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By CHRIS HAVEL
By the time the Packers’ final OTA practice wraps up, the stage will have been set for what could be a special season.
Between the time when Packers head coach Mike McCarthy sends his players off on their final six weeks of the off-season, and they return to begin carving out the 2015 season, there’s time to over-analyze.
My advice is this: Don’t do it.
Each offseason, about this time, it’s only natural to ask, “What have the Packers failed to do to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender?”
I have asked it. The problem is this: I can’t find anything to fret about.
- Will Nick Perry and/or Mike Neal be stout enough to allow Clay Matthews to occasionally play inside linebacker?
- Will one of the rookies (Damarious Randall or Quinten Rollins) or a holdover (Casey Hayward or Micah Hyde) play well enough to replace Tramon Williams?
- Who is the third-down running back? What is John Kuhn’s role?
- Are the tight ends (Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, Kennard Backman, etc.) simply average or something better than that?
There are plenty of questions, to be sure, and it’s only natural to play the “what if?” game.
- What if fourth-round draft choice Jake Ryan and returner Sam Barrington aren’t strong enough at inside linebacker against the run?
- What if B.J. Raji can’t hold the fort until Letroy Guion returns from what is expected to be a 2- to 4-game suspension? And what if Guion isn’t the same cat when he returns?
- Is this the season DaTone Jones turns it up a notch or three?
Wow. See what I mean? We’re talking about the Green Bay Packers, one of the top NFL teams, and still fans are cautiously optimistic. It’s more of a concern than a genuine belief that the Packers will struggle. But it’s a Super Bowl everyone wants.
The fans want it. The players and coaches want it. Now, it’s time to get rested and ready to go get it.
McCarthy’s final speech to his team had to include a word of caution in regard to being “smart” in the interim between now and training camp.
There’s no reason to think the players won’t continue to be conscientious and continue taking care of their business. From the veterans such as Julius Peppers and Matthews to the rookies such as Rollins and Ryan, the Packers are teeming with optimism.
In order to help you rest easier, here are the answers to the aforementioned questions:
- I’m a Perry fan. I believe he’ll set an edge against the tight end and control the outside running game, and he has enough pass rush to be sneaky. I’m not nearly as excited about Neal’s chance to contribute.
- Replacing Tramon Williams isn’t going to be easy. It’s probably just as difficult to predict which of the cornerbacks will replace him. Early on, I think Hyde wins the starting cornerback job opposite Sam Shields. Hyde is available, accountable and underrated. He will be difficult to unseat, although Hayward, Randall and Rollins all are play-makers. The competition should be keen and true quality.
- John Crockett, out of North Dakota State University, just might be the answer to the age-old question: Who is the Packers’ third-down back? Crockett may be that and more.
- Kuhn’s role remains unchanged: On-field coach and fullback, pass-catcher and special teams’ guru.
- Richard Rodgers is going to take a step up. He played better in the second half of 2014 and will continue to build on that.
- Barrington showed he can play in the NFL, and Ryan’s early reviews (yeah, it’s only an OTA) are encouraging. Ryan, as well as the rookie defensive backs, actually look the part that they play.
- I like Raji and believe he’s going to have a tremendous season. Guion is a battler and will be a fine back-up and consummate pro.
- DaTone Jones is an interesting cat. He’s smart. He’s talented. He’s likeable. He’s got everything you could ask for in a defensive end. Jones’ time – like the Packers’ – is now.
NEXT WEEK: I’ll take a look at the Packers’ final OTA open to the media.
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.