Thursday, February 24, 2011

NFL Combine underway ... what will Packers do?

The 2011 NFL Scouting Combine got underway in Indianapolis today. Lots of poking, prodding, interviews, evaluations, speculations, seances, divinations, rolling of the dice (oops, gambling not permitted in the NFL, sorry), etc. going on with all the teams.

Already, Jets head coach Rex Ryan is proclaiming his team will win the next Super Bowl. OK, keep saying it often enough and one of these years he might just be right. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, however, doesn't need to do much in the way of tooting the team's horn. The Pack, along with the New England Patriots (but of course!), have already been installed by the oddsmakers as favorites to win the next Super Bowl. It should come as no surprise. After all, the Packers are loaded with talent. Heck, they won Super Bowl XLV with a team comprised of a lot of players who had never started before and some who weren't even on a team any longer before GM Ted Thompson plucked them from obscurity to fill the holes on a team continuously depleted through injuries. Imagine what will happen when all the players on injured reserve come back to the squad. Oh baby!

So, where are the gaps? What might Thompson and McCarthy be looking at in the draft? The consensus opinion is that they will be looking first for offensive line, linebacker and defensive end help. The Pack will need someone to slot in as an eventual replacement for either Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher at tackles (and depending upon where Bryan Bulaga will finally settle in). It's possible they might also be looking for a replacement for Daryn Colledge at guard as many think he's as good as gone when free agency kicks in. The linebacker situation, while deep, is a curious one. Middle linebacker A. J. Hawk is scheduled to get a bump to a $10 million per year salary unless his contract is renegotiated. Nick Barnett has been bitten by the injury bug the last two out of three years, and the Packers may have already signed his replacement with the contract given to Desmond Bishop. A few 'backers will come back off IR, but the team could really use an outside linebacker to balance out Clay Matthews' play. That could also come in the form of a new defensive end, though, particularly if the Packers lose Cullen Jenkins in free agency, as is expected.

Some mock draft boards openly admit that the Packers are a difficult team to put together a draft call on given the depth on the existing roster. But still, they try. Picking last in each round, aside from any traded or compensatory picks, means that unless Thompson sees a player he really wants, there might not be a lot of excitement happening in the draft. Final picks might be players not many have heard of know how Ted likes those gems in the rough that nobody else seems to even have on their radar. But perhaps Packer fans have finally gotten used to Thompson's approach: there may not be a lot of flash and dash at draft time, with occasional exceptions, but there sure does seem to be productivity on the field. Hard to argue with a Super Bowl-winning general manager.

If there's any news of note that pertains to the Packers and/or likely prospects, we'll give a shout out here. Otherwise, you can get your fill on the NFL Network where watching the Combine is about as exciting as, well, watching the Combine.