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Why Are Green Bay Packers Reluctant to Play Young Guys?

Jamari Lattimore

Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. The Green Bay Packers are among the youngest teams in the league every year, they’re playing all kinds of young guys.

Well, sure. That’s true, but they’re primarily playing those guys on special teams. In many cases, the Packers stubbornly cling to veterans when it might actually help them long term to give a younger, unproven player a shot.

Before we begin listing examples, let us tell you where this is coming from. The Packers re-signed safety Chris Banjo yesterday. In doing our research, we came across the comical stat that Banjo, despite starting no games, had one more pass defended that M.D. Jennings, who started all 16 games.

So here’s example No. 1. For some reason, the Packers clung to Jennings as the starter, even though he played terribly in 2013. Meanwhile, they had first-year undrafted rookie Banjo and second-year undrafted rookie Sean Richardson waiting in the wings.

Both of those guys got playing time in place of Jennings and that’s swell. But why in the hell didn’t the Packers just make Richardson or Banjo the starter?

Sure, they don’t have the same amount of experience as Jennings, but in this case who cares? Jennings was a liability. Can anyone honestly say Richardson or Banjo would have been a bigger liability?


You throw one of them into the fire. Sure, he’s going to make some mistakes, but he’s also going to pick up valuable experience that will make him a better player as the season goes on.

Clearly, Jennings was not and is not the answer.

There are two great examples of this working — college football and the NBA.

The rule in college football is if two guys have the same talent level, you play the younger guy. The rule completely discounts experience, but it works because playing the younger guy now makes him and your team better over time.

In the NBA, it’s currently tank season. That is, teams that have no chance of making the playoffs now have rotations consisting almost exclusively of guys with three years of experience or less. Look at the Milwaukee Bucks’ lineup right now and you’ll see what we’re talking about.

Yeah, they’re going to suck real hard for the remainder of the season, but they’ll be better off next season because those youngsters got minutes.

Now, we’re not suggesting that the Packers should have tanked down the stretch last season. We are, however, suggesting that the coaching staff has some irrational love with veteran players.

How about Jamari Lattimore?

We both saw him out there making plays when he had to step in as a starter for Brad Jones in 2013. In fact, he probably made more impact plays in the games he started than Jones made all season.

And yeah, Lattimore was out of position or too aggressive at times. Sure, he’s not a finished product. But the Packers know what they have with Jones, which isn’t much to brag about. Why not give the youngster a shot to learn on the job and become that more polished player?

You certainly don’t suddenly become a finished product by sitting in the film room. You do that by being on the field.

Rewind a few years and Desmond Bishop was in the same place. He was stuck behind two pretty average players in Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk. Bishop would tear it up during the preseason and then get relegated to the bench for the duration of the regular season.

It took a season-ending injury to Barnett for the Packers to give Bishop a chance. And low and behold, with a little time on the field Bishop became the Packers’ best inside linebacker and arguably their best playmaker other than Clay Matthews in 2010 and 2011.

This doesn’t just apply to low-round picks and undrafted guys either. When the Packers drafted Clay Matthews in 2009, he didn’t get to start until the fourth game of the season. Last year’s first-round pick Datone Jones didn’t start any games.

You’ll notice all the guys we’ve been discussing play defense. Is that a coincidence? Probably not.

Mike McCarthy is an offensive guy. This pattern would seem to suggest that McCarthy values a defense that is solid but not spectacular, will bend but not break and that’s predictable.

You know what you’re going to get when you trot A.J. Hawk out there with the starters. You’re not getting a guy who’s going to make plays. You’re getting a guy who knows the scheme and can make the calls. While he’ll get tied up with blockers and take bad angles, he won’t make the total bonehead mistake that will cost you the game.

Just make the defense predictable and serviceable and let the offense win it. That seems to be the MO under McCarthy.

Unfortunately, the defense hasn’t been serviceable lately. Benching some vets and letting some young guys learn on the job could have been just what the doctor ordered to turn things around.

We’ll never know.

Monty McMahon

Monty McMahon is one of the founders of Total Packers. He is probably the most famous graduate of UW-Oshkosh next to Jim Gantner.



  1. Dave February 27, 2014

    Month, I think you’re off base a bit on your perspective. The Packers do play their young guys first. That’s not just what the preseason is for. The Packers also play their first 2-3 games with the same mindset.

    Everyone in the bubble or just coming up is on a snap count every game, where momentum and mistakes dictate who plays.

    Richardson got worked into the game plan as he became healthy. Banjo was more of a teams guy but also spelled McMillian and Jennings. Brad Jones’ signing made Desmond Bishop and DJ Smith expendable. Datone Jones was slowed by a bad ankle for the first 6-8 games.

    Maybe it’s a slow news day, but I don’t understand how one of the youngest teams in the league can be accused of sitting their youngest players?!

    1. Chad Lundberg February 27, 2014

      I don’t see what some of things you said counter what Monty said?

      Monty’s point is that sometimes the Packers actually have some talented players on the roster but don’t play them unless an injury happens to the veteran of that position.

      Another example, back in 2011, in the very first game, Randall Cobb proved that he was talented, both as a receiver and as a returner. Yet the Packers decided to continue to start Donald Driver over Cobb.

      Ya Datone had an injury, but after it had healed, did you see him starting in the lineup? You’re going to let your first round pick just sit on the bench while the defense struggles?

      There’s clearly a mentality in GB that having the Veteran play first is the safest choice. Anything other than that seems to scare MM.

      When the season was going as bad as it was, MM should have taken a few chances, and one of the best options for him would be for him to play more of his young and talented players, yet once again he withheld.

  2. Phatgzus February 27, 2014

    The Packers don’t usually throw their youngsters into the fire but Lattimore probably isn’t the best example-pretty sure he’s been in the League a few years, he was also injured somewhere near the mid/late-midpoint of the season. You’re also right that it’s beneficial for those youngsters to gain experience, especially down the stretch, when possible (and when there’s likely little to no drop off in performance, such as safety, as you indicated) but you could probably find a more beneficial supporting example than the Bucks.

    They do throw young players into starting roles a fair bit of the time, though: CMIII, Bulaga, Collins, Hawk, Raji, Bak-T was competing for starting RT before Bulaga went down, Shields started 6 games, and Hayward was starting Nickel CB, all of them as rookies. Cobb, wouldn’t have started even without DD as Jordy and Tim Jennings’ sister were the starters, JJ was also ahead of him and Cobb was still learning a pretty complex offensive playbook (including, audibles, hot reads, etc.)-he got his 1st receiving TD when he ran the wrong route.

  3. Savage57 February 27, 2014

    Ya ever come across those guys that when their car won’t start, they still just sit there and grind and grind that thing until they’re buying a new starter? Obviously something other than ‘let me try this one more time’ is in order, but they stay hopeful.

    Seems we see this tendency more on the D side of the ball. Monty’s right about giving the young bucks their shot, but it’s one of those imagined paths that we believe has more upside than down because we fit our conclusions to the desired outcome.

    What if Banjo had replaced Jennings? We all want to believe that the conclusion would have been ‘played better’ because Jennings sucked dick so bad, and we all really wanted the secondary not to make us shit ourselves every time an opposing QB threw something deep down the middle. But what if Banjo had sucked even worse? Where would they be and what would the options be? Call St. Norbert’s?

    We want the young guys to have their shots because they allow us to believe that they’ll be better and support the conclusions and outcomes we hope for. Since we already know that the incumbents or the old guys aren’t any good, we have to hold out hope that the young unproven guys will be better. Because if they’re not, at least in the short-term, hope takes a hike.

  4. theblackrook February 27, 2014

    Maybe because all the time they spent training them and in practice leads the coaching staff to believe they not ready. I don’t know maybe a fan whose not their watching and evaluating and spending years of his life getting paid to do just that knows better… maybe.

  5. K.L. February 27, 2014

    What the Packers coaches need to do is raise their expectations. They need to stop tolerating horrible play at any position.

  6. Abe Frohman February 27, 2014

    I think it’s harder to play a younger defensive player because the opposing offense will target that guy. If they do and are successful, we give up points. Other than turnovers by younger players on offense, you simply don’t score.

  7. Mike McCarthy February 27, 2014

    Not sure how anyone can disagree with this article. He hit the nail on the head which I already spoke about a few weeks ago. Im going to take a more proactive approach with the defense and get the playmakers on the field where they belong.

  8. billabong February 27, 2014

    So who started when DaTone slumped?? I don’t remember it being a vet, unless the vets name was Boyd…and Banjo?? He’ll never be more than a fair special teamer and mediocre back up…get real..

  9. ay hombre February 27, 2014

    THIS is what John Schneider was talking about in the story we saw on here a couple weeks ago. He was NOT bashing Thompson for not drafting the right players, he was slyly implying that we have the young guys and don’t play them.

    When I saw the title of this article I thought for sure it was connected to the earlier story about Schneider.

    If you go back and read the quote, it said….

    “It wouldn’t be very hard, I don’t think,” Schneider said. “Just [get] more speed. It’s just about having guys that are willing to teach and play young players, and [the Packers] have that. They have a young team. They have good teachers.”

    Word. They have the young players. the underhanded comment came in regards to actually letting them play.

  10. lars February 28, 2014

    Reluctant to play youngsters? Huh? Ding ding ding—Michah Hayde, anybody? Who was that out there wearing Mulumba’s number or Zombo’s in 2010, or McMillan, Shields (2010-2013), Boyd in 2013 and Dez Moses in 2012? Worthy in 2012. Hayward in 2012.

    There’s no reluctance whatsoever to play youngsters. They just have to, you know, halfway know what the hell they are doing in Capers’ cutesy scheme and that takes time. Now, if you suck like Nate Palmer (who never should have been rached for in R5) —you won’t play much.

    There’s a lot to criticize re: the Packers defense, but reluctance to play youngsters (outside of getting that mediocre pile-jumper off the field in favor of Bishop in 2009, 10 etc.) isn’t among them. This thread is a non-starter.