I was half-listening the other day to a recent interview of coach Mike McCarthy, when he said something that caused me to scribble it down on the newspaper I was reading. Referring to the departures of Morgan Burnett and Jordy Nelson, Big Mike said: “That’s a big chunk of leadership that’s left our locker room.”
Now, leadership can mean a lot of things for a football player. It can be the one who rallies the troops when they are down. It can be a guy who mentors the newbies. It can be the one who sets an example, and consistently comes up with a big play when it’s most needed. It can be the one who pronounces to the press that his reeling team can “run the table,” and then goes out and makes it happen. It can also be the guy who gets in the face of teammates who aren’t giving full effort. Sometimes it’s the guy who calms and re-focuses players when they are starting to panic.
Whatever your definition, credit Big Mike with acknowledging one of the downsides to the team’s offseason personnel moves. Let’s pretend for a minute that the Packers’ front office really thinks this team can make a run deep into the postseason. If so, a lack of strong leaders could jeopardize that effort.
Morgan Burnett by most accounts was the stabilizing force on the defense for the last half dozen years. Much the same can be said of Jordy Nelson on the offense – though Jordy was more the lead-by-example type. Beyond those two and of course the 13-year vet at quarterback, where might the Packers look for new leadership?
Mike Daniels has certainly been stepping into the role on the defense. Julius Peppers was a natural leader and he was valuable in that role for the two years he was in Green Bay. I can’t really say that Clay Matthews has ever tried to assume such a function. Two past Green Bay defensive leaders that immediately come to mind were veterans brought to Green Bay in mid-career: Reggie White and Charles Woodson.
Every time leaders emerges on the tight-knit subgroup of the offensive line, the Packers lose or release them. Josh Sitton was the acknowledged boss there until he was let go. T.J. Lang started to fill those shoes until he too was cast off a year later. A while before, Scott Wells was the leader of that pack, but he too went elsewhere. David Bakhtiari now fills that role and I suspect he’s good at it.
Davante Adams has leadership qualities and he’s proven he can make key plays when they are most needed. He’s the heir apparent to Jordy, as opposed to Randall Cobb. Before Jordy, the Packers lost another veteran with leadership qualities: James Jones.
Special teams is another sub-group that has its own leaders. Most recently, Jeff Janis bonded with those teammates and kept the enthusiasm at a high level. Before that, Chris Banjo was a real spark plug for the group and before him there was Jarrett Bush. Perhaps Trevor Davis will be the next player special teamers will rally around and look to for big plays.
Still, there’s no small amount of irony in Big Mike expressing concerns about the leadership void caused by the departures of two veteran players. That’s because nearly every time a leader rises up on this team, he’s soon on his way out the door. Wells left in 2012, followed by Woodson, Bush, Sitton, James Jones, Lang, Banjo, Peppers, Burnett, Nelson and Janis.
It’s hard to say whether it’s the head coach or the general manager who’s more responsible for sending such players away. In any event, assuming a leadership role seems to be the kiss of death in Green Bay.