Tag Archives: TT

Next Man Up

Coming off ‘The Statement Game’ of the 2012 season, it’s clear that this seasons Packers defense is exactly what this team needs in order to win a Super Bowl. As I explained earlier this year, a top ranked defense is not required for this team to get back to the Super Bowl. Instead, an average, respectable defense will suffice. And so far, the defense has been average, while working on becoming a good defense.

The return to form by the Claymaker is a big reason the defense has improved so much.

The game stats show a defense that has been average: 14th in yards per game and 19th in points per game. But the Packers rank high in game-changing plays: leading the league in sacks with 21, and 10th in the league in takeaways. And this last number will surely rise because the Packers have not recovered a fumble and there have been numerous interceptions dropped in recent games.

It’s a remarkable turnaround from the embarrassment that was the 2011 defense. Unfortunately, the ability for this defense to continue its improvement is in jeopardy because of a rash of injuries at all levels of the defense.

In the defensive backfield, Sam Shields went down with a shin injury and is out for this Sunday’s game. It appears to be a short-term injury. But even with Shields returning to 2010 form, his loss will not be noticed. Stepping into Shields’ shoes will be rookie Casey Hayward. Justifying why TT traded up (and trade-raped The Hoodie) to get him, Hayward has played like a seasoned veteran in limited playing time. Not only has Hayward shown he’s not just the zone-cover man many draftniks pegged him, but he’s also shown a knack for the ball with 3 INT’s so far – two more than the next best rookie.

And replacing Hayward in the sub-packages will be Davon House, the guy that may very well have won Shields’ starting spot had he not suffered a shoulder injury in the first pre-season game. House, in limited time during the pre-season and training camp, had clearly separated himself from the competition with both good coverage and strong, aggressive tackling in run support. Combined with Hayward, the defense should not miss Shields.

The linebackers have been hit the hardest with Nick Perry and D.J. Smith both getting injured. Perry avoided the dreaded ACL injury, but is out for the near future. Smith, on the other hand, suffered a freak knee injury and is already on the season-ending IR list. Still, their losses will likewise be minimal for the defense going forward.

As a first-round pick, Perry has underwhelmed to date. In six starts, he registered only 18 tackles and 2 sacks. The transition to OLB proved a tall task (to date – still too early to say whether he can or cannot make this transition) for the rookie. He was largely ineffective getting to the QB and was lost in coverage. As a result, Erik Walden often saw more playing-time. Though Walden’s number may not reflect it (he only has a half-sack), he seems to be around the QB more and has mounted a steadier pass-rush than Perry. And he certainly is more comfortable in coverage. This doesn’t even account for Dezman Moses, the undrafted free agent star from pre-season. Moses’ tenacity has already earned him a spot in the psycho sub-package and with Perry’s injury, he’s likely to see more playing time.

You would think that D.J. Smith’s injury would be the most crippling to this defense. After all, he’s already the second-string MLB and was an up-and-coming second-year player. But, frankly, Smith’s play has been average at best. Far too often his lack of size was exploited in pass coverage. And, surprisingly, Smith had not been strong in the run game. He often got beat to the edge and wasn’t attacking the ball carrier. As a result, the drop-off in production will likely not be as significant as many expect from a third-stringer.

The most pressing injury to the defense is B.J. Raji. Raji has been ruled out for the second-straight game due to an ankle injury. He practiced in a limited fashion this week. But, wisely, he is being held out until he’s fully healthy. It is imperative that Raji not rush back too soon. Ankle injuries can be fickle. And the defense can ill afford to have Raji deal with a lingering ankle injury.

Unlike other injured defensive starters, Raji returning from his injured ankle is imperative for the continued success on defense.

Don’t let last week fool you. Despite the Packers’ dominating effort last week in holding Foster to under 30-yards rushing, Raji is an important fixture for the future success of this defense and team. He’s a monster up-front and started playing to his talent again this year. He was playing stout against the run, and generated solid and consistent up-the-middle pressure. The Packers simply don’t have another talent like him that can replace him over the long-haul. It is because of this that makes Raji’s injury the most important injury to the defense.

The mounting injuries are harkening many back to the 2010 Super Bowl run. Like that juggernaut, this Packers team must adopt the ‘Next Man Up’ mantra to survive this recent rash of injuries. But, because of the depth this team has built up, the Packers have players ready to step up and ensure there will be little to no drop-off in production for most of the injured players.

Advertisements

The Evolution of Randall Cobb

Known primarily for his return skills, Cobb has morphed into a Percy Harvin-lite.

In his fourth season, the Vikings’ Percy Harvin has developed into a special all-around talent that ended up with 100 touches over the last half of last season – 20+ more than the next closest receiver. Harvin’s combination of size and speed allows him to be used out wide, in the slot, and even out of the backfield – Harvin had 52 rushing attempts last season. This dynamic threat has resulted in him being a focal point alongside AP, which is saying something.

After two games this season, the Packers’ Randall Cobb has quickly morphed himself into a Percy Harvin-lite. Like Harvin, Cobb has a unique skill set that allows him to lineup all over the field and exploit mismatches with his speed, burst, and cutting ability.

With the last pick of the second round two drafts ago, TT nabbed another gem with Cobb. Cobb made a name for himself immediately, scoring twice in the first game of the NFL season when he had a receiving touchdown and return touchdown. Both were notable, but for different reasons. The receiving touchdown was infamous in that he scored after running the wrong route. The return touchdown was famous – it earned AP play of the year – for the acrobatic manner in which he stayed off the ground. Such a sterling start fizzled for most of the remainder of the year.

The different dimensions Cobb could have brought to the offense were not realized in his first year. Only the tip of the iceberg was shown in the first NYG game when Cobb took a reverse, pulled up, and heaved a tight spiral along the sidelines. The pass fell incomplete. But, the message was clear – Cobb added a different dimension to an already explosive offense.

Fast forward to 2012. Cobb’s unique skill set has been on full display through two games. When the rest of the receiving corps struggled to get any openings against the staunch (and clutching) 49ers defense, Cobb was the one player that presented a mismatch and exploited it. Lining up next to Rodgers often, Cobb was very effective catching the ball in the flat where his burst and cutting ability shined. In the second game, Cobb lined up more in the backfield and received a few carries. The pitch wide to get him into space was especially effective.

But, the reason he is Percy Harvin-lite, is he doesn’t have Harvin’s size. And this was clear when he took a carry up the middle, and took a shot to his shoulder. Cobb’s day was effectively over, as he didn’t touch the ball (on offense) again.

At 5’10” and 190 lbs., Cobb simply isn’t built to take the tough hits that come with running the ball between the tackles. Harvin does this, and does this well. He is simply unlimited in what he can do out of the backfield, whereas Cobb must be used more as a scat back when lined up back there. MM needs to understand this limitation when he designs and calls plays for Cobb going forward. Exposing Cobb to these types of violent hits would be careless.

Cobb’s evolution from a fifth-string WR in year 1 to a heavily-used, multi-purpose threat in year 2 has been the biggest offensive story of the first two games. I anticipate MM will scheme different ways to utilize Cobb and his skill set going forward. I expect a few passes – hopefully they connect this year – and plenty more plays out of the backfield. But, it’s a delicate balance in exploiting Cobb’s skill set while also not exposing him to potential injury.

The Value of Donald Driver

It’s this passion and smile that has endeared Packers fans to DD over the years.

By now you’ve heard that Donald Driver is returning to the Packers on a restructured deal, one more commensurate with what he brings to the table as a 37 y.o. WR. DD is a beloved, life-long Packer that has endeared himself to the fans and community as he has risen from a thought-after 7th rd. selection in 1999 to become the all-time leading receiver in Packers history. He brings a passion, energy, and smile to the game that fans love. And, he’s the ultimate team player. Needless to say, DD is a player any organization would be lucky to have. Yet, all off-season, it was assumed that he had played his last game with the Packers.

There is little debate that DD’s production has fallen off these last few years. After rattling off six-straight 1,000+ yards receiving from 2004 to 2009, his receiving yards dropped to the pedestrian levels of 565 and 445 yards these last two years. As you would guess, his receptions have taken a similar dive over this time frame. Despite this severe drop in production, DD still had a way to make his presence felt at crucial points in the season – most notably in last year’s playoff debacle and this play.

The most pressing reason why many assumed his time in a Packers uniform was coming to an end, though, was because of the plethora of intriguing and young talent on the roster. The hierarchy at WR heading into the 2012 season should be: Jennings, Jordy, Jones, and Cobb. (Even though he is only in his second season, the Packers need to give Cobb more playing time ahead of DD. He’s electric, uber-talented, and the future slot WR. Assuming he progresses, he is the better player at this point.) After Cobb, many thought the 5th WR spot would go to the likes of Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel, or even some undrafted free agents from this years crop. After all, TT devoted extra cash to Gurley and Borel on the practice squad to ensure they wouldn’t leave for other teams last season. It’s TT’s mantra to promote from within.

This last reason why DD was supposed to be cut is why DD is still a Packer. If you’ve read the quotes from these young players, you can tell that DD brings a lot to the table that cannot be measured by statistics. He is quite simply the leader of the WR core and a great teammate – the opposite of Brett Favre (sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Having veteran leadership on a roster – particularly one as young as the Packers roster – is invaluable. And DD knows, or at least should know, his role on the team. He has never, and likely will never, complain about his playing time or individual stats. He’s a professional in the truest sense of the word and will likely be an important mentor for these young and intriguing prospects. And, frankly, I do not believe DD’s presence on the roster will prevent the Packers from keeping Gurley or Borel as a 6th WR, so long as they prove their worth on special teams – both of which showed some ability in that department last preseason.

As a 5th WR, you really couldn’t ask for more if you are a Packers fan. DD is the consummate pro and leader. TT is not keen on keeping players one year too long; but in this instance, TT made the right decision. DD’s value is far beyond his pure statistics and he will be a crucial member of the Packers as they hope to return to the Super Bowl.

2012 NFL Draft: Act Three

The 2012 NFL Draft concluded in its traditional, ho-hum fashion. Because it is THE National Football League, the level of seriousness did not deviate and we as fans are led to believe that Round 7 is just as important as Round 1. The talking machine that is Mel McMortenson, Jr. tries to make the 6th round pick of cornerback Issiah Frey interesting, but, there is only so many ways to say, well, IF, everything works out, and I mean EVERYTHING (including the alignment of Mars with Saturn), this guy might be a serviceable NFL starter. All you need to do is look at our evaluation of the drafts for 2005 through 2011 to see that the “hit” rate in the later rounds is not very high. Even for a GM like TT who has his black belt in the NFL Draft.

Surprisingly both the Vikings and the Packers made some moves in Rounds 4 through 7. All the moves seemed to be based on sound logic, which is a nice departure for half of the BR rivalry. The following is BR’s review of each squad’s final push in the marathon that was the 2012 NFL Draft.

Minnesota Vikings

After taking the draft off on Friday, Schemin’ Spielman was back at it on Saturday. Who knows, maybe all the excitement of Round 1 wore him out for Rounds 2 and 3. And, maybe Josh Robinson, with a little coaching, will be the Vikes’ next great DB/PR. Though, missing out on Casey Hayward and Rueben Randle really could end up being Spielman’s only misstep in this year’s draft.

Going into Rounds 4 through 7, Schemin’ had a mittful of draft picks, including 3 in Round 4, 2 in Round 5, 1 in Round 6, and 3 in Round 7. 9 picks total. Schemin’ turned those 9 picks into the following: Arkansas’ WR corps (Jarius Wright and Greg Childs), Jim Kleinsasser 2.0 (Rhett Ellison), 2013 4th round pick, the rest of Notre Dame’s secondary (Robert Blanton), 2013 6th round pick, Audie Cole, Trevor Guyton, and Blair Walsh. Overall, a pretty good haul.

Wright and Childs are decent little receivers. There were two player available, defensive lineman Jared Crick and linebacker Ronnell Lewis, who might have been better talents. Plus, with Cheech Harvin firmly established as our team’s slot receiver, it is a little curious what role the Vikes envision for Wright. But, his talent is undeniable and both he and Childs could challenge for starting minutes this year.

Lewis is a Jimmy Kleinsasser-type FB/TE. He will do a little bit of everything and he will do it at 160%. Good teams need players like this. So, for a 4th round pick, this is solid value.

In the 5th round, Schemin’ got Detroit’s 2013 4th round pick because he found out they really wanted Tahir Whitehead. A solid trade. With one of the picks he stole from Cleveland, the Vikes drafted Robert Blanton. A versatile DB who will hopefully excel in nickel and dime packages and contribute on special teams. AGAIN, surprisingly sound logic in the 5th round.

In the 6th and 7th rounds, Schemin’ got an heir apparent for Ryan Longwell, Mr. Blair Walsh (kid has an absolute rocket leg – but – the mind of a hockey goalie on Prozac); another special teams All-Star, Audie Cole; and potential platoon mate for Brian Robison (essentially, he is really good at stopping the run), Trevor Guyton. While it is unlikely any of the players drafted in Rounds 4 through 7 will be Pro Bowlers, Schemin’ did a nice job of balancing the need for solid starters/reserves while filling the coffers for next year’s draft. We will do a complete recap later in the week, but, with Schemin’ at the helm, things are definitely looking up at Winter Park.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers continued to be operated by TT’s evil step-brother on day 3. How else do you explain him trading UP in the draft on three separate occasions?! Whatever got in to TT is a welcome change and appears to have landed some quality players to add to the roster that had few holes to fill.

With his two compensatory picks in round 4, the Packers selected DE/DT Mike Daniels from Iowa and Maine left-winger, I mean safety (thought Maine only played hockey up there) Jeron McMillian. Both players were unknown, but offer something the Packers need.

Starting with Daniels, he is undersized at only 6’0″ and 290 lbs. But, he is a quick, penetrating type DT/DE that should rotate in on passing situations. He is a hard worker and overachieving type player, the type of guy TT loves to draft. In his last two years at Iowa, he amassed 10 sacks from the DT position and was named to the second-team All Big-Ten, just behind the Packers 2nd round selection – Jerel Worthy. Although many casual draft fans may not know Daniels, it appears to be a solid selection, aimed at providing speed on the DL to get after the quarterback.

Jeron McMillian is a curious pick to say the least. Safety became a huge need when the Pack announced Nick Collins would not be returning. With only Peprah, Burnett, and Jennings on the depth chart, the Packers needed to provide additional competition. But, with numerous big-school players on the board, TT went back to the small-school route (remember, Collins was from Bethune-Cookman) to find a safety. There are few fans of this pick. McMillian is athletic enough, testing out as one of the fastest safeties at the combine. But, his stats are underwhelming against inferior competition. He evidently is a willing tackler in run support and has the range with his speed. Naysayers point to his propensity to jump on play-actions. From the get-go, he should be an immediate contributor on special teams and, with good coaching, should battle for the starting safety position opposite Burnett.

After these two picks, TT’s next scheduled selection was round 6. But, following his new M.O., TT traded up again with The Hoodie and reclaimed his original 5th round selection to select ILB Terrell Manning from N.C. State. Manning came out early, proclaiming he was ready. He’s 6’2″ and 237 lbs. and a solid rush defender. Manning is a physical presence that will fill out his frame more as he matures. He was graded out as a fourth-round projection, but fell to the fifth where TT jumped on him. Immediately, he will contribute on special teams and compete for added depth behind Mr. T-Rex, A.J. Hawk, and Bishop. If he had stayed in college for another season, he likely would have been drafted higher, making this selection a nice developmental pick that could pan out in the long-run.

With his remaining two supplemental selections in the 7th round, TT finally drafted two offensive players – OT Andrew Datko (Fla. St.) and QB B.J. Coleman (Tenn.-Chattanooga). As 7th round selections, I don’t have much hope for these two. But they present interesting projects. Datko was supposedly rated much higher heading in to his senior season. Injury issues led to his late selection. He’s a little soft, but at 6’6″ and 315 lbs., it’s definitely worth a 7th-round investment to find a backup tackle. Coleman initially started at the U. of Tennessee, but transferred when he was demoted. He is 6’3″ and 233 lbs. and has some prototypical QB skills that he should develop in MM’s QB school. Interestingly enough, he is represented by Bus Cook (you know, the agent for Mr. Brent Favre) and had been training with Brent leading up to the camp – meaning this is the first Packers backup QB he has mentored. (I have to admit I stole this line from twitter, but definitely worth it.)

Overall, TT had a great draft, adding starters, depth, and better overall team-speed on defense. Packers fans should be thrilled with this haul. One final note from this draft, according to the NFL Draft Trade Chart, TT trade-raped The Hoodie in the two deals with him. In the first deal with The Hoodie, where TT traded his 3rd and 5th round selections for the 62nd overall selection, the difference in value was plus-116.8. And in the second deal, TT received back his 5th round selection for a 6th and two 7th round picks, the difference in value was plus-11.7. Add in the plus-31 differential in the first trade up, and you can see why TT was preaching value with all three deals.

The fun of the draft is over. But, with great-to-solid selections by both BR squads, both fan bases have a newfound excitement heading into the offseason camps. Check back later in the week for a full NFC North breakdown to see how the local squads drafts stack up against the hated Bears and Motor City Kitties.

2012 NFL Draft: Act One

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft was wilder than a substance fueled Charlie Sheen all-nighter. The picks came in so hot they actually had to queue selections to allow the television coverage to catch-up – which may or may not have been the most annoying part of the show. (This was not.) There was a flurry of trades within the first round with multiple teams jockeying for guys they think can help their team win. This included some shrewd activity, both early and late, by one of the Border Rivals squads. While the other Border Rivals squad sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the High Life while he let the draft come to him.

The following is both a review of what happened during round one and what could happen in Friday’s sequel. To kick things off, let’s start with the surprisingly active half of the Border Rivals rivalry.

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings shrewdly swapped their 3rd overall pick for the Browns 4th overall and their 4th, 5th, and 7th round picks. This trade marked a departure for a Vikings management group that has never swung a deal like this, despite fans clamoring for it. As long as this author has been alive, the Vikes have never been the team to make the savvy, draft-day move. In fact, quite the opposite, this was the team that was late bringing its pick to the podium not once, but TWICE. And yet tonight, the Vikes made the perfect move, not once, but TWICE.

Trading down from #3 was perfect because they not only landed the player they wanted anyway, Matt Kalil, but they leveraged the Browns into coughing up three additional picks. Then, they used one of those picks, to finance a trade to get back into the first round and get the other player they really wanted, safety Harrison Smith.

Mount Kalil’s considerable skills have been detailed on this site’s pages here. His presence at left tackle actually improves the Vikes at two positions because now last year’s left tackle, Charlie Johnson, can move inside to guard. As for Smith, he is a solid safety who will consistently make the heady play. He may not be flashy, but, he will make the ordinary plays, extraordinarily well (shout out to John Gagliardi for that line). This kind of consistency will be a nice departure from the practice squad All-stars that manned the porous secondary last year.

Ultimately though, the difference between this year’s draft being good and great is going to come down to whether the Vikings can replicate their mastery of the move in rounds two and three. Most draft “experts” agree that, barring a Tom Brady or Marques Colston suprise, this draft is about 100 players deep. That means the odds are in your favor for getting a decent NFL starter in the first three rounds. For that reason, the Vikes should use their bounty of picks in the later rounds to try and trade back into the second or third rounds. For a team with needs all over the field, two or three more decent NFL starters will make all the difference.

Green Bay Packers

Staying true to his M.O., TT patiently waited until his selection and (most likely) picked the best player available. Thankfully, TT’s best player available also happened to be the biggest need for the Packers – another OLB to rush the passer and compliment The Claymaker. Going back to the well, TT selected USC’s Nick Perry (OLB) with the 28th overall selection.

Perry started his career at USC playing the Elephant position (the same position The Claymaker made famous) and then converted to a DE force. In his final season (red-shirt junior year), Perry recorded 55 tackles and 9.5 sacks, good enough to lead the Pac-whatever-the-number-is-now in sacks. Perry is 6’3” and 270 lbs. He ran a 4.64 40-yard dash (third-best for an OLB at the Combine) and benched 225 lbs. 35 times (good for 5th best out of all defensive linemen). The experts report that Perry’s biggest strengths are his burst off the ball, his overall quickness, which is especially impressive considering his size, and his relentless pursuit. Clearly, TT found another stud in the first-round, right?

Not so fast. Perry’s biggest weakness gives me cause for concern. He played primarily DE in college and any highlight package you see of Perry shows him with his hand in the ground. He undoubtedly has superior athleticism, but that’s not enough to win in the NFL. Even Perry proclaimed at the Combine that he’d prefer sticking his hand in the ground in a 4-3 over playing OLB in a 3-4. He knows how to get to the QB. But, it’s a complete guess whether he can fully play the OLB position in a 3-4 – i.e. can he play standing up, guard TE’s in open space, and not get lost in zone coverage. I have full faith in our coaching staff, most importantly Kevin Greene, to coach this young man up and get him ready – after all, they worked wonders with Frank Zombo in making him competent enough to start on a Super Bowl winning team. Still, it’s going to require some major coaching and there will certainly be some growing pains along the way to get Perry comfortable in his new OLB position.

In addition to this primary concern, I’m also a bit frustrated TT didn’t make a move to trade up and get a player – namely, Dont’a Hightower, a beast ILB from Alabama. The Hoodie traded a 4th round pick to move up and grab Hightower. It’s a nominal price, particularly since the Packers have three 4th round selections this year. I coveted getting a thumper ILB to pair with Bishop. And even if Hightower wasn’t the selection, it would have been nice to see TT move up to get a player he coveted given the low cost and superfluous picks we have this year. Along these lines, it was somewhat surprising TT went with Perry over Courtney Upshaw, OLB from Alabama. Upshaw seems to be the more proven OLB commodity having played that position in a 3-4 in college and for the best defense in the country. My guess is Perry’s superior athleticism pushed him over Upshaw and TT has full confidence in his staff to teach Perry the position.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the 1st round for the Packers. A position of dire need was filled with an unquestionably talented player. Perry comes from an elite program and is an instant starter for us. That’s what you want out of an end-of-1st selection.

As for the 2nd-3rd rounds Friday night, I anticipate TT will continue to devote picks to the defense. The Packers own the 27th selection in both the 2nd (59th overall) and 3rd (90th) rounds. Stocked with three 4th round selections and 12 picks overall, I anticipate TT will not simply sit back and wait like he did in the 1st round. There is plenty of talent left on the board and believe TT could make a move up to grab a player he covets. He did this two years ago when he sniped Morgan Burnett, and it’s a model he should follow again this year. The Packers do not need 12 new players to add to the roster. Instead, the Packers need impact-players, ones that TT targets, and trades up to acquire.

There are several DE prospects still lingering – Jerel Worthy, Devon Still, Kendall Reyes, and Jared Crick. Additionally, Courtney Upshaw, Lavonte David, Zach Brown, Ronnell Lewis, Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, and Olivier Vernon are OLB prospects that are still on the board. Finally, both Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are CB’s that could interest the Packers. As you can tell, there’s a lot of talent for the taking in the second round. At least some of these players will start to fall. It’s time for TT to be aggressive and move up several spots to grab one of these players.

Prediction: I see TT going after the front 7 on defense again in the second round. If TT makes a move, he will go after Reyes or David. If he sits back and waits, the pick will be Crick or Lewis/Curry. In the 3rd round, he should try to get secondary help. One name to keep an eye out for is Casey Hayward from Vanderbilt. If he avoids the secondary, this may be the spot TT addresses the OL – either a guard (remember, T.J. Lang is a FA next year) or center.

For a change, both sides of the St. Croix should be pleased with the results from the 1st Rd. Friday night’s rounds 2 and 3 are just as important to both teams’ success. Enjoy the festivities and make sure to check back here for some reaction following the draft.

Players to watch at the NFL Combine

The NFL Offseason officially begins next week in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine – you know, the only interview done in tights and briefs. Despite their 15-1 regular season record, the Packers have plenty of positions they could use upgrades – basically anywhere on defense! While you’re watching highlights, reading updates, or listening to the talking heads (don’t try lying to yourself, we all know we are going to be doing this, even though we’d like to deny this fact), here are a few players Packers fans should keep their eyes on. And these are intended not to be the obvious candidates that would be great picks if they fell to us.

Vinny Curry – Curry is a fringe 1st-rd. pick according to the experts on the ole interweb, and a player not many people have heard of. Curry is a DE/OLB hybrid from Marshall. He’s 6’4″, 260+ lbs., and apparently is a “refined pass-rusher,” according to Mel Kiper’s Hair. He posted 23 sacks the past two seasons. Other reports indicate he has some real speed off the edge and has been compared to Cameron Wake. The Combine will be important to show off his athleticism and whether he has the ability to make the conversion to OLB.

Nick Perry – Perry is a player shooting up many draft boards and the Combine is likely only going to make it occur quicker. He’s a 6’3″, 250 lb. junior DE/OLB hybrid that had 9.5 sacks last season for USC (hmmm… could TT go back to the well?). Like so many of these young hybrid players coming out of college, Perry has very little experience working in space. He, too, has a great speed off the edge, and reports indicate he’s a hard worker that came from a tough upbringing in Detroit. Things to watch – reports indicate he is undersized for his position, and may have shorter arms (recall how much this fact has negatively impacted Bryan Bulaga… oh wait.)

Whitney Mercilus – Again, a DE/OLB hybrid out of Illinois. He led the nation in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (9) last season. Clearly, a player of this ability would be nice opposite the Claymaker. But, Mercilus screams one-hit wonder (think Vernon Gholston). In 2009 to 2010, he recorded 24 tackles and 2 sacks… total. The Combine will be the perfect place for him to display his athleticism, and his value will likely shoot up too high for the Packers selection. And for the record, a report has compared him favorably to Jason Paul-Pierre.

Dont’a Hightower – Hightower was the catalyst for the best defense in college last season (and perhaps the last decade-plus). He is an absolute beast ILB and would be the ideal replacement for A.J. “T-Rex Arms” Hawk. I was very pleased with D.J. Smith’s performance last season, but at this point, let’s get the best players available and sort out where each player will play later. Who knows, if Smith improves and we grabbed Hightower, moving Bishop to OLB might be a possibility. But I digress. Hightower is a thumper. Reports seem to indicate that he may be a tad bit slower than some would like. If this is true – i.e. he doesn’t test out well at the Combine – he could fall into TT’s lap, and would be a coup for the Pack.

In addition to these few specific players to watch for, there are a number of very good DE prospects to look for at the end of the 1st rd.: Fletcher Cox (Miss. St.), Jerel Worthy (Mich. St.), and Devon Still (PSU). In the secondary, look for Mark Barron (S – Alabama), Janoris Jenkins (CB – N. Alabama), and a second-rd. prospect in Trumaine Johnson (DB – Montana). Regarding T. Johnson, allegedly he’s a big and athletic guy that looks the part, but has some mental shortcomings – i.e. he’s a mental midget and may be quite fond of himself. His interview will go a long way in how high he climbs on the draft board.

In order to win one for the thumb, the Packers need to desperately upgrade several positions in its defense. As we know, TT is averse to upgrading the roster through free agency (to put it mildly). Hitting on their first several picks in the upcoming draft is crucial. The NFL Combine is where this process begins.