The Lass Word: Gutekunst, Coaches Deserve Credit for Quality Depth

Packers grind out victories with unlikely cast.

Take any team in the National Football League.  Any team.  Doesn’t matter which one.  Now take away their two best offensive tackles, their second best receiver, both of their starting cornerbacks, their best edge rusher and a starting inside linebacker. 

 

What you would have left is a team that would struggle to compete.  Yet that is what the Green Bay Packers have been doing.  Not all the injuries have occurred at the same time, but they have been stacking up throughout the first four games of the season.  Still, the Packers have been able to not only compete, but to go on a three game win streak, and post a 3-1 record to sit atop the NFC North.  It hasn’t been pretty, but at the end of the regular season, you don’t get style points.  They just count up how many wins you have. 

 

Examples of other teams who have not been able to cope with injuries as well are easy to find.  Take last Sunday’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Their poor start is not totally due to the deterioration of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  The team also had four key starters missing, including talented receiver Chase Claypool.  Look at Carolina.  The Panthers were rolling to a 3-0 start, then lost running back Christian McCaffery and star rookie corner Jaycee Horn.  They were subsequently beaten soundly by the Cowboys.   The 49ers have lost two in a row, after their secondary has been riddled with injuries. 

 

By contrast, Green Bay has been kept afloat by a series of competent performances from reserves and new acquisitions.  The Packers have demonstrated surprisingly good depth, and they have desperately needed it.  The most obvious is in the offensive line.  With the absence of David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, the Pack has started undrafted free agent Yosh Nijman at the critical left tackle slot, and sixth round pick Jon Runyan at left guard.  That’s in addition to rookie starters Josh Myers at center and Royce Newman at right guard.  The young unit, despite being green as grass, has held up.  They’re not great, but they’ve played well enough to allow the team to have a reasonably solid running game, and hold the sacks and hits on Aaron Rodgers to just a handful.  They’ve gotten the job done.  That’s all you can ask for. 

 

After Marquez Valdes-Scantling went on injured reserve, Randall Cobb stepped up with a big game against the Steelers.  Allen Lazard continues his contributions with, and without the ball.  Rookie Amari Rodgers is getting on the field and doing a lot of jet sweep motion.  In the absence of corners Jaire Alexander and Kevin King late in Sunday’s game, rookie draft pick Shemar Jean-Charles and trade acquisition Isaac Yiadom took the field.  They had the benefit of playing with a lead, so they were able to stay back and, for the most part, prevented any quick scores.  Inside linebacker Krys Barnes was in concussion protocol, so Ty Summers and Oren Burks plugged the gap alongside the stellar play of De’Vondre Campbell.   Jonathan Garvin has been getting more snaps on the edge with Za’darius Smith on IR with back issues, and Garvin has not embarrassed himself.   

 

Again, these reserves are not always playing like All Pros, but they are holding down the fort.  They are doing what several other teams have not been able to....survive the attrition of injuries.  It’s time to recognize General Manager Brian Gutekunst, and his scouting staff, for the job they have done in assembling this depth of talent.  Runyan, Myers, Newman, Jean-Charles, Summers, Burks, and Garvin were all drafted by Gutekunst.  Nijman and Barnes were discovered and signed as UDFA’s.  Campbell was a late free agent signing and Yiadom was a trade acquisition.  Cobb was Aaron Rodgers’ idea, but Gutey still had to make the decision to bring him back.  Don’t forget the last minute upgrade at punter with the trade for Corey Bojorquez.   

 

Gutey has taken his hits for various decisions, most often for the drafting of Jordan Love.  While the jury remains out on that move, there can be no denying he has done well at stocking the shelf across the board for this year’s team, using all avenues available.  It’s even more impressive considering the team’s salary cap limitations. 

 

And Gutekunst continues to work the roster hard.  This week he signed Rasul Douglas off the Arizona Cardinals practice squad to ease the loss of Alexander.  Douglas has started 29 games in four years, and wears a Super Bowl ring.  Reserve linebacker Chauncey Rivers tore his ACL in practice this week and is lost for the season.  So Thursday the Packers signed linebacker Jaylon Smith, after he was released by the Cowboys.  While not playing at his 2019 Pro Bowl level, Smith remains a tackling machine and figures to be an upgrade over Rivers.  And if he regains the form of a few years ago, he will be an upgrade over Krys Barnes and De’Vondre Campbell as well, assuming he is used inside. 

 

Individually, the reserves don’t appear as an impressive bunch.  But, working together with the other starters, they have been able to assimilate and hold up.  That’s where coaching comes in.  Matt LaFleur and his staff have done a commendable job, both in deciding whom to insert, and then coaching them up to be ready for the challenge.  For example, the decision to play the untested Nijman, instead of moving veteran Billy Turner over to the left side, has turned out to be the right call.  It allowed for a minimum of shuffling across the O-line and has created some degree of stability.  Adam Stenavich has done a superlative job keeping this unit competent.  Ditto for secondary coach Jerry Gray, Mike Smith with the edge rushers, and Kirk Olivadotti with the inside backers.   

 

The idea is to get enough out of these second and third team players to be able to hang on and continue to win games, until some of the starters can come back.  LaFleur indicated he is hopeful Jenkins, King and Barnes could return to play against the Bengals this weekend.   Regardless, there will be several sets of big shoes to fill when the Packers kick off against a Cincinnati team that is much improved, and tied for first in the rugged AFC North at 3-1.   

 

Green Bay’s depth will have to carry the day again.  And if they do, no matter how ugly it looks, Gutekunst, LaFleur and the rest of the coaches should get the considerable credit they deserve. 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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10 points

Comments (32)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
nygary's picture

October 07, 2021 at 04:18 pm

I love that Gute stays active year round trying to improve the roster.

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stockholder's picture

October 07, 2021 at 04:27 pm

Nice write up. Very True. But doesn't Rodgers deserve some Credit too? So- Drink to the Future. Everyone is showing their worth.

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CoachDino's picture

October 08, 2021 at 01:14 am

Why does AR deserve credit? I take it it was a sarcastic comment.

AR isn't playing so great this to date.

Don't get me wrong he has made some nice plays but he's a;so made some big mistakes and has had avg at best games since the complete duds.

His insistence on passing when running is in the best interest has almost cost them 2 games. He has missed multiple throws this years to open rec and has thrown to wrong recs or taken sacks when guys were open.

PFF has him at 26th in Qb grade rankings which is skewed due to game 1 but SF is the only game he graded out good but once again he almost blew that one with his insistence on passing. We are a much better team due to AR being on it and Im sure he will step up his game but today he has been mediocre at best compared to his peers.

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TheVOR's picture

October 07, 2021 at 04:43 pm

Just wait until he “Improves the Roster” by moving on from a top 3 NFL QB talent? Let’s not forget this is the same GM that found a way to alienate a returning MVP QB. Knowing the importance of that role and position in the NFL? That was unforgivable to me personally. Not sure that nonsense is over either.

Getting the Punter in here? Hell, I made that call, I was at the final preseason game of Corey Bojorquez, in Denver, and stated by the 2nd half of that game that if our GM had even ½ a brain that kid would be GB’s punter. This stuff isn’t rocket science.
The rocket science is, how to we keep Aaron Rodgers happy and under center, and continue building a winning team around him by superb drafting, and in using the fact that you have Aaron Rodgers to recruit select veteran players to start playing in and winning Super Bowls? He’s failed to build a real Super Bowl defense. The Defensive coaching overall has been abysmal. No significant DL or ILB help?

Why would anyone think that this team becomes better in a post Rodgers era? You could give this GM several #1’s and a few players in a Rodgers trade scenario, and you’ll still be lucky if they win 3-4 games! News flash people, Jordan Love isn’t a starting NFL Talent, and never will be. It’s just not in his film. He does exactly one thing really well, and unfortunately, it’s not the majority of what makes up an Aaron Rodgers or even a competent starting NLF QB. The great ones don’t have to “develop it”, they have “IT”.
Not buying into all the GM and coaching fluff, go win a Super Bowl already… Then lets talk.

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t-wrecks's picture

October 07, 2021 at 05:37 pm

Do you honestly think you know more than an entire football organization because you watch a few hours of football each week?

Before you give up on the next decade of Packers football, I recommend you take a step back and remind yourself that it's just a game and form of entertainment.

Maybe try fishing or something?

8 points
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TarynsEyes's picture

October 07, 2021 at 06:19 pm

" I recommend you take a step back and remind yourself that it's just a game and form of entertainment."

Someone always pops up and off about how others should watch the game or speak to it.

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PearlyBakerBest's picture

October 08, 2021 at 03:41 am

Says the pot to the kettle.

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Packers0808's picture

October 07, 2021 at 05:57 pm

Being a football guru is/ does not seem to fit in your wheel house!

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packer132's picture

October 08, 2021 at 08:12 am

You draft a QB when you don't need one. (see the Saints and Steelers). Gute drafted a guy he and the scouts liked, and Rodgers had subpar years back to back. He also had a serious injury. The drafting of Love and realization that his career was winding down spurred Aaron to have a great 2020. He may have 3 years left, but as the person controling the future of the team, the team comes first. Its a business, and Gute has put together the players to win 13 games two years in a row with a rookie coach.
Draft class of 2021: Stokes, Myers, A Rodgers, Newman, Slaton, Jean-Charles, Van Lanen, McDuffie, Hill. 2020: Love, Dillon, Deguara, Runyan, Hanson, V Scott, Garvin. 2019: Gary, Savage, Jenkins, Keke. Time will tell, but this looks to be a very good job of drafting some star players.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 07, 2021 at 09:00 pm

If he was in panic mode he would have moved on Herbert. Thats what blue chip, stone balls GM s do. The logic remains flawed.

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4thand1's picture

October 07, 2021 at 07:02 pm

VOR, I remember arguing with people in here about Devonte Adams making it as a WR. Some so called experts said A-Rod didn't have an NFL arm. We don't know if J Love will make it, it's too early to pound nails in his NFL coffin.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 07, 2021 at 08:58 pm

VOR speaks the truth. W/out Rodgers this clown operation would be lucky to post 8-9, 7-10 records consecutively as they drift in the currents of the the Big Green Bay. Only the red hats would get all QQQQ'd up to remove the best player from this team. A loser's cornucopia for these deadbeat recidivists. Rodgers stays, Low-ball and Murphy take the pink slip. Gutedkunst gets the reprieve if he signs the Guy longterm. wtf ! Why is this a discussion??

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croatpackfan's picture

October 08, 2021 at 04:17 am

Ooooo

This is again Diva's train in full action! Diva's who should be called for last year NFCCG, not Kevin King. What Diva did in 2 games played vs Tampa. Next to nothing. When it is matter there is statistic how Diva vanish and make all wrong moves.

This season alone he has as much bad throws to his team mates that he is looking almost like Big Ben. Apologists will cry that he was under pressure, but naked eye does not confirm that explanation. Remember last game on 3rd and 9 from Packers 6 yards. He throws the ball to Davante (I know, "Dropvante") to high that even Superman would have problems to catch the ball and stay inside field. Than his long throw to wide open Big Bob that was badly underthrown and impossible for Big Bob to even play on it. Remember all of those overthrows and underthrows to MVS, Lazard, Davante. Yes, it can not be DIva's mistake, it is surely that all of those WR does not know how to run routes properly.

You have to understand one small fact. Diva is almost 39. Diva has both collarbone repaired. And as in everything on this earth, repaired things are not the same as original.
And collarbones maybe looks to Diva's apologists like small, not so important, bone, but that bone has quite an impact to throwing motion, both on spin and trajectory plus on strength of the throw. This will become more and more evident with age and faster than year by year regression. This is the fact. You can check it.

Instead to be clever (Diva is smart, highly intelligent person, there is no doubt) and adapt his game to his real capability, he made mistakes and trying to play same game as he is 10 years younger and had no injury. When mistakes happened Diva is trying to find explanation outside himself, instead to be humble and start from his own courtyard. He is not always guilty, but he is not unmistakable person as nobody amongst humanity is. Continuing this behavior, Diva will again ruin his chances to win another SB.

If you do not want to see obvious, there is no argument which will make you change your mind. I have no doubt on that. So, I will not spare my time any more to try to explain obvious about Diva anymore.

This will be last post on the subject.

What I only want is to enjoy in football games and be joy when Packers wins.

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Philarod's picture

October 08, 2021 at 06:04 am

Do you get paid for each time you write "Diva"?

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croatpackfan's picture

October 08, 2021 at 07:24 am

Yes, I pay to myself...

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Guam's picture

October 08, 2021 at 07:58 am

TheVOR: You have no more idea than the rest of us whether Love is an NFL grade QB or not. Statistically it is about a coin toss as to whether he will be a good starter or not. Give the guy a chance to prove himself as Father Time will require the Packers to move on from Rodgers soon enough anyway, whether by the Packer's choice or by Rodgers' choice. Rodgers will be 38 this season and most QBs retire by that age and only a very few have played much beyond it.

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Coldworld's picture

October 08, 2021 at 08:06 am

Without Rodgers this team would be unrecognizable. This team is obviously built around Rodgers. Therefore he he obviously the hub, by design. Doing so with his cap percentage places considerable stress on resources for other positions. That’s the NFL game. Gute has done well to find players to give us the depth we have in that context.

Reading your comment, it is impossible to miss your assumption that Rodgers is forever. The fact is he is not. He’s now in a phase where the end may come fast due to injury or simple aging. We saw the former with Brees last year, the latter with Big Ben last week it seems. Just because Brady has not yet succumbed does not mean others will have similar longevity. The end approaches even without considering cap necessities. To consciously ignore that inevitably is to be the ostrich with its head in the sand.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 08, 2021 at 09:27 am

Just one fact. Tom Brady has no serious injuries on his body, rest of the pack has. Big Ben, Drew Brees, AR.

Remember Payton? His down started with his significant injury!

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greengold's picture

October 08, 2021 at 09:31 am

He can thank Bill Belichick for that. Belichick knows the importance of running the rock. Keeps your QB upright.

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fordguy's picture

October 08, 2021 at 06:01 pm

So blowing out your knee and missing a year isn't considered a major injury?

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4thand1's picture

October 08, 2021 at 09:48 pm

But it got the Brady rule, PF for hitting a QB low when in the pocket.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 09, 2021 at 11:36 am

Knee injury does not influence a lot throwing motion and Tom Brady is pocket passer, not QB expected to run. While legs provide proper position to throw as support function does not require much of knee functions. Contrary to collarbone, or neck, or shoulder or back, not to mention some muscle and tendon injuries related to throwing motion.

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fordguy's picture

October 09, 2021 at 01:53 pm

I can't honestly believe that someone would actually say that about knee's to a QB. And this should finally end you idiots talking about collar bones, they have no use in the throwing motion or anything else. http://www.human-existence.com/blog/?p=230

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t-wrecks's picture

October 07, 2021 at 05:08 pm

Gute has been a refreshing GM in regards to Ted's last few years with the team. Thanks for your article.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 07, 2021 at 09:02 pm

Comparing raisins to grappa.....

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Packers1985's picture

October 07, 2021 at 11:13 pm

Agreed we found some good depth in oline and kudos to Gute on this. But i feel it's too early to access the depth particularly on the D side of the ball. We are not getting much from our second choice pass rushers and the secondary backups.

Our real test will be against bengals who I feel are balanced on both sides of the ball and the cardinals in the coming weeks.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 08, 2021 at 09:18 am

Hendrickson influences the O line selections.

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Savage57's picture

October 08, 2021 at 05:56 am

The Packers are once again proving that over the long haul of a NFL season, a team's roster quality from 23-45 might be as important as it is from 1-22.

6 points
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greengold's picture

October 08, 2021 at 09:19 am

Great piece, Ken, and I agree with you 100%.

No GM in all of NFL history is perfect. There are misses in both drafting and FA that can take a long time to recover from. Being as good as GB has been for so long, they usually find the bottom rounds to replenish talent. I think he's done a fantastic job locating his best value picks. This year's OL and secondary is testament to that.

Adding both Douglass and Jaylon Smith at this point in the season, for next to nothing, and still having some cap wiggle room is remarkable.

I'm always left thinking of Jarret Bush, when fans talk about players who are bottom of roster. That interception in our last Super Bowl win pretty much sealed the deal! You never know where those game breaking contributions will come from. Bottom of roster doesn't matter too much, not on a team this rich in talent. They are all good football players. We'll see what happens, but, this roster is loaded, thanks to Gutekunst and his staff. They are tireless in their search for players they can add to make the Packers better,

It's not all daisies. Not till he finds a gem DT/NT to helps us reach our goal. I do think we need that, or to at least play TJ Slaton more! Get him his game experience now!!! It will make him a better player when we need him in playoffs. Unless, they are saving him on reps for this purpose...? Keep him fresh for playoffs? I can't believe how little he's been used.

Hoping for the best this season, and I can't wait to see these newly added players perform.

GPG

1 points
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Houndog's picture

October 08, 2021 at 10:08 am

Unless we're in need of Cornerbacks, have someone other than Gutey make the First round selections and we'll be OK.

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PatrickGB's picture

October 08, 2021 at 11:53 am

Like many of us here I cringed when they traded up and picked a QB in the first round. Yet unlike Ted, Gutie does seem to know how to churn the roster and get players even when the team has little or no cap space.

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HarryHodag's picture

October 08, 2021 at 11:11 am

The "Aaron Rodgers is the greatest" crowd will never be satisfied. I remember the same arguments happening when Rodgers was drafted to take over for Favre. The gurus all said Ted Thompson had lost his mind and was driving a HOF QB out of Green Bay. They said Favre could play until he was 50.

Things worked out ok.

Gute is hired to look at the entire football operation, not just QB. While you can argue about this position or that position, the truth is the Packers have continued to win with him making personnel decisions. Aaron Rodgers is a vital component as he's still playing at a high level, but as you see with Ben R. in Pittsburgh. you can slip backwards very quickly. The team must look forward, and to land a top 5 QB prospect in Love for a winning team is remarkable. Love may never work out but the effort to get him was worth it.

The team has several blue-chip players across the board and as is evidenced this year, a number of players who can add quality depth.

To all the doubters look at the overall picture. The Packers remain contenders all these years after Ron Wolf saved the franchise from oblivion in 1991.

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