Monday, July 09, 2012

Packers Have Skill Position Logjam

One of the things I really enjoy about the summer is the immense amount of information and speculation out there ahead of football season.

With hockey on hiatus, I actually have time to consume a ton of the available information.

The Packers stunk defensively last season.

Such is probably an understatement, since Green Bay had the worst defense in the NFL, despite a 15-1 regular season.

The Giants exposed that already-exposed weakness in the playoffs, running over, under, around, and through the Packers at Lambeau Field.

(Note: The Giants have more playoff wins at Lambeau Field (two) than the Packers do (one) in the time since Mike McCarthy took over as head coach in Green Bay.)

While there will be a ton of talk about the work being done to improve the defense during training camp, the Packers have an embarrassment of riches on the other side of the ball.

In fact, it stands to reason the Packers could keep seven wide receivers on the main roster once training camp finishes up. Yes, I said seven receivers.

To do so, other positions may have to sacrifice their depth. There is a piece by Zach Kruse on the excellent Cheesehead TV site discussing the decision McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson will have to make once camp breaks.

There are five locks at receiver already. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson have Pro Bowl ability. Randall Cobb had a very good rookie season, and certainly deserves more playing time in his sophomore season. James Jones is a well-established player who -- I thought -- was more reliable last season than he had been previously. Veteran Donald Driver brings his mirror ball trophy back to Wisconsin, and a restructured contract virtually guarantees his presence on the final roster.

As Kruse points out, there are two players from last year's practice squad who will each get a long look this summer. Diondre Borel was a quarterback at Utah State, but he has developed into a strong candidate to make the Packers as a receiver.

The other guy to watch is Tori Gurley. He's bigger than Borel, and he's a more polished receiver. Both players turned down chances to leave the Packers while on the practice squad last year, and one has to assume their loyalty is going to pay off, probably sooner rather than later.

But as Kruse says, numbers at other positions have to be sacrificed to keep these two. The Packers kept five receivers -- the five aforementioned incumbents -- last season. To add two more -- duh -- means two other players have to go. Kruse does a good job going over the list, and the first obvious cut is at tight end, where the Packers kept five last season.

Andrew Quarless blew his knee out covering a kickoff in the regular season game against the Giants last season -- a play that, by the way, never should have happened* -- and could miss the entire 2012 season. Best case, he starts the season on the PUP list, and that opens up a spot on the roster for at least the first six weeks.

(* - Sorry. I'm still bitter that Quarless blew out his knee on a play where the Giants kick returner signaled for a fair catch and then starting running. When I hear about the NFL locking out its officials and going with replacements, plays like this make me wonder how bad it could be. Is a basic understanding of the rules too much to ask?)

The other option would probably be on defense, but it's hard to justify an additional cut on a side of the ball where competition for playing time and spots needs to be at its highest. With how bad this unit was last season, the team can't afford to have anyone resting and assuming anything.

Thompson's reputation is to keep the best players available to him. He doesn't like setting caps -- he took some heat for keeping two quarterbacks more than once, and he did keep five tight ends last season, which was a bit out of the ordinary -- and he will keep the players he feels have earned spots on the roster. There's no reason to think that he will keep seven receivers because he thinks he has to show Gurley and Borel some loyalty. He may only keep one of the two, depending on their performance during camp.

But I'm certain that he will not keep five receivers because he doesn't think his team can have more than that. If seven deserve it, Thompson will keep them.

(Can't rule out a trade, either. Especially if it involves Jones, who I think is the best candidate to be moved. That would open up a spot.)

Since the Packers were 15-1 last season and had a well-oiled offensive machine for most of the season, you'd assume there aren't a lot of interesting talkers going into camp. But there are, with the receiver logjam joined by the running back situation and the entire defense.

McCarthy doesn't get a lot of full-contact workouts, but they should be interesting when they happen. How many tackling fundamentals can be crammed into that limited time?

But I'll also be watching the receivers. Gurley and Borel are intriguing talents. Can they force their way on the team somehow? We'll see.

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