Tackling Burning Issues

Our Matt Tevsh was at Packers draft headquarters Friday and Saturday. He offers some final thoughts on some hot-button issues for the Packers coming out of the draft. Among them: Why did the Packers pass on impact players and why gamble on Andrew Quarless?

As the Packers put the draft in their rearview mirror and get set for their rookie orientation camp that starts on Friday, here is some food for thought regarding issues that many Packers fans are talking about on this Monday:

Passing on impact players

For the second year in a row, Packers general manager Ted Thompson resisted the temptation to land an impact receiver that could have made the Packers offense nearly unstoppable. Last year, it was Michael Crabtree. This year, it was Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, who the Dallas Cowboys traded up to get at No. 24, just one pick after the Packers.

The difference between this year's decision and last year's was that the Packers had a high pick in 2009 (No. 9) and another impact player available (B.J. Raji). This year, they decided to go with value and take Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, a player who could be their left tackle of the future. But Bulaga might not contribute much this year and like most offensive lineman is not considered an impact player.

This year's draft was filled with players who could have changed the dynamics of the Packers' offense, defense or special teams. Outside of Bryant, other perceived good fits the Packers passed on were RB/KR Jahvid Best (No. 30 overall to the Lions), OLB/DE Jerry Hughes (No. 31 to the Colts), and RB/KR Dexter McCluster (No. 36 overall to the Chiefs). McCluster may have been a reach in the first round, but ask the Vikings what Percy Harvin did for them as a rookie. McCluster could have the same effect with the Chiefs.

In the second round, the Packers made a surprise pick taking Mike Neal, a defensive tackle out of Purdue, when WR/KR Golden Tate and linebacker Brandon Spikes were available. The latter duo's history of making big plays runs deep.

Perhaps the Packers' best shot from this draft at making a real impact any time soon is third-round pick Morgan Burnett. By all accounts, the Georgia Tech safety is a big-time, play-making defender who will get a chance to unseat Atari Bigby for a starting spot.

Quarless not necessarily a character risk

Fair or not, fifth-round pick Andrew Quarless of Penn State will be pegged as the black sheep of this draft. With a rap sheet that includes an underage drinking citation, a DUI charge and an incident of marijuana being found in his apartment, it is easy to see why. But Quarless deserves a chance. In his comments to the local media in Green Bay on Saturday, he seems like a changed man.

"I felt we had very good information with Andrew," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "There were a number of people that we have talked to, and I was very comfortable through the whole process. He made a mistake in the past and we're confident that he'll learn from his past experiences and apply it to his opportunity here in Green Bay. If we were not comfortable, he would not be a Green Bay Packer."

Like it or not, drinking and marijuana use are a part of college life. Thinking otherwise is only being naïve. Quarless got caught doing what many others get away with it. While the DUI charge is not to be taken lightly, the underage drinking is in the past and the marijuana incident an unfair rap. Quarless said he quit drinking after the DUI over two years ago, and there is no sign that he used the marijuana that was found in the apartment he shared with others.

That the Packers constantly preach character does not mean that Quarless should be judged as one of the bad guys on the team. Packers fans can look no further than Spencer Havner as an example of that.

One injury away from disaster at outside linebacker

Linebackers who can play the outside in a 3-4 scheme were rated one of the strongest positions at the top of the draft and the Packers passed on all of them. Hughes was on the board when the Packers picked in the first round, and Thompson could have traded up to get Utah's Koa Misi (No. 40 overall to the Dolphins) or Texas' Sergio Kindle (No. 43 overall to the Ravens), who fell from what was projected as a first-round value.

Instead, Thompson made his trade up in the third round to get Burnett. And in the second round, he stayed put at No. 56 to take Neal, which looks like a bit of a reach. Many tabbed Neal as a third- to fifth-round prospect.

Outside linebacker looked to be one of the key areas of need for the Packers entering the draft, but Thompson indicated in his post-draft press conference that he believes the position is far from dire, even after losing Aaron Kampman to free agency. He and McCarthy seem comfortable that second-year player Brad Jones and sixth-year veteran Brady Poppinga can handle the load opposite Clay Matthews. After that, the Packers have next to nothing at one of the true impact positions in the 3-4 scheme. Projects Cyril Obiozor and Robert Francois and third-year player Jeremy Thompson, who might have to retire because of a neck injury, have only limited experience. The team reportedly added three other rookie free agents after the draft who might be candidates to play outside linebacker. The Packers have yet to confirm those signings.

Offensive line picks hold the key to this draft

OK, so maybe that headline lacks the punch of the previous three. But with Bulaga being the No. 1 pick and with the up-and-down performance of some members of the offensive line the past few years, the unit could use some stability. No one knows that better than McCarthy, who has a plan.

"I feel this training camp will be the most competitive training camp that I have been a part of in Green Bay, both on the offensive line and on the defensive line," he said in his post-draft press conference. "I think really if you just look at the offensive line we'll have the ability to place players behind each other at a position and let them compete. You have to have the ability to move offensive linemen around. It happens every year, especially when you get down to the 53 (-man roster) and when you are getting ready to play games with the 45 (-man roster). With that said, you like to work from developing younger players in one or two positions instead of two or three like we have had the past couple of years. I think we are going to have excellent competition all the way across the board on both the offensive and defensive lines because of where we are at today."

The Packers need to take advantage of their window of opportunity with an offense that could become the best in the league. While Donald Driver is getting older (but with little decline in play), quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Ryan Grant, and wide receiver Greg Jennings are all entering their prime. And tight end Jermichael Finely is on the verge of blowing the doors down as one of the top tight ends in the league. It appears the only thing that can slow the Packers on offense is their line.

In addition to Bulaga, the Packers added fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse in the draft. Tackle Chris Campbell of Eastern Illinois was added as a free agent, according to reports. Considering the wear and decline in play of 33-year-old left tackle Chad Clifton, Bulaga must be ready to play in big spots this year.

Newhouse, a tackle in college, might play guard with the Packers, leaving the backup slots in flux headed into offseason camps. If the Packers can avoid playing musical chairs along the offensive line this season and have more of a set depth chart, they will have made progress.

"I feel better now that we've added these two young men to the group," said Thompson. "I think they'll fit in really good. We'll see how they match up with our existing guys. We have several classes of younger players on our team at that position, and of course we have the two tackles that have been here for a while. But I feel good about our offensive line. I like the two guys that we added and I think they'll fit in with our room very well."


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


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