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By CHRIS HAVEL
Talk is cheap in the NFL. It is especially true in the offseason.
That said, the Packers’ first week of OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) proved to be more about talk than action. However, it also proved to be revealing on several key fronts.
Here are five worthwhile notes:
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy began the offseason by calling “heads” and electing to let several roll.
The firing of ex-special teams’ coordinator, coupled with the restructuring of his staff and their responsibilities, is evident early on.
McCarthy’s news conferences include more specific observations about defense and special teams than at any time in memory. By surrendering the play-calling duties to assistant head coach/offense Tom Clements, McCarthy clearly has been freed up to begin seeing the big picture.
It seems to be a logical progression in McCarthy’s and his staffs’ development. Aaron Rodgers dismissed the notion that the offense might be different, or perhaps take a step back, because of the change. The quarterback is excited about being even more involved in the offense (if that’s possible) and continuing to work closely with Clements, a former quarterback.
The greatest offseason obstacles between the Packers’ offense and success were the re-signing of receiver Randall Cobb and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
Now the fun begins.
Clay Matthews answered several key questions in a single media session.
The first is all about where Matthews will line up this season. It appears the Packers plan to move him inside and out depending on the situation. That versatility sits well with Matthews.
He believes he can be effective rushing the passer off the edge. He also believes that he can be a force inside, especially with an offseason to study and hone his role inside.
Matthews being on board helps explain the Packers’ recent draft.
Simply put, they lost two cornerbacks (Tramon Williams and Davon House) and replaced them with the first two picks (Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins).
They didn’t spend a high pick on an inside linebacker, and I’m guessing here, was in part because of Matthews’ embracing of that role.
They did use a fourth-round pick on Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan, who might be considered a poor man’s Matthews. He can play inside or out, is especially effective inside and against the run, but has shown the ability to generate some pass rush off the edge.
Ryan appears to be the logical back-up to Matthews in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme.
The nose tackle is amply filled.
The return of a healthy B.J. Raji and a humbled but hungry Letroy Guion is welcome. Raji, who is returning from a biceps tear, declared he is ready and able to play a key role.
Guion, when asked about what he learned from his marijuana arrest earlier in the offseason, replied, “I learned not to make mistakes in the offseason.”
The inside linebacker position could be this year’s version of safety a year ago.
Carl Bradford, Adrian Hubbard, Tavarus Dantzler and others – led by Matthews, Ryan and Sam Barrington – should provide enough juice against the run on early downs.
It is a bonus that the inside ‘backers are backed by a deep, established group of safeties led by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson and Micah Hyde (if he isn’t the starting right cornerback).
McCarthy’s belief that he has an exceptional base of veteran leaders is shared by his players.
Annually, the Packers are among the youngest teams in the NFL. In the past, young players were exposed to a high volume of individual work and coaching from the staff. Having a greater number of established veterans has led McCarthy to ask them to do more to work directly with the younger players.
Jordy Nelson and others have responded. McCarthy also has changed the culture in the meeting rooms by having the quarterbacks and receivers study together. He also has the cornerbacks and safeties watching film together on a regular basis.
All of this can only bolster the Packers’ chances to have a great season.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.