Green Bay Packers' Unsung Heroes: Players Who Helped Bring Pack Over the Top
It is easy to point to Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson or Greg Jennings and Clay Matthews and see what they have contributed to the Packers' success. But let’s take a look at some lesser known figures and how they have helped make this team NFC Champs.
Early in the season, things were not looking so great for the Packers. They were injury depleted and losing games they should have won. It appeared it was going to be another lost season of promise but no results.
That they turned it around and have peaked and grown, makes this one of the most fun and thrilling seasons to have ever been a Packer fan. As the season progressed, more and more new faces popped up and became big parts of this team. This includes:
1) Sam Shields
After his performance in the NFC Championship game, he is simple to list on here. But before the season, the Packers defensive backfield appeared to be in bad shape. With Al Harris out, there was Woodson and Tramon Williams and no one else.
It looked like the Packers were going to be totally at the mercy of any team with a decent slot receiver or who could put three NFL quality receivers on the field at the same time. This was the case in 2009, as the Packers were torn apart several times by teams that could spread the ball around or who had a big presence in middle of the field.
The playoff game against Arizona and the game against Pittsburgh are the best examples of this. As for myself, I cringed at the thought of having to depend on Jarrett Bush or some rookie who was a receiver two years ago to be the No. 3 defensive back that is so needed in the modern NFL game. I hoped that the Packers could just hang on until midseason and maybe Harris could return for the stretch run.
Little did I know that the rookie, who was a receiver so shortly before, would turn out to be the answer to Dom Capers' wildest dreams. Early in the year Sam Shields looked like the inexperienced rookie he was, and his inability to field punts and kickoffs in the preseason were leading to numerous jokes.
But his speed and instincts were undeniable. The defensive coaches sincerely believed he could cover NFL receivers and put him out there to learn how to do it. As the season progressed, he began to get more and more responsibilities.
By the end of the year, he was being sent out one on one to guard speedy and dangerous receivers. This allowed the Packers to start to scheme and send Woodson all over the field. The rise of Shields as a viable cover man is one of the factors that has led to the Packers defense being so successful (along with an inside pass rush and the presence of Matthews and Woodson). The blitzing from all over the place is, I think, directly related to the Packers having not one, not two, but three reliable one-on-one cover men in the backfield.
2) Desmond Bishop
The Packers' losses in the linebacker corps over the course of the year are amazing. Not just starting inside linebacker Nick Barnett, but replacements like Brandon Chillar, Brad Jones, Brady Poppinga, Spencer Havner and Frank Zombo are all on IR.
Despite this, the Packers defense has flourished with the help of Bishop’s steady play inside. He is the No. 2 tackler on the team behind only AJ Hawk and has been a steady contributor against the run. He has also shown a good ability to drop into coverage and keep track of running backs and tight ends.
He had only one interception in the regular season, but it was a beauty. He picked Favre in Week 7 and returned it for a touchdown. He has dropped quite a few of them, showing he still has improvements to make, but his coverage has been pretty steady. He played very well in the championship game against the Bears, getting back into coverage and having a team-high seven tackles, including the stop on the third-down end around play on the final drive.
The Packers just recently gave him a $19 million, four-year contract extension, which means they think pretty highly of him. It also bring up some pretty interesting questions on what is going to happen next season when Barnett, Hawk and Bishop are all vying for playing time inside.
3) Charlie Peprah
In 2009 the Packers defense had a big problem back at safety. Nick Collins was there playing at a pro bowl level, but the other side was being played by a host of players at a terrible level of play that led to a huge number of long plays. Bad angles, bad choices and poor tackling when they were in position made the Packer safeties look like a sieve with a few large leaks in it.
The Packers management knew this and drafted Morgan Burnett to be a possible solution to some of these holes. Burnett started the first four games, before he injured his knee and was put on IR. He appears to have some promise, but with him out, there was once again a hole at this position.
In came Charlie Peprah. There was no reason to think Peprah was going to be such a hole filler. He had been with the Packers before as a waiver pickup in 2006. He was mostly a special teams player having only 21 defensive tackles to his credit in four years of playing.
He had been put on IR and was claimed by the Falcons, but only played in two games in 2009. But this grandson of the former leader of Ghana (really, look it up) returned to the Packers in 2010 and has stood up and been a productive player. He had 63 tackles and two interceptions in the regular season. His presence has kept the back end of the Packers defense from being the revolving gate it was at times in 2009.
This season the Packers don’t give up the big play they gave up so many times last year. Peprah is a big part of that back line.
4, 5 and 6) Josh Sitton, Scott Wells and Daryn Colledge
The Packers offensive line was another huge question mark going into this year. All year long there has been huge amounts of discussion about the tackles and the play of Clifton and Bulaga, and before that, the play of Tauscher. Both good and bad.
But we don’t tend to talk about the play inside on the line, maybe because they have been so solid and dependable there. Colledge, Sitton and Wells have played and started every game at the same position all year. On a team with so many injuries and so much in flux every week, this sort of stability in the line is well needed.
Sitton has obviously been the best Packer lineman all year long. And that’s not me saying that, it’s Troy Aikman’s assertion during the playoff games the last two weeks.
Colledge has started every game the last three years and this native of North Pole, Alaska is a solid and reliable lineman. The 2009 Walter Payton Man of the Year winner honoring on- and off-field excellence, Colledge has never missed a game in the pros.
Wells has been the starting center since 2005, and his experience anchors the line. As a prep he was the No. 1 rated heavyweight wrestler in the country, and his footwork and positioning show these skills well.
It is no wonder why the Packers best running plays tend to go up the middle or behind Sitton. It is rare that a team gets inside pressure on Rodgers, which allows him to elude the outside pressure and make the big plays either running or passing. I was originally going to just put Sitton here, but as I analyzed it I decided I could not separate all three inside lineman who have been so good all year.
7) Packers Positional Coaches
On a team that has improved so much from the start of the year to the end of the year, much of the success has to go to these guys. McCarthy plans and calls the offensive plays and Capers plans and calls the defensive plays, but the day-to-day coaching belongs to this crew:
Edgar Bennett—Running Backs, James Campen—Offensive Line, Tom Clements—Quarterbacks, Jerry Fontenot—Assistant Offensive Line, Ben McAdoo—Tight Ends, Jimmy Robinson—Wide Receivers.
Winston Moss—Inside Linebackers, Kevin Greene—Outside Linebackers, Darren Perry—Safeties, Mike Trgovac—Defensive Line, Joe Whitt—Cornerbacks.
When you see a player like Shields emerge so quickly, Starks start to flourish or a replacement like Erik Walden know where to go on all his assignments, you have to credit the day-to-day coaches who teach them so well. I did not think the Packers had all the pieces to make this sort of run this year, but the pieces have emerged as the year went on. Coaching and preparation are a big part of that.