The Packer’s are typically one of the youngest teams in the league, and that is no accident. It is firmly based on their draft and develop strategy. This ties in closely with their cap strategy of paying premium dollars to lock up their stars and build the surrounding cast with team members playing out their cap friendly rookie and first year contracts.
This strategy does have a price, and that is the cost associated with the growing pains of playing young, inexperienced players, particularly early in the season.
This week David Bakhtiari produced a perfect demonstration of how expensive those early growing pains can be. On 4th and 5 with 1:25 remaining and the game on the line, Bakhtiari was badly beaten when he made an extremely poor attempt at a cut block. It is not an exaggeration to say that the only thing he made contact with, in his attempt to cut block Michael Johnson of the Bengals, was the artificial turf. That was until he tried to use a leg whip to trip Johnson, but that also came up short. The result was that Johnson easily blocked Aaron Rodgers pass attempt and the rest is history.
I have been impressed with Bakhtiari so far this season, and overall he has been a pleasant surprise, but nothing comes for free in the NFL and starting a rookie left tackle is no exception. With only 16 regular season games this was a painful and expensive lesson. We can only hope we will see a return on this costly investment come December and January.
Packer’s are a draft and develop team and through the first three weeks of the season they have gotten next to nothing from their last four first round draft picks.
Bryan Bulaga (2010) and Derek Sherrod (2011) were drafted with the intention of adding a more physical nature to a finesse based offensive line. Bulaga has clearly demonstrated first round talent and would have been a huge upgrade on this offensive line (at either offensive tackle spot). However following his injury shortened 2012 season he is not able to contribute at all to the 2013 Packers. Sherrod has been a not factor since his devastating leg injury during his rookie season. In theory Sherrod could provide some contribution later in the year (he is available to come of the PUP list after the 6th game of the season), but given the significance of the injury and the difficulty of the recovery that seems unlikely. The net result is the Packer’s are starting 2 undersized and inexperienced offensive tackles and are simply not capable of consistently winning one on one matchup’s vs. a quality defensive front seven.
Ted Thompson went back to the USC well to draft Nick Perry (2012). The hope was investing a high round draft pick could provide a much needed bookend to Clay Matthews. One injury shortened season and three games later the Packer’s have little to show for their investment. Although it is still early Perry has not demonstrated the ability to do anything particularly well. As a pass rusher he can be best described as an undersized bull rusher. In pass coverage he looks like a defensive end, which he was at USC. His best attribute is setting the edge on running plays, however even in that phase he is not a significant upgrade over last year’s Desmond Moses and Erik Walden (two “street” free agent pickups). At this point I am beginning to agree with a growing consensus that Perry’s best hope would be to add weight and move to defensive line. Either way, the odds look long for him meeting the promise expected of a first round pick.
Datone Jones (2013) – 3 games in is certainly not enough time to give any sort of long range projection on the eventual contributions of a rookie. However one thing that can be said is that Jones has not provided a significant contribution thus far. In fact outside of blocking an extra point you would be hard pressed to even notice Jones on the field. We can only hope the reason for his slow start has been due to his recovery from a sprained ankle, because in spite of all the training camp hype Jones has simply not delivered in a game.
As we all know Ted Thomson and Mike McCarthy are firmly committed to building their team with a draft (plus sign undrafted rookies) and develop philosophy and they have an excellent track record to demonstrate the effectiveness of that approach. However one of the critical components of this approach is to find new difference makers with your early draft picks. When those top picks, particularly first round picks, do not develop and contribute it creates a large hole that can be difficult to overcome.
Hard to see how the staff could be responsible for a Bulaga’s torn ACL. I am not sure any amount of training could impact when a knee ligament gives out. The only way they could be faulted in this instance is they might be too thorough and noticed a small tear that other doctors might have overlooked. I suspect it’s possible that other teams would have missed this, see Robert Griffin last year, and the end result would be a more severe injuries.
Jordy Nelson’s surgery is another issue. If it is true that this is something he has been dealing with since college why wasn’t surgery performed in the off-season? Of course we will never know the details. The medical staff might have recommended surgery and Jordy rejected it.
Just my opinion, but if the Packers truly have been leading the league in terms of injuries (as it seems) I think it can be chalked up to two things:
- The Packers medical staff is very cautious when it comes to injuries and consistently defers to ensure the safety of the player.
- The Packers organization next man up philosophy which I suspect reinforces the impact of the medical staff. I believe the Packers would rather have a backup playing at full speed then a starter playing at 75% speed, especially when combined with the risk of further injury to a player. This has been reinforced over the years based on the team getting very solid play out of backups when they are forced into duty.
NFL.com: Packers could replace Bulaga with rookie tackle Bakhtiari
From the article:
Things didn’t go as planned, but sometimes injuries open a door for a young player to shine, Bakhtiari could get that chance.
Next man up.