With Chad Clifton back in the fold, the beleaguered Packers secondary is now the number one area of concern for the Green Bay Packers, no matter what Mike Vandermause would have you believe.
Simply put, yes, the Packers need someone to compliment Matthews. But they need SEVERAL players to shore up a secondary that allowed a bushel full of yards. Counting on a 35 year old Al Harris to return from a devastating knee injury is not a plan - it's suicide. Giving Tramon Williams the 1st round tender was a good idea, because losing him would be disastrous and there's no team on Earth that's going to give up a 1st round pick for him.
But after Williams, there are nothing but questions. Blackmon can't stay healthy and has never really shown anything more than the ability to get close to a guy and grab him. Pat Lee, while drafted in the 2nd round with worlds of promise, is the secondary's version of Justin Harrell, unable to stay healthy (though it could be argued that Thompson erroneously put the second year corner on IR at the beginning of the year when he could very well have been ready by the last month of the season, just when they would have needed him most) And obviously we know, Jarrett Bush is not the answer. To any question.
One player where improvement could show up from within is Brandon Underwood. The kid was way out of his element when he was put on the field against the Buccaneers, but you could see little glimmers as the year went on, the way he was able to set his feet and drive when breaking on a receiver, rather than grabbing with his arms. Of course, he and Bush were a big reason the middle of the field was so wide open in the playoff game against the Cardinals, with Dom Capers giving each safety help outside, scared to death Warner would eat them alive up the sidelines (which, incidentally, is what Warner did to the Vikings earlier in the year) but there's some promise there. Underwood just has to seize the opportunity that's there this offseason, starting by living in the weight room.
Another player where improvement from within could appear is the much maligned Josh Bell. Most fans will only remember the game-winning touchdown he gave up against the Steelers, but I think the kid has got the ability to be a solid dime or even nickel corner. As Donald's Designated Driver wrote when he was signed:
I interrupt your snarky comments to remind you that both Tramon Williams and Atari Bigby were undrafted free agents cut by their first teams and signed by the Packers in November/December.
Of course, Williams has turned out much better than Bigby, but it's a great point.
All this said, this is one of those rare instances where I think you might see a signing late in the free agency period, most likely after the draft, of some kind of veteran. Perhaps a Deshea Townsend or even Lito Sheppard. Are these guys the answer? Hardly - but you've got to think Thompson would look at how his young guys wilted when thrust into the spotlight last year and would respond by bringing in at least one veteran player to try and help settle the position for a team that is gearing up for a title run.
All of the above, and I haven't even touched on the issue of who will play across from Nick Collins. Yes, Bigby has been a disappointment from the standpoint that he can't seem to stay healthy. But there's no denying the defense plays better with him back there, if only marginally so. I had hoped the Packers would make a run at Ryan Clark, but it seems Clark was never seriously thinking about leaving the Steelers, using a visit to the Dolphins much the same way Clifton used his "visit" to the Redskins as a means to get a few extra dollars out of his original team.
So where does that leave the Packers? Well, as I said in the last installment of My Ugly Mug, there's a looooong time between now and opening day, and Thompson will no doubt look at all avenues available to upgrade the strong safety position. But make no mistake, the play of the secondary over the course of the last month of the 2009 season was unacceptable. No, you can't predict things like injuries to three guys on your corner depth chart, (You CAN be a bit more proactive when dealing with those injuries...but that's another post)
Yes, the Packers need help across from Matthews. They need a plethora of help behind him.
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