It’s only one game into the the preseason, but have you seen a difference in this bunch of Green Bay Packers? Never mind how well they performed, the Packers top two new draft selections are lending a whole new attitude to the Green and Gold.
Despite much team success, I think you’d have to go back to the Lombardi days in order to pick out a Packers team that radiated widespread toughness and physicality, as personified by Ray Nitschke on defense and Jim Taylor on offense.
Following a long drought, in 1993 general manager Ron Wolf signed Reggie White, who brought his hard-nosed style of football with him. It culminated in a Super Bowl win following the 1996 season. Some thought White, entering his ninth NFL season when he arrived, was about to be over the hill. Not so. In his last year with the Packers, the 37-year-old White was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
White, at 6’5” and 300 pounds, had some good moves, but it was raw strength, power, and toughness that enabled him to compile the NFL’s second most career sacks (198, two behind Bruce Smith). Reggie’s aggressiveness also seemed to carry over to several of his Green Bay teammates.
Since White’s time, I can’t think of many Packers who stand out as notably hard-nosed players, and most of those who played hard did not last long on the team.
One who comes to mind is linebacker Desmond Bishop. From 2007 through 2011, the big guy progressed to being one of the most dominant inside linebackers in the league. In 2011, he totaled 115 tackles and five sacks, helping the Packers to a one-loss regular season. Unfortunately, injuries virtually ended his career at that point.
Remember safety Atari Bigby? Though he was with the Packers from 2005 to 2010, he only started more than 11 games in one season. Still, at 5’11” and 213 pounds, he was a vicious tackler.
Defensive lineman Mike Daniels certainly deserves a mention. Entering his sixth season, the 6’, 310-pounder is more aggressive and nasty with each passing year. Will this be the year he is named an All-Pro?
Clay Matthews still brings an obvious physical presence to his game, though he’s not the same player who, from 2009 through 2014, recorded double-digit sacks four times.
Though he’s only been with the team for one year, and that as a reserve safety, undrafted Kentrell Brice recorded the Packers’ two most eye-catching and jolting tackles last year. Let’s hope he follows up his first season with more playing time and more of those bone-jarring hits.
On the offensive side of the ball, the only recent player who jumps out in my mind is Eddie Lacy. He’s the real deal when it comes to having a punishing smashmouth running style. His failure to fully meet his potential is something Green Bay fans will always regret. If he returns to his 2013-14 form with the Seattle Seahawks, that regret will turn into positive anguish.
The Class of 2017
Just the one preseason game against the Eagles might be enough to convince Green Bay fans that safety (and sometimes linebacker) Josh Jones and cornerback Kevin King each possess the kind of physicality that hasn’t been much in evidence of late at Lambeau Field.
Of the two, it was Jones who gained the reputation of being a bruising tackler while at North Carolina State. Jones, who entered the draft after his junior season, measures 6’1” and weighs 220 – and he puts every pound to use when he goes after a ball carrier.
King, though not nearly as stout at 6’3” and 200 pounds, actually might have had the more impressive hard hits of the two against the Eagles. This comes as somewhat of a surprise. His NFL.com draft analysis said he “could use more upper body strength” and that “he’ll need to improve his aggressiveness as a tackler.” If this one game is a good indication, he has already improved, and he has plenty of room on his frame to add some muscle.
For the game, neither rookie looked great in coverage, but their tackling, except for one miss by King, was crisp and jarring. King finished with five tackles in 36 snaps, and Jones, playing linebacker on occasion, had four in 43 snaps – a sign that Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers want these two on the field a lot in their rookie seasons.
It’s also worth noting that, in contrast to some Eagles players, the hits handed out by these two rookies were hard, but clean.
One thing is for sure: after spending the last decade or so consistently picking undersized or finesse players, in 2017 the Packers abruptly did an about face. The current 2017 roster is packed with new players who pack a punch.