INDIANAPOLIS—Packers coaches and scouts are here this weekend, hoping to find the “few pieces” to which Aaron Rodgers alluded, that would return the Packers to the Super Bowl.
What would those few pieces be? Well, most would agree the Packers need to fortify their 32nd-ranked defense, which surprisingly fell on hard times last season. The Packers defense also ranked 32nd in sacks per pass play and in passing yards allowed, so the need for a pass rusher and a pass defender would seem to be distinct.
Who are the candidates that might address those needs? That’s a question Packers fans are asking as the “2012 National Invitation Camp,” better known as the NFL scouting combine, kicks off at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“If Mark Barron of Alabama slides down to them in round one, that would be a terrific value pick,” SI.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said. “The problem is he’s coming off double hernia surgery, so he’s not going to work out at the combine, but he’s a middle of round one type of talent. Some question his range in centerfield. I’m not one of them.”
Barron is a big, hard-hitting strong safety Pauline believes has the ball skills to also play free safety. Barron had to pull out of the Senior Bowl due to the hernia problem, and the surgery could cause him to fall, especially if he’s unable to ease concerns in pro-day and personal workouts.
“You’re looking at Vinny Curry. The other name would be Whitney Mercilus of Illinois. He’s an exceptional pass rusher, though he was a 4-3 defensive end. He only did it for one year, vs. Vinny Curry, who did it for three years,” Pauline said.
Curry, a defensive end at Marshall, turned in a dominating performance at the Senior Bowl and would almost certainly move himself into the first round with a strong combine. Mercilus (pictured) is coming out as a junior, so this will be his first pre-draft exposure for scouts. Defensive linemen and linebackers are scheduled to work out on Monday.
Mercilus is especially intriguing because he has a Jason Pierre-Paul one-year-wonder quality to him. At Illinois, Mercilus authored 16 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last season. He had more tackles for loss last year than he did tackles as a sophomore in 2010.
Forty times will tell the tale for Curry, Mercilus and those pass rushers that are being projected to play outside linebacker in a 3-4. Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw, South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram and USC’s Nick Perry also fall into that group.
“How fast are they going to run because if they run 4.8, you can’t put them at outside linebacker,” Pauline said. “There are a lot of good, potential outside linebackers. That’s why the 40 is so critical, to see if those guys can stay at outside linebacker in a 3-4. I think most of them can. They’re all natural pass rushers. If a guy runs a 4.8, he’s going to be a liability in space if he has to cover a tight end downfield.”
The Packers are also thought to have need for a young defensive lineman, especially for one at end.
“At (pick) 28, there really are none. In the second round, Jared Crick of Nebraska is someone to look at. He tore a pectoral muscle in early October, so he hardly played last year. He was considered a first-round talent and he’s probably going to go late second round. Jack Crawford of Penn State is another guy. I’ve got him as a third rounder but he could go in the second round. He should’ve been more productive. He’s a bit of an enigma. He looks like a monster,” Pauline said.
UConn’s Kendall Reyes was a monster at the Senior Bowl, schooling Wisconsin offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler on multiple occasions. Reyes would seem to fit best as a 4-3 “chase” (three-technique) tackle, but he has the size to play end in a 3-4 and bring pass rush to the position.
Pauline doesn’t like Reyes as a 3-4 end prospect.
“His strength is quickness and movement skills. I don’t think he’d hold up at that position. He could down the line, but it could take a while,” Pauline said.
What are the issues heading into this combine?
“Speed for the receivers. How fast are they going to run? It’s not a fast group,” Pauline said. “You have guys that were suspended. The Miami guys were suspended. The Ohio State guys were suspended. Janoris Jenkins had to transfer. So the interviews are going to be important.
“It’s not a top-heavy draft. If you need a pass rusher, it’s good. If you need a No. 3 receiver, it’s a good draft. It’s a good guard draft as well. It’s not a good (offensive) tackle draft. Defensive tackle leaves a lot to be desired. Safety is awful; you have one or two guys. Cornerback isn’t bad; there might be a handful of starters to come out of this draft, but most of the guys are nickel backs.”
Those are the thoughts heading into the weekend. They are, of course, subject to considerable change.