Monday, July 26, 2010

CCQ #5: Who takes advantage of Harris' absence?

This is the eighth installment of our Camp Countdown Questions series. Each day leading up to July 31st, we'll be posing a crucial question the Pack need to answer in training camp.

Al Harris is a warrior. Everything about #31 is a testament to this, from his aggressive, attacking style of play to the seamless collage of tattoos that covers his body. His compelling journey through the ranks of professional football, from D-II prospect to nickel back to All-Pro, is proof of his resiliency and determination, as is the fact that he not only survived an exploded spleen, but was back on the field in a matter of weeks. It's not an exaggeration to say that Al Harris is one of the baddest mutha f#*&ers in the world, right after this guy (warning: adult language).

But unfortunately, it doesn't look like Al will be fully recovered from an obliterated knee in time for the beginning of the season. Despite his best efforts, it's most likely that Harris will end up on the PUP list (physically unable to perform), which will prevent him from participating in the Packers' first 6 games. One of the biggest concerns of the Packers this training camp is finding a corner back competent enough to fill the vacancy left by Harris.

I am, of course, not talking about the immediate vacancy left by Al, that is, the starting CB spot opposite Charles Woodson. Tramon Williams has that locked up. No, by shifting Williams to the starting lineup, Harris' absence leaves a big question mark at the crucial nickel back position (which has nothing to do with these guys).

Last year, following Harris' season ending injury, the nickel back was a position of weakness for the Packers. None of the reserves on the roster seemed competent in Williams' stead, and opposing QBs took notice (see Roethilsberger, Ben and Warner, Kurt). Indeed, while Green Bay's run defense was the envy of the league over, the Packers' pass defense became a liability, despite the presence of All-Stars Charles Woodson and Nick Collins roaming the secondary. Though the Packers' problematic pass coverage can certainly be attributed to other positional groups as well, the lack of any suitable depth at CB was one of the most compelling factors.

Unfortunately,Ted Thompson and Co. did very little to address this glaring deficiency, failing to select a single corner throughout the seven rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft. In essence, the Packers will be forced to figure out their corner back conundrum with the same group of players that proved inadequate last year.

Well, actually, that isn't entirely true. Pat Lee, a former 2nd round pick who spent all of last year on the IR, will be added to the mix. Lee's performance throughout his brief career with the Packers has been highly disappointing. He played sparingly his rookie year, hampered by a hamstring injury which eventually landed him on the IR late into the season. He followed up with an even worse sophomore campaign: The Packers determined Lee to be so inconsequential that they relegated him to the IR with a minor knee injury before the season had even begun. In fact, Lee's contributions to the Green and Gold thus far have been so non-existent that he wasn't even included as member of the Packers in Madden 2011.

Sadly enough, after Lee it doesn't get much better. We're all familiar with Jarrett Bush, the most despised man of the past decade to don the Packers uniform and be despised whilst wearing it (I feel like that clarification was highly necessary). Seriously, fans love to hate this guy. Year in and year out, the Packers faithful question why Bush is still on the roster, and why the heck Thompson decided to match an offer sheet to keep him in Titletown. This much is clear: Bush is not sticking around because of his coverage abilities.

So who else do the Packers have? Well, there is Josh Bell. What's that, you don't remember Bell? Maybe this will refresh your memory:
Still not clicking for you? Alright, you asked for it:

That's right, Bell's the guy who gave up that absurd, last-second, game-winning TD catch to Roethilsberger, Mike Wallace, and the Steelers. In all fairness, that was an amazingly thrown ball, absolute perfect placement...but you just can't give up a play like that when the game is on the line, especially from 19 yards out! Maybe the fact that we had only signed Bell a couple weeks earlier had something to do with his poor play, but for some reason, I don't think he's our answer. After all, he had the opportunity to start in Denver once Champ Bailey went down and if he'd been any good, they would've kept him.

Though they didn't draft any corners, the Packers do have rookie pick-up Sam Shields on the roster. But if you think Shields is the immediate answer at nickel back, well then you must be taking crazy pills. Seriously, Shields is raw as they come. If he sticks around this year, it will be because of his abilities as a gunner and kick coverage wiz. He's at least an entire season away from making any kind of contribution in the secondary.

Who does that leave left? Oh, of course, Brandon Underwood. In fact, a month ago Underwood was the odds on favorite to assume the nickel back role should Harris fail to return on time. Underwood played decently, albeit sparingly, as a rookie and followed his first season up with some stellar offseason improvement. His progress prompted Mike McCarthy to say the following:
I think Brandon Underwood would definitely be a candidate for most improved player from year one to year two so far from what I've seen. I think he's really matured in the weight room. He looks very good right now. I know we're only practicing in shorts and helmets, but I think Brandon Underwood is off to an outstanding spring so far. I've been very pleased with what he has shown on film.
Pretty excellent praise from the head coach. But, of course, Underwood had to go screw it all up by utilizing the services of a pair of ladies of the nights, who then decided to play the "sexual assault card" in an effort to make a quick buck. There's probably a good chance that this case will blow over or at least not result in jail time, but I'm still not confident that the Packers should rely on Underwood as their answer at nickel back.

There, that's it. Lee, Bush, Bell, Shields, and Underwood. That's essentially all the Packers have to work with in their search for a suitable #3 CB. You may be wondering about Will Blackmon, but he moved to safety this off-season. However, as loyal reader PackersRS pointed out, Dom Capers has used safeties to play a pseudo-nickel back in the past. It may be something he could be planning on doing with rookie Morgan Burnett. An intriguing possibility, to be sure, but until I hear that this is something actually in development, I'll have to assume it isn't an option.

So where does that leave us? Well, here's what I can say. No matter who steps up in Harris' absence, it's hard to imagine that they'll be good enough to fix the pass defense woes that plagued the Packers last season. Simply put, Ted Thompson has failed to add needed talent to the CB corps. At this point, the Packers should be hoping that Al Harris can make a miraculous recovery or that opposing teams choose not to run multi-WR sets. Because if they do, we can look for repeats of the defensive debacles in Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Make sure to check out all other installments of the Camp Countdown Questions series!


  1. Oh my, the sky is falling!! It's one thing not to be a homer, another to be hyper critical. Hoisting poor Bell on the blogger's petard is a perfect example of crossing that line. Did he mention that that was the ONLY completion Bell allowed? Further the coverage wasn't bad. Give some credit to a great pass and a great reception.
    The Packer's woes actually start up front. The INSIDE rush needs improvement. I don't care who's in the secondary. You can't allow a QB to be unmolested in the pocket. Both Barnett and Hawk have to play the spread more aggressively. We must do more in short and mid center field, historically linebacker and safety territory, not the edge. I'd be the last to say our secondary is perfect, but look around the league. Also look for internal improvement in only the 2nd year of a complicated defense. The sky is NOT falling.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Calm down. I never said the sky is falling. The Pack went 11-5 last year with the current CB group, so I'm not saying a repeat or even an improved performance is out of the question. Far from it. I also don't say that CBs are the only reason are pass coverage sucked.

    But if you think that are current situation at CB is ideal than I think you're delusional. Why the heck do you think we were still in base defense when faced with 3+ WR sets? BECAUSE OUR BACKUP CBs SUCK. Capers actually decided that he would rather have Nick Barnett cover Early Doucet than a CB. Think about how bad our CBs must really be.

    By the way, did mention that Roethilsberger's throw was perfect, but I still don't see Bell being a long term answer. He had a chance to start and show of his stuff in Denver and he got cut. I guess I hope he does better with us. Not counting on it though.

    Bottom line, Packers could still be good this year, heck they could still win the SB, but they didnt do enough to address the CB position, ESPECIALLY knowing that Al will be out for 6+ games. We'll probably see 1 or 2 repeats of Minneapolis/Pittsburgh/Phoenix.

  3. Anonymous,

    You are absolutely right about the lack of pressure from the ILBs. I'd like to see Desmond Bishop in there more instead of Hawk, who simply does not have any pass rushing ability. You may be interested in checking out our post titled "Does Desmond Bishop finally make his move?"

    With that said, I believe it's more than reasonable to be extremely concerned about the secondary. I do want to believe that there will be substantial internal improvement, but I don't think the Pack should have banked on that like they did. With Al missing extensive time and Pat Lee being a non-factor up to this point, adding depth at CB would have seemed like a no-brainer. Hopefully TT and the coaches have something up their sleeves to surprise us all this year.

    Now on to the Roethlisberger/Wallace TD. Josh Bell completely blew his assignment. It only looks like good coverage because he's close to the receiver and it was a spectacular throw and catch. But the fact is, if Bell was where he was supposed to be, that throw would have been impossible. Bell had no business being that deep in the endzone, which gave Wallace over 5 yards of paydirt to work with. He was supposed to stay in front of the receiver. He did not. Absolutely, 100% blown coverage. Here's a quote from a JSOnline article by Greg A. Bedard recapping the game:

    "On the final Steelers touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace, CB Josh Bell was supposed to play underneath Wallace at all costs. Packers had three deep safeties on the play."

    Here is the link to the article:

  4. Thanks for mentioning my thoughts. I would've pointed it out on the comment section... And very good explanation as to why you don't take it into account. It's a fair assessment, one I can't dispute.

    I agree with everything you've said. There's one point I must emphasise, though: knowledge of the scheme and preparation.

    Defenses in the NFL, when playing man coverage, usually put their best corner on the opposing #2 receiver, and double the #1.

    Unless they have what they think is a true shutdown corner. Revis covers the #1. Aso does the same. And, I don't have the playbook or extensive gamefilm to back it up, but I believe we did the same with Harris. Capers put him on the best Wr, and let Woodson roam free.

    When Harris went down, Capers needed to cut every play from his playbook that relied on that, because Williams wasn't ready to cover the opposing #1 receiver on a consistant basis. So he had to drastically change his playbook, retain Woodson from roaming most of the time, to focus him on the #1 receiver, which drastically hampered our coverage ability.

    I take that from looking at some film from the Packers with and without Harris, as well as a presser from Capers, saying that he hadn't prepared the backup CBs properly. As I don't believe he meant that they didn't know the playbook, that's the conclusion I've come up with.

    So, I believe, for this year, he will have a plan B, with every corner on the roster effectively instructed to perform their roles. He will also carry the plan A, for Harris' return.

    Of course, this is all speculation, as was my Safety on nickel and dime theory. Maybe both try to give me a sense of tranquility with our CB depth problems, but you have to admit, they have a foundation.


    Oh, and Bob, Bell was supposed to play underneath, but Bigby was supposed to give support. Yes, he failed, but he failed because he was trying to compensate for another teammate's mistake. He didn't do it because he's a bad CB. Actually, he did it because he understood what our D was supposed to do, and picked his poison. I can live with that. To me, that play should rely on Bigby's shoulder more than on Bell's...

  5. That's the way I remember the play Bigby wasn't there and not that I'm a big Bell fan but the throw was perfect. Wasn't that the play we only rushed two and Rothlesberger had time to smoke a cigarette while he waited for a reciever to get open. I feel confident are 2nd round pick Lee will step up to the plate and as mentioned ther high on underwood between the 2 should cover the nickel . Bring the ball hawking safety in when we play dime.

  6. I don't know, fellas. Anyone that that watched the AZ game can't be comfy with our Dbacks. 45 points! I'm pissed that we did NOTHING to help in the offseason. SuperBowl? Get REAL!

  7. I actually think we did do somethings...i dont disagree when people say depth on the d-line or raji at nose or the addition of burnett will help. but i still feel like it wont be enough to permanently cover up lack of depth at corner. as i said, i hope underwood and lee step up big time, i just dont want to base that off performances i havent seen.

  8. I think its time the packers spent a few more first and second round picks on secondary positions.

  9. Yeah maybe we can land an Ahmad Carrol?!!!!

  10. Haha your such a joker anni!

  11. Henry, what is with you and David and the Star Wars references (properly misspelled, of course)?? Although I do agree with your above statement that I am often baffled by their draft choices. Go big and draft a star.

  12. You guys are falling behind a little bit.