Lambeau Leap of Faith

November 15, 2010 1:36 AM

Packers Mid-Term Grades, Volume I

Continuing the report card series during the bye week that started with the offensive reserves, the defensive counterparts will be examined below in order of worst to best. 

As with the earlier volume of the series, they are being assessed on the role they are being called on to perform on defense only, rather than special teams or the one they were projected to at the outset of the season. However, those who have split time almost evenly between a reserve and starting position will be graded on their expected role.

Justin Harrell: Sure, Harrell also played far too little to judge. But that happens every year, and it is time he be judged on it--not that Packers fans have not been doing what Ted Thompson should have been two years ago in considering him a failure, but he is officially one here...F

Atari Bigby: Last year's starting strong safety for 13 games has missed all but one game recovering from ankle surgery he put off due to reluctance to sign the team's one-year tender offer as a restricted free agent. However, the grades do not include one's off-season choices, and one game as a backup would only have been sufficient to give him a grade if he was horrible or great; two tackles in reserve is neither...Incomplete

Brandon Underwood: Last season as a rookie, Underwood played some time at dimeback. This offseason, talk out of camp was that he was expected to play nickel. Instead, the former sixth-round pick has gotten limited playing time, with three tackles and an assist.

In the process, he has been beaten out on the depth chart by an undrafted rookie free agent (Sam Shields) who played only ten games at the position in college and another player (Jarret Bush) who has proven consistently over the past three seasons to be inadequate in coverage. Moreover, with the struggles at safety by Derrick Martin and his subsequent injury, the former safety should have been able to step in and avoid forcing the team to make a trade for depth...F

Pat Lee: Lee has been almost as disappointing--more so if you consider he has been in the league an extra year and was a second-round pick. He has also not gotten into what is, on paper at least, a weak secondary beyond the two starters. He has seven tackles and an assist, but many of those happened on special teams; he would be listed lower than Underwood if not for battling an injury that has affected him at times when he has played and caused him to miss two games...F

Derrick Martin: A safety who fills in for the injured Morgan Burnett who started for the injured Bigby may not seem like a player with heavy expectations, but he was signed in 2009 to be the team's top insurance policy at the position. However, the best thing that happened to the Packers defense was Martin getting hurt, forcing Ted Thompson to trade away one of his coveted draft picks to get the man he let go in favour of Martin, Anthony Smith.

Martin did have six tackles and three assists to go with an interception that had a 15-yard return, but the pick was an overthrown pass right to him, meaning Martin only caught it because he was not doing well enough in coverage. He was also responsible in allowing at least two touchdowns...D-.

Anthony Smith: Playing in only a couple games after a trade, Smith has six tackles and an assist, but was beaten twice in Sunday's rout of the Dallas Cowboys by a backup tight end. Nevertheless, he has been a clear upgrade over Martin despite having to make an adjustment Martin did not in moving back to a team and defense he has not been in for over a year...C-

Brandon Chillar: Widely recognised as the best linebacker the Packers have in coverage has been battling injuries that have kept him from playing every week, and perhaps affecting his play. Regardless of why, however, he has been very beatable this season, even if he has been there to make the tackle afterward--A.J. Hawk does that, too, and is hated on by Packers fans for it. Green Bay needs him to do better at the role he plays...C

Brady Poppinga: The Stormin' Mormon had his chance to start briefly because of the injuries to Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, and was solid with seven tackles, seven assists, and a sack before being knocked out for the season himself...C+

T.J. Lang: The backup offensive guard and tackle has actually seen more playing time lending a hand to the thin defensive line in goalline situations than he has at his natural positions. In the few plays he has gotten in, he has registered an assist--not bad considering all that is expected of him in those situations is to provide bulk and occupy blockers...C+

The play of young cornerbacks allowed the Packers to release Al Harris
Jarret Bush: Perhaps I am compensating for how hard I have been on the man whose attempt to make a highlight reel rather than ensure the turnover might have cost this team an NFC Championship in 2007. However, what I have seen from him has included some solid play at the dimeback position, and (other than special teams), that is all that the Packers need from him...B-

Mike Neal: Another reach for Thompson on the defensive line in this year's draft, Neal has gotten limited time on the field due to injuries. On a thin defensive line when the team could really use his services, he is now out for the season. However, he played pretty well in the limited time he was in, getting three tackles, a sack, and forcing a fumble...B-

Jarius Wynn: Supposedly small for playing defensive end in a 3-4, Wynn has held up pretty well in limited action with two tackles and a sack...B-

Brad Jones: Last season's seventh-round draft pick started seven games at outside linebacker in 2009, but was passed by on the depth chart by an undrafted free agent. However, he managed plenty of playing time, not just in the "psycho" (six linebacker) package, but even in standard 3-4 sets, and played pretty well with 16 tackles and 11 assists...B-

Howard Green: A mid-season pickup from the waiver wire to deal with the thin line, Green stepped into the rotation just in time to contribute to a shutout against his former team, the New York Jets. He has one tackle, one assists, and one fumble forced in two games as a reserve...B

Charlie Peprah: When rookie starter Morgan Burnett went down and Atari Bigby was not ready to return, the fear would be the Packers would suffer much like 2009 at the strong safety position. However, Peprah has proven to be an adequate starter with 25 tackles and three assists, and even been decent in coverage...B

Sam Shields: The rookie is getting on-the-job training at a position he does not have much experience at even in college. One can see how much he has improved at the position since his struggles early in the season, and he has ten tackles, two assists, and an interception to show for it on the statsheet. Perhaps more telling, the Packers have played the Eagles, Jets, Vikings, and Cowboys, all of whom have talented third receivers, and not gotten burned as badly as last season against deep receiving corps...B+

C.J. Wilson: Wilson was the Packers seventh round pick this season but has stepped in like a high pick. He has 12 tackles, six assists, and a sack, and the line's play has not dipped while he has filled in for injured starter Ryan Pickett--in fact, one could argue it has gotten better, even though Pickett does not have to worry about losing his starting spot...A

Desmond Bishop: There is no question the Packers are better off with Bishop starting than with Nick Barnett. Even fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk's play has improved since Bishop came in. He has been guarding wide receivers in the slot (getting a pick returned for a touchdown while on Randy Moss), pressuring the quarterback (two sacks), and honing in the ball carrier (35 tackles, 14 assists, and a fumble forced). When a reserve is a huge part of a defense improving once he replaces the starter, there is not much more that can be expected of such a player...A+

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