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Improving From Within Starts Today

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Improving From Within Starts Today

The road to Super Bowl XLV begins today as the Packers officially begin their offseason workout program.

Ted Thompson has clearly committed to the teams "improve from within" mantra. He has a team that went from 6-10 to a Wild-Card berth and a first round exit in the playoffs. That's improvement. But the next step is the toughest - ensuring the team doesn't experience the terrible slide that saw it spiral from a 13-3 Championship Game participant to the aforementioned 6-10 squad. Ensuring that the Green Bay Packers are playoff contenders for years to come, the way clubs in Indianapolis, New England, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are.

The good-will engendered with the signings of Clifton, Collins, Pickett and Tauscher should dissipate as soon as fans remember the litany of challenges facing this Packers team, the same  team those four players were a part of last year. Those four, while incredibly important to the cause of bringing the Lombardi trophy home, are not the key to the Packers returning to their rightful place as Champions. No, that distinction lies with players like Brad Jones, B. J. Raji, Brandon Underwood and Clay Matthews. THESE four players are key. Improve over their showings last year, and no matter what the draft brings, the Packers are a Championship contender and, without question in my mind, a much more complete team than the team that went 13-3 and within an overtime drive of the Super Bowl in 2007.

Yes, the draft is coming and there, not the first weeks of free agency, is where Thompson will find fresh talent, and if his 2010 draft is even half as good as his 2009 the team should be able to find two or three real players that can help get the Packers to the Super Bowl. An offensive tackle. A defensive back. An outside linebacker. All would be welcome.

But the offense, which I thought was not as good as everyone was making it out to be last offseason, is now set as one of the premier units in the league. Yes, another gamebraker on offense would be welcome, especially when one remembers how pedestrian the offense looked at times this past season without Finley. But the maturation of T.J. Lang behind the veterans Tauscher and Clifton leaves a much better safety net than going into the season with the plan of having your left guard slide over in case of emergency. The offensive line finally played up to its capabilities the last half of the year. The weakest link in the chain, the left guard position, will be in competition throughout training camp. Whatever the outcome there, the offensive line will do its job enabling Rodgers the time to do his - namely getting the ball into the hands of the multiple weapons on offense. The one major blemish that Head Coach Mike McCarthy must correct is the constant slow starts that have plagued not only his offense but his team.

The most improvement must come on the defensive side of the ball. (This is no secret, obviously) - the teams number one ranking against the run, while a nice talisman, could be viewed as the product of going up against some extremely pedestrian offenses throughout the year. And its hard to forget how well the Cardinals, not a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust group by any means, ran the ball in the playoff loss. Here is where Raji must make his biggest impact. Of course the biggest improvement must come against the pass and against veteran quarterbacks. Brady and McNabb loom on the 2010 schedule, both away from the friendly confines of Lambeau Field. The Packers secondary and their chief architect Dom Capers must fix whatever caused the continual breakdowns on the back end and the best place to start is by not letting the pass be thrown at all.

This team has the makings of a champion. There will be many hills and valleys along the way, but the Lombardi Trophy is there for the taking.

And it all begins today.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (33) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Brett Cristino's picture

Agree 100%, great stuff Aaron...

The key to our Offensive Line is going to be continuity and I think for the first time in about 3 or 4 years, it's going to be a positive for us. Clifton, Tauscher, and Sitton are all locks at LT, RT, and RG respectively, and I love the combination of Spitz/Wells at C, one guy excels in pass protection while the other does a better job moving guys off the ball. At LG, I really hope there's a team out there that would offer up a 3rd Rd pick for Colledge because I just think Lang would bring a much more consistent, and well-rounded game at LG. Colledge seems to play too soft for my liking and I like that Lang plays with a chip on his shoulder. I mean the guy was throwing barbs at Jared Allen the first time he saw the field in his career. Just think a 21 year old rookie making his NFL debut on a national spotlight at LT against arguably the best DE in the NFL, and he went scrap for scrap with him, I like that.

The Defensive backfield is definately the most intruiging situation. Harris is coming off a major injury and while his status for the offseason is in doubt, does anybody honestly think he's not going to be out there Week 1? I sure as hell don't...

Then you have potentials like Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, and Will Blackmon, and like I've said before, I think Pat Lee breaks out in a big way this year, solidifying the back end behind Harris, Woody, and Tramon.

Like you said though, this team absolutely has what it takes to win it all. It starts and ends with the QB and I'll be damned if he's not the single most motivated player on our team this offseason after the way our season ended. Just think if Rodgers can fix his "holding onto the ball" too long issues, is there honestly a single negative you'd be able to point out from his game?

Look at the state of the NFC, do the Vikings really scare you all that much, with or without Favre? You know damn well they aren't going to sweep us again and Favre isn't going to just sit back comfortably in the pocket and shred us for 4 qtrs. The Cardinals? Without Warner, Boldin, Dansby, and Rolle? The Eagles? Potentially without McNabb? This year has all the makings to be a special one, and like you said, i'm excited it all starts tomorrow.

alfredomartinez's picture

i totally buy in TT mantra of building within...and like u said, if they can get a few good players this coming draft...then we should be set...my key is brad jones...he holds it all

WoodyG's picture

Aaron

Well written inciteful analysis of things to come ......... I'm hyped but TC is too far away ....... Even the draft is too far away .......

Dilligaff's picture

The way I see it the only way this team is going to improve is from within. Players like A-rod and Woodson are going to do what they do, playing at a high level. Its the players that aren't the big stars is where the Pack will take the next. I think Aaron has mentioned a few but I would add a few more to this list. A list of players who if they step up their games, will enable the Pack to take that next step. I would also include Spitz, Justin Harrell, Hawk/Bishop, Lumpkin and Nelson. A surprise increase in production/performance from any of these guys would greatly help the Pack take that next step.

Black Hawk's picture

Well said Aaron. I also agree with Brett and think that Pat Lee is huge for us this year. TT made him a second round pick for a reason. Let Favre come back, last year the team didn't start to get comfortable with the 3-4 until after week 8. Cardinals were hit hard this offseason, Dallas has did nothing this offseason, Queens were hit with FA and are a year older and may finally be facing the Williams suspension. Crosby has to get his game together.

CSS's picture

Aaron, I have two additional items, both related to the receiving core:

1) Finley, Jones and Nelson need to move beyond the 'growth' stage and explode directly through each of their respective potential. As good as Finley was down the stretch he has the talent to be even better. Jones and Nelson, the same.

2) The Packers can become an elite offense and continue to move the ball at will provided the receiving core as a whole cut their drops in half from the prior year. They were dropping balls throughout camp and it carried into the field of play. Pelissaro had them at 34, Bedard at 52, Stats Inc, LLC had them at 50. The Bedard and Stats Inc., LLC numbers meant that only the Chiefs had more on the year at 54.

There are obviously more areas to improve, I'm only on my soapbox here because this unit can be so much more, including consistant. Time for this unit to be elite, I don't think they were anywhere close last year.

packeraaron's picture

Interestingly enough, CSS - I had Finley in for CM3 but decided to go with rookies exclusively. Tradition holds that players make their biggest jumps from Year One to Year Two. (Finley certainly bears that out) - but I agree that Finley is far from done growing as a player.

CSS's picture

Looking only at 2nd year guys let me throw Jarius Wynn out there. I'm anxious to see what his offseason committment was in the weight room. The kid flashed last year and wasn't afraid to mix it up. He will shock people (in terms of year 1 to year 2 growth) if he fills out his frame and comes into camp at a stout 290 lbs (he has the frame for it). He's athletic and raw. The lithmus test to his committment in the professinal game will be his offseason preparation.

We don't need him to 'starter' (whatever that means nowadays), but he has a ton of upside. I just think we need to see his committment and he needs some reps. Darkhorse.....

PackersRS's picture

I see Jarius Wynn or (surprise!) Harrel as key contributors if we want to be contenders. This DL will need more rotation than Jolly, Jenkins, Pickett and Raji, and chances are Jolly won't play much. So we'll need one of them to be competent enough to be able to relieve the starters...

hyperRevue's picture

Aaron - do you know what round Chris Cook projects to?

With the signing of Taushcer and Clifton, I've started becoming increasingly concerned about the team's cornerbacks - as of now, they're going into the season with Tramon Williams as the #2 and I don't know how tenable that situation is.

packeraaron's picture

He's a 2nd or 3rd rounder and, apparently, is on the Packers' (and Vikings') radar: http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Source-UVAs-Cook-drawing-interest-fr...

hyperRevue's picture

Yeah, I saw your tweet and that's why I asked. I love his size and that he excels at press coverage.

CSS's picture

I’m not a huge fan of Wes Bunting or Joe Fortenbaugh (National Football Post). They tend to get caught up in some of the hype (media the player generates, combine performance/measurables, large program name recognition). I really believe Mike Mayock brings the best analysis, here’s his top 5 by position:

http://www.nfl.com/draft/story?id=09000d5d816d2ea9&template=with-vid...

Mayock assess prospects the way it should be done. Watch the tape, interview teammates and coaches, and assess whether the All-Star game performances and Combine/pro day performance confirms what you already knew from the tape. If not: wash, rinse and repeat (revisit the tape, more samples).

Ted Thompson has a philosophy about prototype measurable for prospects in various positions. Caution with Cook, he didn’t have the productivity to match his impressive measurable. Scheme? Coaching? Who knows.... I partially agree with approach, but you have to make exceptions. I find it interesting that Ozzie Newsome, probably the most respected talent evaluator along with Bill Polian, takes the same approach yet recently admitted it can be a flawed approach (Anquan Boldin):

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/ravens/2010-03-08-boldin-int...

At the end of the day TT is to secretive about giving away kids they covet in the draft to actually have a coveted prospect workout leaked to a news outlet.

Two points to make: 1) TT plays a shell game with prospects he truly covets, who knows if Cook is one of them. 2) I hope TT occasionally departs from his ‘minimum measurables’ philosophy when he sees an prospect (Kyle Wilson) with a high ceiling who’s play shows up on tape vs. a kid with athletic ability (Aaron Rouse) and minimal size requirements who’s play most certainly does not show up on game day tape.

packeraaron's picture

Great points CSS. You have to remember, both Bunting and Fortenbaugh are young and starting out. They're working on not only exercising their chops, evaluation wise, but also doing so with the mandate of generating content for a start up site. Yes, they concentrate on the names, but having spoken to them in Indy, I can assure you SOME of that is the need to 'pay the bills' so to speak. Mayock is under no suck restrictions and can truly look at, talk about and push anyone or anything he wants. I DO agree that Mayock is the best in the biz.

CSS's picture

It's difficult to project 'tone' via text on a computer screen. Not my intent to dismiss Bunting & Co., they're just 'green' in the whole published draftnik biz (they still know more than I do). By contrast, I love them compared to McShay (ESPN). He plagierizes Mayock from week-to-week.

CSS's picture

Scouts Inc. has him ranked #7 among all CB's, and the 62nd overall ranked prospect in this draft. Neither Kiper nor Maycok have Cook in their respective top 5 CB's. This is only for reference, not advocating anything.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Aaron,

I'm relieved to know that Mayock is under "no suck restrictions", always wondered about that>:-)

GBP 4 LIFE

hyperRevue's picture

I miss the edit feature.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Haha, so do I... and Aaron

Ruppert's picture

Nice piece, Aaron. Much agreement. Although I would be happy if Matthews just duplicates his performance from the last half of the season, I'm just thrilled to think of him actually improving. I think a good part of his potential improvement is dependent upon the progression of our LOLB, whomever that might be. Additionally, I'm still dreaming of Pat Lee returning kicks since he had a 40 yard KR in a preseason game last year.

PackersRS's picture

Just one thing, Aaron. Yes, we faced bad offenses overall. But some very good run offenses. We faced the 5 of the top 15, and some strong runners in Steven Jackson and Frank Gore...

hyperRevue's picture

Ha. Cards signed Paris Lenon. There is a blast from the past.

nerdmann's laptop's picture

Seahawks signed Ruvell Martin.

PackerHank's picture

Packer improvement from within...and so also goes CheeseheadTV. Let's hope that the Pack can improve as much as this website has. Corey/Aaron -- way to channel your inner TT. Well done.

packeraaron's picture

Thanks very much PackerHank :)

Doug In Sandpoint's picture

Aaron: Right on with your 4 keys to 2010,although you could add anyone who surprises in the secondary to Underwood. I also nominate special teams as a key area to take the next step. Crosby hitting a few key field goals, and winning the field position game would allow the O and D to function better. Short fields for the opposition had me grumbling all year long. Could we maybe find a punter somewhere? And depth at key positions should translate into better STs.

Graham's picture

Are you people nuts? Listen I think we all HOPE Pat Lee does something but untill he does anything how can you say he is going to step up and play a big 4th corner role? Its like saying Justin Harrell is going to be much improved. Really?

Listen we need a tackle and an OLB in this draft to be successful. Clifton and Taush wont play 16 games each. Not going to happen.

I love TT's moves and I love his drafts. We find gold in rounds 5-7. The only thing you can't find there is a starting left tackle. They are drafted in round 1 and that is what we sould be trying to get...

CB, S, OLB, and every other position you have a chance in rounds 2-7, left tackles are only found early on. Trust me if there is one to be had TT will draft him, however at 23 that might not exsist. Look for a trade up or down in the draft by the Packers. TT is either going to want that big tackle and trade up 10 spots, or he is going to trade back and pick 15 guys who might be able to make it at the other positions.

And can anybody on this message board punt? If so send your resume to TT....

hyperRevue's picture

Hunter Smith! Hunter Smith!

PackersRS's picture

I'm with you on that one. I can't find a bigger no brainer than bringing in Hunter Smith... We don't have anyone at the position, so it wouldn't hurt nobody's ego, and even if we bring in a rookie, competition is allways good...

packeraaron's picture

"Listen we need a tackle and an OLB in this draft to be successful" - completely untrue. They need talent. Period.

Glorious80s's picture

The signings of Tauscher and Clifton may shift the draft focus to defense or best available in the early GB drafts at least.

Don't forget the context, teams, even in the NFC North, will have made improvements in FA and the upcomming draft. This changes the dynamics and makes the coming season unpredictable, as ever. The Packers have to have enough improvements to move with them.

Always curious as to when a qb's ability to "extend plays" becomes "holding the ball too long?" Or the other way around. A quick throw isn't always the best throw. AR rather needs develope a feel for when to do which - and that probably comes with experience.

Joe Blackwell's picture

Aaron,

Yes the Packers need more of a pass rush to flush out the likes of Brady and McNabb and others.

Question: who would you take if given the chance Kao Misi or Jerry Hughes both great OLB that Capers would need to make the Packers defense effective.

Notes from the Combine stated that Kao Misi had a Combine simiular to Clay Matthews III last year. I know that shouldnt translate into the same outcome that Matthews had last year but that should put Misi from Utah in the same league as Hughes.

Not to mention that Kao Misi had a runner-up performance behind Brandon Graham for Michigan for MVP on the defensive side of the ball at the Senior Bowl this year.

Kao Misi can also put his hand on the ground and cause many different scenerios that Capers would enjoy throwing at the opponents offense.

I will get off my soap box now for the selection of Kao Misi as OLB for the Packers.

nerdmann's laptop's picture

Right now I look at LT and speedy, passcatching HB as our top needs. Yeah, I know. I'm radical.
We'll get guys back in the secondary. Bell will have an offseason in the system, Underwood and/or Lee will develop, and we'll get Harris back.
Brad Jones will be at least adequate at OLB and Cyril Obiozor will be a viable backup, who will bring attitude to the position. We could use some depth here.
I'd love to get another LT. No way Cliffy plays in more than 12 games. Lang can back him up, but if TT sees a prospect available at LT, I hope he nabs him. The rest of the line has plenty of depth.
I also think Jarius Wynn is going to become a player this year. He's one of those guys who will benefit bigtime from an offseason in the program.

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