The hard work for Coach LaFleur has just begun, while the general manager’s work is mostly done. It’s an appropriate time to take a calm and unbiased look at how Brian Gutekunst has done in his second year as the lead procurement officer for the Packers.
As you’ll recall, the 2018 season spiraled downward for the Packers, spirits were down, the future Hall of Fame quarterback was irritable and under-performing, the team’s pass rush was inept, injuries had compromised the defensive backfield, and special teams play was deplorable.
Something – many things, really – had to be done, and quickly.
First, a new head coach was chosen. The Packers quickly latched onto the guy who I believe was the top available candidate – by a wide margin. La Fleur is youthful, energetic, and innovative, but he’s also an 11-year veteran NFL coach, having served in several capacities, and under a sterling group of mentors. Job One, well done.
Many thought at the time that LaFleur was being handed a dilapidated roster of players: few stars, several veterans who were on the decline, and a dearth of game-changing talent. In short, there were many holes to be plugged on both sides of the ball.
Fast forward eight months. On paper, which is all we have to work with presently, the pass rush has been reborn. With the departures of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry replaced by the likes of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, and backed up by holdovers Dean Lowry, Montravius Adams, and Kyler Fackrell, and with Rashan Gary being given time to develop his physical gifts, the pass rush should be one of the team’s strengths in 2019.
The defensive backfield is certainly improved. The starters, Jaire Alexander and Kevin King, are solid and maturing. Tramon Williams, and the rising Tony Brown and Raven Greene, make for a solid supporting cast of cornerbacks. At safety, good riddance to Ha Ha. New arrival Amos Otis and high draft pick Darnell Savage, are almost surely upgrades – a lot is expected of Savage, who might be the only rookie who starts for the Packers on opening day.
Through no fault of Gutekunst, the inner linebacker job opposite the reliable Blake Martinez fell prey to preseason injuries: first Oren Burks, and then impressive newcomer Curtis Bolton. Gutekunst didn’t panic. Seventh-rounder Ty Summers and returning backup safety Raven Greene, each of whom had impressive training camps, will suffice as temporary fill-ins. As added insurance, Gutey on September 2 obtained linebacker B.J Goodson from the Giants for next to nothing.
Briefly, Goodson was a fourth-round pick out of powerful Clemson in 2016. After being a special teams player in his rookie season, he’s been the starting middle linebacker for most of the past two years, and in that time he’s been credited with 114 tackles. Goodson is 6’1” and weighs 242 pounds. At the NFL Combine, his scores tended to be slightly above average, though his 30 bench presses put him in the 94th percentile.
Gutekunst was either good or lucky to get a veteran starter, for next to nothing, after the waiver deadline. It also appears that Burks might be back around Week 5, so the ILB shortage appears to be resolved.
On offense an already decent O-line has been bolstered by veteran Billy Turner and rookie Elgton Jenkins, the Pack’s second round pick (44th overall). Of all the new arrivals, Jenkins might be the most pleasant surprise: in 40 preseason game snaps, he allowed zero pressures on the quarterback; no other qualifying lineman matched that achievement during preseason.
Third-year running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams should be better than ever – and they are expected to prosper under Coach LaFleur’s creative offensive schemes. Fullback Danny Vitale had a great camp and the whole coaching staff is high on the guy as a blocker and receiver. Rookie Dexter Williams, who looked to me more like a third-round than a sixth-round pick in the preseason, could prove to be another gem of a draft pick.
My biggest worry was that the team’s receivers were long on depth but short on talent and experience. Much will depend on the maturation of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the large and physically-gifted second-year man – another guy who had the coaches beaming during training camp.
In the mix behind Davante Adams and MVS are Jake Kumerow, Geronimo Allison, roster-surprise Darrius Shepherd, and even Trevor Davis. I’ve come around to being comfortable, though not thrilled, seeing any of these role players out on the field. The loss of Equanimeous St. Brown for the year was regrettable, but the Packers had no shortage of promising receivers in camp.
Green Bay has a solid group of tight ends, from veterans Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis to upstarts Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger. I’m expecting future Hall of Famer Graham to have a bounce-back year.
Special teams prospects have nowhere to go but up – and the Packers have two good returners in Davis and Shepherd. Punter JK Scott and kicker Mason Crosby also had fine preseasons.
That leaves the quarterback position. I forget which forecaster this season has relegated Aaron Rodgers to “tier-two” status. I don’t believe it – the head coaching change is just what Aaron needed.
I know many fans don’t share my sense of calm and optimism. For those who love to worry, the backup quarterback slot should provide a nice bone to chew on. But even here I find it hard to fault the GM. He made a stand-up decision in releasing Deshone Kizer, who wasn’t getting any better in his third year in the pros.
What about Tim Boyle? Well, of 25 qualifying quarterbacks during the preseason (none were first-stringers) Boyle had: the highest passer rating (112.9), the most touchdown throws (6), and no interceptions. By the way, others with a top five preseason passer rating included Brett Hundley (100.4, 4th) and Taysom Hill (99.8, 5th). I know, Hundley has been there before, but Boyle’s exploits still beat a sharp stick in the eye.
Since there were few, if any, proven and available backup QBs loitering around this preseason, Gutekunst might have gotten bailed out by the strong-armed 24-year old who spent his final year at Eastern Kentucky. It was back on May 4, 2018 that the new GM first signed up the undrafted and little-known Boyle.
The final exams are over for NFL general managers. The roster holes have been plugged. I give Gutekunst an A grade.
Meh. Still too early to grade him in my opinion. He missed pretty bad on Jimmy Graham it appears. It takes a solid 3 years to grade draft classes.
Btw is it my imagination or wasn’t there a poster here that was clamoring that we get Antonio Brown? Yeah…….. First the guy gets frostbite on his feet indulging in snake oil medicine, then get suspended for complaining about being fined for missing practices, then may end up getting cut because he was too much of a headache. Saw this one from a mile away
Way. Too. Early. Graham is still up in the air, I believe that they could have done more to get the generational player Khalil Mack into Green Bay, and jettisoning Nelson? Not a good way to break into a team as GM. The case to grade him is still way to early to decide. I also firmly believe that BG may be to blame for many of TT’s (The Frugal GM) abysmal draft picks the last few years he was still GM. I would say that BG has a lot to show us before I can even begin to give him a grade.
I’m cautiously optimistic. Rob has gone full blown optimistic. Everyone knows you never go full blown optimistic. ;-)
The holes are plugged, lets give him an A.
Personally i wouldn’t even grade Gutes 2018 season. But if i had to i’d give him a mulligan.
I’m not sure how to grade his 2019 season, before they even played a game, before some of his acquisitions played a snap in the NFL.
You could possibly grade him after the season, but truth be told, that would be too soon also. Grading Gute for 2019 is like a student studying, then the teacher giving the student a grade on the test, before he took the test.
I got a little time before kick-off. I gotta find out who this Amos Otis cat is.
The devil is in the details folks.
While it was only one game… stiggys takeaways are…
1. Team looked a lot more disciplined than under mcgriddle. Notice how they had 2 timeouts left going in to the half instead of blowing them via disorganization?
2. The three defensive signings def had a gooz first game. Savage also looks like a good looking player.
3. Notice who was on the field when the packers offense went down and got their field goal? Dix was on every tackle…..10+ yards down field. Brought back memories (btw I was travelling at the time and could still see dix making his horrible 1 arm chip tackles)
4. Concerns over tackling and preseason reps were an absolute joke as I said. While the offense was off you could see flashes and frankly the bears have an all world defense.
5. Special teams had a bigger overall impact than the offense. 11 punts..and routinely pinning the bears inside their own 20 and only 1 flag (I remember at least) on all those punts. What a breath of fresh air
They certainly didn’t play their best game but looked like an actual pro level organized team.
Did Rashan Gary play? Didn’t notice. Anyways, Savage looked solid. Hold on to the goddamn ball Kevin King. Bahk looked slightly rusty. Lane Taylor needs to be benched. Jimmy Graham MIGHT be better in this offense. Kenny Clark picking up where he left off. Tramon Williams looks his age and the Packers desperately need someone else to step up or he will cost them an important game down the line if they are in position for that. Yeah, that about does it.
Gary did play on the last Bears drive of the second half and the drive that resulted in Amos’s Int. Looked like about 6 or 7 plays. Gary got pressure on one play and hit the QB right after he released the pass along with I believe ZS.
Did anyone notice that on the Graham TD pass, Rodgers had the Bears with 12 men on the field. The pass from Rodgers looked like he was throwing a 50 50 pass as the announcer said, but Rodgers knew he had a free play. Not sure why the broadcasters didn’t point the penalty out, or maybe they did and I didn’t hear it.
I didn’t notice Gary either, it’s nice that the #12 pick in the draft could come in for a series. I think both defenses were spent by the end of the game, so Gary coming in fresh was a big plus, i’d assume that was Pettine’s thinking. I thought the bears were going to tie the game the way they were moving the ball. Careless half ass throw by Trubisky, but credit to Amos for the pick.
I don’t believe the announcers caught 12 men on the field either. I found out about it after the game. That was a nice drive for the Pack. Hopefully we’ll see more like that in the future, classic Rodgers.
Good win for the Packers, overall not a stellar game and i could nitpick, but under the circumstances, i think it was a fantastic win. I’m happy for the team and LaFleur, got that first win under his belt.
I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but initially, this team looks like it has some seriously good team spirit, chemistry. We’ll see how it goes through the season, but it did come to mind. It seems like they did a nice job of removing all the negative bs from the old staff. I always said this team needs new people, new energy, that alone can improve a team.
As i said earlier, i could nitpick, but i’m not going to put a stain on this win, especially when i didn’t think they’d win to begin with. Well done.
I saw the best punter in the league, I saw a disciplined football team, I saw proper use of Jimmy Graham, I saw a PASS RUSH, I saw good tackling and prevention of after the catch/after contact yards and I saw a defence that stepped up and made plays when it counted
The Smith Brothers, somebody TM it
I also saw Roger’s taking the same sacks, the same useless run game, miscommunication with receivers, and the secondary giving up big passes
Hoping its rust that will dust off.
Finally, I saw a State Farm commercial and said “Look it’s the best QB in the league”, it was the one with Patrick Mahomes.
“I also saw Roger’s taking the same sacks, the same useless run game, miscommunication with receivers, and the secondary giving up big passes”
That’s what I saw too. Happy as hell though with this win and not being affraid of some stupid Mike move. Hell not seeing him at all was relaxing.
I thought a couple of years ago, Lane Taylor would be a staple at LG for years to come. After watching him get steam rolled, it’s already time for Jenkins to take his spot. The OL line as a whole looked unready and rusty.
Can’t wait for the Viqueens to see if this defense is as good as it looked against the Cubbies offense. Looks like the best set of DB’s we had in a long long time. Kudos to Gute!