Poppinga has all the ability to be a very good linebacker for the Packers. But the Packers' coaching staff has done him a disservice by throwing him into the fire at this point in his career. Poppinga would be much better off watching and learning behind fifth-year pro Ben Taylor early in the season, and then starting midway through the season when his surgically repaired left knee is that much stronger.
That seemed to be the plan, anyway, when Taylor signed a one-year contract this spring to play for the Packers. Taylor practiced with the starting defense throughout the off-season and into training camp. When Poppinga made a remarkably quick recovery from his torn ACL, boom! He was suddenly inserted into the starting lineup as if he was a veteran Pro Bowl performer and Taylor was an unseasoned rookie.
So what happens? Poppinga gets torched repeatedly by the Bears' tight end Desmond Clark and fullback Jason McKie in Week 1, then scorched by wide receiver at a crucial moment in the game by Saints wide receiver Joe Horn in Week 2.
Poppinga is an honest, stand-up athlete, a great person to have in any locker room. While other players who have poor games find ways to duck the media afterward, Poppinga humbly stood in front of reporters after each of Green Bay's losses and admitted his faults while vowing to correct his mistakes. For a young player with such a great desire to excel, the public floggings must be putting a major dent into his confidence. And when a young player loses his confidence, no matter what the sport, it's very challenging to regain it.
For that reason alone, the coaching staff needs to sit Poppinga down for a few games as the starter and let Taylor play the strong-side linebacker position. Poppinga is a key special teams performer. Let him rebuild his confidence in that area and watch and learn behind Taylor, not only on game day, but in week day practices. Then, later in the season, plug Poppinga back into the starting lineup and let him learn some more in preparation for the 2007 season.
Mike McCarthy said on Monday that the Packers are considering inserting Taylor back into the starting lineup. Let's hope they proceed and allow Poppinga more time to grow as a professional.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report, the magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.