a team can be in the NFL especially in the postseason. Just look at the two teams who just played in Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
Get More Physical
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In most circles, the Green Bay Packers are widely viewed as a finesse team and not a physical team. That situation could change in 2013.
For one, right inside linebacker Desmond Bishop is expected to be back, after missing all of the 2012 season after tearing his hamstring. Bishop is the most physical player the Packers have on defense, along with Clay Matthews, and his absence was sorely missed in 2012.
The Packers could also be much more physical offensively, especially if Don Barclay remains at right tackle, and Bryan Bulaga moves to left tackle. That change would make the Packers much more physical at the point of attack, plus it would enhance the running game, due to having better run-blockers as the starters.
The running game could also get more physical, as the Packers are expected to draft a running back that can help pound the rock at crunch time. The Packers improved their rushing offense to 20th in the NFL in 2012, after finishing 27th in 2011, but the Packers would like to see that get even better.
Too many times quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw the safeties of the opposing team playing deep, because they didn't respect the Green Bay running attack. That type of defense makes it more difficult to succeed in the deep-passing game.
That could all change with a running attack that can get the short yardage when needed, plus be a threat to get large gains at any given moment.
Continue to Draft and Develop
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Ted Thompson has built a very talented roster for the Green Bay Packers in his eight seasons as general manager. His philosophy is a basic one. Use the draft to build the roster for the most part, and let Mike McCarthy and his staff develop the players that have been drafted.
Overall, the draft and develop plan has been very successful. Since McCarthy became head coach in 2006, the Packers have had a 74-38 record. The Packers have also been to the playoffs five times, and have won three NFC North titles.
Of course, the Packers also won Super Bowl XLV.
As far as the draft and develop plan goes, just look at the beginning of last season. The team had 30 players on their 53-man roster who were drafted by the Packers. That's almost 60 percent of the roster. That's almost unheard of in today's NFL.
Thompson has also drafted a number of players who have been either All-Pro or selected to a Pro Bowl team.
This list would include quarterback Aaron Rodgers, safety Nick Collins, wide receiver Greg Jennings, outside linebacker Clay Matthews, nose tackle B.J. Raji, inside linebacker A.J. Hawk and left guard Josh Sitton.
Yes, Thompson will stub his toe once in awhile in the draft, like when he picked Justin Harrell in 2007, but for the most part, Thompson has been once of very best draft evaluators in the NFL.
His talent-selecting skill in the draft has earned Thompson two NFL Executive of the Year honors (2008 & 2011) by The Sporting News, which is voted upon by his peers.
Manage the Salary Cap
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Like all teams in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers need to manage their salary cap situation in 2013 and beyond. The salary cap won’t be set until just before the league year starts in March, but it is expected to be slightly more than $120 million.
The Packers have a number of questions.
First, you have the unrestricted free agents that the team has. This list includes wide receiver Greg Jennings, running back Cedric Benson, linebacker Erik Walden and linebacker Brad Jones. I would not be surprised if Jones was the only one re-signed in this group.
Plus, you have the restricted free agents. This group includes includes center Evan Dietrich-Smith, tight end Tom Crabtree, linebacker Robert Francois, linebacker Frank Zombo and cornerback Sam Shields. I would expect the Packers to try to lock up both Dietrich-Smith and Shields to long-term deals in the near future.
Speaking of long-term deals, the Packers will need to do contract extensions for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman B.J. Raji in the near future.
Also, the Packers need to address the contract situations with both safety Charles Woodson ($10 million) and linebacker A.J. Hawk ($5.45 million). If either player wants to return to the Packers in 2013, they would almost have to do so with restructured contracts.
This is the situation facing Russ Ball, who is the vice president of football administration/player finance for the Packers. Ball will get with Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy to determine how to move ahead in this process.
Make the Running Game Dangerous Again
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The Green Bay Packers used five running backs during the course of the 2012 season. This group included Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris. The Packers also occasionally used fullback John Kuhn to carry the ball and wide receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield.
Add to that, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the better running quarterbacks in the NFL. He can scamper when needed for some decent yardage while going back to pass.
The Packers rushed for 1,702 yards in 2012, which included a 3.9 yard average. That would be good enough to rank 20th in the NFL. That number was better than the 27th ranking the Packers had in that category in 2011.
Still, this has to get better. Too many times Rodgers saw the safeties of the opposing teams playing deep in coverage trying to stop the deep-passing game of the Packers.
The defenses did not respect the ground attack of the Packers.
That needs to change in 2013. The first question is, who will be back? If I had to guess right now, I would surmise that Grant definitely won't be back, and that Benson could also be in that category.
I believe that Green, Starks and Harris will be back, plus the Packers also have Brandon Saine, who ended up on injured reserve after tearing an ACL last season.
Green led the Packers in rushing last season with 464 yards, but only had a 3.4 yard average. Plus, Green wore down as the year went on, as he was coming back after tearing an ACL in 2011.
Starks continued his streak of being injured again as a member of the Packers, as he missed time with both a turf toe injury and a knee sprain. Starks only rushed for 255 yards in his limited action, and had a 3.6 yard average.
The best of the bunch turned out to be Harris, who rushed for 157 yards in the regular season (4.6 yard average), and also 100 more yards in the postseason, which included two touchdowns.
I expect the Packers to take a serious look at one of the talented running backs in this year's draft class. Luckily for the Packers, that class is pretty deep.
The best case scenario is to draft a running back who can be used in a tandem with Harris. In addition, the new running back will hopefully push backs like Green and Starks to take their game to the next level, as you also need solid depth at the running back position.
Bottom line, the offense of the Packers was only ranked 13th in the NFL last season (after finishing in the top 10 in every other season under Mike McCarthy). The Packers were also only ranked ninth in total passing.
Defenses schemed to stop the Packers potent passing attack because they didn't fear the Green Bay running attack.
That has to change in 2013.