Jan 1, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87) catches a touchdown pass behind Detroit Lions cornerback Alphonso Smith (27) during the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Franchise Development 12 of 32: The Green Bay Packers

Now that the mini-camps have begun, rookies and reserves get a new chance to show what they can do for their teams. Unfortunately for them, the Packers’ offensive rotation is going to be the league’s toughest to crack into.

What’s not to like about this offense? Well, there are a couple of concerns. First, their draft:

1 28 Nick Perry LB USC
2 51 Jerel Worthy DE Michigan State
2 62 Casey Hayward CB Vanderbilt
4 132 Mike Daniels DE Iowa
4 133 Jerron McMillianSS Maine
5 163 Terrell Manning LB North Carolina State
7 241 Andrew Datko T Florida State
7 243 B.J. Coleman QB Tennessee-Chattanooga

Obviously, they wanted to help their NFL-worst-in-history pass defense. More on that later.

The main concern on offense is their lack of ability to run the ball. Some say James Starks is poised for a breakout year and the Packer offense, while highly prolific, lacked much of a running threat last season. They still went 15-1.

The fact is, while they’d certainly like to improve the ground attack to where opposing defenses at least have to respect it, you can win championships in the NFL without it. It’s just a bit more difficult when you have an underdeveloped ground attack.

The Packers, Patriots, and Colts all have won the Super Bowl in the last decade without having any potency there. They’ve just decided that the rules are easier for passing and developed the passing game, route trees, and styles to the n’th degree. The Giants have shown what a balanced attack can do for you and the league is finally taking notice.

Yeah, you really do need a semblance of running game to put you over the top. Or, at least, it helps.

With that in mind, the Packers feel Grant is ready to be the guy heading into his third professional campaign. They’re the NFL’s most loaded team at the skill positions by FAR – even 2011 rookie sensation WR Randall “Tex” Cobb is 5th on the depth chart and gets most of his action in the return game. Okay, so I labeled him with the nickname of a kickboxer from 30 years ago. Sue me.

Starting will of course be the league’s best QB, AR-12. He’s got a strong arm, is accurate, throws a great deep ball and is mobile. He has no weaknesses.

On the outside are deep threat Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. James Jones and all-time Packer receiving record holder Donald Driver work the slot and backup the outside guys. The aforementioned Randall Cobb is next, but could move up a little bit on the depth chart with another good preseason. He has that speed that cannot be coached and is a nightmare in the open field.

TE Jermichael Finley is as good a target as there is at the position anywhere, including “Gronk” of the Patriots. The difference is that the Packers have multiple threats everywhere while the Patriots do not. The Patriots find their favorable matchups in other ways like double TE sets but get the job done.

The big problem was the massive yardage they gave up through the air. And I mean BIG. Despite the presence of All-Pro CB-turned-Strong Safety Charles Woodson, the 2011 version of the Green Bay Packers gave up more yardage passing than any team ever has. Similarly, the Patriots had the second all-time worst pass defense the same year and still nearly won the Super Bowl.

I think this demonstrates the evolution of the rules and the league’s transition into a pass-happy league as much as anything. After all, the Packers DO have Clay Matthews but last year proved he needs help.

If you’ll look at the draft, that’s exactly what the organization did. Nick Perry will likely start at OLB opposite Matthews in their 3-4 defense and the hope is he’ll be able to bring some heat down on enemy QBs with Matthews wreaking havoc on his side.

Jerel Worthy is listed as a DE, but played defensive tackle in college. However, the 3-4 defense requires larger, stronger ends to set the edge against the run and occupy blockers, so a transition to end for Worthy is not unusual since they already have massive NT B.J. Raji at the 0-technique. Ryan Pickett will probably start, but Worthy should push him early and see his own snaps in the rotation and provide some depth until he gets his NFL DE legs under him. Jarius Wynn anchors the other side.

A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop provide a decent ILB duo against the run, but for practical purposes opposing teams are pressed into passing just to keep up with the Aaron Rodgers machine so stopping the run is really only a big concern in short yardage and goal line sets in the first place.

Tramon Williams should get the starting nod at the right cornerback spot while Sam Shields holds down the left. Both guys are statistically above-average players with Shields having the biggest upside at this point. It’s strange, because the Packers have a decent back-seven but then again it just underscores the passing rules favoring the offense.

It is the New York Giants that have provided us with the blueprint for defeating or at least slowing down vaunted passing attacks with their “NASCAR” package being the exclamation point. Since the Giants are deep in DE/pass rusher types, they decided to use a package with 4 DEs all playing the line. When you’ve got Justin Tuck, Osi and JPP, you have the personnel to do it. Other teams are taking notice and the quickest path to improving pass defense is NOT getting 2 wonderful cover corners as it is putting at LEAST two wonderful pass rushers on the field at the same time.

That’s how Denver improved their defense last season – adding DROY Von Miller to one side and getting Elvis Dumervil off of Injured Reserve from 2010.

The Packers only used one draft pick on a corner, taking Vandy’s Casey Heyward at the end of round 2. He’ll help provide depth initially or possibly be the nickelback in sub-packages. You still need to TRY to cover but in today’s game, you just cannot cover WRs for 4, 5, 6 seconds. About 31 of the 32 NFL franchises have a QB good enough to move the chains if he’s not pressured (sorry, Jacksonville).

Given the improvements within the division like Chicago suddenly having some talent at their non-backfield skill positions, Detroit’s draft adding help for their WRs and depth on the OL, and Minnesota’s consolidation-type draft which poises them to make moves next season, I say the Pack took….

…one step forward. Remember, they were eliminated from the playoffs in their first playoff game in 2011. Given their current talent level and adding almost exclusively to the softer side of their roster (defense) via the draft, they should improve their pass defense enough to make a difference. They still will have a ways to go before their defense is feared again, but they should regain some measure of respectability there.

Next up….the Houston Texans!

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Tags: Aaron Rodgers Casey Heyward Clay Matthews Donald Driver Green Bay Packers Greg Jennings James Jones James Starks Jermichael Finley Jordy Nelson Nick Perry Randall Cobb

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