The Green Bay Packers have several glaring holes this offseason – offensive line, cornerback and safety among them – but I’ve been wavering as to which is the most troublesome.
Offensive tackle is the obvious answer, but the cornerback position is an increasing concern on par with, if not greater than, the tackle position.
The Packers have players who can play tackle. The team re-signed left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Mark Tauscher this offseason. Problem is, both players are old, injury-prone and past their prime. Clifton will be 34 this summer and missed four games last season. On top of that, when he was healthy, he didn’t play that well. Tauscher, on the other hand, was solid in the eight games he played, but he’ll be 33 this summer. The Packers need long-term replacements.
Tauscher’s eventual replacement may already be on the Packers’ roster, in the form of second-year player T.J. Lang – if Lang isn’t shuffled all over the line, as has been Mike McCarthy’s tendency. The Packers have no clear successor for Clifton, though, and Clifton plays, arguably, the most important position on the team – he protects the franchise’s back side.
Clearly, the fact that Clifton isn’t going to play much longer, is a major injury risk, hasn’t played at a high level in several years and is key in keeping Aaron Rodgers safe from harm makes finding a left tackle – and I’m talking about someone who can play at a high level, not another developmental player – a major priority for the Packers.
The Packers have a similar problem developing in the secondary that also needs to be addressed, though.
Sure, the team has reigning Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson, but after that there are a lot of question marks.
Al Harris is returning from a torn ACL and there’s some question as to whether he’ll even be available to start the season. Beyond that, Harris is 35 and there aren’t many cornerbacks who’ve played well into their late 30s who aren’t named Darrell Green.
Behind Harris is Tramon Williams, who has shown flashes of brilliance and flashes of stupidity. Some NFL observers don’t consider Williams a starter, but that’s a role he’s filled on a part-time basis the past two seasons for the Packers.
Then there’s a mixture of even more unknowns. Will Blackmon is also returning from a torn ACL. When healthy, Blackmon has been great on special teams, but hasn’t factored as cornerback.
Pat Lee, a former second-round pick, is a similar player. He’s spent time on injured reserve each of his first two seasons in Green Bay, including all of last season. Even if Lee can stay healthy, the Packers have no idea what they’re going to get from him.
And then there’s Jarrett Bush and Josh Bell, who I won’t even comment on.
So here you have a team with one cornerback who isn’t a question mark and whose secondary was exposed by pass happy offenses in Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Arizona. The poor play of the Packers’ secondary was the main reason they lost their wild card playoff game with the Arizona Cardinals – a game in which the Cardinals racked up 51 points and 379 passing yards.
Obviously, it looks like cornerback is a more immediate need for the Packers if they plan on being successful in 2010, since the blueprint has been circulated on how to beat the NFL’s second-ranked defense. The Packers simply can’t go into the season with a bunch of question marks and hope for the best.
Still, there’s that nagging left tackle problem.
It’s conceivable the Packers could fill both positions in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, if all the dominoes fall correctly, but like counting on Chad Clifton to stay healthy and all of the current cornerbacks on the roster to return to health and reach their full potential, that’s a big if.