Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

HarvinPer09.jpg

» Impact of the NFL's Kickoff Rule Change

After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?

30 May 2012

Four Downs: NFC North

by Andy Benoit

Chicago Bears

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Offensive line

Offensive line has become something of a perpetual hole for the Bears -– like wide receiver used to be for the Ravens, like pass rusher has recently been for the Patriots, or like quarterback was for the post-Marino Dolphins. We don’t even really analyze the Bears offensive line anymore: we just assume it will find a way to flounder. Thus, in this report, we ignore the possibility that left tackle J’Marcus Webb may build on the hint of improvement he showed in 2011. And we ignore the possibility of last year’s first-round pick, Gabe Carimi, being at full strength after missing most of his rookie season with a knee injury.

We ignore these things because we’ve seen Murphy’s Law work its devilry on Chicago’s offensive line too many times. If something can go wrong, it will. That’s not to say Carimi will get hurt again (though as of mid-May, he still wasn’t 100 percent). Even if he’s healthy, he still has a lot to learn. He looked mentally (and thus, at times, physically) overwhelmed in his five-and-a-half quarters of regular season action last year. The Bears are concerned enough about him to float the idea of moving Chris Williams from guard back to tackle. Webb has had some bright moments, but most of the time, he’s unable to overcome his slow feet. It’s not just a random fact that he led the league with 15 offensive penalties in 2011.

A good veteran swing tackle would do wonders for the Bears. Not only would it provide other options if Webb or Carimi don’t perform, it would also prevent guards Chris Williams and Lance Louis from having to slide outside should an offensive tackle vacancy arise. Neither player has performed well at tackle in the past (that’s why they’re guards now), and a lot of Chicago’s offensive line woes derive from the instability that’s come from players frequently changing positions. That, in turn, is a big part of why Jay Cutler sometimes stops trusting his protection and becomes erratic.

The Bears do at least have some quality depth at guard in Chris Spencer, but his adequacy inside doesn’t change Williams’ and Louis’ inadequacy outside.

It’s easy to say a team should find a quality veteran swing tackle. At this point in the offseason, there really aren’t any available -- if a player were truly of quality, he wouldn’t be unsigned. So the best thing a team can do is find a veteran niche player who is at least a specific fit to the team’s system. A year ago, the Bears offense under Mike Martz featured frequent seven-step-drop passes, which demanded all linemen to be adroit pass blockers. This year’s Bears will be more balanced and play-action-oriented under new offensive coordinator Mike Tice, so a seasoned run-blocker -– which is easier to find than a skilled pass blocker –- should be able to fill any voids.

A possible free agent target is former Chargers tackle Marcus McNeill. He’s available because of knee problems the last two years and a serious neck injury from 2011. Sadly, it’s likely that the 28-year-old’s better days, if not his playing days altogether, are behind him. But McNeil has monstrous size and, if healthy, Pro-Bowl potential. The risk would be low at this point (veteran minimum contract), and the reward potentially sky-high. If the Bears want more reliability, they could sign former Steelers tackle Max Starks. He’s far from perfect, but he has experience on both sides of the line.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Offensive tackle James Brown draws the biggest spotlight amongst the Bears undrafted free agents. Many experts saw the Troy product as highly draftable -– Mel Kiper had him ranked as the 54th best player in the entire draft. Obviously, NFL teams were less impressed. The negative side of Brown’s scouting report says that he lacks the quickness to pass block at the pro level, but anyone who has watched J’Marcus Webb knows the Bears might actually somehow consider this to be a positive. The rest of the Bears undrafted rookie class includes three small-school wide receivers: Terriun Crump of Western Illinois, Chris Summers of Liberty, and Britton Golden of West Texas A&M. It will be difficult for any of them to make the final roster considering two of Chicago’s free agent pickups at wideout, Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, are already experienced special teamers.

Detroit Lions

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Cornerback

Cornerback is a gaping hole. Veteran Eric Wright left in free agency, thinning a cornerback position that was not deep to begin with. If the season started today, untested third-round rookie Dwight Bentley would likely start opposite the decent-but-inconsistent Chris Houston. The nickelback duties – which, in today’s NFL, are practically starter’s duties – would fall to Aaron Berry, who is fluid but struggles with man coverage. Berry got a few reps as a starter late last season, but that was only because Houston was either hurt or struggling. Former Colts corner Jacob Lacey was brought in over the offseason, and has experience in a similar defense, but he ranked 81st in success rate against the pass last year and 88th in 2010.

The good news, though, is that cornerback is the one position the Lions can best hide, and they know it. GM Martin Mayhew has adopted Bill Polian’s old strategy from Indy: invest heavily in your offense, building around your star quarterback. Then, defensively, play a simple zone-based scheme that features a great front four. This approach makes it easier to find passable defensive backs, because, in truth, just about every NFL corner can handle simple Cover-2 and Cover-3 zone concepts.

A basic zone defense works if you have a viable pass rush. Thus, the Lions ameliorated their cornerback weakness when they slapped the franchise tag on vastly underrated defensive end Cliff Avril. His return keeps Detroit’s four-man defensive end rotation (made up of Avril, the relentless Kyle Vanden Bosch, and contributors Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young) intact. Sandwiched between the ends is a rotation of Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill, which is as good a defensive tackle quartet as you’ll find. Thus, the hope is that a bad secondary can at least become average by playing with a lead and a pass rush. To be clear, the cornerback issues will still pose problems for Detroit. You can have a good pass rush and play vanilla schemes and hope to have a lead, but there will always be instances where you’re going to have to line up and win battles in man coverage. If the cornerback problems become too severe, the Lions could find relief with a veteran like Drayton Florence (recently cut by Buffalo due to a high salary), Dante Hughes (a better blitzer than cover guy, but still) or a Cover-2 retread like Lito Sheppard or Benny Sapp.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore was considered the story of the third day of the NFL Draft. Everyone was up in arms about the fifty-win collegiate star going unselected, and now everyone is touting Moore’s football IQ and praising the Lions for finding a potential long-term backup for Matthew Stafford. That’s undoubtedly the plan, but to throw a little cold water on the hype, let’s all remember that if the Lions were really that gung-ho about the scrawny-but-accurate Moore, they would have found a way to draft him in the seventh round. The rest of this undrafted group includes three linemen, which is notable given that Detroit’s offensive line depth is nothing special. Guard Rodney Austin of Elon went undrafted mainly because he missed most of his senior season with a broken foot. Guard Pat Boyle of Temple has drawn accolades for his intelligence. Penn State’s Quinn Barham may be the best off of the three linemen, and he has experience at all three positions.

Green Bay Packers

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Backup quarterback

The Pack are six-deep at wide receiver, four-deep at tight end and -– assuming James Starks’ backup, Brandon Saine, can build on the flickers of potential he showed last year –- adequate at running back. Yes, the offensive line might be a little shaky. Jeff Saturday is a wily veteran, but he’s also a clear downgrade from Scott Wells (who himself was a wily veteran). And whoever is at left tackle, whether it’s Marshall Newhouse or 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod (doubtful as he’s coming off a gruesome late-season leg injury), will need help. But when you have a quarterback as mentally sharp and fundamentally sound as Aaron Rodgers, an iffy left tackle is rarely a major problem. We’ve seen this with other teams, too. Look at the Saints, who have thrived despite the enormously flawed Jermon Bushrod. The Colts, the Giants, and the Steelers won championships with Charlie Johnson, David Diehl, and Jonathan Scott respectively.

Defensively, Green Bay addressed its need for another pass rusher by selecting Nick Perry in the first round. They also got an early jump on their long-term rebuilding project at cornerback by taking Casey Howard in the second round. Maybe Howard can’t be Charles Woodson, but we won’t have to find out in 2012, because Woodson is still around, strong as ever. It’s almost unfair that Ted Thompson was also able to address the thinning depth at defensive end by signing Anthony Hargrove (suspended eight games, however) and drafting the highly-touted Jerel Worthy in the second round.

However, there is that one little empty spot at backup quarterback. Matt Flynn was so good the last two years that there was never any chance the Pack would be able to hold onto him. If any injury causes Rodgers to miss action, the Packers are looking at trotting out either super raw seventh-round rookie B.J. Coleman or undrafted and utterly untested third-year man Graham Harrell.

Suddenly, Donovan McNabb doesn’t look so vapid; Max Hall doesn’t look so inaccurate; and Luke McCown doesn’t look so erratic. None of those unsigned veterans would be as comforting as A.J. Feeley, though. The 35-year-old doesn’t have a great arm, but he’s very smart and could at least allow Mike McCarthy to consider every page of his playbook if disaster were to strike.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

Pay special close attention to this paragraph, as Green Bay over the years has shown a willingness – if not an outright desire – to put undrafted guys on the final roster. There are 14 members of this year’s undrafted rookie class, and the most recognizable is former USC running back Marc Tyler. The Packers may have solved the mystery on how to avoid disappointing results from rookie Trojan running backs: bring them in as free agents, not mid-round picks. Tyler will compete with fellow undrafted running backs Duane Bennett (Minnesota) and Nicholas Cooper (Winston Salem). The other notable undrafted Packer is Dale Moss, a basketball-player-turned-wide-receiver from South Dakota State who boasts a 41.5-inch vertical leap.

Minnesota Vikings

Biggest Post-Draft Need: Middle linebacker

We could characterize just about any position in Minnesota’s secondary as a "hole," but holes next to holes do not equal multiple holes –- they equal one giant space. That’s what the Vikings defensive backfield could resemble in 2012, especially if rookie safeties Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton can’t be effective starters right away. There’s no sense in analyzing how to "plug" a giant space. Besides, for a defense that runs Tampa 2-based concepts as much as the Vikings, the middle (Mike) linebacker can be every bit as important to pass defense as safeties and corners are. The Mike is responsible for essentially the entire middle of the field. He must be astute and athletic enough to identify and respond to interior passing concepts.

Presumably in part because he lost a step in coverage, the Vikings opted not to re-sign the soon-to-be-32-year-old E.J. Henderson this past offseason. Fourth-year pro Jasper Brinkley is slated to start in Henderson’s place. You may remember Brinkley as the rookie who was thrust into the starting lineup late in 2009 after Henderson went down with a horrific broken leg. Despite a tendency to play too laterally, Brinkley performed decently in a tough spot that year. He doesn’t have Henderson’s downhill instincts, though, and in 2010 he returned to a backup role. He spent 2011 on injured reserve with a surgically-repaired hip.

There’s no evidence suggesting that Brinkley can handle the full slate of middle linebacker duties. This isn’t to say he can’t -– there’s just no evidence thus far that says he can. The Vikings brought in journeyman Marvin Mitchell to compete at that spot, but he struggled to take proper angles against the run as a fill-in starter for the Dolphins last year.

It’s possible Brinkley and Mitchell will both get backup-level snaps, as in today’s pass-happy NFL, defenses spend a majority of time with three corners and just two linebackers on the field. In that case, the Vikings could be counting on Erin Henderson to fill his older brother’s shoes as the nickel linebacker alongside Chad Greenway. Erin has decent quickness, but if he were anything special, the Vikings would not have taken him off the field on passing downs last season. And they certainly would not have waited several weeks to re-sign him to a measly one-year contract this past offseason.

The market for inside linebackers is sparse now, though former Colt Gary Brackett -– who is intimately familiar with a Cover-2 –- is available. Durability is a concern with Brackett though, and if the Vikings were willing to take a risk there, they might as well just bring back E.J. Henderson (which actually may not be an awful idea). Another option could be Rocky McIntosh, who was brought in for a tryout in May.

Important Undrafted Free Agents

The expansion of training camp rosters to 90 players allowed the Vikings to sign 15 undrafted free agents. Six of those free agents are defensive linemen, including Boise State’s Chase Baker, Penn State’s Eric Latimore, and Cal’s Ernest Owusu. UCLA running back Derrick Coleman Jr. is quite an impressive individual. He thrived on and off the field despite being deaf. Minnesota’s most intriguing undrafted rookie is Iowa linebacker Tyler Nielsen. Before the draft, he was pegged by Mike Mayock as a "sleeper" who has the potential to start down the road on the strong side. Nielsen has a great chance to make the team given that the Vikings’ only drafted backup linebackers are seventh-round rookie Audie Cole and 2007 seventh-round pick Marvin Mitchell, a recent free agent pick up.

(Note: Portions of this article appeared previously on ESPN Insider.)

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 30 May 2012

32 comments, Last at 17 Jun 2012, 9:12pm by LionInAZ

Comments

1
by Ferguson1015 :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 11:52am

Didn't Drayton Florence sign with the Denver Broncos?

21
by BroncosGuyAgain :: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 6:29pm

Yes, the Broncos are collecting old cornerbacks, possibly to be auctioned off as a set at a later date.

2
by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 11:53am

It's Casey Hayward, not Howard.

3
by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 2:01pm

I'd be surprised if the Vikings don't end up re-signing Henderson.

The Lions biggest hole may be Fairley and Suh not having chauffeurs, especially if the other defensive linemen are getting rides from either of them. If I was Schwartz, I might just shell out 100k from my own salary, to have both of those guys driven around.

10
by Marko :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 4:10pm

I was going to say that the Lions' biggest need is maturity/discipline. The need to stay out of trouble when driving seems to be part of a larger discipline problem.

31
by LionInAZ :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 9:06pm

The Vikings have had more players arrested the past two years than the Lions. Everson Griffen and Chris Cook aren't exactly role models themselves.

4
by AJ (not verified) :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 2:54pm

Its hard to know how much the packers suckage on d last year was natural regression to the mean vs real loss of talent. Obviously, losing collins and jenkins hurt badly plus the fact that opposing offenses had to throw because of the packers offense.

Complicating this that we don't know who exactly was responsible. Was it pass rush and why? I mean, between the year they won it all and last year, it was still the same rotation of zombo and walden. And if so, does that mean the corners were fine and the pass rush was to blame or was it the corners naturally being exposed once collins was hurt? And how much of the loss is due to a weaker Dline?

I remember Aaron said it best. At least with the pats we pretty much know its a dearth of talent but the packers? they were good just last year.

7
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 3:59pm

They didn't regress to the mean. They fell out of the quartile box!

11
by PackersRS (not verified) :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 4:12pm

Everything went wrong. Jenkins provided constant interior pass rush, which allowed Matthews many more one-on-ones, as well as Raji. Even if you calculate it to be 0.5 less seconds to throw per play, it's huge. Matthews was double and even triple teamed almost every play, and nobody else took advantage of it. The Packers pass rush was pathetic.

Then there's the secondary. It started out with Tramon Williams injuried in the shoulder, which lingered throughout the season. That, coupled with Shields' big regression, took away what the Packers do best in coverage, which is play press man. Then they lost their best safety and playcaller in Nick Collins, who played over the top. If I'm not mistaken, the Packers led the league in 20+ pass plays allowed, much because of the play of Peprah and Burnett.

And then there's opposing OCs adjusting to Capers' fire zone scheme and taking advantage of the Packers' biggest flaw on defense, which is the ability of their linebackers to cover one-on-one. Time after time delayed routes from RBs and TEs killed the Packers for 1st downs.

So it was a culmination of a lot of factors that together resulted in the worst passing defense of all time, yardage-wise.

The situation seems to change this season, and by choosing the backup QB as the Packers' biggest need, Benoit agrees with me. Despite the yardage total, the Packers were middle of the road in opposing QB rating (top 15 if you discount the last game, played with backups). The penchant for turnovers (ballhawk skills) in this Packers defense is obvious, as they've finished top 3 in turnovers every year under Dom Capers.

The pass rush appears to be improved, with the infusion of talent at the front seven. With Worthy, Daniels, Hargrove, Merling, Neal and Perry, someone will rise up. Williams is healthy, and being under 30, with him playing at least close to his 2010 form, where he was one of the best corners in the league, the secondary automatically improves. Shields will benefit from the offseason training (his 3rd as a defensive player in his career), but if he doesn't, the rookie Heyward and 2nd year Davon House will take his place. The safety spot remains troubling, but Burnett is expected to make the jump in year 3, as he spent his rookie year on IR and didn't have offseason workouts last season. And after their promising rookie play, François and Smith figure to challenge Hawk for the starting spot, at least in obvious passing situations, which will improve the coverage.

Obviously nothing is guaranteed, but the Packers seem to have taken the right steps towards returning to being a top 5 defense as they were in 09 and 10. Every single player in the D last year regressed, for a number of factors. At least it's statistically probably that some of them will improve, and if it's in key areas, such as interior pass rush and at the #1 CB spot, it'll make a huge difference.

32
by LionInAZ :: Sun, 06/17/2012 - 9:12pm

I'd say that letting Jenkins go was a huge loss for the pass rush, while losing Collins was a huge loss to the secondary. The Packers covered up the loss of Collins with ball-hawkins and turnovers, but it's dangerous to depend on that, especially when the ball-hawkers are aging.

The Packers may be able to make up for the diminishing talent in the secondary, but Ted Thompson is pretty much hit or miss when it comes to drafting in the trenches. They have been and could be pretty raggedy in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Nor have they found much in the way of LBs to make up for it.

12
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 4:50pm

I do think a lot of it was the rush. I know that stats bear out that the rush didn't get home as often, but from watching some stuff on NFL Rewind again here recently my eyes tell me that the rush wasn't just getting there late it wasn't messing up the pocket as much either. Some of this was Jenkins not being there, some of it was the other tackles/ends not playing as well as they had. Pickett and Green both actually collapsed the pocket a bit in 10 but almost never in 11. Again that might have been because of Jenkins not being there too. Thompson brought in a ton of ends/linemen through the draft and free agency to try and fix a lot of this. The linebacking was covered. I think the idea is that if Perry works then it helps cover for the line if they can't fix the rush there. I'm happy they attacked the front 7 issues from both positions.

The coverage wasn't as good. Collins did cover mistakes, yes, but it's not really the corners he was covering for. There were times where Peprah and Burnett flat out said they screwed the assignment and left Williams, Shields, or Woodson out to dry because they were playing expecting help that wasn't there. Burnett being injured for most of his rookie season in '10 made it look like he was just making rookie mistakes and there is hope that will change. He won't be Collins next year but Collins took 3 years to become Collins so Packers fans can hold some optimism. Peprah won't look as exposed if Burnett progresses and Peprah might not be on the field as much if what I'm hearing about how MD Jennings progressed in the off season is true. Woodson may end up at safety more frequently too if House or Hayward develop well (House was a 4th round pick in the '11 draft). Woodson already plays like a safety in several of their packages, hence the "more frequently".

Saying Shields regressed is true but doesn't tell the whole story. For most of '10 he was simply asked to "run with this guy and don't let him catch the ball". In '11 he was asked to play zones, make more reads, etc. Basically they didn't hide the play book from him. Many of his mistakes were failures there, on plays where he was still basically doing the run with this guy he still played well. Williams clearly never fully got over the injury suffered in week 1. This injury is part of why Shields was called on to do more as well. It wasn't till about week 10 where he was playing up where he is used to and even then he wasn't using his hands as well. I think physically he is fine and there is hope the offseason will get him back the rest of the way mentally. Woodson lost another quarter step or so, but still played and still can play at a high level but the cliff is coming for him even if he moves full time to safety. So while I think the secondary has a chance to rebound a lot, I don't expect a '10 level defense.

Most of the focus seems to be for fixing the rush, by either getting more inside rush from the line or more outside rush from the backers or hopefully both. But the secondary wasn't ignored either. Some of the fix there is looking to come from better health (Williams) and more experience for current players (Shields and Burnett) and possibly a new nickle back (House/Hayward) that could help fix the safety depth by letting Woodson move.

But it was interesting to see the fall from '10 to '11 based on several smaller factors, OK Collins wasn't small, but you expect to lose a player, you expect injuries, you expect some fluctuation in performance year to year so that is why I say it was smaller things. Then you add in the fact that everyone was pass happy against them because they had to be and the whole "game of inches" concept gets illustrated in that, everyone being like 1% worse than the year before leads to not an 11% drop but more like a 75% drop because there is simply no margin anywhere to make up for any mistakes or missteps. Some of that margin should return so I doubt every mistake will be exploited as badly this year. Or at least I hope because I don't want to see an defense like that again.

13
by tuluse :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 4:59pm

I think losing Collins and Woodson getting older and older has really weakened the Packer's safeties.

Woodson's coverage skills were already below average in 2010 in my opinion, he made up for it by doing things safeties don't normally do, but sometimes you need someone who can just cover. Another year hasn't helped, and another year now won't help either.

15
by AJ (not verified) :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 5:36pm

Im more amazed that losing one player like jenkins had such a massive ripple effect on the entire defense and its pass rush. Obviously thats probably too simplistic an explanation, but i bet conventional wisdom would've said that mathews was the team's most irreplaceable player on defense. I think the point i want to make is the sports media definitely ignores dline play from d tackle and 3-4 end perspective, but i don't know if even most of us have an idea about how important interior pass rush is versus end/olb pass rush.

It raises an interesting argument, is it better to have a justin smith/jenkins/seymore type or the allen/mathews/ware type and which affects an offense more? Again, i realize there are so many other variables like supporting cast, scheme, talent in the secondary etc, but im trying to pose this on a theoretical level.

17
by Mr Shush :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 9:22pm

The contracts they get suggest NFL GMs value the outside guys significantly more highly. They may of course be wrong to do so.

18
by AJ (not verified) :: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 12:21am

i think chris johnson makes more money most defensive players yet i think most people agree running backs have been significantly devalued. But yes, that is something to weigh

5
by tuluse :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 3:15pm

"The negative side of Brown’s scouting report says that he lacks the quickness to pass block at the pro level, but anyone who has watched J’Marcus Webb knows the Bears might actually somehow consider this to be a positive"

Except for Ben Muth who says, "The biggest issue Webb had is that he was just awful with his hands. His punch is slow and non-violent." He doesn't mention Webb having slow feet once in his article about the Bears line. http://footballoutsiders.com/word-muth/2012/word-muth-scouting-bears

6
by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 3:53pm

How are "lacks the quickness to pass block at the pro level" and "his punch is slow and non-violent" mutually exclusive?

8
by tuluse :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 4:05pm

I assume he meant footspeed when he said quickness, not hand speed. That's usually what's meant by quickness in sports.

14
by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 5:31pm

Well, I don't to get bogged down here, but when somebody tells me that an athlete isn't quick enough, I take it to mean that he cannot execute what is demanded from his tasks with sufficient speed, be it hand speed, foot speed, or any other body part that has to get from point A to point B fast.

16
by tuluse :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 5:48pm

Well I made two assumptions when I read the statement above and Muth's article.

1) Quickness is footspeed, and even more precisely when I hear quick I think "first step speed"
2) I think the punch problem was more of a technique issue than a physical trait.

9
by Joseph :: Wed, 05/30/2012 - 4:06pm

Unless Will Allen (comment #6) is correct, I would say that the difference is Ben Muth (former O-lineman) being able to evaluate all the attributes of being a good O-lineman, verses Andy Benoit's ability to just see that Webb is just plain bad, looking like he gets beat on speed rushes, and saying "he's not quick enough to pass block."

30
by Roch Bear :: Thu, 06/07/2012 - 8:39pm

I too spent a long time thinking Webb didn't have pro level quick feet. But on a careful examination it looks to me like he has a slow mind NOT slow feet. When he has it together he is plenty athletic/quick enough. This is what keeps Mike Tice on board with Webb (Tice presumably could recognize slow footed easily enough). Clearly though, Tice is fed up with Webb's slow thinking/poor decision making. Moving Chris Williams back to LT (not RT) is evidence. And, contrary to the article, Williams was fine as a LT and okay as a RT in previous gigs. He simply was needed at guard when the Bears were in panic (for a good reason, Frank OmyGod (and lesser Gs), was/were matadors at LG and getting Cutler killed). Williams gave up few sacks as a LT, excepting his first preseason game vs. Oakland and a quality DE, in the Martz offense in which there are supposed to be about 50 protection schemes. After that he was good. He is not a great guard as he doesn't do Bull well and the bull rush and the need to root DTs out is not his strength. He is wonderful as a pulling guard blocking in space. The Bears have lots of OGs without him (Spencer, Louis, Edwin Williams) all of whom have started and played respectably at G.

My 3 cents

19
by BigWoody (not verified) :: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 1:52pm

"Matt Flynn was so good the last two years..."
The question keeps coming up, is he that good or was it the system/players around him? As a Seahawk fan, I'm hoping the former. I watched the tape of the NE game and noticed a windup in his throws when he put some zip on the pass or threw deep. He brought the ball halfway down to his waist behind him. A year later in the Detroit game, he seemed to have corrected that and for the same throws he brought the ball back to just behind the ear. His arm sure looked stronger.

Lots of GB fans commenting here. Any thoughts/insights?

20
by DisplacedPackerFan :: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 5:54pm

He is good, and he has been reworked some too. Your observations were correct in that his motion got better, and his deep ball got stronger. The Packers staff did the same with Rodgers too. He would not have been the player he is now without the rework of mechanics.

I'm not as worried about Harrell as some for similar reasons. While the preseason hasn't shown it for him the same way it did for Flynn, I think he has shown improvements in mechanics he just hasn't quite put it all together as a showcase in a preseason game like Flynn (and Rodgers before him) did. Of course he was getting 3rd string snaps and not 2nd string snaps and even with the offensive depth Green Bay has there is a difference even if you are facing 3rd sting defenses. Of course if I don't see something more than his footwork and delivery looking solid this preseason I'll worry more.

Of course it's not like this is the first time that the Packers had unproven back-ups for Rodgers either, Flynn and Brohm were the back-ups when they were both rookies. At least Harrell has been through some QB schools and a few seasons on the practice squad and active roster. I think he might end up being a Doug Pederson since I have the unrealistic expectation that all QB's will be as healthy as old Stubbleface and blind faith that the helmet change Rodgers made will make his past concussions not a problem in the future. Yep, no green and gold tinted glasses on that subject.

26
by BigWoody (not verified) :: Fri, 06/01/2012 - 11:01am

Yes, Ted T always seems to have a plan and he's seen this coming for a while. Good bet that they will have Harrell ready to step in if needed. Bringing in a free agent QB doesn't fit their MO.

24
by chemical burn :: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 8:21pm

I think with QB's, who is developing them matters so much. Seattle doesn't have anything resembling a positive recent history in developing QB's or even seeming to have a coherent plan for them, so you have reason to be concerned until one actually pans out. Additionally problematic is that team who are excellent at managing the position frequently off-load players who great in limited time but then look mediocre for other teams. Green Bay has been batting 1.000 at the position for a while now, but on the plus side, they haven't pulled the ol' Andy Reid "please, take our Kevin Kolbs and Jeff Garcias, they are viable players! Give us several draft picks for A.J. Feely, good QB's don't come along everyday. And McNabb just took us to the plyoffs - he's still got something left in the tank!" It should also be noted that Flynn looked much, much better in his last game than those guys looked.

But long story short, Seattle needs to prove what they're doing - I think before then, you should be pretty pessimistic/ (If only because of how badly they botched last year and their questionable moves this year... such as splitting first team reps between Jackson and Flynn. If they gave up what they did to get Flynn and thinks there's a non-zero chance Jackson could beat him out the job, they've already made an awful decision. Also, that they think Jackson might be able to play at an NFL level means you should doubt their ability to judge the position if not their sanity.)

25
by BigWoody (not verified) :: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 9:41pm

Yeah, I think Carroll is playing the "everyone competes card" too far. It's not just Flynn and TJax but also Wilson. Each is getting a for real 1/3 of the snaps in OTAs. Hope this ends soon or I will, with reason, doubt MY sanity!

22
by bucko (not verified) :: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 7:52pm

i think linebacker and secondary are way bigger holes for green bay then backup quarterback. green bay has shown they can coach up the quarterback position. defense not so much.

27
by justanothersteve :: Fri, 06/01/2012 - 12:51pm

I think they did enough in the offseason for the LBs. But I'd also put secondary, specifically Safety, before backup QB. I'm not thrilled with penciling in a 4th round pick who played at Maine as the probable starter at one safety position. McMillian's competition is MD Jennings, an undrafted FA in his second year who may be a special teams wiz but is also under 6 feet (McMillian is also just short of 6 feet), and Charlie Peprah, who showed last year that while he may be adequate in a secondary with 2 Pro Bowlers but sucks when one is injured badly enough to only play zone and the other is on the IR. I think their corners are fine with Woodson, a healthy Williams, Shields, House, and Hayward.

29
by Bill (not verified) :: Fri, 06/01/2012 - 6:25pm

Nick Collins is 5-11. Really, if any of the candidates are passable in coverage playing "centerfield" the safety position will be fine.

23
by Dan :: Thu, 05/31/2012 - 8:18pm

It's exciting to see that the Bears' perpetual hole on offense has now moved from QB to WR to OL. Exciting because:

- Progress!
- This "perpetual" is a lot briefer (they had a good line as recently as the '06 Super Bowl team)
- It's possible to have a good offense with just a mediocre OL

The question is whether they'll be able to reach mediocrity. I think that will mostly depend on Carimi. If he plays well, then (for the first time in years) they'll just need to scheme around one bad tackle. Normally teams try to put a good player at LT, but if you're aiming for mediocrity it should be possible to get by with just giving lots of extra help to your left tackle. That strategy doesn't work so well when both tackles suck (and your interior linemen aren't very good either).

The Bears have 6 potentially passable interior offensive linemen (C. Williams, E. Williams, Garza, Spencer, Louis, and Rachal), so they should be able to put together a non-disastrous starting 3. Although there are still lots of ways for things to get screwed up, especially if they put the wrong guys out there: Garza could decline further, or Rachal could play like last year, or Louis could be as bad at guard as he was at tackle, or they could just be out of sync from 6 guys shuffling around.

So my two keys to the season, if the Bears' OL is going to crack the top 25, are 1) competent Carimi - Carimi needs to be at least league average, and 2) bench the bum - if one of the interior OL plays badly (most likely Garza, Rachal, or Louis) he needs to be benched promptly.

28
by Steve D (not verified) :: Fri, 06/01/2012 - 2:04pm

I can understand why backup QB is listed as a weakness for the Packers, but I'm not sure it is one that should be addressed immediately. Truthfully, with those being the best options, I'd rather give Harrell the backup snaps in training camp and the preseason. Let's see if he has improved enough, and if not there are likely to be a wider variety of quarterbacks available after cutdown day. Worst case scenario, Coleman is the backup for two games while the new guy learns the offense.

Let's face it, even if the Packers sign Luke McCown or Max Hall, they'll still probably be scanning the list of cuts so why not give Harrell a shot and see if McCarthy can pull off another transformation.