Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been talking about the importance of the middle of the field a lot this offseason.
Or, maybe it’s just that the local media has recycled that same story over and over. We’re not sure.
Regardless, the idea is this. Attacking — and thus, defending — the middle of the field has become increasingly important in today’s NFL.
“My personal belief is that the tight end position on offense and the safety position on defense has now gone into that level of importance,” McCarthy said. “If you look at the rule changes, you look at the match-ups, you look at the body types, the league has opened up the middle of the field.
“So I think everybody’s conscious of that and from a personnel acquisition standpoint, it’s something that you see the trend. It’s been going on and the importance of attacking the middle of the field with big athletic football players. With that you’ve got to have people who can defend it. We’re very fortunate to have the safety group we have.”
We find this statement funny for a couple reasons.
The first one should be obvious. The Packers haven’t been able to attack the middle of the field with a big, athletic player at tight end since Jermichael Finley was forced into retirement after the 2013 season.
They may now finally have that guy with Jared Cook, but let’s wait until the pads go on before we truly make that assessment.
What I’m getting at is this.
The Packers haven’t paid attention to the tight end position from a personnel standpoint. They’ve sat around and hoped their collection of mediocrity would develop into something.
Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Richard Rodgers, etc.
Not until McCarthy forced Ted Thompson’s hand by essentially demanding a big, athletic receiver (i.e. a decent tight end) after the 2015 season ended did the Packers actually address that position.
Why else do we find that statement funny?
The Packers’ safeties are good enough, right?
Although Morgan Burnett has proven to be just a guy, he’s solid enough. He’s not Charlie Peprah, Jerron McMillian or M.D. Jennings. Burnett doesn’t hurt you by being on the field.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, on the other hand, is a budding star.
What McCarthy or someone likes to completely ignore is the other part involved in attacking and defending the middle of the field.
It’s called the inside linebacker position, guys.
We saw them ignore it all of those years that A.J. Hawk was in town. We saw them ignore it in 2014, which forced them to take their best outside linebacker and move him inside to save the defense. We saw it when they passed on Reggie Ragland, Myles Jack, Jaylon Smith and every other inside linebacker prospect to draft Kenny Clark in the first round in 2016.
And let’s not forget, the top free agent inside linebacker in 2016 — Danny Trevathan — expressed interest in the Packers, but never even got a call.
The Packers don’t give a shit about the inside linebacker position. Or maybe more accurately, Ted Thompson doesn’t give a shit about the inside linebacker position.
And that’s odd, considering McCarthy keeps talking about the importance of the middle of the field.
It’s not that the Packers have completely incapable inside linebackers. The problem has always been athleticism.
Hawk didn’t have any of it. Then no one other than Matthews could be counted on for it. Now, well, the Packers had a perfect opportunity to change their situation, but chose not to.
Instead, and no offense to Sam Barrington, Jake Ryan or Blake Martinez, but the Packers will go with some spare parts.
Again. Just like they did when the trotted Nate Palmer out there in 2015.
It’s the same plan they tried to get away with at tight end prior to this year.
Barrington was a seventh-round pick and Ryan and Martinez were drafted in the fourth.
Those are guys with limitations. Plus, they’re unproven, with a combined 15 NFL starts.
These guys are going to be asked to drop back into coverage, cover speedy running backs and big, athletic tight ends. They might just fail.
Ultimately, it feels like there are lines being drawn.
Perhaps you’d like to believe McCarthy and Thompson are on the same page, as they have publicly declared. We don’t.
It sure seems like McCarthy acquiesced and told Thompson, “Okay, we’ll do it your way with these tight ends.”
And then he had enough and took it public, stating how he needed an athletic tight end. Thompson went and got him one.
What other choice did he have?
Is this current conversation just about how great the Packers’ safeties are?
You need more than safeties to defend the middle of the field. You also need at least one three-down inside linebacker.
Funny that McCarthy also commented on preferring a three-down inside linebacker earlier this offseason…
It’s also funny that Thompson essentially refused to acquire that guy this offseason, despite multiple opportunities.
Betcha either the Packers do acquire that guy next offseason or this comes to a head if there’s any adversity during the season.
The (power) struggle is real.