The first part of our look at the defensive battles – part three of our series in all, if you’re keeping score – focused solely on the secondary. Makes sense as it’s the one glaring area of concern on this team as it prepares to begin camp in just one day – holy @$*#!
Truth be told, upon further review, there aren’t many more position battles on the defense that I can see (at least as of now). The eight linebackers appear to be in place, as do at least six defensive linemen. Injuries and/or a push from one of the undrafted free agents could change that, but we’ll have to wait a minute to see how those things develop.
(And don’t ask me who I think will win the punting battle, because I have absolutely no idea. I hope it’s the Australian guy, because that’d be kind of cool. Other than that? I got nothing, Jerry.)
That being the case, I’ve decided to look at the last glaring question regarding the defense: Will Justin Harrell make the roster this season?
I’m not going to waste any time talking about his past. We all know the story there. And I’m not going to link to the now-infamous draft day freakout video. Go to YouTube if you want to see it.
Instead, let’s update where we stand: Head coach Mike McCarthy said during the minicamps/OTAs that the team truly believes Harrell is past his gruesome back problems, problems that have wrecked his career thus far. He hasn’t undergone any additional surgeries since the last one, which is extremely positive. He even saw the field a bit during the minicamps/OTAs, from the sounds of it.
But if it feels like you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because, well, you have.
We’ve heard roughly 8,000,000 different, “No, really, his back’s better now!” speeches from McCarthy and Ted Thompson during Harrell’s three-plus years in the league. At some point, I tuned it out, tossing all those speeches into the ol’ “Spam” folder. It’s not that I don’t want to believe it – or that I don’t want Harrell to finally deliver on the promise that made him a first round pick all those moons ago, because I do.
But I also know it’s always just a matter of time before the back flares up and he’s heading to the I.R. Taking what essentially amounts to a flyer on Harrell makes sense with Johnny Jolly in the fold. But with Jolly done for the year, the team is looking thin at the position heading into camp. Thompson and McCarthy could gamble on Harrell staying healthy and playing well – again, the talent is there if he’s healthy – but by doing so, they could miss out on snagging a more reliable option, either via roster cuts or the trade route (the preferred option, if you’re asking me).
And if – or maybe when – the back flares up and he’s done for the year (yet again), even more pressure will be placed on a pair of rookies (Mike Neal and C.J. Wilson) and a second-year player (Jarius Wynn) who did nothing in year one. If those guys can’t get it done, that could spell doom as there is simply no way Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and Cullen Jenkins can be effective for an entire season playing the bulk of the snaps.
Remember, the defensive line is every bit the engine on that side of the ball as the offensive line is on theirs. I’m not saying Harrell can wreck that engine singlehandedly. But by choosing him over the possibility of someone who can actually, you know, stay healthy, McCarthy and Thompson are not taking the most calculated of risks.
In the end, I’d say that Harrell sticks, if only because McCarthy and Thompson appear to be hellbent on seeing him achieve some level of success. I’m just not so sure I agree with such a decision.
I hope I’m wrong.