|Tim Heitman/US Presswire|
|Aaron Rogers, left, lobbied in the offseason for the Packers to re-sign wide receiver James Jones.|
After calling the Packers-Chargers game for Fox last Sunday, I was told via Twitter that I might have a slight man-crush on Aaron Rodgers. But trust me, every superlative thrown the Green Bay QB's way is well deserved. He is playing the quarterback position right now as well as any player in the history of the league.
However, when I sat down with Rodgers and Packers coach Mike McCarthy, they were both quick to point out how special the wide receivers are on this team. Rodgers has so many options that he has unquestioned faith in, and there is a reason for that. This group is home-grown, all having started their careers in Green Bay and been with Rodgers from the start. In addition, with the exception of Donald Driver (who is in his 13th season), this entire group is all in its prime. It is not a system of individuals, but rather, an offensive unit that has matured into a well-oiled machine. This group thinks and acts as one.
In addition to the obvious contributions of No. 1 wideout Greg Jennings, it is Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson and James Jones that makes this unit special. Late in the game against the Chargers, Rodgers stepped away from center just briefly, gave a subtle hand gesture to Jones, and then laid up the most beautiful TD toss that could not have been more accurate if you manufactured it in a computer game.
That same type of trust was displayed this offseason as well. When Jones was a free agent, it was Rodgers who was a major advocate of keeping him. In addition to re-signing Jones, returning a healthy Finley was like signing the best free agent on the market. No safety or nickel corner is going to be able to cover Finley one-on-one, and if you can't afford to put your best cover man on him, you had better put two people on him or Rodgers will find him and "throw him open." Even still, it's Nelson who always seems to be at the receiving end of big plays when this offense needs a spark. His affinity to make the big play, and the tough catch, round out the Packers' offense and make it the most explosive unit in all of football.
Built the right way
General Manager Ted Thompson and McCarthy have been nothing less then brilliant in the way they have built the Packers. When McCarthy was interviewed for the job, he made it clear that he wanted as many tight-end and linebacker body types as he could get. He believed athletes in the range of 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-4 and between 230 and 250 pounds provided the most versatility and special teams depth. In addition, these types of players could typically be had in the late rounds of the draft, or even in undrafted free agents.
Green Bay carries a league-high five tight ends on the roster. With the exception of the freakish Finley, they all fit the bill:
Andrew Quarless (6-4, 252), a fifth-round pick in 2010
Tom Crabtree (6-4, 245), an undrafted free agent
Ryan Taylor (6-3, 254), a seventh-round pick in 2011
D.J. Williams (6-2, 245), a fifth-round pick in 2011
While those four may not show up in the stat book every Sunday, they all play an important role for this team. They all play special teams and have specific roles they play in the offense, and it is the development of these players that may be the difference. Remember, Finley himself was just a practice squad player the majority of his first year in the league. And how did that turn out?
On defense, this philosophy fits perfectly with coordinator Dom Capers, where Frank Zombo, Brad Jones, Erik Walden, D.J. Smith and Desmond Bishop all seem to be interchangeable parts. All were taken in the sixth or seventh round, while Zombo was an undrafted free agent in 2010. And last year's Super Bowl run proved the "next man up" mentality out of this unit. Sure each player is his own individual, but just like an auto-parts assembly line, you can change shifts, but the outcome is still the same.
Follow Brian Billick on Twitter @coachbillick