Just one year removed from a 13-3 NFC Championship appearance, the Green Bay Packers took a major step back in 2008.
The team that always seemed to find a way to win in 2007, seemingly always found a way to lose in close contests in 2008. Orchestrating poor execution, defense and special teams was more of the signature for the 2008 Packers. Added into that some key injuries and it was truly a lost season for the long-time franchise.
Injuries to Cullen Jenkins, Atari Bigby, Justin Harrell, Josh Sitton, Nick Barnett and Al Harris proved to be tough to overcome during the season. While Aaron Rouse and Tramon Williams filled in for Bigby and Harris decently, the injuries to Jenkins and Barnett were detrimental to the team. Jenkins, injured early in the season, provided a defensive anchor at the end position. In Jenkins’ absence, teams rushed the ball more effectively against the Packers’ defense. Barnett had a slow start to the season, but surely was missed as the Packers couldn’t find a true replacement for the seven year pro.
While injuries are always an uncertainty, changes in coaching and philosophy certainly could help spark the motivation in the players. With the addition of the 3-4 defense and coaching additions Dom Capers, Kevin Greene, Darren Perry and Mike Trgovac, players could have added enthusiasm and more attention to detail. While nothing is certain to succeed, it is evident the players will have to focus to learn the new defense. Providing the players buy into the system the coaches present, a better defense should appear eventually.
In addition to defense, the Packers also axed special teams coach Mike Stock for previous assistant Shawn Slocum. Another non-move in many fans’ eyes, this could provide a great improvement, especially with the 3-4 defense enabled. With the 3-4 defense, it means the Packers will carry more linebackers, giving their special teams a significant advantage. Generally when you look for special teams players, they are big and fast. That’s the typical makeup of a majority of linebackers as well. As well as the roster change, getting Mike Stock (the man who pushed for Derrick Frost) out of town isn’t all bad either. I’m sure Slocum will bring some fresh enthusiasm to the special teams, maybe teach the boys how to stop a kickoff return.
Coach McCarthy also decided to modify the atmosphere of the weight room. In firing long-time friend Rock Gullickson, McCarthy must have felt an urgent need to change the system. New strength and conditioning coordinator Dave Redding will provide the Packers with a different philosophy in weight training. Focusing on speed and endurance as opposed to bulk will provide a different program for many of the green and gold. As life-long Packer fan Redding says, he wants to produce football players, not body builders. Sounds like the motto that weight room junkie AJ Hawk needs to live by.
The Packers could fail to pick up another free agent and strike out in the draft, but I know this is a team with enough talent to win 13 games as they did in 2007. With new coaches aboard in every aspect they struggled in a season ago, the outlook is hopeful if they stay healthy.