Summer School: What We Learned

Class is back in session, with Professor Roerdink dispensing the lessons after Thursday's 27-13 loss. Topping the lesson plan is the future of Brian Brohm.

Welcome back to the summer edition of PackerReport.com's "Sunday School." Each week, we'll take a look back on the Packers' most recent matchup and give you five key lessons. Today, we get inside Green Bay's preseason-ending loss at Tennessee on Thursday night.

 

1.) Brohm has earned one more year

To say quarterback Brian Brohm had been less-than-impressive heading into the Packers' final preseason game would be a gross understatement. The former Louisville slinger had been a major disappointment and a shadow of his college self. Through three games, he had completed 19-of-34 passes for 146 yards and a paltry passer rating of 29.8. And, if it's possible, he actually looked worse than those numbers.

But against the Titans, Brohm got his most extensive playing time, aided by the shoulder injury to Matt Flynn. Brohm responded with a 20-for-28 performance for 154 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. His passer rating was 84.5. More important than the stats, he looked poised and comfortable. While he completed mostly short passes, he at least showed a glimpse of the player the Packers thought they were getting. He moved well and exercised good decision-making against a stout Tennessee pass rush. Hitting Jordy Nelson on a crossing route for 33 yards was the highlight of his night. It's hard to know if the Packers had decided to give Brohm one more year to prove himself, but Thursday's performance probably sealed the deal.

 

2.) This loss may actually be a win

In the preseason, wins and loses need to be qualified. Detroit went 4-0 last year and 0-16 when it counted. Most teams, depending on how long they're willing to keep their starters in, how much of their playbook they're willing to reveal and how important a preseason victory means to them, are capable of winning a preseason game. That the Packers went 3-1 in the preseason is encouraging because they did it without playing their starters more than necessary and without implementing too much of their scheme.

But the Packers had looked so good in winning their first three games and garnered so much national attention with the seeming ease with which they did it, that Thursday night's loss may be a good thing. No one should get a big head over a preseason record, but it's hard not to feel good about yourself when you go out and roll the starting unit from last year's NFC representative in the Super Bowl. Sure, the starting offense went three-and-out, the defense was in for a drink of Gatorade and then on the sideline, and the backups are on the hook for the final score. Still, not going down on that first possession and scoring with ease may actually help the team — even if just a little bit — get more focused on that Sept. 13 date with Chicago.

 

3.) Versatility = roster spot for Havner

Five catches for 22 yards isn't a bad night out of a player hoping to stick as the No. 3 tight end. When it's Spencer Havner, those are the kind of numbers that lock up the spot. Havner, of course, is more than just a tight end. He's played linebacker, he can be a fullback in a pinch, and he's a special-teams maven. When the value of versatility is discussed, it's usually in reference to a guard who can play center or a defensive lineman who can bounce inside or outside. For Havner, it's switching sides of the ball.

The injury to tight end Tory Humphrey increased Havner's reps and chances, but more than anything, his ability to fill in at three spots in a game in which roster spots are hard to come by is a credit to him.

 

4.) LBs will be fighting for playing time all season


LB Desmond Bishop strips the ball.
John Russel/Getty Images
Having a glut of good linebackers is definitely a good problem. The starting outside tandem of Aaron Kampman and Brady Poppinga is joined by inside ‘backers A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett. The challenge for Dom Capers is finding ways to work in the other linebackers — a group that includes players we thought would be starting (Clay Matthews or Jeremy Thompson) and players who have earned the chance to see what they can do in the starting lineup (Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop).

The good news is that with the number of sub packages that the team runs, there will be plenty of opportunities to see what players can do lined up in a nickel, dime or even 4-3 alignment. Continued success could force the issue with the 3-4 lineup. Clearly, Poppinga played better than expected and transformed himself from trade bait into a bona fide starter. His intensity and bond with outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene has only helped his cause. But where does that leave Thompson and Matthews? Green Bay traded back into the first round of April's draft to select the former USC star, and first-round picks usually don't get splinters once the season starts. Getting Bishop on the field could be a much pricklier subject. He's the late-round pick who arguably is outperforming former first-round pick Hawk — or even picks, pending Barnett recapturing his pre-injury form. Chillar might've been the team's best linebacker through training camp. He's also the best in pass coverage.

Keep an eye on how this personnel gets utilized as the season gets under way.

 

5.) Don't read into Crosby's misses

After missing late-game kicks against Chicago and Minnesota last season, there's a perception that Mason Crosby has to prove himself this season. Crosby led the league in scoring as a rookie in 2007, while hitting on 31-of-39 kicks. Last year, he connected on 27 of 34, but it was those misses that seemed to define his season for some.

This preseason, he's hit on 5-of-10 kicks. On the surface, that doesn't soothe concerns. But three of his misses were longer 50 yards — with a 60-yarder that looked good enough that Crosby raised his arms in the air before the ball boinked off the left upright. Another miss was a 29-yarder that came off a bad hold by receiver Ruvell Martin. Bottom line is that Crosby has one of the better legs in the league as far as strength, and if he can improve the nearly 80 percent accuracy from the previous two seasons, along with hitting a game-winner or two, there will be nothing to worry about.


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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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