Friday, March 28, 2008
Brady Poppinga: Can You Feel The Love Tonight?
Last week, I wrote a blog article about the reason Brett Favre so polarized his fan base was because he became such a personal entity to the common man, which for some people, was about as comfortable as a straitjacket. We tend to be fickle fans, cheering a name and wearing a jersey one minute, and quickly moving on once that player starts to fizzle.
No one may be personifying that more than linebacker Brady Poppinga, who is seeing what was once a groundswell of fan support quietly disappear into the night. This morning, I opened the Green Bay Press-Gazette to see a fan poll as to which veterans should get their contracts extended this season. Brady Poppinga received only 5.2% of the vote, trailing Ryan Grant, Atari Bigby, and "Someone Else".
This is a far cry from the excitement he generated after starting one game as a rookie in 2005, before suffering a somewhat serious ACL injury. The fourth-round draft pick was high on everyone's list for 2006, with fans and media alike citing his "good motor" and "high intensity". He was, by all definitions, Ted Thompson's best example of "Packer People".
He was also perhaps the best-suited physically for playing the strong-side linebacker, at least given what we had on the roster at the time. In 2006, rookie AJ Hawk was slotted in on the weak side, appropriate as he was a bit shorter and stouter (6'1", 247 to Poppinga's 6'3", 245). The strong side linebacker lines up over the tight end, has to fight off his blocks, and is the one who needs to cover him on pass plays. The former defensive lineman, Poppinga, seemed best suited for the job.
But this "good motor, high intensity" guy, who makes you fall in love with his style in play just hearing him talk about it, couldn't meet the expectations that we may have set for him after that one-start 2005 season. After starting 12 games in 2006 and 15 games last season, his play has remained average. In fact, he saw his tackles drop by almost 20% and didn't get a sack all season in 2007.
But most glaring has been his deficiencies in pass coverage--somewhat of a Achilles' Heel for many on the Packer defensive side of the ball--as opposing tight ends repeatedly burned the Packers through the air. As a former DL, Poppinga has struggled to make that transition to a coverage linebacker, and it has cost us repeatedly.
So much so, that Ted Thompson's only investment thus far in the free agent market was for 6'3" Brandon Chillar, a linebacker from the Rams whose claim to fame lies in the area that Poppinga's doesn't: pass coverage. The announcement that Poppinga's job was the first one targeted for competition got a collective non-reaction from a fan base and media that once loved the "good motor, high-intensity" linebacker.
Ted Thompson has stated that Poppinga "is our starting SAM", but acknowledges the fact that Chillar brings competition to the position. In contrast to Brady's shrinking tackle totals, Chillar has recorded totals of 27, 52, 56, and 65 the past four years (Poppinga had 60 in 2006, 50 in 2007).
Scott Linehan, the Rams coach, called Chillar "assignment-sure", and the linebacker has actually played at all three linebacker positions.
If nothing else, it can now be stated that our linebacker depth is that much better than last season, when there was little along the second string behind the starting three. The question is who is going to be the depth, Chillar or Poppinga?
If Poppinga returns to a reserve role, or a specialist role (allowing Chillar to come in on passing downs), he will likely become the special teams demon that got people excited about him to begin with in 2005, where a "good motor, high intensity" player is served best of all.