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By CHRIS HAVEL
Perry, Bennett, Kendricks fill significant holes at tight end, outside linebacker
It is reassuring for Green Bay fans that their Packers can talk about the free agents they signed rather than the ones they lost.
T.J. Lang, Micah Hyde and Jared Cook will be missed, but only to the degree they can be replaced.
Thus far, Packers GM Ted Thompson has adequately replaced Lang (with second-year pro Jason Spriggs) and Cook (with Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks). It also seems he’ll use a defensive-back heavy draft to find the next Hyde.
Nick Perry’s return means he’ll play opposite Clay Matthews with the hope that they can form a dynamic duo. Oddly, I’m more concerned about Matthews’ ability to hold up his end.
Jason Spriggs steps up; Cook steps out
Reports that the Packers have no clear plan to replace Lang are ridiculous.
Thompson didn’t draft Spriggs in the second round of the 2015 draft to have him sit the bench for two seasons. He played right guard last year in Lang’s place and was more than adequate. He appears to be the starting right guard now, but could be moved to tackle if necessary.
Spriggs, at 6-5, 305 pounds, can and will get stronger, although he showed great tenacity against bull rushers as well as being an above-average in-line pass blocker.
Bennett and Kendricks represent a huge upgrade at tight end.
Jared Cook priced himself out of Green Bay. I applaud Thompson and the Packers for not overpaying him in a panic. They merely moved on and made the deal with Bennett. Then, they doubled down at tight end with Kendricks.
Together, the tight end duo combined for 105 catches, 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.
It is realistic to think they can duplicate those numbers here.
Furthermore, with Richard Rodgers on the depth chart, the Packers can run more double-tight end formations.
Bennett and Kendricks at TE
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has gone away from utilizing the tight end position in recent years. That has to change. The Packers shouldn’t be hamstrung by having to scuttle a portion of the playbook due to an injury at the position. In the past, if Cook wasn’t available, McCarthy had nobody at the position that was even comparable.
That limitation has been corrected.
Furthermore, the double-tight end formation can be a boost to the running game with the right personnel to run it. Bennett, at 6-6, 275, is a willing and capable run blocker. Kendricks also possesses the size and temperament required.
Bennett is excited about joining the Packers.
He ought to be.
“I wanted another chance to make a run at it,” Bennett said on Packers.com. “I want to be in a situation where I could win again right now. I have that victory taste in my mouth and I want to taste it again.
“Watching the Pack last year, I saw some things with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and Jordy Nelson outside, Randall Cobb and all the talent on the team, I thought it would be a great place for me to come in and just try to add onto what they already have.”
Bennett has led a charmed life of late.
He goes from being a defending Super Bowl champion with New England and catching passes from Tom Brady to joining a playoff-caliber team with another great quarterback.
“I hated playing against Aaron,” Bennett said. “I just got off the phone with him, and I said, ‘I hate that guy on the other side,’ but it’s going to be pretty good to be on the same side with him and catching passes. I’ve seen him make a lot of amazing throws and he’s been one of the best for a really long time. I’m just going to try to come in and contribute to the best of my ability.”
Rodgers’ presence, Lambeau Field’s soft grass and hostile environment to opponents, and Chicago’s proximity (Bennett still has a residence in there) made it a great destination.
“It’s always been one of the best places to play in the NFL with the fans and the grass is always good there, which is a huge thing, as well,” Bennett said. “It’s always been a hostile environment as an away team. It’ll be good for them to be rooting for you instead of against you because that crowd gets crazy.”
Lance Kendricks returns to Wisconsin
Kendricks is excited to return to his home state.
The former Wisconsin Badgers star also is anxious to put on the green-and-gold and catch passes from Rodgers. He believes he can be an excellent complement to Bennett.
“I think we both have our own assets,” Kendricks said. “He’s a very good down-the-field catcher. He’s a big target and I can work the seams, as well. With both of us out there, I think we’ll be able to create mismatches and things we’ll be able to take advantage of. There are so many weapons on this offense and to be able to contribute to it is a great feeling.”
Clearly, the Packers’ offense is merely a running back or two away from being ready to take on the 2017 season.
What about the defense?
The Green Bay defense remains far less settled.
Matthews is going to have to find a way to stay healthy and choose his moments.
So now what? Well, the Packers need Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan to continue to develop. They also need significant bounce back seasons from Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins.
On top of that, coordinator Dom Capers’ unit is awfully light on the defensive front. Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels and Dean Lowry are going to be critical to the defense’s success.
Next, I hope the Packers begin to seriously consider a veteran pass rusher such as Elvis Dumerville to add to the mix. A veteran cornerback such as Davon House couldn’t hurt, either.
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’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.