While our 2009 wasn't as successful as it was for other teams, we saw enough to expect more success in 2010 and beyond. There's a lot to like about the Green Bay Packers going forward, unless of course you're cheering for the other team. But which players fit in the best? Which don't? Which ones are keepers, and which ones need to be driven out of town? It's time to look at who did well (and who didn't), and ultimately what their role will be going forward.
It's the end of 2008, and Green Bay's starting tackle tears his ACL. There's no telling whether or not he'll be back in time for 2009, a crossroads made all the more complex by his status as an unrestricted free agent. There are a few options for the team. Number one is to find a rookie replacement in the draft. This was a popular stance, given the abundance of talent at OT, especially in the first round. The second was to find a replacement in free agency, which could have worked as easily as it could have imploded. The final option was the most understated, the most logical, and the most dangerous, all at the same time.
Going into training camp, the Packers had two choices to replace the then-departed Mark Tauscher: Breno Giacomini and Allen Barbre. Tauscher was like a New York strip steak where you knew exactly what you were gonna get. But with the local steakhouse shut down (temporarily), you've got to eat somewhere else, and you end up at an Indian restaurant choosing between paneer masala and saag korma.
For the record, both dishes are exquisite and delicious if you go to the right place. But to the lay person, unless you've studied them both up close, you've got no idea whatsoever as to which is better for you. And we tried to explore it, but it's like trying to determine which dish is a better fit by just glancing at the menu.
Considering the relative dearth of knowledge regarding these two players' readiness as starters, the 2009 preseason sealed the deal for Allen Barbre. After all, he got the starter reps, and the Green Bay starters set the world aflame during the preseason. And then the season started and defenses actually tried to get after Rodgers and Barbre turned into a human turnstile.
So what happened? Mainly, the offense was forced to choose between helping Barbre on the right side and helping Chad Clifton on the left, who had more than his fair share of failures in pass protection. Barbre was left alone to learn on the job, seemingly indefinitely. Then, of course, Mark Tauscher was resigned, worked his way back into playing shape, and Green Bay went on a second-half run to end the season at 11-5.
But at what cost? After all, Barbre had shown some development over the course of the season. Yes, he was the scapegoat for the offense that was a league-leader in sacks allowed. Yes, the likes of Adewale Ogunleye, Ray Edwards, and Antwan Odom ran roughshod over his stumbling bumbling sorry-excuse-for-a-tackle hide from time to time. But he showed glimpses of dominating run blocking and surprisingly potent pass protection every so often.
Maybe 2009 is what he needed. Maybe he needed to win out against Giacomini (can we talk about how bad 2009 would have been were Breno the starter?) and be thrown into the fire and left there until Tauscher healed his knee fully. Maybe he can use this past season as motivation to improve his game to the point where he can be a viable option and not just a contingency plan.
As always, players like Barbre need the offseason like fish need water. Physical tools? Definitely. Valuable experience? Absolutely. Confidence? I'm sure he'd tell you he's confident, but you and I aren't quick to agree. Integrating his mind and body seamlessly? There's the ticket.
All of the intangibles are things that reveal themselves in due time. However, learning how to recognize defensive schemes, how to attack oncoming defenders, how to keep proper technique, and which assignments go with what calls are all things that can be improved between now and September. Will he do it and lobby for the position of Mark Tauscher's replacement a second time? Or will he fall to the wayside as the team seeks to not repeat the same mistake twice?