I'm Brandon, the writer over at Acme Packing Company. I was sent a few questions re: the Green Bay Packers and was asked what to look for on Friday night when they travel to Phoenix to play the Cardinals.
The Packers are one of the many teams that are making the switch to a 3-4 defense this season, as are the Cardinals. How's that transition going and do you think they've got the players to make it work?
The biggest onfield move was to move former Pro Bowl DE Aaron Kampman to LOLB. He hadn't played linebacker since high school. He refused to talk to the media about it during the OTAs, but he's been talking since and the coaches have been quick to praise him. The 3 starting LBs from last season (Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, and Brady Poppinga) should be starting along side Kampman. However, expect to see a lot of the 4-2-5 alignment, maybe even more since the Packers should be in the nickel early and often. With the nickel back on the field so much in today's NFL, the true base defense might be considered the 4-2-5, with Kampman in as a down lineman.
To ease the transition, the Packers hired former Panthers and Texans head coach Dom Capers as their defensive coordinator, former Panthers defensive coordinator Mike Trogvac as their defensive line coach, and former Pro Bowl OLB Kevin Greene as their outside linebackers' coach.
You guys had an interesting draft weekend, nabbing two first round picks and two immediate starters in the process. How is that class looking so far and what are you expecting from the like of BJ Raji, Clay Mathews and the rest of the group?
Although B.J. Raji is almost 330 lbs. he'll play mostly at left defensive end in the 3-4. Even when the Packers switch to a 4-2-5, he won't crowd the middle and usually play between the guard and tackle. He missed the first week of camp because he hadn't signed, but got into his first game last week against Buffalo. On of the first things he was asked to do was drop back in a zone blitz, so he's pretty mobile for a 330 lbs. guy. And he shoved Buffalo's right tackle and guard all over the place, although Buffalo's offensive line looked awful last week.
Clay Matthews was expected to start at ROLB, but he's been battling a hamstring injury since June and hasn't dressed for a preseason game yet. He probably won't play on Friday either. He'll be a starter at some point, but not until later in the season.
Are there any significant injuries heading into this third preseason game and who, if any, has already been ruled out?
Not really. The only starter out is LB Nick Barnett, who hasn't yet played this season as he recovers from ACL surgery; he blew out his knee during a game last November. Several backups have been held out with injuries, but nobody who isn't a Packer fan would probably miss.
Now that training camps are history and the regular season is so close we can smell it, what would you identify as the strengths and weaknesses of the Packers and their biggest hurdle to overcome this season?
It's just preseason, but this preseason has gone about as well as it could possibly have gone. They shut out Cleveland 17-0 and then beat Buffalo 31-21. The Bills 1st team offense only managed about 20 yards of offense in the first half, along with at least 3 turnovers, and the Packers led 24-0 at half. The first team defense has dominated when they've been on the field.
The offense has been just as it was last season. QB Aaron Rodgers doesn't have a turnover and thrown a few TDs. Jennings and Driver look like they did last season. The starting offensive line has been settled. RB Ryan Grant isn't back to 2007 form, but he looks better than he did last season when he battled a hamstring injury for several weeks. If anything, the offense might be better because 2nd year TE Jermichael Finley has provided a promising young target at 6'5" with speed on crossing routes. He's been running away from linebackers and he's too much for a safety who's likely to be about 5 inches shorter and weigh about 40 lbs. less than him.
And finally since this game won't count for much in a couple weeks, I have to squeeze in a quick fantasy question. How do you like the prospects of guys like Rodgers, Driver, Jennings and Grant this season? Are there any sleepers we should be aware of?
I mentioned Finley above, but he's still backing up TE Donald Lee, so his playing time is limited. The Packers 3rd WR should be James Jones, who's looked great in training camp, but he's still got to beat out last year's top draft pick WR Jordy Nelson. None of these guys should be viewed as starters, but if you get stuck in a roster squeeze due to injury or the bye week, they might be a good emergency starter who might catch fire at the right time.
As far as the starters go, Rodgers and Jennings are obvious locks for playing time. The coaches are glued to Grant as the starter, so his stats might not be awesome, but he's a lock for 300+ carries. Driver is well into his 30s, but he's still got the veteran moves. During the Cleveland game two weeks ago, he improvised a double move to get behind the secondary on a long 50 yard TD catch.