Thursday Thoughts: Local Hero
My plan a few months ago was to go to the two joint practices against the Jets and then stay over for the game, but that was back when I figured everybody would be sprinting to get the COVID-19 vaccine. After the events of the past five years, I should’ve known better. Anyway, here are three more Packers-related thoughts that ran through my mind recently:
1) I’ve been driving the Cole Van Lanen hype train for months now, and it has absolutely nothing to do with his heartwarming backstory. If he couldn’t play, I wouldn’t care if the Green Bay native was born on the 50-yard line at Lambeau Field and delivered by Bart Starr. But the sixth-round pick can play. While Van Lanen needs to get stronger – something he can do this season while either the last offensive lineman on the 53 or as a member of the practice squad – he has the skill set to be a solid right tackle for years to come. The former Wisconsin star showed some of those skills in a solid debut last week versus the Texans. Granted, he was going against career backups and future construction workers, but a tackle either has the feet to play at this level or he doesn’t. And while Van Lanen may not always move like Mikhail Baryshnikov in space, he definitely has the feet to play in the NFL.
2) Speaking of hype trains, the one for De’Vondre Campbell is running full steam ahead. Larry McCarren is raving about the new inside linebacker at the team’s website, and here’s what coach Matt LaFleur said recently: “You can see the instincts that he has, and he’s very fluid. There’s been a couple instances in practice (where he showed) his ability to — whether it’s as a blitzer, whether it’s in coverage — he’s a very, very good athlete. … He’s really going to help our defense.” Perhaps, but five season’s worth of the tape suggests otherwise. While Campbell certainly looks the part, his play has always been pretty pedestrian. He’ll do some impressive things from time to time, but for the most part, he tends to be a bit soft versus the run and inconsistent in coverage. Forget the August noise, the Packers should be happy if Campbell’s better than Christain Kirksey and comparable to Blake Martinez in the fall.
3) It’s easy to forget about Jace Sternberger when looking forward to the upcoming 2021 season. After all, the 25-year-old tight end has caught only 12 passes for 114 yards and 1 touchdown since being drafted in the third round in 2019. And if that lack of production isn’t bad enough, he’ll also be serving a two-game suspension to start the season. Still, it wouldn’t be wise to write off the former Texas A&M star just yet. He’s the best athlete among the tight ends and considering all the injuries and the fact he played just one season of major college football, it’s hardly a surprise he’s still trying to find himself in the NFL. That said, the search needs to end this summer. His 34-yard catch in the preseason opener was a good start, but he needs to do a lot more. Because if Sternberger doesn’t show progress, he should probably use the upcoming weeks off to plot his post-Packers future.