Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. The Green Bay Packers are among the youngest teams in the league every year, they’re playing all kinds of young guys.
Well, sure. That’s true, but they’re primarily playing those guys on special teams. In many cases, the Packers stubbornly cling to veterans when it might actually help them long term to give a younger, unproven player a shot.
Before we begin listing examples, let us tell you where this is coming from. The Packers re-signed safety Chris Banjo yesterday. In doing our research, we came across the comical stat that Banjo, despite starting no games, had one more pass defended that M.D. Jennings, who started all 16 games.
So here’s example No. 1. For some reason, the Packers clung to Jennings as the starter, even though he played terribly in 2013. Meanwhile, they had first-year undrafted rookie Banjo and second-year undrafted rookie Sean Richardson waiting in the wings.
Both of those guys got playing time in place of Jennings and that’s swell. But why in the hell didn’t the Packers just make Richardson or Banjo the starter?
Sure, they don’t have the same amount of experience as Jennings, but in this case who cares? Jennings was a liability. Can anyone honestly say Richardson or Banjo would have been a bigger liability?
You throw one of them into the fire. Sure, he’s going to make some mistakes, but he’s also going to pick up valuable experience that will make him a better player as the season goes on.
Clearly, Jennings was not and is not the answer.
There are two great examples of this working — college football and the NBA.
The rule in college football is if two guys have the same talent level, you play the younger guy. The rule completely discounts experience, but it works because playing the younger guy now makes him and your team better over time.
In the NBA, it’s currently tank season. That is, teams that have no chance of making the playoffs now have rotations consisting almost exclusively of guys with three years of experience or less. Look at the Milwaukee Bucks’ lineup right now and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
Yeah, they’re going to suck real hard for the remainder of the season, but they’ll be better off next season because those youngsters got minutes.
Now, we’re not suggesting that the Packers should have tanked down the stretch last season. We are, however, suggesting that the coaching staff has some irrational love with veteran players.
How about Jamari Lattimore?
We both saw him out there making plays when he had to step in as a starter for Brad Jones in 2013. In fact, he probably made more impact plays in the games he started than Jones made all season.
And yeah, Lattimore was out of position or too aggressive at times. Sure, he’s not a finished product. But the Packers know what they have with Jones, which isn’t much to brag about. Why not give the youngster a shot to learn on the job and become that more polished player?
You certainly don’t suddenly become a finished product by sitting in the film room. You do that by being on the field.
Rewind a few years and Desmond Bishop was in the same place. He was stuck behind two pretty average players in Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk. Bishop would tear it up during the preseason and then get relegated to the bench for the duration of the regular season.
It took a season-ending injury to Barnett for the Packers to give Bishop a chance. And low and behold, with a little time on the field Bishop became the Packers’ best inside linebacker and arguably their best playmaker other than Clay Matthews in 2010 and 2011.
This doesn’t just apply to low-round picks and undrafted guys either. When the Packers drafted Clay Matthews in 2009, he didn’t get to start until the fourth game of the season. Last year’s first-round pick Datone Jones didn’t start any games.
You’ll notice all the guys we’ve been discussing play defense. Is that a coincidence? Probably not.
Mike McCarthy is an offensive guy. This pattern would seem to suggest that McCarthy values a defense that is solid but not spectacular, will bend but not break and that’s predictable.
You know what you’re going to get when you trot A.J. Hawk out there with the starters. You’re not getting a guy who’s going to make plays. You’re getting a guy who knows the scheme and can make the calls. While he’ll get tied up with blockers and take bad angles, he won’t make the total bonehead mistake that will cost you the game.
Just make the defense predictable and serviceable and let the offense win it. That seems to be the MO under McCarthy.
Unfortunately, the defense hasn’t been serviceable lately. Benching some vets and letting some young guys learn on the job could have been just what the doctor ordered to turn things around.
We’ll never know.