It's hard to believe that we are entering year eight of the Ted Thompson era. It seems like only yesterday that Packer fans were getting used to the concept of not belly flopping into the free agent pool each year and slowly getting used to the draft and develop model. Nowadays we really don't expect much in the offseason save for the draft, and February through July tend to be rather ho-hum affairs.
You know, unless there was some kind of disappointment from the season before.
As much as TT & Co. tend to get the conservative label there is a pattern that when the team disappoints then something interesting is going to happen the following offseason. In 2005 the team went 4-12 and TT delivered to Packer nation the head of Mike Sherman and brought about the Mike McCarthy era. In 2008 the Packers went 6-10 when it looked like they may even win the division before folding in spectacular fashion down the stretch. This led to the firing of every defensive coach not named Winston Moss, the hiring of Dom Capers, and the dramatic first day trade bringing the Packers Clay Matthews (after already drafting B.J. Raji at #9).
This year we know the disappointment which occurred....that awful playoff game. Sticking with the pattern, TT made some dramatic actions that were outside the norm of the Packers offseason. There were signings of free agents, dramatic draft day trades, and personality and jokes in the press conferences. All this should clue you in that something was up.
The last few days I have been thinking about all this action and my mind keeps circling back to one thing in particular...the defensive line. It all started out with a rather strange thought, could the defensive line become a position of strength for the Packers? Now all of this when I was still high on the hope that the suspensions for Mike Neal and Anthony Hargrove might be reduced, but now it looks like hope is a bit fleeting (at least for Hargrove). Really though the Packers have filled this position group with a bunch of low risk high reward prospect that the Pack could surprise a few people this year. Then again we could also end up with the same rag tag group of scrubs (plus Raji and Ryan Pickett) that we had last year.
So which will it turn out to be?
Why it will be a "BOOM":
In short, the team has added enough bodies with at least some potential so that Raji can reduce his number of snaps and improve his play mixed with a couple of the new guys making some noise. The most likely suspect for this is going to be Jerel Worthy. After all, he may be the rookie most Packer fans are excited about (no offense Nick Perry). It could also be that Philip Merling will get his head on straight and showing why he was such a high draft pick, Mike Daniels could show his high motor and get some pressure on the QB, or one of the guys from last year (Lawrence Guy, Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilison, etc.) step up and make a dramatic improvement of play. It doesn't even have to be all of them doing this; if the Packers can have three or four capable players and two or three solid role players this could be one of the stronger position groups on the team. More important though, the Packers could have at least two players who are able to collapse the pocket from the inside and allow Perry and Matthews to attack from the edge and make the defense something special again.
Why it will be a "BUST"
Once you cut through the post-draft hype that surrounds each team there is one sobering reality, namely, that the rookies probably aren't going to contribute like many of us think they will year one. Coach McCarthy echoed a similar statement to Don Banks of SI not too long ago by pointing out that the rookies will add competition and help where they can but the drafting of these rookies alone won't fix the defense by itself. So Worthy will be a good addition, but he won't be a silver bullet for the line. Daniels will hopefully get some good snaps, but probably is not going to be a major contributor year 1. Instead most of the improvement needs to come from Wynn, Wilson, Guy, Merling, Muir, Neal, and Hargrove....and well....that's putting most of our hopes in these guys. Guys who have generally shown nothing (Neal, Wilson, and Wynn) or showed so little for other teams that they had no problem letting them go (Muir and Merling) or are suspended for a good chunk of the year (Neal and Hargrove). Not exactly a strong investment, is it? The ultimate bust would that these guys stay who they are and so the bulk falls on Raji who becomes overworked and under performs again. As a result the Packers don't get the pass rush they need putting more pressure on the offense and more heart attacks across the state of Wisconsin.
I'm not sure there is much middle ground here for the Packers. Either the big men upfront can win their match ups and get pressure on the QB or they can't and we are in for another long year. So which do you think is going to happen? Boom....or bust?