It’s been an interesting reaction among Packer fans so far to the loss of Charles Woodson. Right now there seems to be equal parts "oh well," "oh noes," and "well he’s been a shell of himself this year anyways." Honestly this seems like a healthy reaction considering what Woodson has done this year, the schedule ahead, and who the Packers have behind him right now.
That said let’s make one thing clear….replacing Charles Woodson is simply impossible. There is no next man up here like when Desmond Bishop or D.J. Smith went down. Woodson was the most unique part of the Packers defensive scheme…even more unique and singular than Clay Matthews. Woodson shifted between two to three different positions on the field at any given time and allowed the Packers to have an unmatched flexibility to what the offense was able to do and the looks they gave. No matter how talented the young guys are behind him, no one can replicate that on the field.
And that’s not even touching his leadership ability….
The bottom line is now the Packers have to fill two part-time starting positions on the defense. They will need a new starting safety in the base defense. They will need a new slot corner. So who do the Packers have to fill in those gaps? Let’s meet some of the candidates…..
Starting base safety:
M.D. Jennings. It may surprise you to see me starting here since it’s no secret I’m a big Jerron McMillian fan and rather cool towards Jennings. Yet, there are some reports that suggest Jennings may be the lead candidate to take this particular job. Jennings is a strong tackler and has plenty of speed to play the deep ball when need be. He also has not been outright terrible like he was in week 1 versus San Francisco. That said, it seems whenever I see a big play brewing against our defense I tend to see number 43 buzzing around the ball at the end of the play….which is never a good sign.
Jerron McMillian. I would wager that if I put this up for a poll for who should be the starting safety right now it would be McMillian. He has had a strong year and has been able to make some plays happen. He has also found a nice balance between being able to defend the pass and bring the heat in the running game. The main thing working against him is his inexperience. If the Packers throw McMillian in full time there may be some serious growing pains that come with playing this young a player. In the long run that’s probably a good thing, but is it something the Packers want to do while trying to make a Super Bowl run?
Davon House. If we go by the depth chart of this past Sunday the odds on favorite would be House. House was playing in the dimeback spot and got more playing time as the game went on. Overall he looked fine and just as good as he did during the preseason. Out of the three young corners (Hayward, House, and Shields) House looks like the best cover guy and the surest tackler. However it may be a waste to put house in this particular position. House also happens to be the biggest and the strongest of those young corners as well. He would probably thrive being lined up along the outside covering the X and Z receivers rather than inside the slot where quicker and faster receivers tend to dwell.
Casey Hayward. Hayward has been the rising star of the defense over the past month. He’s survived some trials by fire and is now starting to show some of the ball skills he was touted for. He’s also a corner who is able to make a fast break on the ball when need be. His talents might be best situated for the slot corner spot. He can handle those faster and quicker receivers and maybe make some plays on the short slant routes….but would it be a waste to keep this young playmaker off the field in base situations?
Sam Shields. Right now he is injured so this is a moot point at the moment, but Shields may be the best physically to handle this role. He has been playing with more of an attitude this year, showing up in run support and tackling better than ever. He also has the speed to keep up with any receiver in the game. Putting him inside where he won’t be lined up against big, tall, and physical receivers would lessen some of the mismatches he can have against him and allow him to play the game as he wants….but would he still have the same top end speed and quickness after he comes back from the knee injury? The other problem would be if he has the awareness to handle the mind game that can come with being a slot corner…where extra film study and reading the offense is critical.
All of these players are good options for the individual positions, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last thing….there is still something missing. None of these players listed are as good at coming on the blitz or forcing the fumble as Charles Woodson. The Packers are a defense that needs some unpredictability to it in order to really succeed. Even more so is the ability to force turnovers. Woodson has always had a knack for that while each of these other players have not shown that ability to strip the ball or get to the quarterback. Sadly, the one guy who has shown that ability is none other than Jarrett Bush….the problem there is that the guy can’t cover a receiver to save his soul.
Replacing Charles Woodson is impossible. The good news is that the Packers seem to have the talent on board to manage the injury and replace most of what he brought to the table. So what say you APC? Who would you like to see in each of these positions while Woodson heals up for the playoffs.