Friday, December 27, 2013

Building The 53 - Rolle In, One Spot Still Open

The Green Bay Packers received a huge boost when head coach Mike McCarthy announced yesterday that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is medically cleared to start in their pivotal Week 17 match-up on the road against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.  The winner of the Packers/Bears game on Sunday wins the NFC North and hosts a home playoff game next weekend while the loser starts preparing for 2014.  The positive injury news on Rodgers is the headline grabber but that does not mean that all is well otherwise on The 53.

As I covered at the beginning of my review of the Packers/Steelers game last week, the Packers played the Steelers with only 51 players on The 53.  By NFL rule, only 46 players suit up for each game.  I can't remember another time over the last few seasons that the Packers went into a game with only 51 guys to choose from to fill those 46 gameday roster spots.  I am not saying that is the reason that the Packers lost to the Steelers, I am just shocked that Packers general manager Ted Thompson did not fill out The 53.

Earlier today Thompson signed cornerback Jumal Rolle to The 53 off the practice squad to fill one of the two openings on The 53.  To add injury to insult, after losing Clay Matthews against the Steelers to the same Bennett's fracture that Claymaker suffered earlier in the season against the Lions, the Packers really only have 51 viable options on The 53 for their 46-man gameday roster against the Bears since Matthews is most likely done for the season unless the Packers reach the Super Bowl.

Instead of adding Rolle to give the Packers their sixth cornerback on The 53, Thompson should have added a veteran outside linebacker.  With Matthews out, the two most logical starting outside linebackers are Mike Neal and Nick Perry but both missed practice today.  Somehow despite both missing practice, Neal and Perry are listed as probable, which means there have a 75% chance of playing against the Bears.  May be McCarthy gave both of them the day off to rest their injuries but if the Packers are without the services of their top three outside linebackers (Matthews, Neal, and Perry) that leaves just Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer to play at outside linebacker against the Bears.

I know signing a veteran, let a lone a veteran this late in the season flies completely in the face of how Thompson operates, it worked earlier this season.  Despite having some rough patches, signing quarterback Matt Flynn to fill-in for Rodgers kept the Packers in the playoff hunt.  Thompson loves to sign undrafted rookie free agents instead of veterans but the learning curve for any player is very high when they join a new organization, let alone an inexperienced player like an undrafted rookie free agent.

There are a number of veteran defensive end/outside linebackers that are currently free agents but the best of the bunch in my opinion is defensive end/outside linebacker Mark Anderson.  Besides Claymaker, the Packers have not had another player generate a consistent pass rush this season.  After a successful college career at Alabama, the Bears drafted Anderson in the 5th round of the 2006 NFL Draft.  Anderson registered 12 sacks in his rookie season in the NFL in 2006 for the Bears and 10 sacks for the New England Patriots in 2011.

I've long been a fan of Anderson.  I wanted the the Packers to sign Anderson before the 2012 season, ultimately he signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Buffalo Bills.  Sure Anderson was an injury riddled disappointment for the Bills, which is why they cut him after only one season, but I like his combination of speed and pass rushing skills.  That is why even after being injured and under-performing for the Bills in 2012, I advocated for the Packers to sign him earlier this year.  Even if Anderson got injured, it is potentially the last game of the season so longevity is not paramount.  Plus since Anderson played for the Bears from 2006-10, he might have been able to inflict some revenge on his former employer.  That is all moot now unless Thompson places Claymaker on injured reserve because Thompson added Rolle instead of Anderson, which leave one more open spot on The 53.

There is a very simple way to fill the last opening on The 53.  The Packers need to add a wide receiver to fill-out The 53 since they only have four healthy wide receivers (Jarrett Boykin, Chris Harper, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson) and three healthy tight ends (Andrew Quarless, Jake Stoneburner, and Ryan Taylor) currently on The 53.  Earlier today McCarthy said the Packers would see how wide receiver Randall Cobb responded tomorrow to his vigorous workout today to determine if Cobb is healthy enough to face the Bears.  If Cobb is healthy, it is a no brainer to activate him from the physically unable to perform list.  If Cobb is not healthy enough, the Packers should promote wide receiver Tyrone Walker from the practice squad.

Check back for my thoughts if Thompson adds someone other than Cobb or Walker to The 53 before the Packers face the Bears on Sunday.  If Thompson just adds Cobb or Walker to The 53, make sure to check back on Monday for my extended thoughts on the Packers/Bears game.

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