Green Bay Packers Lack of Depth at Key Positions Could Backfire

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst ISeptember 8, 2010

Sam Shields will start the Packers opener as the nickel cornerback.
Sam Shields will start the Packers opener as the nickel cornerback.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With all the Super Bowl talk swirling around the Green Bay Packers leading into the 2010 NFL season, General manager Ted Thompson took some decisive risks in his cutting of the Packers roster to 53 players.

And by claiming no players on cut-down day, the Packers appear to have some depth issues at key positions heading into their opening day matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.


I'm sure every Packers fan can remember back to last January when the Arizona Cardinals picked apart the Green Bay secondary to the tune of 375 yards and five touchdowns. Following that defensive debacle, it was clear the Packers needed help in their secondary to shut down elite passing offenses.

Yet here we sit, days before the Packers open their season, and it'd be hard to argue the Green Bay secondary is any bit improved over its 2009 version.

Al Harris (physically unable to perform list) will miss the first six weeks, which leaves the Packers with the following cornerbacks: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Pat Lee, Sam Shields, Jarret Bush, and Brandon Underwood. If that list feels more then underwhelming to you, you're not alone.

Come Sunday, the nickel cornerback will be Shields, who was undrafted and has only a year of experience at the position. He's a raw prospect that shouldn't be playing significant snaps for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.

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Farther down the depth chart, more problems and less solutions exists. Underwood remains out of practice with a shoulder injury, and we've all seen the problems Lee has encountered with staying healthy and Bush's inability to cover any receiver on the field.

Unless there are significant improvements from the bottom of the depth chart, the secondary again looks like it will be over-matched against the NFL's elite passing teams.

Outside Linebacker

While the cornerback position is undoubtedly thin, the outside linebacker position may be even thinner. The Packers are taking huge risks at the position, and any injury to either Clay Matthews or Brad Jones could spell disaster for the defense.

And don't forget, both Matthews and Jones have been too hurt to even play in the majority of the Packers preseason games. Looking at the backups to each, let's keep our fingers crossed that no injuries occur to either of the starters.

Getting straight to the point, Brady Poppinga should not be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He is a hard working and experienced player, but he's not going to provide any kind of pass rush and is a liability in coverage.

Frank Zombo, on the other hand, hopefully doesn't have to see the field on defense this season. I love Zombo's potential, and I think down the road he has a chance to be a pretty good player. But he shouldn't see the field for a team that, again, wants to be playing in Cowboys Stadium in February.

The Packers had plenty of chances to bring in a veteran outside linebacker to help the depth of this position. Going with Zombo, an undrafted player who is still making the switch from end to linebacker, and Poppinga, is a big risk in my opinion.

The Packers are banking heavily on the heath of both Matthews and Jones, because the drop off in talent to the backups, in this case, is considerable.


Safety is another position that scares me on this roster. With Atari Bigby on the PUP list until week six, the Packers will begin the season with Nick Collins, Morgan Burnett, Charlie Peprah, and Derrick Martin as the four safeties.

While Collins is a Pro Bowl talent, Burnett is just a rookie, and most certainly will go through his lapses and mistakes throughout the season. Burnett will eventually be an upgrade over Bigby, however, but only time will tell when we begin to reap the benefits of that.

Peprah is below average even in back up standards, and Martin shows promise as strictly a special teams player. Neither are players I want lining up in anything more then emergency situations.

As was the case with the outside backers, the drop off in talent to the two backups is considerable and warrants looking into.

Special Teams

For a team that claims to be so committed to improving their special teams, it seems the Packers went back on their word.

By releasing Swiss army knife Spencer Havner, the Packers lost one of their most valuable special teamers, and the release of Will Blackmon leaves Green Bay without an explosive returner. Packers fans in particular should realize the importance of an electric return man, as Desmond Howard turned around so many games for Green Bay during their championship year of 1996.

Green Bay will also go into the opener with a punter who has never kicked in an NFL game, and a kicker, Mason Crosby, who has had his share of struggles with accuracy in the past.

It would seem for a team that has struggled with special teams so mightily in the past couple of years, and put such an emphasis on the unit, it took another step back heading into this season.

Overall, it's pretty clear the Packers still have a very good team.

However, the lack of depth they've left themselves at key positions heading into the season concerns me, and honestly I think the Super Bowl talk is unwarranted. At this point it seems the Packers have holes to fill before it can start engraving its name on the Lombardi Trophy.