Four Super moves for Packers

Our Matt Tevsh has some suggestions for GM Ted Thompson as he builds a new roster this offseason. Who should be signed in free agency? Who should be drafted in the first round? And who might have to go on the current roster? Tevsh has some ideas.

No one would confuse these Green Bay Packers with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The most recent NFL champions are tough in every sense of the word, and they find a way to win the close games as they did on Sunday, when they came back in the final minutes to win a record sixth Super Bowl title.

The beauty of the NFL, however, is that teams win in different ways. The Packers can create their own winning style, which they made a move toward by building a new defensive coaching staff over the past three weeks. Here are four other offseason moves that could help the Packers win their fourth Super Bowl next year (or at least contend for it):

Find a new kick returner, third-down back, and change-of-pace back — Boy, it sure would be nice to find a guy who could do all three things. What? The Chargers' Darren Sproles is set to become a free agent? Presto!

Sproles would be a much-needed addition to the Packers, though he will come with a big price tag after his success late last season. Still, the 5-foot-6 running back is worth every penny because he is a valuable utility player guaranteed to make one or two big plays every game. The Packers lack that type of momentum-changing player.

There is a chance the Chargers could franchise tag Sproles before the free agency period begins on Feb. 27, but recent comments from Sproles suggests he just might want to check out the market.

"I'm going to test it. It makes sense," Sproles was quoted on the San Diego Union-Tribune Web site on Jan. 30. "But I like where I'm at. I want to stay a Charger."

The Packers suffered in all three of the above-mentioned important areas last season. Sure, the Packers have return man Will Blackmon and a bevy of decent running backs, but all were ill-suited in specialized roles last season.

Blackmon is a keeper as a punt returner, but lacks the straight ahead, full-speed style required to be effective on kickoffs. He is more of a dancer than a one-cut guy. The Packers were tied for last in the league in kickoff return average (20.1 per return) with a long of just 45 (from Jordy Nelson). Blackmon's 20.1-yard return averaged failed to register among the top 50 in the league.

Running back Brandon Jackson, a solid backup who is tough to bring down, is too similar to starter Ryan Grant and offers little to nothing as a third-down back. He is average in blitz pickup and is below average as a pass receiver, lacking any significant wiggle in his run-after-catch ability. The Packers also have DeShawn Wynn and Kregg Lumpkin on their roster, but neither can come close to having the impact of Sproles, who would give the Packers a weapon when their offense breaks down.

Make a play for Peppers — Carolina's Julius Peppers looks like he will hit the free agent market and would be a force in the Packers' new defense. A former basketball player at North Carolina, Peppers, 29, remains an athletic freak who could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or defensive end in a 4-3. He offers the Packers flexibility and a few more options than Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, for example, another potential free agent who play outside linebacker in the 3-4.

The addition of Peppers would be Ted Thompson's biggest signing since Charles Woodson in 2006. It could have the kind of impact that Reggie White's signing to the Packers had in 1993.

Peppers had a bounce-back season with 14.5 sacks in 2008. He has 70.5 sacks in seven years in the NFL. New Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene might just provide enough intrigue to bring Peppers to Green Bay. Change is just what the versatile defensive end needs.

Peppers has given indications he would like to play elsewhere and the Panthers probably will grant him that wish. The Charlotte Observer reported that Peppers franchise tag tender would be more than $16 million for next year, a steep price without a long-term deal.

Take Jenkins at No. 9 overall — As far as needs go, cornerback probably would be last on the Packers' list. That is why the selection of Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State in the first round of the upcoming draft makes so much sense.

Thompson says he takes the best available, regardless of position, and Jenkins fits the bill if he is around at No. 9. Thompson has surprised Packers fans with two of his three first-round selections since taking over in Green Bay. He took quarterback Aaron Rodgers No. 24 overall in 2005 (with Brett Favre on the roster) and defensive tackle Justin Harrell No. 16 in 2007.

Scouts have highlighted Jenkins' football smarts and work ethic, two areas that fit the "Packer People" criteria coach Mike McCarthy always talks about. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound corner should be able to adapt to the mixed coverages the Packers plan to play, and he can learn alongside two of the best veterans in the business, Al Harris and Charles Woodson.

Jenkins, as a rookie, would be an upgrade even over an improved Tramon Williams at a nickel back and would be excellent insurance should one of the "older" corners go down with an injury. He is the type of guy who could step in and start right away.

As tough as cornerbacks are to find, and with the increasing numbers of starting-quality No. 3 and No. 4 wide receivers in the NFL, Jenkins would be the right pick for the Packers.

Change up the front seven — The Packers are kidding themselves if they think they have the personnel at defensive line and linebacker to run Dom Capers' defensive system. Sure, a few pieces might be there, but some turnover is necessary.

The change in philosophy under Capers undoubtedly means the Packers will have to make some tough personnel decisions on current players. Popular veteran guys like Ryan Pickett and Brady Poppinga could be on their way out and Harrell has shown little to nothing to suggest he will fit.

Those three are the most likely to go based on their play in 2008. Pickett was steady, but the Packers need a different type of interior lineman for its 3-4 scheme. Plus, the 29-year-old defensive tackle lacks the versatility to move to end, which could prove to be valuable this season.

Poppinga got his chance to show his pass rush skills last season, but found out going against offensive tackles in the NFL is a little different than going against them in the Mountain West. Poppinga might mix well with his new coach, Greene, but if he fails to get to the quarterback and fails in pass coverage, like he has in the past, he has little production value.

Harrell, the Packers' injury-plagued first round pick in 2007, has probably run out of chances.

Regardless of how the Packers' defense lines up, they will need new blood at nose tackle and outside linebacker. The teams that run the 3-4 well in the NFL have established prototypes at those positions.

Then there is moving defensive end Aaron Kampman to outside linebacker, which McCarthy said on Tuesday he plans to do. That opens up a defensive end spot that could be taken by Johnny Jolly when the Packers go 3-4 or a new player in free agency or the draft.

Fortunately, the Packers have an entire offseason to set their front seven personnel. The OTAs and minicamps should provide an answer to which way they are leaning.

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


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