Until now, Packers general manager Ted Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and even some of the media (Packer Report included) has all but gushed about the Packers' depth. It has created great training camp competition, a strong roster and a security blanket even as key players have remained remarkably healthy.
But is this so-called depth really all that?
The Packers have had a tough week dealing with injuries, none more noteworthy than cornerback Al Harris, who is out for Sunday's game at Tampa Bay after lacerating his spleen against the Cowboys. Harris' streak of 175 consecutive games played streak (including the playoffs) will come to an end, but more importantly, his season is in jeopardy.
Harris' injury is a blow to the Packers, despite some critics who say he is losing it. It leaves unproven Tramon Williams as the starter, a player Packers coaches have gushed about though his play on the field has not matched the talk. Williams seems to have all the tools, but has hit some major bumps when given extended playing time — not only last season, but against the Cowboys when he got beat for a 52-yard touchdown going up against a No. 5 receiver, Miles Austin.
To be fair, Williams has improved since coming to the Packers as an undrafted free agent late in the 2006 season, and no other Packers' defensive back has really stepped up. The Cowboys have some of the best skill-position players in the league, so to judge everything or everyone by one game against the league's best team can be a little misleading.
Still, there are signs through three games that the Packers' depth, besides Williams, might not be as strong as advertised. Consider these points:
Offensive lineman Tony Moll has been mistake-prone (four accepted penalties) along a depleted line that continues to shuffle players around. Failing to beat out Moll was Allen Barbre, a 2007 fourth-round draft pick, who entered training camp with high hopes. Help should be on the way for the offensive line on Sunday with the return of center Scott Wells to the lineup, sending Moll to the bench.
The Packers' defensive line, which has shown great effort through the first three games, is one injury away from potential trouble. Second-year player Justin Harrell could help when he returns from the physically-unable-to-perform list after six games, but the 2007 first-round draft pick showed virtually nothing in his playing time as a rookie. Colin Cole is the only reliable backup on the interior now that Corey Williams is gone.
The Packers' third-down running back situation has given the team virtually nothing. For as strong a runner as Brandon Jackson is, he is nowhere close to Vernand Morency or Noah Herron on third down. The Packers have been more susceptible to sacks vs. blitzes with Jackson in the game, and he offers little wiggle as a runner. Herron and Morency, both released before the beginning of the season, were more effective and fit for the specialized role.
At tight end, the Packers barely have a threat after Donald Lee. Backups Tory Humphrey and rookie Jermichael Finley have shown little, regardless of their promise. The Packers are better off keeping them out of the game and going with an extra receiver.
The lack of any available quality veteran quarterbacks this offseason leaves the Packers with two rookies in the developmental stage behind Aaron Rodgers. Though backup Matt Flynn showed some intangibles in the preseason, Brian Brohm was woeful. In any case, if either had to play this season, the Packers' season essentially would be over.
Safety Charlie Peprah, who has been with the Packers for more than two years, got his first extended playing time on defense last week (due to a Nick Collins injury) and looked like a boy amongst men on at least one play, a 60-yard touchdown run by Felix Jones.
Wide receiver James Jones should be renamed James Drops. After a great start to his rookie season a year ago, his slump over the last part of last season has carried into this year. His banged-up knee and trouble catching the ball right now make him an unreliable, drive-killing receiver.
Like the Packers' depth was tested last week against the Cowboys, when at least six players had to leave the game due to injury and another three starters (safety Atari Bigby, fullback Korey Hall, and Wells) sat out, it will be tested again this week — especially on defense. Buccaneers' quarterback Brian Griese threw 67 passes for 407 yards in a win at Chicago, and the temperatures in Tampa for Sunday's noon kickoff with the Packers could reach 90 degrees. It should be even hotter on the field.
"It's important for us to go down there, and I'll tell you what I told the team, it's important for all 45 of us to be ready to play," said McCarthy on Wednesday. "It's that type of game. It's going to be a physical contest, a competitive contest, anytime a north team goes to the south."
Since McCarthy took over in 2006, there have been few starting lineup changes and even fewer long-term injuries to key players. Harris, should he miss the season, is really the biggest loss for the team over the past three seasons. Hopefully, the Packers can find a way to overcome it, and others, should they present themselves.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.