Better or Worse: Comparing Depth of Rosters

The roster is set. The Saints await in the opener Thursday night. Are the Packers equipped for another Super Bowl run if minor disasters strike? The answer might surprise you. Our Matt Tevsh takes a position-by-position look at how the Packers' roster compares to last year's.

No team, quite possibly in the history of the NFL, displayed the value of depth better than the 2010 Green Bay Packers.

Built over the previous six years by general manager Ted Thompson, last year's squad overcame an injured reserve list that reached a ridiculous 15 players by regular season's end and a total of 86 starts from Week 1 starters. Nine other key reserves combined to miss a total of 74 games.

To top it off, in the Super Bowl, the Packers lost two more starters – Charles Woodson and Donald Driver – for the entire second half, yet managed to bring the Lombardi Trophy home.

While the Packers would like an encore this season with regard to winning it all, they are hoping to stay a little healthier on their journey this time around. But the question still needs to be asked: Are they as equipped to handle all the injuries this season?

Thompson again used the draft and rookie free agents to retool his roster with not a single addition coming from veteran free agency. Only 12 players on the 2011 roster did not play in a game for the Packers in 2010, and there are six new starters headed into Thursday night's opener at Lambeau Field (vs. last year's opener at Philadelphia).

The following is a comparison of the opening game rosters with the aim being to analyze the depth at each position on offense and defense (based on Packers.com unofficial depth charts).

Wide receivers

2011 starters - Greg Jennings, Donald Driver

2010 starters - Greg Jennings, Donald Driver

2011 backups - Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb

2010 backups - Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Brett Swain

Depth analysis: Swapping out Swain for Cobb gives the Packers a dimension at receiver they lacked before not to mention a threat on special teams returns. Swain had just six catches in two years with the Packers and was hampered by injuries before being released during the first round of cuts this training camp.

Bottom line: Better

Offensive tackles

2011 starters - Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga

2010 starters - Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher

2011 backups - Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod

2010 backups - Bryan Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse, T.J. Lang

Depth analysis: Tauscher, who was the savior for the Packers' offensive line in 2009 upon his return, only lasted four starts in 2010 before going down with an injury and giving way to Bulaga. Nonetheless, starting the season with Bulaga as a backup was a luxury since Bulaga's 2010 camp as a rookie was much better than Sherrod's in 2011. Lang moves to the starting guard spot this year, so the Packers are down an option there. The Packers are banking on Newhouse's improvement should injury strike one of the starting tackles.

Bottom line: Worse

Offensive guards

2011 starters - T.J. Lang, Josh Sitton

2010 starters - Daryn Colledge, Josh Sitton

2011 backups - Derek Sherrod, Marshall Newhouse

2010 backups - Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, Marshall Newhouse, Nick McDonald

Depth analysis: Unless a move is made in the next couple of days, the Packers are taking their biggest risk at the backup guard spots where the depth is weak at best. Last year, they had four players able to backup at guard and this year they have just two – one a rookie and one a second-year player. Sherrod and Newhouse have taken reps at guard, but appear more suited long term for tackle. Therefore, the Packers could be in trouble should either Lang or Sitton go down.

Bottom line: Worse

Centers

2011 starter - Scott Wells

2010 starter - Scott Wells

2011 backup - Evan Dietrich-Smith

2010 backups - Jason Spitz, Nick McDonald

Depth analysis: The Packers brought back Dietrich-Smith, an interior lineman, on Dec. 31 after Newhouse was placed on injured reserve. That turned out to be a good long-term move because he is now the only backup center on the roster. The Packers had a veteran in Spitz and a developmental player in McDonald ready last season.

Bottom line: Worse

Tight ends

2011 starter - Jermichael Finley

2010 starter - Jermichael Finley

2011 backups - Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams, Ryan Taylor

2010 backups - Donald Lee, Tom Crabtree, Andrew Quarless

Depth analysis: Maybe the deepest unit the Packers had in training camp along with the wide receivers. Coach Mike McCarthy and Thompson thought so much of the group that an unprecedented five players at the position made the active roster. It would not be a surprise if four are active every game day for special teams reasons. But each has something to offer on offense as well giving McCarthy a plethora of options.

Bottom line: Better

Quarterbacks

2011 starter - Aaron Rodgers

2010 starter - Aaron Rodgers

2011 backup - Matt Flynn

2010 backup - Matt Flynn

Depth analysis: Flynn is a year older and should be wiser in the system (plus, he has a start to his credit), but cutting Graham Harrell, who was re-signed to the practice squad, means the Packers have just one in-game backup again.

Bottom line: Same

Running backs

2011 starter - Ryan Grant

2010 starter - Ryan Grant

2011 backups - James Starks, Alex Green

2010 backups - Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn

Depth analysis: The biggest question for this unit is how well it will pick up the blitz following the free agent departure of Jackson, who was one of the game's best at protecting Rodgers. Kuhn could be that man, but Starks and Green need to step up. At the least, they offer the Packers more play-making ability behind Grant, especially in a third-down role.

Bottom line: Better

Fullbacks

2011 starter - John Kuhn

2010 starter - Korey Hall

2011 backups – none

2010 backups - John Kuhn, Quinn Johnson

Depth analysis: With Hall departing via free agency, the Packers decided to keep just one fullback, which should be fine based on how they run their offense. They can always use tight ends Crabtree and Taylor, two quasi-fullbacks, in a pinch. Nonetheless, they had two true fullbacks to backup Hall in 2010.

Bottom line: Worse

Defensive ends

2011 starters - Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal

2010 starters - Ryan Pickett, Cullen Jenkins

2011 backups - C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn

2010 backups - Justin Harrell, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson

Depth analysis: The loss of Jenkins to the Eagles shifts the balance of power for the backup spots here. With Neal moving into the starting lineup, the Packers have just two backups on the roster. That number should be fine considering the Packers play two down lineman for the majority of their defensive snaps, but neither Wilson nor Wynn bring the load behind the starters like Neal did, even as a rookie last season.

Bottom line: Worse

Nose tackles

2011 starter - B.J. Raji

2010 starter - B.J. Raji

2011 backup - Howard Green

2010 backup - Ryan Pickett

Depth analysis: Not much to complain about here. Green is a more than capable backup who figures to play on some run downs and in some sub-packages for the Packers. He and Pickett are similar players and Green might even have more pass rush ability.

Bottom line: Same

Outside linebackers

2011 starters - Clay Matthews, Erik Walden

2010 starters - Clay Matthews, Brad Jones

2011 backups - Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, Vic So'oto, Jamari Lattimore

2010 backups - Brady Poppinga, Frank Zombo

Depth analysis: One of the more spirited position battles in training camp, the outside linebackers spot produced two of the biggest roster surprises in undrafted rookie free agents So'oto and Lattimore. So'oto was the defensive MVP of the preseason with 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception for a touchdown in four games. The undersized Lattimore also had a sack in the preseason and showed some burst off the edge in the practice. With former starter Jones returning and Zombo on the mend from a scapula injury, the Packers are in good shape at OLB, even if the depth is extremely young.

Bottom line: Better

Middle linebackers

2011 starters - A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop

2010 starters - A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett

2011 backups - Robert Francois, D.J. Smith

2010 backups - Desmond Bishop, Brandon Chillar

Depth analysis: Releasing Chillar just after the lockout was a bit of a surprise though injury might have a played a role. Still, his absence, and Barnett's departure via free agency leaves, the Packers with two untested backups. Francois, who has played some outside linebacker, too, played in eight games (one start at OLB) in 2010 with the Packers. Smith, a rookie, tied for the team lead with 18 tackles in the preseason.

Bottom line: Worse

Cornerbacks

2011 starters - Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams

2010 starters - Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams

2011 backups - Sam Shields, Pat Lee, Davon House, Jarrett Bush

2010 backups - Sam Shields, Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, Jarrett Bush

Depth analysis: Keeping five to six defensive backs on the roster in the passing-dominated NFL is almost a necessity. Three of the backups are holdovers from last season. The only change is House for Underwood, and in between hamstring difficulties this training camp, House showed some natural ability in practice.

Bottom line: Better

Safeties

2011 starters - Morgan Burnett, Nick Collins

2010 starters - Morgan Burnett, Nick Collins

2011 backups - Charlie Peprah, M.D. Jennings

2010 backups - Charlie Peprah, Derrick Martin

Depth analysis: The Packers look at Peprah like a starter after he proved he could handle the role in 2010 when Burnett went down. The only change in depth is Jennings for Martin. Jennings, undrafted rookie from Arkansas State, was another surprise to make the team. Though he might not be as strong as Martin on special teams, he might be at least equal on defense. He had an interception in the preseason and his 15 tackles were second on the team. Martin was released in the offseason.

Bottom line: Same

Overall analysis: The Packers are again young with only 12 players having six or more years of NFL experience. While the 22 starters on offense and defense are a veteran crew, the backups are extremely young with 17 first- or second-year players. With five tight ends and 10 linebackers on the roster, special attention was paid to special teams this season at the cost of fullback and offensive line depth. Of course, an NFL roster is always fluid, so things can change. Nonetheless, the Packers appear to be a little weaker in depth headed into the season, at least based on the numbers.

Overall bottom line: Worse at 6 spots, better at 5, and the same at 3.


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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