Packers Unfazed By Inexperience
by Mike Conklin
July 28, 2012
It was a surprise to fans and media alike when Charlie Peprah was unceremoniously released earlier this week. He had started 25 games the past two years, and was good enough to play a contributing role in the Packers Super Bowl winning season. Considering the fact that he and Morgan Burnett were the only safeties with any real game experience, it seemed like Peprah would likely be at the top of the rotation to start the season.
Maybe the Packers planned all along for Charles Woodson to move to safety. As tight-lipped as they are, that is certainly a possibility. Even though it appears that Woodson will play a considerable number of snaps at safety, there will certainly be several packages that will require one of the young, unproven safeties to be on the field. The Packers seem ready to take that chance. After all, letting players with experience go and moving forward with young, unproven players is nothing new in Green Bay.
The Packers seem to look at experience differently than many outsiders do. As nice of a person as Peprah seems to be, as evidenced by the fact the Packers sent him to represent them on the Tailgate Tour two short months ago, he was "just a guy" on the field. And if the Packers are going to settle on players like that, they have proven that they would rather go with a 23-year old that could potentially improve, rather than a 29-year old who is already as good as he's ever going to be.
Mike McCarthy actually gave us a rare glimpse into how the Packers view their players when doing their self-scouting. In an interview with ESPN Milwaukee, McCarthy had this to say when asked about the state of the running backs:
"Your job as a coach is to take the individual and his strengths, and maximize those and develop the things that you may perceive as a weakness. And the one thing that would be perceived as a weakness in the running back group is youth. And we feel like we have a very good formula of success for developing young players."
This is a revealing statement that says a lot not only about the running back situation, but also about how the team views its young players as a whole. With all things being equal, younger players are consistently given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to personnel moves. For years now, McCarthy has repeated many times how the Packers are a "draft and develop" team, and the team consistently backs that up when making roster decisions.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This year the Packers let Ryan Grant walk away, and also cut Peprah. In both cases they could have kept the older, more experienced player at a reasonable price. But they were content to move on with unproven players like Alex Green and Brandon Saine at running back, and M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian at safety. Time will tell whether this strategy will prove effective this season.
It didn't work last year when the Packers moved forward with Mike Neal at defensive end. In terms of experience, there is not that much different between Mike Neal at that time, and Alex Green or M.D. Jennings now.
In 2009, the Packers started their season with the unproven Allen Barbre at right tackle. That move didn't pan out either, and the position was not stabilized until Mark Tauscher was re-signed during the season, after having recovered enough from an injury to play again.
The year before, the strategy worked to perfection. The Packers went into the season with a quarterback who had never started a game, in Aaron Rodgers. And while conventional wisdom would dictate that a young quarterback starting for the first time would benefit from having a seasoned veteran backup, the Packers went with two unproven draft picks. Rodgers thrived, and Matt Flynn emerged as one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league.
With a team that appears to be a championship contender again, there is a lot riding on this strategy this year. If the debacle at defensive end last year happens again at running back and safety this year, many questions will be asked. And if the Packers end up having one of the league's youngest rosters again this year and still make an early exit in the playoffs again, next year's shareholder meetings may not feature quite so many fans chanting "We want Ted!"
Photo Credit: Green Bay Press Gazette