DD, the classic Packer Wide Receiver. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE
This post was originally going to be about the roster battle at WR, but first I want to go on a tangent. If you are a fan of the Packers and have had a pulse for the past 4-6 months then you have probably heard a lot about two development WR's: Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley. Both are interesting prospects at wide receiver and both are going to make a hard push to make a team this year, whether it be the Packers or somewhere else. But as I thought about the battle between these two something else occured to me....the results of this battle may signify something larger than just one or two roster spots.
It may just signify a change in how the Packers' offense is built....maybe even a dramatic one at that.
Every team has a style in how they build. This goes beyond "draft and develop" though. Teams often look for body types and playing styles at positions. By looking for these particular body types and playing styles the team creates a cycle of matching the player and the scheme. If this is done well then the team develops a reputation for always having this position around and developing this sort of talent. For example, the Giants have had that long, talented end rusher for a good amount of time. Whether it's Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, or Jason Pierre-Paul that guy is around.
For the Packers one of those dynamic traits has been at WR. While many teams like to keep a couple different types and styles of WR around who have different skills, for example the Vikings and Lions have a possession receiver, a deep threat, and a slot guy, Packers have tended toward a type. This template for the Packers' WR is a guy who is around 6', has good speed, good ball skills, smart and tough. This guy is then taught every different position a WR can be put in (outside, slot, X, Y, Z, etc.). It could be argued this goes back to the Ron Wolf days with Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman. Today this is best shown with Donald Driver and James Jones.
Could the Packers be going away from that type of WR though?
Borel and Gurley offer two different skill sets and body types. Borel is the classic Packer WR. He's 6' exactly. He's pretty fast and dynamic with the ball. He was a QB in college and so is learning the offense fast, he could possibly know it better than any of the other WR's. Gurley though is the classic tall, possession WR. Think Marques Colston. Not necessarily the fastest guy, but he's strong, tall, and able to just go up and get the ball no matter what the coverage. He's probably better outside the numbers than in the slot and while capable of learning all the WR positions will be better at some than others.
The reason this keeps sticking in my head though is the total picture of the unit. If you go back to the Super Bowl year you see four guys who are remarkably similar in size and playing style. Greg Jennings is 5'11", the most dynamic with the ball in his hands, probably the fastest, but also able to win most of the time outisde the numbers as well and operate as a #1 WR for a high powered offense. Jordy Nelson is the tallest at 6'3" and probably the strongest. He's probably has the body type that fits with a traditional X position spot, but still with good speed and YAC skills. Driver and Jones (6' and 6'1") are that middle ground.
The thing is though, Jones is stuck down the depth chart and may be traded. Driver is probably gone after this year. To replace them is Randall Cobb and either Gurley or Borel. Cobb is shorter than Jennings (5'10") and not quite as good in the split end positions since he's not as big or strong as the other WR's. He is faster though and a much more dynamic slot WR. Imagine then a WR group that involves Jennings, Nelson, Cobb, and Gurley. This is a vastly different group than 2010. Jennings and Nelson can move down the line sure, but Cobb and Gurley will probably have much more specialized roles.
Then again, the Packers could keep seven this year to buffer for the future (not likely as much as many would like to imagine). Even if they do keep seven though it raises an interesting question about the team make up. What position would go light in order to keep that extra roster spot. As much as the Packers have been known as a passing team and a team that relies on speed and skill (and rightfully so), when you look at where the Packers have gone light in order to keep an imbalance it has not been at skill positions. The best example of this is where the Packers kept only 2 HB's in order to keep 3 FB's in 2010. In fact the Packers have tended to keep 6 FB's and TE's for most of the years that McCarthy has been head coach. If the Packers were to go below that in order to keep 7 WR that would be an interesting change in style. One that may be more telling than it would seem at first glance.
All in all this is a lot to read into one part of one roster battle. Nevertheless, it is an interesting dynamic to what promises to be an interesting camp. A camp that should give us glimpse into the long term future of the Packers for so many reason.