In March of 2008, I wrote an article about Brady Poppinga, noting how quickly Packer fans will turn on a beloved player in the face of non-production. In fact, this was the first article I wrote on TundraVision, which brought a very polite response from a poster named "truebluesportsfan" on SportSpyder suggesting I stop writing articles and use my free time more wisely.
Now, I didn't let that negative response to my first attempt at blogging get me down and make me quit. Amusingly enough though, Brady Poppinga isn't allowing negativity to get him down, either. As Bruce Smith notes over at PackerChatters, Poppinga has again forced the coaching staff to keep him on the roster despite what sometimes appears every effort on their part to replace him.
Now, mind you, I have nothing against Brady in the least. When he was drafted, he seemed much the Typical Ted Thompson pick...the unknown workout warrior that was under the radar, a bit of a tweener that other teams may have skipped over. But, Thompson was convinced his coach would find a place for this over-enthusiastic, full-speed kid.
The quote that sticks out most in my mind that seemed to get the most excitement from Packer fans was Poppinga's response to whether he thought he would get more playing time at defensive end or linebacker: "I'm a malleable piece of clay."
That kind of ambitious, team-oriented attitude harkens to a more recent quote by a more recent linebacking pick, Clay Matthews, who described his and fellow pick B.J. Raji's style of play: "That's one of the things I think that they drafted us for is the type of character that we are and how we work hard for everything and how we haven't been handed everything. We're go-getters and that's what we plan on doing here is getting after it."
Certainly, no one is going to knock Poppinga's motor or his enthusiasm for all things football. But, that man-crush fervor that he got before he ever played a down in green and gold waned as he showed what he had. While I'm certainly the first to excuse rookie and young guy mistakes, Poppinga showed time and time again that he was a liability in pass coverage. This certainly had some influence over the signing of jack-of-all-trades Brandon Chillar, who is exceptional at nothing, but decent at most things, including dropping back in coverage.
When I wrote that article back in 2008, my point wasn't to derail Poppinga, but to point out how quickly fan support can turn on you when you don't produce. It's a sad fact of football fandom...it seems our amount of "love" for a player directly depends on what he's done for us lately. The fact that David Tyree appears on the verge of being cut from the New York Giants certainly shows how fast you can go from being on top of the planet to looking for a job...and really, having no one who once celebrated your name in ticker-tape parades not even shrug about your fate today.
This offseason seemed to be spelling an end to Poppinga's tenure in Packer country...a switch to a new defensive scheme, the drafting of a first-round outside linebacker and the move of our best defensive lineman back into the other OLB spot seemed to automatically remove all consideration of a starting nod for Brady. The OTA surge of Jeremy Thompson seemed to suggest that the "malleable piece of clay" may even be expendable.
And few Packer fans wept. After all, we all had our Hawk, Barnett, Matthews, and Kampman jerseys hanging up in the closet. How much more room do we have?
I give Brady Poppinga credit for what he's done this preseason. There's a considerable probability that had Jeremy Thompson and Clay Matthews not struggled with injuries through most of training camp that Poppinga would have been running with the third team in practice and would be clawing his way just to get a roster spot.
But, thanks to those injuries, Poppinga is getting a chance to shine once again, reminding us all of the excitement we once had for his potential.
I don't know about you, but it makes me realize how fickle we fans can be. It's nothing to be proud of.
In the end, I certainly believe that Clay Matthews is still going to be given every opportunity to earn that OLB position. Thompson paid a high price for him and after suffering through criticism for the Hawk and Harrell picks, it's doubtful that Matthews is going to be on the bench very long.
But Poppinga has risen to one of the challenges that scares football players the most. Perhaps as much as injury, you would have to think that men like Poppinga fear becoming irrelevant and expendable. If your life is this boy's game that you love to play, which poison would you pick? Would you rather be hurt and rehabbing, or healthy and forgotten?
Poppinga recently commented on that rookie enthusiasm and where it has taken him today. "I'm enjoying myself very thoroughly," Poppinga said. "It's a process. When I came in here, I was a malleable piece of clay four years ago. Now, I'm breaking that clay pottery down - boom! - to build it back up. So it's a process. But I think I'm taking the necessary steps, and I'm enjoying the moment."
I give Brady Poppinga a lot of credit for taking his chance and running with it. There are plenty of players on this roster who have been given chances time and time again and just don't seem to take advantage of them. Popp may not finish this season as a starter, but after starting training camp as not much more than an afterthought, he's established himself once again as a productive player.
And certainly not expendable.