Cloud of uncertainty hangs over receivers

PackerReport.com's Matt Tevsh analyzes the Green Bay Packers' corp of wide receivers in his column today. The group is highlighted by Donald Driver and a handful of others with potential, but will it be enough to help the offense. Tevsh has doubts, at least for this season.

Rarely over the course of Brett Favre's 16-year career in Green Bay have the Packers worried about their wide receiver group when healthy. They always had a number of players who could get the job done and those players teamed with Favre to provide most of the offensive production.

This year, the wide receiver group could be a different story.

Outside of No. 1 pass catcher Donald Driver, the Packers have more uncertainty than ever, even if Favre said last Thursday after an Organized Team Activity (OTA) that "as a group, they're as talented as I've ever been around."

Favre did offer qualifying statements to his evaluation of such players, however, intimating the difficulty in judging talent during OTA practices. Only production in games will ultimately determine each player's worth, and Favre knows that.

It is easy to see why Favre, as the leader of the team, is so optimistic. Players at the wide receiver position have become incredibly athletic and strong over his NFL career, but physical skills mean nothing if they cannot get it done on game day. The roster of wide receivers the Packers have now suggests that production and continuity, under a new offensive system, is more likely to be a concern than a luxury when September rolls around.

At the heart of the uncertainty are Robert Ferguson and Rod Gardner. They are two players that the coaching staff is relying heavily upon, though when asked to fulfill such a role in the past, they have failed. Can the Packers reasonably expect either to be counted on this year? Even as seasoned veterans? Probably not.

Ferguson is the type of player that coaches and quarterbacks salivate over in the off-season and practice. After his first two years in the league were spent adjusting to the NFL, the next three were spent talking about his potential and injuries. Ferguson is a likable guy and is hard-working, thus it is tough to deny him chances, but the Packers are at the end of the rope with him. He may have already gone as high as he can.

Gardner, a former first-round draft pick, was acquired by the Packers late last season which immediately throws up a red flag. After a 1,000-yard receiving season with the Redskins in 2002, his production fell off. Last year, he played 10 games with the Panthers, but was unable to nail down the No. 2 receiving spot alongside Steve Smith. He probably should have after the team lost Mushin Muhammad to free agency. Instead, he caught just nine passes in 10 games as a reserve and was waived on Dec. 16. He played the final two games with the Packers.

Like Ferguson, Gardner possesses the dreaded potential tag, but has not performed consistently on the field as should be expected from a first-round pick. If Gardner was that good, he would have never left the Redskins, or the Panthers for that matter.

After Ferguson and Gardner, the Packers have a group of players at wide receiver that can all really be thrown into a hat. Free agent signing Marc Boerigter has the edge on others in experience and size, but like Gardner, he would still be with his old team, at a reasonable price, if they thought he could be a factor. Instead, the Chiefs are going into training camp with a group of young wide receivers and only two seasoned veterans in Eddie Kennison and Dante Hall.

The two wild-cards in the mix for the Packers are second-round draft pick Greg Jennings and NFL-Europe standout Chad Lucas. What the Packers really need is for one of them to step up big and possibly grab the No. 2 spot to take some of the focus off Driver. To ask Jennings or Lucas to do as much, though, would be a tall task considering neither has played an NFL season.

Taking the optimistic view and seeing the potential with the wide receivers is fine, but reality suggests they cannot be counted on this season to put up the numbers that others with the Packers did in the past. Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman, Don Beebe, Andre Rison, even Bill Schroeder and Javon Walker – all produced on game day for Favre. Each had different abilities, but the result was the same – major offensive output and little concern for the team.

Driver excluded, do not expect too much out of this year's wide receiver group for the Packers. The team's brass has said as much by indicating they will get back throwing to the tight ends more often and featuring a power running game.


Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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