I was recently invited by a blogger and friend of mine in the music business, who goes by the handle "Bearmeat" over at the blog AllGreenBayPackers.com to do a question/answer session as a sort of "View of the Enemy" sort of thing. We swapped questions about each other's team in the lead-up to training camp. If you're interested in reading about my answers to his questions, go check them out at AllGreenBayPackers.com (link below), as my interview will go live sometime Friday. In any case, here is what he had to say about my questions about the Green Bay Packers.
Bearmeat: I come in peace! I (of course) despise the Vikings on the field (and the Bears...and the Lions... Kind of). But I do not despise Vikings fans or their players or their coach. Some really fantastic individuals! I hope to give you some perspectives on the NFL (and will follow up in the comment section on DN if you'd like. I write for www.allgbp.com - and CCNorseman has kindly agreed to answer 20 questions from a Pack fan about the Vikes over there. Feel free to visit. Anyway, onto the show!
1. How did you like the Packer's 2014 draft? Which pieces stand out to you and which draft picks are ready to make an immediate impact?
It's really too early to tell. (Side rant: Draft grades before 3 years out are just click bait) Ted Thompson (TT) has done such a great job with WR/QB and even RB/OL in the past that I can safely say that I'm enthused about WR Davante Adams [2nd round] and WR Jared Abbrederis [5th Round]; if not for this year than for next. But we all know the real question is the defense. Clay Matthews (CM3), Mike Daniels, Sam Shields, J. Boyd, Heyward and Hyde have been very good to great players for us. But the jury is still out on Perry, Worthy, D. Jones, B. Jones, Hawk, Neal, House, Burnett and Raji (to name a few). Yes, injuries (argh..WHY??) on defense have hit hard every year since Capers came to town in 2009. All those guys do have talent and have flashed at least average skill sets - but they have yet to put it all together for an entire season. All that to say, simply put, TT's track record on defense with GB (but not Seattle - which is weird) is just not as good as his track record on offense.
That said I really like the HaHa Clinton-Dix pick (HHCD) [in the 1st round]. First of all, I believe he will be a complete NFL safety. Second, the pick occurred at a position of (dire) need for GB. Between HHCD and Hyde's move to FS and dime back (where IMO he is a more natural fit anyway) the Packers safety play should go from atrocious to at least solid this year - and that's a BIG improvement. I also like the pick of OLB Carl Bradford [4th round]. He was an animal on a great ASU defense. He's got a variety of pass rush moves and goes all out every play. So if (when?) Perry gets hurt again we shouldn't be trotting out schlock to rush the passer opposite CM3 for the first time since the halcyon days of Reggie White and Sean Jones. Simply put, Bradford had no business lasting into the 4th round. (His arms are "only" 30.5 inches - shorter than ideal for a 3-4 OLB - sometimes Scouts should look at production more than combine numbers). His production, attitude and measurables are similar to Terell Suggs coming out of college - so that's a good thing.
The real wild card of the bunch is TE Richard Rodgers [3rd Round]. We all hated the pick on draft day because his 40 time was 4.78 (too slow to split the seam). But all reports from OTA's is that R. Rodgers was cleaning house on veteran players - down the seam. Again and again. ARod mentioned him as a guy who stood out (over Colt Lyerla who has MUCH better measurables) repeatedly. So I guess we'll see...
2. Talk about free agent signing Julius Peppers. We've had a little bit of musical chairs happening with pass rushers in the NFC North. Do you think he's got anything left in the tank, and can he make the transition to a 3-4 defense?
That's a great question. The short answer is "who knows." Although Bears fans will say it was the coaching, it seems pretty clear that the source of "issues" on the Bears defense in 2013 was their front office's unwillingness/inability to replenish the aging core of the defensive side of the ball. Peppers' regression from his 09/10 form was no doubt part of those issues. That said, Peppers has been great against the Packers in the past couple years. We saw absolutely no regression from him in his pass rushing or run fits in 2013. (and no, that was not on GB's OL). As you know, that was not the case with Jared Allen. At 34, Peppers is not an 800 snap-a-year guy anymore. But the beautiful thing is that (barring injuries to CM3, Perry and Neal again), he doesn't have to be. He was signed to be a secondary pass rushing threat. I'd expect 400 or so snaps for him this year from an "elephant" (stand up DE) role that he'll share with Perry and Neal. I'd bet he won't be dropping into coverage more than 20 times all year. At worst he'll be a 1 year, 8.5 million dollar mistake... and GB had the cap room to burn. (Side note, Chicago is paying Peppers more to play for their arch rivals than GB is - hehe) Bottom line, my guess is that Peppers gets 5 or 6 sacks the first half of the season and then his plantar fasciitis slows him down. But he could pull down 12 and be a force all year too...
3. What training camp battle are you most looking forward to watching? How many "battles" are the Packers going to be undergoing this year?
The TE and FS battles should be fun to watch. TE because Andrew Quarless is ‘meh', Brandon Bostick has upside but remains inconsistent, Richard Rodgers and Colt Lyerla are rookies and everyone else sucks. Barring a miracle return from Finley, TE will be the weakest (the only weakness?) spot on the Packers offense. It's always fun to watch a completely open competition.
The secondary is a completely different story. That battle should be fun to watch because there are so many solid players in GB's defensive backfield. Tramon is the cagey vet. Shields is the up-and-comer who hasn't hit his ceiling yet. Heyward is a grade A playmaker in the slot. Burnett was solid in 2011 and 2012 before sticking his head where the sun don't shine (next to MD Jennings and Jerron McMillan.. ugh..) last year. That leaves Hyde moving to FS and dime back. He took Heyward's spot at NCB last year and did VERY well. 55 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF and 750 yards returning. (He almost sent us to the 2nd round over the hated 49ers.. gah!) http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/micah-hyde-missed-chance-to-help-packers-grasp-victory-b99177644z1-238811461.html
And we can't forget about the highly touted FS HaSean Clinton-Dix. To say that Packers fans are excited about having their first possible blue chip player at FS since Nick Collins career being cut short so suddenly in week 2 of 2011 would be a massive understatement. HHCD showed his football intelligence at Alabama. He's smart, can cover, make plays on the ball and hit. Oh, and House/Bush and a few draft picks are behind them to provide solid depth. GBs secondary is going to be very good this year.
Other than that... pretty much every starting position is spoken for. Center could be interesting between JC Tretter and Corey Linsley but the guess here is that Tretter quickly runs away with the job.
4. What's in store for WR Jarrett Boykin this season after he filled in admirably last year after Cobb went down with injuries, especially now that James Jones has moved on? Could the Packers offense actually sustain three 1,000 yard receivers like everyone hoped from last season?
I really doubt it. If they have three 1,000 yard WRs that means that the ground game that was SO good last year has become an afterthought - and that would be BAD. Don't get me wrong, I'd bet Rodgers throws for 4,000+ and 30-40 TDs again, but I'd bet he'll spread it out more and throw over people's heads again because opposing defenses have to honor the run. (No more single high safety, thank God!) Nelson and Cobb will both get over 1000 (barring injury) but those are options 1 and 1A in the passing game. Plus, in addition to bashing people on the ground, the RBs are going to be coming out of the backfield for passes more this year. (PPR owners - that's a heads up). Lacy, Harris and Starks will be getting the ball in space this year as well as pounding the rock. Bet the over on Harris' production. (Sproles role in GB's offense on 3rd down - Mike McCarthy (MM) and Aaron Rodgers (AR) love him)
Regarding Boykin specifically: I'd bet he'll get somewhere around 60 catches for 700 yards and 5 or 6 TDs. He's solid. Smart. Strong. He'll be a great option on goal-to-go and 3rd and medium to long to move the sticks. But he's no burner. A bigger, smarter, stronger (and slower) version of James Jones. Solid. Not amazing.
5. Are the Packers at all interested in re-signing Jermichael Finley? Who is their best option at tight end if not Finley?
Stranger things have happened, but I seriously doubt it. GB's medical staff is notoriously conservative with their players. While I appreciate that their heads are in the right place, my heart gets frustrated with them at times. I'd bet Jermichael is done. Go home dude. Spend time with your wife and kids. Collect your insurance money and finish your free degree in business at UT Austin. Live life and don't risk it all on a moonshot.
I've covered this a bit in question 3... but I'll just say there is potential in the young guys at TE now... but nothing certain. TE will probably not be a major emphasis in GBs offensive playbook in 2014.
6. Who are the best playmakers in your secondary, and what would the return of Casey Hayward do to your defense (if anything)?
As I stated above, GBs secondary is going to be very good this year. So saying that Casey Heyward is the biggest playmaker in the secondary is a large claim to make. But his return is huge. He had 6 INTs, 1 FF, 21 passes defensed and 53 tackles as a rookie in 2012. MM has said his instincts are just like C-Wood's were in his prime. Now, C-Wood was much faster than Heyward, which is why Heyward is a nickel CB (which is a starting position in Capers 3-4) and C-Wood played wherever he damn well pleased and still dominated. I expect a healthy GB secondary to feature Heyward, Shields and the Hyde/HHCD winner to make plays and Tramon and Burnett to be solid.
7. How do you feel about your backup quarterbacks? If Matt Flynn or Scott Tolzien had to start again for any amount of time, can they win games for the Packers?
It was weird last year having to start anyone except he-who-shall-not-be-named and ARod. Before that week 8 tangle with the Bears, it had been since 1991 (!?!) that GB had to rely on anyone else at the most important position in sports for more than spot duty. As good as both those guys were, that's pretty friggen lucky.
TT/MM thought they could coach up Graham Harell and BJ Coleman in 2011/2012. They were wrong and it burned them. I think my dad has an apt saying for situations like GB endured at backup QB last year: "You can polish a turd and put it in a nice shiny box... but when you give it to someone, you're still handing them a pile of $#!T." So...Harell, Coleman, Vince Young, Seneca Wallace, a rawer-than-raw Tolzein and Matt Flynn all found time under center and we all know how lucky GB was to win the NFCN last year because of that SNAFU on the part of TT/MM.
That said, Flynn knows the GB system inside out, and unlike last year, he's spent the entire offseason in GB. He's not physically overwhelming (or even average) but he usually gets the job done. Is that not the definition of a good backup QB? If (God forbid) ARod were to miss 8 games again this year, I'd put money on Flynn going 4-4. Tolzein is a much more exciting prospect, but unless he absolutely throws down in the preseason he'll be #3 and Flynn will play out his 1 year contract as the clipboard holder. Tolzein will be #2 next year. I'm comfortable with that. So, short answer long... yes, they'll be better at backup this year.
8. Will the defensive line be an improved unit after the Packers let veterans Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly go in free agency? If so, why and how?
I love Pickett and Jolly. Good guys, good interior players and good stories. But they were both toast by the end of last year. (GB was only giving up 79 rushing YPG through week 6 - then the old guys wore out and the wheels fell off). Simply put, you have hit one of the biggest questions going into the year about GBs roster. MM has finally convinced Capers to go hybrid this year. (After years of trying to find a running mate for CM3 at LOLB MM probably told Capers to go hybrid or find another job). So you're going to see a lot of 3-4/4-3 mixed looks (hence the Elephant position). That means the DL has gotten lighter and faster. There's a lot of pass rushing talent there. D. Jones was sidetracked by a high ankle sprain the first half of last year but the dude is 6'5" 290 and can fly. His 5.5 sacks last year bode well for the future. Josh Boyd was a very reliable run stuffer last year. Raji sucked. TT brought him back on a 1 year "prove it" deal and put him at his preferred NT position (which Pickett played in 2011-2013). That leaves 3rd round pick Khryi Thornton, LeTroy Guion, Jerel Worthy and (can't forget about this guy) Mike Daniels. PFF rated Mike Daniels a top 10 3-4 interior rusher last year. https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2014/05/22/secret-superstars-2014-packers/ He deserved it. He rushed the passer to the tune of 6.5 sacks and 34 hurries, held his own in the run game and was downright nasty on the field. (like a defensive lineman should be)
All that to say, I have hope - but also skepticism. You can put it in big letters that GBs DL will rush the passer very well. But with the lighter weight in general, stopping the run on 3rd and short could be a serious issue. Raji can do it (but decided he didn't want to last year). Boyd can do it. D. Jones and Daniels can do it on occasion, but their body types are more geared towards pass rushing. I'd bet Guion and Worthy get cut. Who stops the run? This is a legit question. (I am NOT looking forward to facing the gauntlet of RBs the NFCN has at their disposal this year)
9. Name and discuss 2 players on the Packers roster that Vikings players may not know about, and who could make an impact in 2014.
I talked a little about this already, but Mike Daniels is about to go all J.J. Watt on the league. Ok, maybe he's not THAT good, but he is at the very least the second coming of Cullen Jenkins. In 2010, when CM3 was terrorizing QBs at his finest, there was another pass rushing threat opposite him in Jenkins. Now, for the first time since then, there is not just hope, but strength at pass rush quality and depth, with Daniels leading the charge. Between Daniels, Peppers, a Nick Perry who has been effective when healthy, Mike Neal and Datone Jones, GB's pass rush is going to scare some people.
The other is GB's LT. David Bakhtiari. All he did was come in as a rookie 4th round draft pick and hold down the fort against the best pass rushers in the league for 17 straight games. (Seriously, go look at the pass rushers Bakh faced. It's insane.) He had the highest pass protection grade of ANY rookie OL last year. At Left-Frigging-Tackle! (You know, only the hardest position to play on the OL) Did I mention he was a 4th round pick? J https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2014/04/09/rookies-in-focus-david-bakhtiari/ He handled speed rushers just fine but did struggle with strong pass rushers (which is why he owned Jared Allen last year but got owned by Julius Peppers and Ziggy Ansah). His real issue was run blocking. It...wasn't good. He just wasn't strong enough to move the man in front of him. Fortunately for Packer fans, Bakhtiari has put on 10 lbs of muscle in the offseason. The coaches and his colleagues are raving about him. http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/david-bakhtiari-ready-for-a-new-year-b99295082z1-263927121.html I think GB has found its LT of the future at a bargain basement price.
10. What are your predictions for the Packers in 2014, and how do they finish in the NFC North?
There are 3 legit concerns on GBs roster as constituted right now keeping them from being a great team. One is mentioned immediately above. The next is pass coverage at ILB. Hawk was never fast and he's now officially slow. He destroys golfers really well http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/07/18/a-j-hawk-grants-fans-wish-for-an-nfl-style-hit/ but doesn't do much else at more than a "Meh" level. B. Jones was great in coverage in 2012 and bad in 2013 (some of that was due to injuries.) Lattimore has talent but is young and makes stupid mistakes. Everyone else sucks. I'd guess GB gives up a lot of long drives with four or five 3rd and medium conversions because ILB is THE biggest weakness on the team this year.
I referenced this a little bit in the previous question, but the final question is who will start at Center? Tretter is bigger, stronger and faster than Evan Dietrich-Smith and Scott Wells before him. And he is smart. MM and James Campen (OL coach) are very happy with his progress and Linsley looks like a solid prospect behind him. The guards will be fantastic again, and the Tackles should be the best group GB has had since the heydays of Clifton and Tauscher. (Bakh will improve on his successful rookie year and Bulaga has been a very good RT when healthy). Oh, and there's depth for the first time in forever with Barclay as a high quality 6th man. GB's OL was very good last year and will be better this year. IF Tretter can play, this will be the best OL GB has had since the days of Ahman Green. (proof positive that those who call GB a 1 man team with a bad OL are wrong) https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2014/01/13/2013-offensive-line-rankings/3/ http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/packers-confident-offensive-line-ready-to-fulfill-its-promise-b99313293z1-267817221.html
Of course no one in the NFL is perfect. The NFL does not allow the equivalent of a 1927 New York Yankees in 2014. And that's a good thing. Which means that with all the grousing I've done about GBs weaknesses, I think (assuming health) GBs problems are less than most teams and place them solidly in the group of clubs that could win the Super Bowl this year. They are all world at the most important position in sports, have a good OL, great WRs and RB, very good secondary, a number of pass rushing threats and more quality depth than they've had in years. What's not to like? (Again, assuming health) At the worst they'll be 10-6 and in 2nd in the NFCN, but I think they win the division by 2 games clear over the Lions at 12-4 or 13-3. (Losses at SEA, @ NO and either @ DET or @ CHI. Maybe another "crazy" game they should win but manage to screw up). If the defense improves to league average, they'll be the favorite to win it all by Thanksgiving. If not, it'll be another gut wrenching loss to the 49ers, Seahawks or Saints in the playoffs. I can't see a way (again assuming health) that they don't at least make the playoffs. And I can't wait!
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my favorite team guys! I wish you all the luck in the world when you are playing anyone but GB! (Especially the Bears - PLEASE shut their fans up for us will you?)