Green Bay Packers 2011: Donald Driver's Production Will Merit Starter Status

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Green Bay Packers 2011: Donald Driver's Production Will Merit Starter Status
ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06: Donald Driver #80 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after catching a 24 yard pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

There has been some talk among fans and experts about WR Donald Driver and his expected role with the Packers during the 2011 season. Some feel that with the talent that has been collected at wide receiver, it is impossible (or at least inappropriate) for the 36-year-old veteran to remain a starter.

Talk of an early retirement seems to have quieted around the Internet for the time being, but sentiment is strong that Driver can’t take playing time for granted and that he should be prepared to potentially accept a reduced role on the team.

Make no mistake: Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson have demonstrated loud and clear they aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best. QB Brett Favre’s less-than-graceful departure from the team in 2008 was an omen to aging players who could no longer perform to the exacting standards of the team’s management.

Since that time, numerous aging veterans including OT Mark Tauscher (34) and CB Al Harris (36) have been cut from the team. In fact, Donald Driver is the eldest member of the current roster, opening the door for questions about whether his time has come for the chopping block.

Lackluster numbers during the 2010 season seem to make a case for the naysayers. Last season, Driver caught only 51 passes for 565 yards during the regular season—down from 70 passes and 1,061 in 2009. His touchdown catches (four) and first down production (29) also dropped, although those changes were somewhat less dramatic than his reduction in yardage.

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Before judging Driver solely on the numbers, however, consider some of the following extenuating circumstances that impacted his 2010 season:

  • He only played 15 of the 16 games and played several others with a nagging quad injury. He left several games early—a rarity for the super-conditioned Driver.
  • His numbers in 2010 are consistent with his 2003 season, during which he also played 15 games due to injury.
  • The 2010 season boasted perhaps the richest body of wide receiver targets the team has had in many years, increasing competition for the ball.

The evidence that Driver is slowing down in his old age based on last year’s performance is circumstantial at best. Indeed, Driver insists that there is still plenty left in the tank. His continued excellent fitness despite an ankle injury suffered during the Super Bowl is a testament to his commitment to the team. Compare that to many of the aging players who were cut and who later faced questions regarding whether they could pass their physicals.

Ever the diplomat, Driver has met his critics with a team-first attitude, making it clear that he will accept whatever role the coaching staff sees fit to give him. That attitude, coupled with his leadership in the locker room and his drive to constantly better himself and his teammates, demonstrates many of the intangible benefits he brings to the team.

On a team of youngsters (the average age of the starters is only 27), Driver serves as a rock that helps promote a levelheaded, goal-oriented atmosphere instead of the showmanship that has evolved into the norm in the NFL.

Although we are still several weeks away from the final roster cuts and depth charts, it seems a safe bet that Donald Driver will absolutely be a part of this year’s team. I will even take this opportunity to go a step further and predict that Driver’s status as a starter is safe for the time being. In fact, you could say that it isn’t WR James Jones’s spot to win—it is Donald Driver’s spot to lose.

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