Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts: A Green Bay Packers Camp Preview

Roster Roundouts: A Green Bay Packers Camp Preview

Previous Roster Roundouts: Bills, Rams, Bengals, Chiefs, Saints, Jaguars

flickr.com/mheisel

flickr.com/mheisel

There’s an endless supply of seemingly simple facts, each of which could fool someone into thinking you have just summed up the 2008 Packers in a nutshell.  Consider the following:

  1. The Packers lost 7 more games in 2008 than the did in 2007.
  2. They won three fewer games than castoff franchise quarterback Brett Favre did with the New York Jets
  3. They played a non-playoff team (Saints) on Monday Night Football and got pummeled, giving up 51 points.
  4. At different times during the 2008 season, the Packers lost 2 in a row, 3 in a row, and 5 in a row.
  5. Aaron Rodgers couldn’t handle the pressure of stepping into Brett Favre’s shoes.
  6. The Packers defense was gashed by the run as if every game was against the 2006 Jaguars.

None of those things are necessarily false, and they’d all make you sound smart if said in the break room.  However, none of those things get at the essence of why the Packers struggled so mightily in 2008.

The Packers were a team that was disproportionately stronger in the air than on the ground, this on both sides of the ball.  Normally, this is not a bad thing.  For the Packers, this was not a bad thing–if hypothetically, it would repeat itself next season.  It allowed the Packers to win the turnover battle over the season, putting up a +7 spot, 6th best in the NFL.  With that kind of advantage, it follows that they in fact, finished with 39 more points scored than points against, and a 8.9 win Pythagorean record.

Clearly, the Packers simply underachieved the standard they set for themselves last year, but it’s not entirely clear how that happened.  It’s nearly impossible for a team that proved as good as the Packers last year to lose five consecutive games, but that’s exactly what happened.  Problem is, though the Packers were not a significantly different team in the last part of the season from the rest of it, there is no game in the 5-game losing streak that you can look back at the numbers and say, “boy, the Packers really outplayed their opponent.”  They won the turnover battle once in that stretch, putting up a +3 spot on the Texans…which ultimately didn’t matter because they were scorched for 549 total yards.  They got beaten soundly in Jacksonville, and the special teams collapsed against the Bears in Chicago, costing them an otherwise certain victory.  They got beaten by the Panthers in a barn burner when Steve Smith made a ridiculous catch…but that’s going to happen when you play the Panthers.  They were never in the Saints game.

On the macro level, they simply didn’t do anything to deserve losing five in a row.  On a micro level, the Packers failed to take care of business against weaker opponents, and simply playing good offense could not save them.  The story of the 2008 Packers is that they simply lost too many close games to too many good teams.  They were probably the best team in the NFC North (4-2, higher DVOA in every divisional game), but you can’t get far with a 2-8 record against non-divisional opponents.  Problem was, even 5-5 wouldn’t have gotten the Packers to the playoffs.  They needed to beat Dallas, Atlanta, Tennessee, and Carolina.  Had they closed out all of those games, they very well might have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.

The big change this year is the switch to the 3-4 defense, which the team believes will help shore up an otherwise vanilla defense to help with pass pressure and make them harder to gash in the running game.  That’s admirable, but the drafting of B.J. Raji with the 9th overall pick would have seemingly done that from any scheme.  The Packers feel like they have the lineman to make this scheme work, and they probably do, but the most uncertainty centers around their best defensive lineman, Aaron Kampman, who certainly isn’t the biggest fan of the 3-4.  These kind of things have a way of making believers out of disbelievers, but if we suppose for a second that Kampman is right, it’s going to be darn near impossible to have an improved defense without his pass rushing contributions.

This year’s schedule includes the Steelers, Ravens, Cardinals, and Cowboys, so once again, a playoff trip will require the Packers to beat quality opponents outside the division.   It’s a stretch to believe they are capable of handling those opponents in the same way we thought they might be last year, but overall, the schedule is a lot softer for the Packers relative to where it was last year, and that will help.

They enter 2009 with as much a chance to win a NFC North division that does not have a dominant team, but with defensive questions and a mess of hodgepodge talent on the offensive line, the Packers will almost certainly need to show a degree of balance in order to take the division title.  Or, they can just be a little better.  That works too.

Packers Camp, Green Bay, WI

As you’ll notice, almost all the camp battles this year are on the defensive end, and it’s defensive coordinator Dom Capers–not head coach Mike McCarthy–who will really have the responsibility of shaping the team this August.

Running back: Kregg Lumpkin vs. Tyrell Sutton vs. DeShaun Wynn

Kregg Lumpkin was the Packers third running back for most of last year.  Surprised?  That’s okay, he was mostly a receiver out of the backfield, carrying only once for 19 yards.  Tyrell Sutton is an undrafted FA from Northwestern that the Packers will absolutely love.  DeShaun Wynn carried the load for much of the early part of 2007, but he was injured in 2008, and might have to start looking for new work.  I think Sutton has a good chance here, but as the incumbent, Lumpkin is also the favorite.

Fullback: Quinn Johnson vs. John Kuhn

The Packers didn’t draft Quinn Johnson so they could keep Kuhn.  They already have Korey Hall, a third year man from Boise State as their starting fullback, and Johnson should be his successor.

Offensive line: Breno Giacomini vs. Allan Barbre vs. Duke Preston

This is fascinating.  The Packers are the one team in the league who will probably roster ten lineman and a long snapper this year, because they have so many young lineman.  The team signed Duke Preston to be it’s backup center, so he’s probably going to win one spot, while Giacomini and Barbre are Guard/Tackle types who will duke it out for the final spot (unless they both make it).  Giacomini, a second year player, has an advantage because he was drafted more recently, and by the current regime.

Starting RG: Jason Spitz vs. Josh Sitton

Spitz was not good last year as the starting RG, and Sitton should win this battle.  What makes this fascinating is that, should Spitz lose this, his value to the team is as a backup G/C: two, maybe three positions.  But that makes the signing of Preston a bit perplexing.  Spitz started a game at center last year, and was no Scott Wells.  Does that mean the third year guard is on his way out?  Who knows?

Defensive line: Jairus Wynn vs. Ronald Talley vs. Alfred Malone

Jairus Wynn was a late round draft pick by the Packers, and he’ll be battling Talley and Malone for a roster spot on the DL that the Pack has very little invested in.

Linebacker: Desmond Bishop vs. Jeremy Thompson vs. Brad Jones

Desmond Bishop played very well last year in the 4-3, and he’s a solid special teamer, but his roster spot on this year’s team his hardly guaranteed with Jones, a draft pick specific player designed for this defense in the fold.  Thompson is a longshot, and it all depends on how many LBs they keep.

Cornerback: Jarrett Bush vs. Will Blackmon vs. Brandon Underwood

Underwood, another 6th round draft pick of the Packers will be in quite the camp battle to make the team.  Jarrett Bush has seen a lot of playing time over the last two years, but if last year’s second rounder, Pat Lee, can develop, he becomes very expendable.  Will Blackmon will be a bit tougher to beat out because he’s the team’s primary return specialists.  Underwood can win a spot by showing his value on special teams, because the Cincinnati product projects as the best corner of the three by far, but as a measly 6th rounder, the team has little invested in him to date.

Safety: Charlie Peprah vs. Anthony Smith

Anthoy Smith was last seen telling Tom Brady where to stick it, and then chasing Randy Moss into the end zone in 2007.  He won a ring with the Steelers last year, but he actually had dropped from a starter in 2007 to a 4th safety last year, and then was a non-tendered RFA by the Steelers.  He still has some upside, but Peprah is a better special teamer, and seems likely to beat out Smith.  Smith can make the team either by playing well on special teams, or by challenging Atari Bigby in camp for a starting safety spot.  Both options seem unlikely.

Punter: Jeremy Kapinos vs. Durant Brooks

Durant Brooks was a draft pick of the Redskins, but unless he’s learned to kick a professional sized football in the last nine months, he’s probably down to his last two weeks as a Packer.

Surprise Cuts?

  • RB Brandon Jackson
  • WR Ruvell Martin
  • C/G Jason Spitz
  • G Darryn Colledge
  • DL Justin Harrell
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