General manager Ted Thompson hasn’t done many things wrong since being hired by the Green Bay Packers in 2005, but waiting too long to acquire a stud outside linebacker to pair with perennial Pro Bowler Clay Matthews was a definite mistake. While the defense managed to perform well in 2010 with Brad Jones, Erik Walden and Frank Zombo taking turns in the starting lineup, that was unlikely to last – and it didn’t. Playing without a high-quality linebacker opposite Matthews obviously isn’t the only reason the defense is coming off an awful season (a league-record 5,237 passing yards allowed), but it was a major part of the problem.
Thompson finally addressed the problem by drafting Nick Perry in April, and while there’s no guarantee that the former USC star is going to find success in the NFL, at least he has the potential to be a difference maker. The same can’t be said of any of the players who started opposite Matthews in 2010 and 1011. That brings me to the point of this post. I feel the same way about the safety position opposite Morgan Burnett going into this season as I felt about the outside linebacker position opposite Matthews going into the past two seasons. I see it as a potentially big problem – a potentially big problem that Thompson hasn’t done nearly enough to fix.
Besides not having a second pass rusher, the other thing that killed the defense last season was the loss of Nick Collins in week 2. Slow-footed journeyman Charlie Peprah started the final 14 games, and while he amassed 94 tackles and 5 interceptions, he also missed 12 tackles, gave up 4.5 touchdowns and was exploited by clever, and some not so clever, offensive coordinators on a weekly basis. The defense survived with Peprah in the starting lineup for 12 games in 2010, but that’s only because the pass rush was fierce and Collins was lined up on the opposite side of the field.
Thompson needed to do more in the offseason than draft Jerron McMillian in the fourth round. The former Maine star might become a solid starter in the NFL, but the odds of that happening this season aren’t very good. The odds are better that either Peprah, M.D. Jennings or Anthony Levine will open the season opposite Burnett. Look, I realize that the coaches seem to like the two former undrafted free agents and I know this organization is all about developing young players, but I can’t help think of Walden, Jones and Zombo when I think of Peprah, Jennings and Levine.
If I were Thompson, I would’ve signed a veteran in the offseason. Sean Jones would’ve made sense as an inexpensive free agent. Heck, I’d take the currently unemployed Jim Leonhard (if healthy) over Peprah as well. But that’s probably not going to happen. So can the defense get back on track with substandard play at one of the safety positions? It could, but only if the pass rush improves greatly and Burnett plays better than he did a year ago. Otherwise, the last line of defense figures to be just as big an albatross this season as the right outside linebacker was in 2011.