Packers GM Ted Thompson reigns supreme when formulating young team
The Green Bay Packers with help from GM Ted Thompson have once again defended their title of youngest NFL team entering the 2010 season. Okay, so last year they were tied with Kansas City however this year the Packers reclaimed the crown with an average age of 25.70 years, .19 year ahead of reigning AFC champion Colts.
Having a young team can have its ups and downs however with the veteran pieces in the right place it can be a recipe for greatness. Veteran pieces like Charles Woodson, Donald Driver, Ryan Pickett, and yes Aaron Rodgers can provide enough experience and savvy to win more than enough games.
Believe it or not the Packers signed 10 rookies for their 53 man roster with 3 of them being undrafted rookies. About 20% of their roster are players with no NFL experience other than some misleading preseason games.
I am going to give an idea of when and where you can see these rookies on the field and what to realistically expect this season.
Packer fans get ready because its the Y.O.T.T.O. (Year Of The Take Over) and like it or not these rookies will play a large role.
Packers 1st round draft pick T Bryan Bulaga
Five of Green Bays rookies are offensive players. We all know that unless you are a first rounder or have a stellar training camp campaign these players will see limited time on the field. That's not to say that there can't be an exception to the rule. (i.e. Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jermichael Finley)
I believe that only two of the five offensive rookies will see regular action during the 2010 season. Keeping in mind that RB Scott Starks sees himself sitting the first six games at least (PUP list) Tackle Bryan Bulaga (first rounder) and TE Andrew Quarless can count on making contributions.
Bryan Bulaga: We did not sign the 2009 Big Ten Lineman of the Year to sit on the bench. Everybody knows that the offensive line was miserable at the first part of last year. The improvement throughout the last half of the year can seem promising however who knows what will happen. Bulagas big body (6'5" 214 lbs) can find himself taking over at left guard for Daryn Colledge if he cannot perform in the first couple weeks. With the Packers having a couple very old, but solid, tackles in Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher there is no question that Bulaga is waiting in the shadows. Getting him reps in the regular season is crucial for his improvement and I see the Packers finding a way to use him.
Andrew Quarless: Rookie Tight End who has shown flashes of what to expect is an exciting player who has extreme potential. Having comparisions to Jermichael Finley, Quarless is a bigger receiving TE (6'4" 252) who can provide the Packers with a dual threat in the two tight end sets, not to mention in the red zone. I can see the Packers straying away from veteran Donald Lee in passing downs to create larger mismatches with opposing defenses. Donald Lee is a very solid pass and run blocker however with the emergence of Finley and the number of weapons on the offense it never hurts to add another.
The others: T Marshall Newhouse and G Nick McDonald provide the line with much needed depth in case what happened last year happens this year. These two fought long and hard throughout the offseason for a roster spot and GM Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy both saw promise in them. I trust that these two backups will fill in holes if needed and can provide stability in the offensive line.
Second Year TE looking for playing time: Second Year TE Tom Crabtree, as told by McCarthy, is a rugged blocker who was slowed by a wrist injury for pass catching in preseason, made the roster over fan favorite Spencer Havner. He is a guy who may only have a role on Special Teams this year but can find his way on the field if his blocking eclipses that of Lee or Finley. Hopefully the Packers made the right decision to let go Havner, who showed versitility, for Crabtree and his wrist injury. If he doesn't lose his aching wrist in exchange for solid play we could see griping over a roster spot lost.
Frank Zombo forcing fumble versus Peyton Manning
The other five rookies find themselves on the other side of the ball. S Morgan Burnett, DB Sam Shields, LB Frank Zombo, and DE's Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson are the incoming freshman and will all see time on the field.
The majority of the time will go to Burnett (starting Strong Safety), Shields (possible 3rd cornerback/nickelback), and Zombo.
Morgan Burnett: Burnett steps into an interesting situation, with 2009 starter Atari Bigby on the PUP list. Burnett was expected to vie for the starting spot anyway but since Bigby (ankle surgery) is out he was handed the spot. Many believe, however, that Burnett would have won the safety spot all in all. The Packers haven't really had a great strong safety since LeRoy Butler so hopefully Burnett can provide us with a compliment to pro bowler Nick Collins. His growth as a player strongly depend on on-the-fly learning as well as limiting mistakes. We, in Packer Nation, can only hope that we are not throwing Jarrett Bush in there during the year.
Sam Shields: Shields is a player learning on a Concorde. He is only in his second year of being a defensive player out of Miami. (He played WR his previous 3 years before converting senior year) He is a very athletic player who has shown closing speed while covering WR's in the preseason. He can very well see himself in the third cornerback slot in Philadelphia which is very important. With Veteran Al Harris on the PUP we are in dire need for someone to step up in the secondary. The Packers made no moves on the waiver wire are are insistent on staying within the club to deal with our secondary, which is a worry this year. Hopefully Shields can get much needed reps in practice versus top tier wideouts in Greg Jennings and Donal Driver so he knows what to expect come Sept. 12th.
Frank Zombo: This undrafted rookie wowed the Packers management this preseason with great hustle and a nack for causing havoc, which is great for Dom Capers 3-4 defense. Coming from Central Michigan as a defensive end Zombo is expected to see an array of action this year. Our Linebacker position is an area of great depth with all of the 8 Linebackers rotating in and out to give our defense a new look every snap. Frank Zombo could be a hidden gem on our defense and we could be seeing him in a higher percentage of snaps as his game experience increases.
The Others: DE's Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson will be rotating in most likely when the starters need a breather. Since Capers loves to mix up the packages to keep the offense guessing there is no telling how much playing time these DE's could get. Unlike the base 4-3 defense where the Defensive Line is in need of the most depth the 3-4 needs an excess of LB's. These two might just be needed on special teams as blockers, but then again who knows?
Rookie DB Sam Shields
I am going to make this short and sweet. I think that Jordy Nelson will once again return kickoffs this year. Sam Shields will return punts.
Shields will be the returner at a point in time this year, if not in the opener. He is a super fast former WR who can be a solid punt returner. If anyone has any other ideas please elaborate, otherwise we are looking at another unproductive year for our punt returners.
Conclusion: Basically the NFL is a melting pot for surprise rookies on both sides of the ball. Hopefully the Green Bay Packers made some great draft choices and rookie signings so they can be able to compete in late January with the help of these youngsters.