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Hey Wilde! On Harrell, Neal and the schedule

Apr 10, 2012 -- 8:38pm
Welcome to our first installment of Hey Wilde!, in which we'll answer your Green Bay Packers questions on a semi-regular basis -- at least once a week. Our first edition, which is an homage to our friend and new colleague Tony Grossi and his longtime Hey Tony! column, brings questions about the defense, Mike Neal, and the soon-to-be released Packers schedule. 
Hey Wilde! What are the Packers going to do about their awful pass rush last year?
-- Craig, via Twitter (@CJStalsberg)

Hey Craig! So you don’t think Daniel Muir and Anthony Hargrove are enough? Neither do I. I think this is the most interesting draft the Packers have faced during Ted Thompson’s tenure as general manager. It may not turn out to be the most interesting – the 2005 draft, with Aaron Rodgers as the first-round pick, will always hold that title, in my opinion – but I think it’s fascinating that this team went 15-1 and has as many holes to fill as it does. Outside linebacker, the defensive line and the secondary all need reinforcements, and there may not be a greater need on the roster than finding a runningmate for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews. So what makes this draft so interesting? In 2009, Thompson knew he needed an OLB to fit the new 3-4 scheme, and he went up and got the guy he coveted. With 12 picks this year (eight of which he can trade), would he do that again to get a partner in crime for Matthews? Or could one fall to Thompson at 28, considering he got Matthews at No. 26 overall in 2009? Given how adamant Thompson is about taking the “best player available,” I can’t wait to see if that player also fits one of his glaring needs.

Hey Wilde! What do you think of the progression of Graham Harrell? Ready to assume #2 QB job?
-- Scott, via Twitter (@Schmidtee33)

Hey Scott! What’s hard to believe is that Harrell is entering his third season in Green Bay and has yet to participate in a quarterback school. He signed too late in 2010 to take part, and the 2011 quarterback school was wiped out by the lockout. Now, with the new offseason program rules set forth by the new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, coach Mike McCarthy says this year’s school will be modified because of the schedule. (It starts on Monday, by the way). I think the coaches would tell you that Harrell has improved a lot the past two years. Enough to feel confident in him to fill in for Aaron Rodgers the way Matt Flynn proved he could? I’m not sold on that just yet.

Hey Wilde! With the 2012 schedule about to be released, which Packers match-up are you most looking forward to this season?
-- Alex, via Twitter (@buschalex)

Hey Alex! It’s a little nerdy, but I must admit that the release of the schedule is one of my favorite offseason “events.” The opponents are already set, as you know. At home, the Packers play the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans. On the road, they play at Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts. I’m looking forward to seeing when they play the Saints (early in the year?) and when they play the Giants (not in the opener, we know). But the game I’m most looking forward to is the game in Seattle. Matt Flynn, John Schneider, Breno Giacomini – and one of my favorite U.S. cities.                    

Hey Wilde! Who on the d-line should be most concerned about making 53?
-- Alex, via Twitter (@AlexTallitsch)

Hey Alex! I think it’s got to be Jarius Wynn or C.J. Wilson. I know a lot of folks talk about Mike Neal, including later in this Q&A. But with the team adding Hargrove and Muir, it’s obvious that the Packers at the very least want to improve the level of competition in that rotation. And you can bet there’ll be a few draft picks used on linemen. Wynn and Wilson have had opportunities to show what they could do, and other than brief flashes, neither has seized his opportunity.

Hey Wilde! How much do you see Anthony Hargrove helping our pass rush opposite Clay Matthews?
-- Alexander, via Twitter (@aWelter23)

Hey Alexander! I haven’t seen Hargrove play recently, but if he has anything left from the player he was in 2009 in New Orleans, he’s a steal. The Packers’ contract with him is very friendly to the team – he got a one-year deal worth $825,000 with no signing bonus. So if he stinks, they cut him and he costs them nothing. If he gets hurt, it’s a split contract, so he’ll only cost them $393,000. I would think he’ll play some base defensive end and then see some time inside with B.J. Raji in the nickel. But let’s see what he’s got left before we proclaim him a major pick-up.

Hey Wilde! Do you see any of Diondre Borel/Tory Gurley/Shaky Smithson making the team this year? Do they move on instead of returning to PS if not?
-- Matt, via Twitter (@mrobi4)

Hey Matt! If you had asked me this question four or five months ago, I would’ve said yes, at the expense of Donald Driver. Now, while there is no trigger in Driver’s contract that demands a decision on his future, I expect him to be back. That’s certainly how McCarthy sounded at the NFL Meetings. And let’s be honest – once he settled into his role in the offense behind Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, he was more productive. He’s 37, but he’s got something left. To me, the questions are how much, and at who’s expense do you play him. The Packers paid Borel and Gurley 53-man roster money to stay on the practice squad, and they did that for a reason. But they have to earn a spot, and unless something unforeseen happens (trading James Jones?), they’ll have to prove they deserve a roster spot more than the old man.

Hey Wilde! After his PED suspension, plus disappointing and injury-marred seasons, is it time for #Packers to cut ties with Mike Neal?
-- Matt, via Twitter (@matt_samp)
Hey Wilde! Will Mike Neal still be a Packer at the end of this coming season? Might his last season to prove his worth.
-- David, via Twitter (@The_Champs_Belt)
Hey Wilde! Is it too soon/unfair to compare Mike Neal to Justin Harrell?
-- J-Mac, via Twitter (@jmacSeven3)

Hey Matt, David and J-Mac! There’s a lot of folks frustrated with Neal, and I understand that. He came in with the expectations that come with being a second-round pick, and then Thompson raised them by letting Cullen Jenkins walk and expecting Neal to be the guy filling the void. And he’s yet to deliver. Now, the four-game suspension just adds to fans’ frustration with him. But I don’t see Thompson giving up on Neal now. He’s already gotten his signing bonus, and his salary for this season is $540,000. That’s cheap labor. You’ve already suffered through two seasons that were below what you’d hoped to get from him. Why cut him now? At least see if he’s healthy and can give you something. I just don’t see any upside to cutting him loose now.

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