Health already an issue for Packers
The Green Bay Packers' newest acquisition, running back Cedric Benson, will be on the Lambeau Field sidelines Thursday in the pre-season home opener against Cleveland, biding his time before he's allowed – per the collective bargaining agreement - to jump into padded practices.
Unfortunately, he'll blend in just fine with many of his new teammates.
"The injuries are just starting to pile up on us," head coach Mike McCarthy conceded Monday afternoon in his press conference, which was streamed on Packers.com.
It is one thing to lose players "naturally" - the attrition often found over the course of a 16-game season. The Packers have proven they can handle that. But it's hard to build the foundation of continuity and chemistry needed to do so when so many new faces are given significant reps in practice and in the pre-season games.
The four exhibitions the NFL stages are often deemed "meaningless," especially for teams with the veteran leadership and championship credentials the Packers have.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mask backups playing with the first team. That doesn't make up for "game shape" when players are forced out of practice, resulting in the shortening of practices due to lack of participants.
Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings, John Kuhn, Marshall Newhouse (and others) may know the offense as well as anyone – but missing so much of early training camp is troubling. It's one thing to dial back at the end, and missing the fourth exhibition game. It's another to miss key time early on.
The result is a roster that is completely in flux.
"All spots are wide open," McCarthy said. "You know what you can do with that depth chart. It takes a full training camp to decide what your 53-man roster is going to come out."
Bring on Benson
Gary Ellerson, a former Packers running back and current talk show co-host at WSSP 1250, relayed a story about Benson's first day with the Packers on Monday afternoon: A fan shouted to the former Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals tailback something to the effect of "We expect championships."
But Green Bay won't be a seismic culture shift for the 29-year-old. In his seven seasons in the NFL, he's played on four playoff teams, including the NFC Champion Bears in 2006 that lost to Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLI.
He's a proven feature back, having rushed for 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons.
"He's been a very productive running back," McCarthy said. "He's played in a one back system the last three years and it's clearly evident that we've evolved into a one back system as a starting point of the way we play."
What we may see, at least early in 2012, is a further evolution in how McCarthy distributes his plays.
Since taking over as head coach, McCarthy has called a pass play anywhere from 57 to 62-percent of the time. As a result, the Packers have rated 21st or worse in the NFL in rushing four times with a McCarthy-era best 14th coming in 2009.
On the surface, there is no reason to change the imbalance. The Packers have gone 63-33 in the regular season and 5-3 in the playoffs while capturing a Super Bowl.
But things are different now in 2012, most notably the league's concussion policies. As we've already seen in training camp with Finley, Jennings and Newhouse, players are more willing to admit they've been "dinged" and training staffs are more likely to hold firm to the league rule that all symptoms must disappear before a player is allowed back on the field.
This brings us to The Franchise – Aaron Rodgers. Since he came into the league in 2005, he has been sacked 160 times, 151 as the full-time starter. He's had two documented concussions, but more than likely he has had more than that.
His health is paramount, more than ever. And now more checks and balances are in place to prevent machismo from reigning and keeping him on the field if he does see stars at some point. Can McCarthy afford dropping him back nearly 600 times, being sacked over 30 times and hit countless others?
The simple answer is no, which is may be why general manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy decided Benson is the "better fit" for the 2012 Packers than Ryan Grant, or letting one of the current backs develop into a featured starter.
"We've studied the film," McCarthy said of Benson. "We have an idea of what kind of player that we're bringing in because he's a veteran and accomplished player."
Benson has averaged 298.3 carries the last three years, has experience with winning teams, and by his own admission plays with a simple style.
"I'm a downhill runner," he said. "I like to get the ball downfield as fast as I can – pick a hole and go."
That attitude helps an offensive line more geared for pass blocking. If they can create the gap, they can trust Benson will be there. No dancing, no prancing. That helps. And his track record may give McCarthy more confidence in balancing out the play calls, which will only help Rodgers remain on the field.
Injuries?...or just not liking preseason, worthless games? I remember a lot of veteran players getting "injured" and not playing preseason.
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