From Brian E Murphy, Packers Magazine
~New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine already had his work cut out for him.
His middle linebackers consisted of Blake Martinez, and Jake Ryan. Both are better against the run than they are as pass defenders.
But these are the Packers and injuries are always a major factor. This year, they didn’t even get out of July before losing a starting player for the season as Ryan tore his ACL this week. His season is over before preseason even started. He didn’t even make it to the preseason, where Jordy Nelson’s season ended in Pittsburgh three years ago.
So who’s left?
Rookie Oren Burks was a surprising third round draft pick, a converted safety, who is being counted on to help cover tight ends and backs. But Pettine isn’t fond of rookies playing the position that he refers to as “the nerve center” of the defense, “tieing the front end with the back end”. Ahmad Thomas is another option who has zero NFL experience. He might be good. He might never make it.
What will Pettine do?
The good thing is he has Brian Gutekunst as his GM, and not Ted Thompson. Thompson is dead set against bringing in NFL veterans. For a while, there were only three Packers on the roster who had any NFL experience with another team. That was John Kuhn, Ryan Pickett, and Charles Woodson.
Thompson would give former defensive coordinator guys like Josh Bell as in-season reinforcements. He’s the one who lost the game at Pittsburgh on the final play in 2009.
If Pettine wants someone brought in who’s done it before in the NFL, he has some player options and he has a new GM who is more willing to make it happen.
Now keep in mind, there are no in-prime Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, Brian Urlacher types out there available to be signed.
But there are a couple of guys who have been All-Pro caliber in the league in their prime, and might offer the stability with assignments and coverage that is not there with the youngsters. Remember, Martinez could very well get injured too. No Packer fan would be surprised.
If he checks out medically, I would be signing Navorro Bowman tomorrow. He did play last year and played okay for the Raiders, despite coming in about a quarter through the regular season. Bowman has instincts that no rookie is going to have, especially reading and diagnosing pass plays. You doubt that? So did Aaron Rodgers.
You have to wonder why they didn’t bring him back, but a new coach tends to do things like that.
Oakland did take Nelson from the Packers, Edgar Bennett from the Packers, already took Jared Cook, Reggie McKenzie, James Jones, and Charles Woodson).
Perhaps turnabout is fair play. The last time the Packers brought in a guy from Oakland, it was an oft-injured Woodson. That turned out okay.
Bowman is not as good as Woodson ever was, and Bowman's injuries were more severe than what Woodson suffered in Oakland. He’s also about a year older than Charles was when Ted Thompson signed him.
But Bowman will also be a lot cheaper than Woodson was initially.
How was Bowman last year in Oakland?
“I’m known for my instincts throughout the NFL, and I haven’t been able to really use those instincts in this defense because I don’t really know it,” Bowman said Friday. “I don’t know when I can take those chances, I don’t know who’s backing me up on certain calls.
“If I’m able to come back next year and get a full training camp in and get used to really communicating with everyone out on the field, I’ll be able to do a lot more. But I’m definitely satisfied with how everything went), how (the Raiders) accepted me, and the coaches – how they trusted me going out there and playing as many snaps as I played.”
Released five games into the season by the 49ers, who were no longer using him as an every-down player, Bowman settled in immediately with the Raiders as their middle linebacker. He has played 97.8 percent of the defensive snaps since joining the team and led the Raiders in tackles in eight of his nine games.
At 29, Bowman, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, has played 106 career games (including the postseason) and suffered two major injuries – a torn ACL in his right knee that caused him to miss the 2014 season and a torn Achilles in 2016.
But he has also brought stability to a key position at which the Raiders have had little in recent years. Teammates and coaches quickly recognized the effect. After his debut against the Chiefs in Week 7, head coach Jack Del Rio (later fired and replaced by Gruden) called Bowman a “settling influence” on the sideline.
Bruce Irvin in December credited Bowman as being a key part of the Raiders’ defensive improvement. “It’s obvious,” Irvin said after the Raiders’ Dec. 3 win over the Giants. “The guy flies around, takes control of the huddle. You see it, you see the difference from when he wasn’t here and how our defense performed to now. He’s a great competitor, he’s a great leader and I’m just happy to have him.”
“I don’t think guys can afford to do that, being on a team like this where we haven’t played well and changes can be made after this year,” Bowman said. “Everybody, including me and the quarterback, the coaches, we have to be preparing the way that you would prepare if you were 8-0. Because changes can be made at any time in this league and the position that we’re in, you don’t want to put any bad film out there or have any bad game.”
This sound like the exact type of player that Pettine would want and the Packers could benefit from.
He’s played in a 3-4 defense as Pettine mostly runs. He’s versatile. He’s seen it all. He just turned 30 in May, which isn’t that old. He was a four-time All-Pro, from 2011-2015. You know him. He was a big reason why they 49ers eliminated the Packers in the 2012 and 2013 season in the playoffs.
One more reason that Bowman is my top pick is that he has never tasted a Super Bowl title, although he came very close when the Baltimore Ravens edged the 49ers after the 2012 season.
I like getting hungry veterans. Players who want to achieve getting that ring make for motivated teammates.
It worked well for the Packers in the Ron Wolf era. Don Beebe had come close. Reggie White had come close. Sean Jones, Santana Dotson, Eugene Robinson, Andre Bad Moon Rison, and Keith Jackson all were hungry for a Super Bowl.
It didn’t take years for them to learn and adjust to the NFL game speed. They just had to blend and mesh with the new team and system. That's a lot better than collegiate kids who have no clue about the NFL and speed of the game.
We know Bill Belichick and New England have been the opposite of Thompson and his method. The Patriots have reshuffled their lineup significantly each off-season (and sometimes in-season) with additions of NFL vets. From Corey Dillon to a "washed-up" Randy Moss, Wes Welker to Danny Amendola, none of them were Patriots draft picks.
Randy Moss just went into the Hall of Fame, and his best year came in season one of his Patriots career, as a free agent.
Rodney Harrison also put together a Hall of Fame career in New England after leaving San Diego. Junior Seau left San Diego and played good for the Patriots. Chris Long was another top-2 overall NFL Draft Pick who the Patriots brought in and won a Super Bowl with. Darrell Revis? Another former first round pick brought in, where they won a Super Bowl.
Look at the Patriots current top five wide receivers: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Eric Decker, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett. None of them were Patriot draft picks and three of the five are brand new this year to New England.
Oh by the way, the Patriots have been to four (4!) Super Bowls since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV.
This is the biggest reason why. It's not that Brady is better than Rodgers.
Forget what the Thompson-School-of-Draft & Develop have told us: Draft picks are riskier than NFL free agency. Comparing the Patriots and Packers results of the past seven years is proof of that. Playoffs are when men separate themselves from the boys.
Last year, Bowman was fresh off an Achilles injury and he did’t have training camp and preseason to learn the Raiders defense.
He still did pretty good, grading well above-average from Pro Football Focus, and behind a poor interior defensive line, unlike what he'd be behind in Green Bay with Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Montravius Adams manning the trenches.
If the Packers act quickly, he will arrive about 10 weeks earlier than he did last year to Oakland.
Aaron Rodgers should make the phone call right now and welcome Bowman to Austin-Strobel Field tomorrow morning and if Bowman passes his physical, we should see him starting September 9th against the Bears.