NFC North: Mat Forte
The mailbag has been a bit hit-or-miss here during training camp, where every day feels like Monday. Or Tuesday. I can't remember which. They all seem the same. But I thought I'd catch up on a few questions and remind everyone that you can contact me through this link, or via Facebook and even Twitter.
BT of Ripon, Wis., notes the Packers have three first-round picks at linebacker and wonders if it's true that all three are being either outperformed or nudged aside by lesser-known backups.
Kevin Seifert: BT, you open up an interesting can of worms. Let's take the players one by one.
- Nick Barnett (No. 1 in 2003): Barnett remains on the physically unable to perform list while he rehabilitates after knee surgery. So it's not really his fault that Brandon Chillar has adapted nicely to the 3-4 defense and looks natural at one of the inside positions. Chillar is an excellent blitzer and defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to send the blitz. But Chillar is also versatile and can play on the outside as well, which is why I think he won't be the permanent starter unless Barnett has a setback in his recovery. The Packers want to use Chillar in other places than just inside linebacker. Barnett could return as early as this week, and I expect him to reclaim his starting job.
- A.J. Hawk (No. 1, 2006): Hawk has shuffled from outside to inside in his three seasons with the Packers, but I don't think he's in danger of losing his job to Desmond Bishop. While Bishop was aggressive early in camp, and had a strong game Saturday night in the Packers' preseason opener, Hawk appears to be very much in the Packers' plans this season.
- Clay Matthews (No. 1, 2009): A nagging hamstring injury has really limited Matthews this summer, but backup Jeremy Thompson has also had health issues. If anyone has benefited, it's veteran Brady Poppinga -- whose pass rushing skills would seem to mesh decently with the 3-4. But the Packers made a significant sacrifice to draft Matthews and he will eventually get his shot.
In talking to Packers coach Mike McCarthy last week, he was really excited about the possibilities presented by the multiple substitution packages in this scheme. That means it's likely the Packers will be utilizing Chillar, Bishop, Thompson and Poppinga in certain packages regardless of whether any of them are in the starting lineup.
Via Facebook, Brian asks: When do we find out if the Williams Wall is going to stay up or be out for 4 weeks? Or did I miss that?
Kevin Seifert: Nope, Brian, you didn't miss it. The next important date is Tuesday, when a federal appeals court will take its turn in the case. Boiled down, this hearing will eventually determine whether the case will proceed in state court or be thrown out.
If it proceeds, then both Kevin Williams and Pat Williams will be able to play the entire season and schedule a trial for the offseason. If it is thrown out, both players will be suspended for the first four games of the season. Their only recourse at that point would be to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Stay tuned.
Gale Shaffer of Warsaw, Ind., writes: Being a Bears fan, it appears the experts seem to believe the weak link is the receivers, which may or may not be true. It sure seems the offense has a lot of weapons in this area if you include the tight ends and Matt Forte. If this is proven to be wrong and a couple of these young receivers step up, what would be your take on Chicago's season considering the rest of the offense. As a fan I would maybe be more concerned with the defense and how they will perform than the offense. What's your take?
Kevin Seifert: After spending some time with the Bears last week, I'm in total agreement. If I had to pick one area of concern, I would choose the health and viability of their defensive personnel over the inexperience of their receivers.
Over four days, I saw defensive tackle Tommie Harris practice once. He is displaying all kinds of bad warning signs right now. The same goes for cornerback Nate Vasher. I wonder whether he will make the team this year. And given the injuries in their secondary -- Charles Tillman, Zackary Bowman, Danieal Manning -- it's hard to get a read on their pass defense.
Saturday night's preseason opener was not a good start. Buffalo's top two quarterbacks combined to complete 23 of 26 passes for 222 yards.
Kent of Cleveland writes: I always love line picks so I have no problem with the Packers taking BJ Raji. I keep seeing that he is slated to play at DE. I know 3-4 DE's need to be bigger, but isn't 6-2 337 a little big for a DE? Is he that much of a gifted athlete? Seems like a lot of weight for a relatively short frame. What are your thoughts on his ideal position?
Kevin Seifert: It's a fair question. Based on his college experience, Raji's ideal position is the "undertackle" in a 4-3 scheme. That's the position played by Minnesota's Kevin Williams and Chicago's Tommie Harris, among others.
The Packers, of course, play a 3-4. Some people thought Raji would be the Packers' nose tackle, but they have decided -- at least for the short-term -- to use him at end with Ryan Pickett at nose tackle. As we discussed in June, that's a case of getting your best players on the field first and then deciding where to play them.
Raji might not be the absolute prototypical size to play defensive end, but he is a superior athlete. I'm really interested to see how he fares on the edge.