22

April

Cory’s Corner: Don’t underestimate Derek Carr

One of the first things that pops into people’s heads when talk turns to Derk Carr is his team’s schedule.

I thought Wichita State buried the schedule theory once and for all this past spring after becoming the first team to enter the NCAA men’s basketball tournament undefeated for the first time since 1991.

Derek Carr is rated as the seventh-best quarterback according to ESPN. He led the nation this year in total offense, passing yards, passing yards per game, passing touchdowns and completions per game.

Derek Carr is rated as the seventh-best quarterback according to ESPN. He led the nation this past year in total offense (5,199), passing yards (5,082), passing yards per game (390.9), passing touchdowns (50) and completions per game (34.85).

Don’t get me wrong, having a solid all-around schedule does help but it shouldn’t be what leads your resume. Production should.

And Carr has certainly been productive as a three-year starter for Fresno State. Carr has 25 school records and 21 Mountain West Conference records after capping off a senior campaign where he led the nation in passing yards (5,082) and passing touchdowns (50).

Carr is rated as the seventh-best quarterback in the NFL Draft according to ESPN, but what I like about Carr is how he moves the chains.

Consider that his average third-down percentage was 58 percent last year compared to his percentage on third down with 10 yards or more to go was 66 percent.

Carr’s career record of 24-15 may not look imposing. But then again, Carr wasn’t playing alongside future top NFL picks like quarterbacks that played at LSU, USC, Alabama and Notre Dame — all schools that recruited him. The last Bulldogs player to be taken in the first round was Ryan Mathews in 2010. Carr has started from 2011-2013 and the highest Fresno State player drafted in that span was the fourth round.

Another negative for Carr, fair or unfair, is that Carr’s brother David didn’t exactly have an enjoyable time in the NFL. In a six-year starting span he only tallied a 23-56 record. But a lot of that was because he played behind a sieve of an offensive line which propelled him to lead the league in number of times sacked in a season three times.

Carr says that he most admires Brett Favre because he never quits, which is why he proudly wears a No. 4 jersey. That never-say-die attitude is easy to spot in wins, but I was glad to see it in a loss. With Fresno State down by 18 with 4:46 left in the game to San Jose State this past year, Carr completed 6 of 10 passes and promptly led his Bulldogs to a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

21

April

Xs and Os: Introduction to West Coast Offense Route Combinations

Aaron Rodgers is the trigger man in Mike McCarthy's modern version of the West Coast Offense.

Aaron Rodgers is the trigger man in Mike McCarthy’s modern version of the West Coast Offense.

The Green Bay Packers offense is commonly referred to as a “West Coast Offense.” Likewise, Aaron Rodgers is often called a “West Coast Quarterback.”

For this article, I’ll take a look at some of the basic route combinations that exemplify the West Coast Offense, particularly those that you are likely to see on Sundays in Lambeau Field.

Disclaimer 

This is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes. There are nearly endless route and personnel combinations. I’m only going to cover a few of the most common and basic concepts.

The West Coast Offense Defined

We must start any discussion about the West Coast Offense with Bill Walsh. He, of course, is the greatest West Coast Offense coach in NFL history and won three Super Bowls.

Over the years, the moniker “West Coast Offense” has come to mean many things, and if you ask three people to define it, you might get three different answers.

Certainly, offenses evolve over time in that ever-changing game of cat-and-mouse between the defenses, but some of the defining aspects of the West Coast Offense haven’t changed for decades.

I’ve come to understand the West Coast Offense to mean how Walsh modified Sid Gillman’s passing principles to match his own attack philosophy. Specifically, Walsh utilized a short, precision timing passing game to attack the underneath coverage to supplement the run game.

However, that doesn’t mean the West Coast offense is strictly a short passing game. There are plenty of vertical routes that come open once the underneath dominance is established.

Numerous of Walsh’s offensive-minded descendants, including current Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, former head coach Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden, Mike Shanahan, and Brian Billick, have all won their own championships with their own flavors of Walsh’s offense.

By inspecting the coaching tree below, you can see that Walsh was a disciple of Sid Gillman, who I mentioned last week as being the father of the modern passing game. Gillman’s imprint revolutionized the game during the 1960s and his concepts are still widely used today.

Gillman_Coaching_Tree

The Sid Gillman coaching tree. (Public domain image from Wikipedia).

I’m not saying that the passing game was primitive and haphazard before Gillman, but it certainly was more refined and orchestrated after him.

13

April

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers football.

Last season it was Mike Daniels. The season before it was Randall Cobb. If the Packers are going to contend for a Super Bowl in 2014, at least one player will have to make the leap from potential to breakout star.

Here are the top contenders:

WR Jarrett Boykin
Boykin is probably at the top of most people’s most likely to break out lists. He was successful last season and he has Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. Teams will be ready for him in 2014, though. If he’s going to make the leap, he’ll have to do a better job of getting separation.

DL Datone Jones
Unlike Boykin, Jones is probably near the bottom of most people’s lists. Fans soured on Jones late last season and, apparently, so did the coaching staff as fellow rookie Josh Boyd got more snaps down the stretch. I still have high hopes for Jones and I think he can fulfill those hopes. You need to be patient with young defensive linemen. They rarely break out in their rookie seasons. Let’s see what year two brings for Jones.

CB Davon House
We’ve been waiting for House to take the next step for a while now, haven’t we? If he doesn’t take it in 2014, he probably never will. House’s size appears to make him an ideal fit in Green Bay’s defense, but whenever he strings together some good plays, he follows it up with a couple of stinkers and winds up on the bench. With Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward on the roster, House doesn’t have much room for error.

LT David Bakhtiari
We all groaned when Bryan Bulaga went down and the rookie Bakhtiari ended up starting at left tackle. By the end of the season, those groans turned into “Huh. That kid can play.” Yes, it was a good debut for the kid whose last name I hate spelling, but his ceiling is higher than just a feel-good, surprising rookie playing well in a tough spot. The Packers offense can be a whole lot better if Bakhtiari transforms from promising rookie to left-tackle anchor.

TE Brandon Bostick
Based on what little I’ve seen of him, Bostick seems to do everything well except catch the ball. He especially seems to struggle with drops in traffic. If he develops his hands, especially in tight spaces, I like what he can do in the passing game.

10

April

Xs and Os: The “Smoke” Route

Aaron Rodgers uses the "Smoke" route to steal some easy yards.

Aaron Rodgers frequently uses the “smoke” route to steal some easy yards from defenses.

The plays that quarterbacks call in the huddle are not always the plays that get executed at the snap of the ball. The “smoke” route is a sight adjustment that allows the offensive to steal some free yards from the defense.

The “smoke” route has become a staple in modern NFL, and even college, offenses these days. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sometimes runs the “smoke” play at least once during every game he plays.

What is the “smoke” route?

Basically, it’s a quick hitch throw to a receiver that is not called in the huddle. It’s usually performed after a running play has been called.

The quarterback will see that the wide receiver is being matched up with off-man coverage, which has the cornerback at least 5-7 yards off the receiver.

Rather than going through with the running play, especially if the box is stacked, why not try for a few free yards to the outside? The cornerback is practically begging for this throw by aligning in off-man coverage.

It’s not a verbal audible, but rather a silent one. Once the quarterback and receiver both see the off-man coverage, they will make some sort of eye contact and a gesture to indicate the “smoke” is on. The gesture is only known between the receiver and quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers throwing a "smoke" pass with the laces out.

Aaron Rodgers throwing a “smoke” pass.

At the snap of the ball, the quarterback takes a one step drop and immediately fires the ball to the receiver on a short hitch route.

This happens very quickly, and the quarterback may not have time to get the laces right, which is why you may see them throwing the ball without the use of the laces.

Only the quarterback and the receiver know the “smoke” is coming. Everyone else runs the play as called, which is why you often see the offensive line run blocking during such a play.

The “smoke” isn’t a viable option for every snap of the ball, and certain conditions should be met before the quarterback calls it.

 

 

 

Conditions for calling the “smoke” route:

1) Defense is in off-man. There has to be a 5-7 yard gap for the quarterback to quickly throw the ball with little risk of interception.

8

April

Cory’s Corner: Aaron Rodgers equals a capable Jarrett Boykin

The equation was proven when Greg Jennings left for Minnesota. And it’s going to be proven again when James Jones suits up for Oakland for the first time.

Jarrett Boykin will be slotted into the coveted No. 3 wide receiver next season. He's ready because of one person.

Jarrett Boykin will be slotted into the coveted No. 3 wide receiver next season. He’s ready because of one person.

I’ve heard many say that Jarrett Boykin is a question mark and cannot be counted on to truly be a No. 3 wideout in the NFL. Those are true and warranted sentiments.

However, don’t be like Jennings and Jones and forget about the most important part of the equation: Aaron Rodgers. Jones is a capable receiver but he has a tendency to grow alligator arms and forgets what route to run.

But this isn’t about Jones. It’s about how Rodgers made Jones and basically got him a three-year deal in 2011. It’s also about how Rodgers found Jones for 14 touchdowns in 2012.

Boykin has only played two seasons and only started in eight games. When the Packers open next September he could very well get the deer in the headlights and look completely confused.

However, the odds of that happening are quite slim. Why? Well, Scott Tolzien made Brandon Bostick look superhuman last year for a possession. I think it isn’t out of Rodgers’ realm to make Boykin look pretty good.

But in Boykin’s defense, he’s not that bad. He runs routes hard and has shown a willingness to learn. He will have to continue that inquisitiveness by peppering Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb — arguably the best wide receiving tandem in the game.

Wide receivers are even more critical now that NFL offenses resemble a seven-on-seven passing drill.

Yet, it all comes back to the quarterback. A subpar quarterback will make even Pro Bowl receivers look average as opposed to a preeminent quarterback that makes average pass-catchers good.

Boykin will be fine, but when you boil it down it doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of warm bodies with pass-catching experience that could be slotted into the Packers’ No. 3 job and succeed. It’s pretty hard to fail when the ball is placed on a platter and is in a tight spiral nearly every time.

This is the year that Boykin must learn and make strides. He must process plenty of information during training camp so that he can be called upon if Nelson or Cobb go down with injury.

5

April

Cory’s Corner: Solidify backup QB job and sign Matt Flynn

Last year proved just how important a backup quarterback is not for just the Packers but for any football team.

Having a bona fide star quarterback is an advantage that coach Mike McCarthy may have gotten a little too comfortable with. He got used to the 50-yard rollout passes on a dime and being able to whistle a fastball into tight windows.

Matt Flynn finished with a 2-2 starting record for the Packers last year. He is an unrestricted free agent after earning a prorated veteran minimum $715,000 by the Packers.

Matt Flynn finished with a 2-2 starting record for the Packers last year. He is an unrestricted free agent after earning a prorated veteran minimum of $715,000 by the Packers.

They say you never really know what you have until it’s gone. Well, that couldn’t have been truer for the Packers last year. With Aaron Rodgers shelved for seven games, the Packers nomadically spun their wheels until Matt Flynn was able to play good enough to fix the leaks and right the ship.

Now I realize Flynn doesn’t exactly strike anything resembling fear into opposing defenses. But he is a six-year NFL veteran and more importantly, he’s a 4½-year vet of the Packers.

Which is exactly why I am surprised that the Packers haven’t signed the unrestricted free agent yet. His 3-4 career starting record may not be anything to brag about but his ability to win over a huddle and lead a team — especially when your No. 1 option goes down — are things you want in a substitute.

Flynn turns 29 this summer and even he must realize that his days of being a starting quarterback are over. After having dreams of leading the Seattle Seahawks, he was upstaged by Russell Wilson. To make matters worse, he was upstaged by Terrelle Pryor in Oakland and the Bills barely kicked the tires before sending him on his way after just 21 days.

The opportunity to become a starting quarterback in the NFL is ever-shrinking, especially with all the dynamic college quarterbacks that are now bursting on to the scene.

The only sticky point could be money. Flynn was paid a pro-rated veteran minimum salary of $715,000 last year for Green Bay. With that money, he salvaged a 16-point deficit against Minnesota, which ended in a tie. And he orchestrated comeback wins vs. Atlanta and the thriller at Dallas.

3

April

Character Still Matters for the Green Bay Packers

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers, Packer People, Packers players, Johnny Jolly, Packers character, Packers off the field

Johnny Jolly is proof that Green Bay is a very special place to play.

Another week, another story about an NFL player (allegedly) engaging in shady off-field activities.

This time it’s former Philadelphia Eagles and now-current Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his supposed affiliation with a gang. Jackson denies such activity, but the fact the accusation has even been made stains his reputation.

This is just the most recent in a string of stories over the past several seasons involving NFL players and criminal activities. Aaron Hernandez, currently awaiting trial on miser charges, is probably the most severe but there have been so many other instances this entire article would just be a list if all were to be mentioned.

Drunk driving, drugs, domestic violence, assault and the aforementioned murder are just some of the charges levied against NFL players the past several seasons. The league has an image problem and commissioner Roger Goodell has his hands full trying to fix it.

This is why NFL fans, regardless of what team colors they wear on Sundays, should be thankful for a team like the Green Bay Packers.

Since general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy arrived in 2005 and 2006, respectively, the Packers have been able to avoid the off field issues so many other teams have had to deal with over and over again.

The one potential exception to this for the Packers, the past drug arrests of defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, was turned into a positive this past year when Jolly was reinstated by the NFL and was named the team’s Ed Block Courage Award recipient for how he has turned his life around and became a locker room leader (per Aaron Rodgers himself) in the process.

How has Green Bay been fortunate to avoid the distractions a good chunk of the rest of the league often encounters?

Well, for one, character sometimes has to trump talent in the eyes of Thompson and McCarthy and it should. This is why the Packers have passed on players such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens in the past, despite lobbying by fans and a certain former MVP quarterback.

They might be uber-talented on the football field, but if they cause distractions off the field or disharmony in the locker room, what’s the point? McCarthy and Thompson value a united locker room above all else and they won’t introduce any element that risks upsetting this.