Saturday, November 23, 2013

Building The 53 - Hayward & Nixon Out, Richardson & Worthy In

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson was forced to make two changes to The 53 for the second time in less than a month.  As I covered a few weeks ago, Thompson placed tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Sam Barrington on injured reserve.  Thompson replaced those guys on The 53 with offensive tackle Derek Sherrod off the PUP list and quarterback Scott Tolzien off the practice squad.  This time around Thompson placed cornerbacks Casey Hayward and James Nixon on injured reserve.  Thompson activated defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and safety Sean Richardson off the physically unable to perform list to The 53.

With starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers still out with a broken collarbone, the Packers have had a ton of upheaval at the quarterback position.  Just one week after being the first African American quarterback to start a game for the Packers, Seneca Wallace landed on injured reserve with a groin injury.  Thompson replaced Wallace with quarterback Matt Flynn.  Despite Flynn performing well in his first stint with the Packers, Tolzien remains the starter for the Packers.

So far Tolzien performed much better than Wallace in place of Rodgers despite throwing five interceptions over the last two games.  Even factoring in all those interceptions, the Packers still should have beaten the Philadelphia Eagles at home and could have beaten the New York Giants on the road with better play calling by head coach Mike McCarthy and performance by the defense.

After missing almost two seasons due to a gruesome leg injury it looks like Sherrod will actually play meaningful snaps for the Packers this season.  Let's rewind to the start of the 2013 season to set the stage for why Sherrod could see action at right tackle sooner rather than later.  The Packers lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga for the year before the start of the season.  Luckily Don Barclay picked up right where he left off last season performing as an above average starter at right tackle.  Barclay suffered a knee injury against the Eagles that prevented him from playing against the Giants that will also preclude him from playing this weekend when the Packers host the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.

Marshall Newhouse, their starting left tackle from last season was underwhelming in place of Barclay.  I asked ESPN's Rob Demovsky in his most recent Twitter Mailbag, Packers Style whether Sherrod should replace Newhouse at right tackle?  Demovsky explained the conventional thinking is that since Sherrod is coming off a serious injury he cannot play a full game right away so one way to proceed is to bring back Sherrod slowly by inserting him at right tackle in place of Newhouse for a few series against the Vikings.  I understand the conventional thinking but consistency is paramount at offensive line and Newhouse has been consistently subpar at right tackle.  I know inserting Sherrod as the starter at right tackle subjects him to another serious injury but I am not sure it is physically possible to play much worse than Newhouse so it is time to replace Newhouse with Sherrod.

Turning to the two moves Thompson just made to The 53.  After being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Hayward lead the team with six interceptions playing primarily as a nickel cornerback to put together one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history.  After such a promising rookie season, it looked like Hayward was going to push cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams to start at one of the two corenerback spots in the base 3-4 defense.  Even if Hayward could not beat out Shields or Williams, with how much nickel (three cornerbacks) the Packers play, it looked like Hayward would play extensively in 2013.  Instead Hayward only appeared in three games for the Packers after suffering and re-aggravating the 10,000th hamstring injury on the team this season.

Besides Hayward, the Packers lost another cornerback for the season as well.  While expectations were high for Hayward this season, there were no expectations for Nixon in 2013.  Apparently Nixon was one of the fastest players on The 53 but given that he has been a healthy scratch for most of the season, it is hard to tell whether Nixon is stopwatch or game fast.

With Hayward and Nixon out, Richardson and Worthy are in.  Even before adding Worthy to The 53, defensive line was the deepest position on The 53.  Just a few weeks ago adding Worthy to The 53 would have been purely a luxury move but with Johnny Jolly hobbled, the Packers will need Worthy to contribute this weekend.  Keep in mind that Worthy tore his ACL in the regular season finale last year against the Vikings at The Humpty.  Worthy is trying to pull a Peterson against the Vikings by returning to the field less than 12 months after tearing his ACL.

If defensive line was the deepest position on The 53, safety has been the thinnest position.  Starting strong safety Morgan Burnett was set to become a free agent after 2013 so before the season the Packers signed him to a four-year, $25 million contract extension with $8.5 million guaranteed to keep Burnett in Green Bay through 2017.  After starting the season injured, Burnett has been very underwhelming missing easy tackles while failing to create turnovers.  Sure some of Burnett's struggles are due to the trio of subpar guys (M.D. Jennings, Chris Banjo, and Jerron McMillian) vying to lineup next to him at free safety.

Well here comes Richardson, the savior at free safety.  The one thing that should temper that excitement is the fact that Richardson is coming off a serious spinal cord injury.  Much like Sherrod not being able to play much worse than Newhouse, Richardson can't play much worse than Jenings, Banjo, or McMillian.  As long as Richardson and Sherrod stay healthy, new blood is exactly what the Packers need.

Getting Rodgers back sooner rather than later will be the biggest determining factor in whether the Packers make the playoffs this season but make sure to keep an eye on Richardson, Sherrod, Tolzien, and Worthy because they will collectively go a long way towards determining whether the Packers make the playoffs too.  The stretch run to the playoffs continues tomorrow when the Packers host the Vikings.  Make sure to check back Monday for my full coverage of the Packers/Vikings game.

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