Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Does Thompson Have Positional Templates?

With the signing of tight end Andrew Quarrles last week, I've been giving some thought to what Packers General Manager Ted Thompson looks at when making his draft picks.  This fifth-rounder we just signed in Quarrles reminds me rather of a third-round tight end he just picked up two drafts ago, a man by the name of JerMichael Finley.  So much in their draft day writeups look similar:  athletic pass-catcher, blocking-challenged, some issues with perhaps not being ready for the pro game right away, needs to mature.

Now, I don't bring this up to rail on Thompson or to rag on Finley, despite the fact that I was critical of the pick at the time (and have since admitted I was wrong).  But, I am noticing that Thompson seems to have a template for players at certain positions, and likes bringing many of the same kind of guys into camp.

Some of this may be because of Thompson's proclaimed dedication to bringing in "Packer People", but it goes beyond the attitudinal perceptions that such a label leads you to believe:  you can have clean-living, hard-working players that also are good blockers at the tight end position.

So, assuming that Donald Lee is slowly working his way out of Green Bay this preseason, the Packers may be looking at two athletic, pass-catching freaks at tight end this season.  Is that a problem?  Depends on your point of view.

You have to give Thompson the credit he has coming:  he's an NFL GM that didn't get to where he is by guessing.  If he has a prototype player in mind at a position, he certainly is going out there and getting guys to fill that role.  It's clear that Thompson is seeing the TE spot as a weapon in the passing game moreso than having Ed "Toolbox" West doing dirty work in the trenches.  If that is his plan on how the offense is going to look, he's definately getting guys who have the potential to be excellent in that role.

On the other hand, Thompson's prototype isn't necessarily the traditional prototype, where you have tight ends that are adept in both receiving and blocking, with perhaps blocking being the primary function and the receiving being the "bonus" contribution to the team.  Or, your tight end tandem compliments one another:  kind of like Chmura and Jackson back in the day.  Whereas Chmura became the solid blocker and middle of the field possession receiver, Jackson was the touchdown maker.

Finley, to his credit, has developed in his maturity and in his blocking, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking he's a blocker first.  Quarrles looks to be much in the same mold.

Another area that we see Thompson's Templates is at safety, including the guy many of us are hoping develops quickly, third-rounder Morgan Burnett.  I was thrilled to see Thompson take a safety, but was quick to note that Burnett falls under the same safety template he's used since he arrived.   Conventional safety prototypes would, again, utilize complimentary skills:  a strong safety plays close to the line and provides run support, while a free safety plays back and provides over the top instinctive coverage.

But, Thompson has approached his safety template with both positions being interchangeable, and having similar talents in both spots.  Thompson has brought in players who are all in the tough, hard-hitting strong safety mold:  Marquand Manuel, Aaron Rouse, Atari Bigby, Jarrett Bush...even Nick Collins fits that mold while being shoehorned into the free safety spot.  Now, Burnett brings a similar resume to the team:  solid tackler, good athlete, aggressive, but lacks instinct and awareness. 

Last preseason, Thompson released Anthony Smith, a veteran safety who seemed to bring a different element to the defensive backfield.  Many were confused when he was let go, but looking back on it, Smith may not have fit what Thompson wanted back there.  And, despite the concerns of the safety position when injury struck last season (as well as Bigby's "holdout" this offseason), many feel that Burnett may be able to step in and pick up where Bigby left off.  The two may be interchangeable.

And there's that word: "interchangeable".  Nowhere have we heard that term more than when discussing the offensive line as the Packers continue to implement the zone blocking scheme, and continue to bring in linemen that offer flexibility as a primary asset.  Starting in 2006, when Thompson drafted Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, and Tony Moll, the Packers have seen their interior line become a game of musical chairs.  Now, as aging tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton have been signed to lucrative short-term deals while waiting for someone to claim their starting spot, it's hard not to notice that Tauch and Cliffy have never been moved inside:  they are tackles, period.  When they finally hang up their cleats, there will be a glut of linemen that will be looking to "move outside" to play tackle.  However, one of the guys many of us assumed would be the heir apparent is, well, apparently better suited at guard (emphasis mine):

Mike McCarthy said regarding TJ Lang,  "I think T.J.’s long-term, this is just me personally, Joe Philbin, James Campen and Jerry Fontenot, we go round and round about it, I think T.J.’s long-term is at guard. I think he’s a natural left guard, when I look at his body. But he is young. He needs to develops strength to hit that. He is a very young second-year player. There’s a lot of room for development. But you can’t argue with the fact that he’s a more natural tackle because that’s where he has played. He feels more natural at tackle because that’s where he has played. I definitely feel he could play right tackle today if he had to. And I think he’s done a solid job at subbing in there at LT when needed."

Yet, the offensive line is loaded with players like Colledge, Lang, and Spitz...players who just can't seem to settle on a position and excel at it.  And so, lesser-regarded players, such as Josh Sitton and Scott Wells, quietly establish themselves along the starting line because they plug in and do the job in one position and do it well.

Again,  I don't bring these up to criticize Thompson's drafts.  I do believe that he has a vision of what he wants his team to look like and he drafts accordingly.  If it is a priority for Thompson to have interchangeable players, than that is his right as a general manager.  He wants athletic, pass-catching tight ends, hard-hitting safeties, and flexible offensive linemen, and he goes out and gets them.

The other shoe, however, is that if we are in a position where we need solid run or pass blocking, where do we turn?  If the defense is in dire need of a safety that has enough awareness to tighten their own coverage (as well as directing others to do the same), who do we have to do the job?  If we need someone to fill in for an injured Mark Tauscher and keep Rodgers upright, do we have a tackle on the roster than can do the job?

It's not the games against the Lions that will magnify what you lack, it is the games against the Steelers and the Cardinals that bring your blemishes to light. 


John Rehor said...

The team needs more players like Sitton (drafted to play guard and plays guard) Clifton (drafted to play tackle, plays tackle) and Wells (once a center, always a center). Guys like Spitz, Moll, and Colledge, who I think of as "swing players" are not going to contribute to the long term success of the team because they are never settled on a position, allowed to grow into their position, and have long, productive careers like Clifton and Tauscher.

There are 2players who need to have their positions for the future settled. One is Bulaga, who is the heir appearant to Clifton. the other, who is already being discussed as maybe a tackle, maybe a guard is Lang. McCarthy and Campen need to decide once and for all what he is (my suggestion is right tackle, but what do I know) and stick with it. Moving him around will deter his development, and only hurt the team in the long run.

Great read C.D.

J.R. Augustine said...

It certainly is a huge plus to place a guy in a position, and let him focus on and master that position. Unfortunately, due to how outspoken Thompson and McCarthy have been on the topic of interchangeability, I think we have to expect that Ted and Mike will continue to expect players to know, and be able to fill, several roles.

I just don't see anything in that department changing in the near future.

PackersRS said...

"Now, Burnett brings a similar resume to the team: solid tackler, good athlete, aggressive, but lacks instinct and awareness."

14 picks in college. Burnett lacks instinct and awareness. Cmon C.D., that was a BIG fail.

I think you confused Burnett with Taylor Mays.

PackerNation said...

First, since you only have seven offensive linemen active on gameday it is IMPERATIVE that you've got guys like Lang/Colledge/Spitz that can play more than one position.

Second, I'd suspect Quarless doesn't make much of an impact this year because he has a long way to go before he's an NFL player. More likely is that we'll keep four TEs this year like we kept 3 FBs last year.

Third, as PackersRS said, you appear to have missed the target badly in your assessment of Burnett.

Fourth, it is possible that Anthony Smith was released because TT didn't think he was what he wanted. It is also possible that he made a mistake. Remember, we kept Rouse instead and then cut him after he totally failed in the second game of the season.