he Green Bay Packers have no shortage of talent at outside linebacker, but what they do lack is experience once you get past the starting edge duo of Clay Matthewsand Nick Perry.
The front office uncharacteristically opened up the coffers in an effort to supplement the roster with veteran free agents at the tight end and guard positions, but Ted Thompson and company have chosen to stay the course with their young, but unproven edge defenders on defense.
All this means is that Green Bay could be counting on the likes of Kyler Fackrelland Jayrone Elliott in the starting lineup if one of their injury-prone starters were to go down for any amount of time.
As a rookie, the 6-foot-5 Fackrellshowed glimpses of his quickness and ability to convert speed to power, but his deficiencies in the areas of strength and stamina prevented him from blossoming into a weekly contributor.
He’s reportedly packed on 10 pounds and earned positive reviews from the coaching staff, but the second-year man needs to demonstrate better hand usage to disengage from blockers, along with the physical endurance, to make it through a full season.
And then there’s Elliott, who made an immediate impression as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2014 with five sacks in the preseason. He seemed to be on his way to great things a year later following a strong performance versus the Seahawks in which he was credited with an interception and a forced fumble.
The Cleveland native wasn’t able to build off his Week 2 heroics, however, as he progressively saw his snaps reduced due to his inability to play with discipline, particularly when it came to setting the edge versus the run.
Thompson recently re-signed the fourth-year veteran, which clearly suggests that the team believes in the 26-year-old’s untapped potential.
Rookie Vince Biegel is another promising young option, but the fact that his offseason training has been stunted by a bone fracture in his foot is reason enough to curb our expectations from the young man early on.
Overall, the Packers franchise boasts an enviable collection of emerging homegrown depth. But all the optimism in the world on the development of these players won’t be enough to deliver new titles to Titletown.
This franchise is past the stage of merely being content to qualify for the playoffs every year. Eight consecutive seasons of being the bride’s maid and never the bride can wear on an organization and its fanbase.
So how will this franchise get over the championship game hump and into another Super Bowl?
Trent Cole: Green Bay Packers should bring him in
If the Packers fancy themselves as Super Bowl contenders, they should be looking under every rock to fortify their pass rush with a veteran presence that can make an impact on the field and in the locker room.
That man is Trent Cole, who will be entering his 13th season in the pros once the current free agent signs on with a new team.
With 90.5 sacks on his resume, the longtime Philadelphia Eagle can help accelerate the growth of Fackrell, Elliott and Biegel, much like Dwight Freeney did for his younger teammates as a member of the Atlanta Falcons in 2016.
It was no coincidence that Vic Beasley finally started living up to his first-round pedigree last season by picking up on the future Hall-of-Famer’s relentlessness and incorporating his spin move into his pass-rush repertoire.
Cole was never an outwardly talent blessed with extraordinary bend (see Von Miller) or strength. Instead, the grizzled sack master terrorized quarterbacks with superior hand work and all-out tenacity.
His skills and grit can easily be taught to the unrefined Fackrell, who possesses the length and initial quickness to be a difference-maker, but not the technical know-how that he will need to consistently get by offensive linemen.
Watching an old wizard like Cole utilize those traits in live action rather than having a coach tell you how it’s done can be precisely what a young defender needs to bring his dormant physical tools to the surface.
Players are more likely to listen to athletes that can actually make plays than a coach that hasn’t strapped on the shoulder pads in over a decade.
A polished old hand that has been through the battles can help keep his peers focused through the tough times when the crescendo of public criticism can wreck the spirit of a fledgling athlete.
But if the Packers do ultimately decide to bring the relentless agitator into the fold, Cole’s primary duty won’t be mentoring others. He’ll be expected to be a productive situational rusher that can shake offensive tackles with balance, agility and his aforementioned quick and powerful hands.
Also known as “The Hunter” for his love of outdoor activities, Cole’s energy on the field can be infectious.
And while he was forced to sit out nine games in 2016 as the result of a back issue, Cole only missed six games in his prior 11 seasons.
Furthermore, the soon-to-be 35-year-old finished the regular season in fine fashion with 11 tackles and two sacks in his final four contests as an Indianapolis Colt, which eliminates any concern about lingering health factors.
Adding a prized veteran asset like Cole right now may be the one missing component that will help the Packers cash in on their fifth Super Bowl trophy.