Packers Unsung heroes are the real story this year

News Bot

News Bot
Apr 18, 2009
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When yet another Green Bay starter, Bryan Bulaga, went down with a hip injury in Week 9, it had the look of a final straw capping a frustrating, injury-plagued season. But in an unexpected twist of fate, that moment may have actually turned the season around.

It began in that game against Arizona, when head coach Mike McCarthy slid guard T.J. Lang over to Bulaga’s right tackle slot, and then plugged in backup Evan Dietrich-Smith to backfill for Lang at left guard. Tourniquet applied.

Four weeks later, Lang was forced to exit with an ankle injury, and McCarthy was down to offensive line scraps. Those scraps came in the form of the undrafted Don Barclay, who back in August had come out of nowhere in training camp to win a roster spot. Not only did Barclay hold his own filling in for Lang at right tackle, the Packers running game that had been dormant all season was suddenly showing signs of life.

As the playoffs approach, Lang is now healthy, and Dietrich-Smith has proven his worth as a starter, supplanting the declining Jeff Saturday at center. Barclay’s emergence has enabled McCarthy to move Lang back to his natural position at left guard.

Next came some fellow named DuJuan Harris. If you would have asked me about DuJuan Harris a few weeks ago, my only guess would have been that he was sitting on the Milwaukee Bucks bench somewhere. But Harris has given a spark to the backfield, with a burst and quickness Packers fans haven’t seen since, well, never. He and Ryan Grant have rejuvenated a dynamic, late-season rushing attack that also triggered the hugely successful 2007 and 2010 seasons.

In the coming days and weeks, we will likely hear a flow of accolades for the saviors of the 2012 season, including Barclay and Harris. Add Randall Cobb, James Jones, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Evan Dietrich-Smith to that list, justly so.

But let us not forget two additional unsung heroes who began the season with monumentally large shoes to full. Consider safety Morgan Burnett, whom general manager Ted Thompson traded up fifteen slots in the 2010 draft to nab.

When Nick Collins’ career was sadly cut short by a neck injury, Packers fans were in despair over the loss of such an elite player in his prime and a spirited leader of the defense. Losing Charles Woodson for eight games this season with a broken collarbone compounded the void.

Burnett has seized this opportunity to shine. Consider that in 2010, Collins’ last full season, he had 70 total tackles, four interceptions, and no sacks or forced fumbles. That was a Pro Bowl season for Collins. Through 15 games this season, Burnett has 81 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Beyond the stats, Burnett has rarely allowed opposing receivers to get behind him, and if you want to find Burnett on the field, simply follow the ball. He’ll be right there.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Packers have managed to compensate for the loss of so many running backs and receivers to injury. Even so, left tackle Marshall Newhouse may be proving to be the most indispensable player on the roster.

Make no mistake, Newhouse, a former fifth-round draft pick, won’t be heading to the Pro Bowl this year, and he is hardly an elite player. But in his first full season as a starter, he has stayed healthy and emerged as a dependable, consistent player, putting together a solid 2012 campaign to build on.

Compare Newhouse’s season with that of Cleveland’s Joe Thomas, the third overall pick in the 2007 draft and regarded by many as the best left tackle in the game. Thomas has given up just 3.5 sacks, but has been called three times for holding and four times for false starts. Newhouse, the 169th pick of the 2010 draft, has surrendered 10 sacks, while being flagged once for holding and twice for false starts. Total yardage given up: Thomas 77 yards, Newhouse 76 yards.

Of course, Marshall Newhouse is no Joe Thomas. And Rodgers’ legs may have saved Newhouse’s bacon more than once. But barring an unforeseen regression, Newhouse has shown he is capable of solidifying the position for the next decade.

Few people outside of Wisconsin are familiar with the names of Newhouse, Burnett and Barclay. If you want dream teams and media superstars, head for Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia. But in Wisconsin, we prefer to roll with the unsung heroes and quiet professionals.


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