Gutenkunst plays his hand

What the Packers GM decided after 6-9-1 season

Mike Clemens
May 01, 2019 - 5:34 pm

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Packers general manager Brian Gutenkunst used  a pair of rare first round picks to help his defense last weekend. A pass rusher, and a speedy, ball hawk safety.

“Gutey” then went on to draft six more players, another three for the defense, and three to help offense.

He signed three free agents to help the defense and one offensive lineman early (by Packers standards) in free agency.

So what can we make of this?

It’s that Gutenkunst thinks the offense in 2018 was basically fine. It’s a roster that should have won more games. They just needed an updated playbook.

The rest of his free agency and draft decisions tells us Gutenkunst wants a faster, bigger defense, and was willing to spend money and draft picks to improve it. Also that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wants players with a different skill set. Instead of a traditional inside linebacker, Pettine would rather have a safety turned into hybrid linebacker, like the Cardinals had a few years ago as contenders, or the Falcons under Dan Quinn when Matt LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach and they almost beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Did you know the Packers first pick in the draft has been a defensive player for the last eight consecutive years?

Gutenkunst is still bearing the burden of several bad decisions in the draft under Ted Thompson, like using a first round pick on cornerback Damarious Randall (traded to the Browns), or a second round pick on another cornerback, the inexperienced Quinten Rollins (released last December by the 3 -13 Cardinals.)

Or good picks gone bad, like the inexplicable decline of safety and former first round pick Ha Ha Clinton Dix, traded to the Redskins, now on a one-year deal with the Bears.

Gutenkunst has focused on rebuilding the defensive line now going on two years.

His best player is his nose tackle, Kenny Clark, a great first round pick by Thompson in 2016, who just had the option of the fifth year of his contract picked up today, just short of Friday’s NFL deadline. Clark requires two, sometimes three blockers to move him out of his gap at times. He’s still only 23 years old, but becoming a dominating player.

Then there is Mike Daniels, age 29, entering his eighth year, and coming off a foot injury that shortened his 2018 season. Some say the moves Gutenkunst has made indicate this is Daniels last year in Green Bay, that he won’t be renewed. Perhaps traded? That’s a possibility.

After Clark and Daniels, Gutenkunst signed former Jets and Pettine defensive lineman Mo Wilkerson who suffered an ankle injury last season that required two surgeries. At the NFL Combine Gutenkunst told us Wilkerson was in the facility rehabbing every day, but would not comment on his progress. As of today, Wilkerson remains an unsigned, unrestricted free agent.

The rest of the defensive line is made up of Dean Lowry, a steady player, and Tyler Lancaster, who came up the ranks and improved each week he saw playing time the second half of the season. I think Lancaster surpassed Montravius Adams, a third round pick for the Pack in 2017 that suffered a foot injury, wiping out his rookie season. Adams finally showed some flash at the end of 2018.

Fadol Brown was a street free agent released by the Raiders (another head scratcher decision out of Oakland) who played with some fire for Green Bay, and was resigned by the Packers last month.

Finally, there is James Looney, a 7th round pick last year who spent most of last season on the practice squad, and Deon Simon, 6-4, 332lbs. defensive lineman released by the Jets and added to the Packers practice squad last fall. Simon signed a reserve/future contract with Green Bay at the end of the season.  There is also Eric Cotton, 6-4, 272lbs, from Stanford, also added last December.

Now, add the new fifth round draft pick, a versatile Kingsley Keke, 6-3, 288 lbs, who played over the center, the guards, and sometimes outside the tackles at Texas A&M, and the first round pick, Michigan’s Rashan Gary, who will report this Friday at rookie mini camp to the outside linebackers classroom, and you have plenty of choices and competition for Pettine to pick from to improve pressure on the quarterback, and stopping the run.

As for Aaron Rodgers and the 6-9-1 Packers 2018 offense, Gutenkunst apparently decided (as well as Mark Murphy) is that all that was really needed on that side of the ball was a new play caller. A new head coach.

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