11

April

Packers Like Odd Pairing At A Key Position

Packers Center J.C. Tretter

Despite never having played a snap at center or in a NFL game, Tretter seems like a front runner for the Packers center position in 2014

During this week’s No Huddle Radio podcast, we had the pleasure of chatting with Dan Shonka of Ourlads Scouting Services about everything draft related.

Of course, there were deep ties to the Green Bay Packers and what we might see from them in next month’s draft.  One interesting comment that Dan made about drafting players to play certain positions in the NFL.

Shonka’s example couldn’t have been more perfect for the Packers’ current situation at offensive center.  He said that if a team needs a center, they should draft a center.  He has never been a big proponent of drafting a guard or a tackle to convert to another position due to the risk of that conversion not being a success.

Sure, there are occasions where a player can develop multiple skill sets.  Guard T.J. Lang is an example there.  Lang was a left tackle in college and was immediately tried at guard in Green Bay.  Lang did also work at tackle and has even played tackle in live game action, but he’s now entrenched at guard and has proven to be very suitable there.  Still, examples such as Lang seem to be more the exception and not the rule.

During head coach Mike McCarthy’s time in Green Bay, we have seen many examples of players who were offensive tackles in college and tried at guard and/or center with the Packers.  A few that come to mind besides Lang:  Derek Sherrod, David Bakhtiari, and Bryan Bulaga to name a few.  Heading into this season, Bulaga and Bakhtiari are presumed to be the starting tackle tandem.  Sherrod is once again back at tackle as a backup.

Beyond the versatility that it can offer, it begs the question as to why McCarthy continues to try and turn tackles into interior linemen.

We know McCarthy likes players that can do multiple things.  He likes his linebackers and tight ends on special teams.  He obviously likes his linemen to be able to step in at any spot on the line and in a pinch.  But is that the best way to build that continuity that he also talks about having on the line?

7

April

Ted Thompson Must Not Care Much About the Center Position

Packers Center J.C. Tretter

Packers Center J.C. Tretter

It seemed to me to be a no-brainer. The Packers have no one on their roster with more than minimal NFL experience as  a center.  Before yesterday, there were 19 players on the NFL Free Agent Tracker listed at the center position. Surely Ted would be looking to bring in an inexpensive player with real experience at center in case the JC Tretter conversion doesn’t work out.

Well, Ted has done nothing yet and now there are 18 centers on the market, with arguably the best of the bunch now off the board.

The NFC  North Division rival Bears signed former Saints starting center Brian De La Puente on Sunday. De La Puente was a guy I had on my radar as the best target for Ted Thompson to bring in as cheap veteran insurance. Only I had no idea how cheap.

The Bears signed De La Puente for a veteran minimum contract ($735K for a player with 4 years experience) with a $65,000 signing bonus and only $100,00 in guaranteed money. That’s quite a bargain for a player ranked as the fifth best center in the NFL over the last three seasons, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Still young at only 28yrs old, De La Puente turned down the Lions and the Saints to join the Bears and his old offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. While that makes sense, it is odd that he joins a team where he is expected to be a backup, not a starter. Certainly a team like the Packers could have offered him a better opportunity to win a starting job.  But apparently, that offer never came.

With how inexpensively De La Puente came, one can’t say the Packers (Ted) were being cheap, a common refrain heard from many critics. So that leaves several other possibilities:

1) The Packers are dead-on convinced Tretter is their center of the present and the future.

2) The Packers are planning to draft a starting center.

2) Ted Thompson just doesn’t value the center position that highly.

Let’s take a look at the first option. I recently wrote about the state of the center position for WTMJonline.  Here’s an excerpt from that article:

29

March

Cory’s Corner: Packers are undervaluing the center position

Frank Winters was Brett Favre's starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Frank Winters was Brett Favre’s starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Just how important is the quarterback-center battery in the NFL?

Apparently, it’s not that overly important to the Packers because Aaron Rodgers is about to embark on his fourth different starting center to begin the season.

Think about that for a second.

Rodgers is the best quarterback on the planet. Amazingly, he has been able to average 31 touchdowns a season with a 58-29 record in six seasons. And he’s done it despite playing with a revolving door at the leadership position of the offensive line.

In 16 years with the Packers, Brett Favre had five different centers start the majority of games. But that counts James Campen for one season in 1992 and the person nobody remembers — Grey Ruegamer in 2004.

Favre’s mainstay was Frank Winters. “Bag of Doughnuts” and Favre were teammates for 11 seasons and were able to grow up together and make each other better.

Rodgers hasn’t had that yet. Right when Rodgers and Scott Wells were beginning to form a cohesive bond, the Packers didn’t bring him back after four years of working as the quarterback-center battery and thus, the process started all over again.

The next person to come on down is JC Tretter. Last year’s fourth round draft pick hasn’t started a game in the NFL but the Packers are handing him a shot to ignite one of the most dynamic offenses in the league with each snap.

Centers aren’t exactly a glory position. No kid gazes into the mirror and dreams of one day making a perfect shotgun snap to his quarterback before quickly reasserting himself as a pass blocker. Heck, Tretter was a quarterback, running back and wideout in high school.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

But that doesn’t mean the job of a center should be understated. While left tackles get the money for protecting the quarterback’s blind side, it’s the center that makes the coverage adjustments. A center is the quarterback of the offensive line.

So when Rodgers comes back to camp not knowing much about his next center, he needs to spend time getting to know how things will work. If you’re Rodgers, you don’t want to learn in Week 3 that your center has a problem with a quick snap count or a pronounced loud bark in order to draw a defense offsides.

14

March

Evan Dietrich-Smith Signs With The Buccaneers

Packers C Evan Dietrich-Smith

Packers C Evan Dietrich-Smith

Tom Silverstein has been a busy guy, first reporting on the resigning of defensive end/nose tackle BJ Raji and now reporting that center Evan Dietrich-Smith has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

 

With that, the Packers now have a big question to answer this offseason, much like they did when they let Scott Wells sign with the St. Louis Rams.   JC Tretter becomes perhaps the de facto starter, which is a little scary considering he was a left tackle in college and broke his foot during rookie orientation last year, essentially giving him a redshirt rookie season.  Other options might include Don Barclay, who practiced at center during training camp last year with somewhat disastrous results or TJ Lang, who is rumored to be the emergency center (or at least Josh Sitton jokes that he is). Luckily, the Packers have some other options on the offensive line, with both Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod likely being in the mix at tackle, either Don Barclay and/or David Bakhtiari could slide into the interior.

In terms of the draft, the Packers have never thought very highly of centers (Wells was a 6th round draft choice while EDS was a undrafted free agent), so it’s unlikely that they would draft a center high, rather they like to draft tackles who likely wouldn’t make it in the NFL and convert them to interior linemen.

The top free agent center is Alex Mack, who was designated the transition franchise tag for the Browns, likely meaning that the Packers will not try to pry Mack away from the Browns.  Again going back to Thompson’s history drafting and retaining centers, it appears as if the Packers front office views centers as largely fungible, meaning the Packers backup likely will be another low round draft pick or an undrafted free agent.  Another option might be to run the “Jeff Saturday” play, where the Packers sign a veteran center while they hope JC Tretter or Don Barclay gain enough experience at center to play next there next season.

10

October

Packers Sign Gerhart to Practice Squad, Release Dunn

Garth Gerhart

Gerhart rejoins the Packers practice squad

The Green Bay Packers announced that they have signed center Garth Gerhart to their practice squad.  The Packers signed Gerhart to the practice squad during last year’s postseason and after he had spent all of 2012 on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad.

Gerhart spent training camp with the Packers this past summer and was let go during some of the team’s last cut downs.

The signing likely means that the injury to Greg Van Roten’s foot is going to keep him out for a while longer and the team currently had no true centers behind starter Evan Dietrich-Smith.

The backup plan, in the event that EDS were to get hurt, was to utilize one of Don Barclay, TJ Lang or Josh Sitton at center and move Marshall Newhouse into the mix.  Even with Gerhart waiting in the wings, that plan may still be the main contingency.

Once Van Roten is able to return, it is likely that Gerhart could be let go again, but any time a former Arizona State Sun Devil is on Green Bay’s roster, this alum jumps at the chance to spread the news.

In order to create a spot for Gerhart, the Packers released receiver/kick returner Reggie Dunn.  Dunn was signed last week after the team released Jeremy Ross, and in the hopes that he might be able to emerge as the primary kick returner.  That wasn’t the case, and the Packers will continue to search out their best option in the return game.

 

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16

July

Packers 1st Year Free Agent Scouting Report: Garth Gerhart, OC Arizona State/Cleveland Browns

Player Information:

  • Garth Gerhart, OC Arizona State
  • 6’1”/305 lbs
  • Hometown – Norco, California

Pro Day:

  • 40 yard: 5.38
  • 20 yard: 3.09
  • 10 yard: 1.90
  • Bench: 25
  • Vertical: 30.5
  • Broad: 96
  • Shuttle: 4.27
  • 3-cone: 7.63

Introduction:  While not an undrafted rookie, Garth Gerhart falls into the same category as a player who not many people know about on the Packers squad who has a good chance of making the team.  Garth, brother of current Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, went undrafted out of Arizona State in 2012 and was signed to the Browns practice squad, where he spend the entire season.   Gerhart was signed onto the Packers practice squad 4 days before their loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs.

Outside Analysis:

Pro Football Weekly: Good arm length and weight-room strength. Has a strong lower body and good base. Flashes a substantial punch. Works to position and get in the way. Smart and aware. Tough and competitive. Good character. Dependable, blue-collar worker. Experienced, three-year starter. Has NFL bloodlines.

Draft Insider: Zone-blocking lineman with marginal athletic skills. Incredibly quick in all aspects, uses effective body positioning and seals defenders from the action. Intelligent and effectively quarterbacks the offensive line. Works to get a pad on defenders and knocks them from their angle of attack.

 

Video:

Analysis:

  • #52, playing center
  • The shotgun snap error was mostly on him
  • It’s very interesting how many times ASU runs the bubble screen, I’m not sure if it’s assignment or coincidence, but Garth doesn’t block anyone on any of occasions shown. Then again, if it’s a bubble screen going to the sideline, what chance does any center have in making a block anyways?
  • Gets good movement up to the second level, but often ends up looking for someone to block.  Again is this coincidence?
  • Does a good job switching assignments and helping out his guards
  • At 3:22, Gerhart actually slides out and blocks the pass rushing defensive end, quite impressive (Ironically, the defensive end turns out to be none other than Nick Perry!)
  • Better technician than athlete, keeps his feet under him and usually stalemates his defender.  He’s not going to throw many pancake blocks or just wall off a defender, but will get the job done.
10

July

Packers Undrafted Rookie Scouting Report: Patrick Lewis, OC Texas A&M

Player Information:

  • Patrick Lewis, OC Texas A&M
  • 6’1”/311 lbs
  • Hometown – Reserve, Louisiana

Pro Day:

  • 40 yard: 5.28
  • 20 yard: 3.04
  • 10 yard: 1.84
  • Bench: 25
  • Vertical: 29
  • Broad: 96”
  • Shuttle: 4.93
  • 3-cone: 8.01

Introduction:

The Packers are in desperate need of center depth; while it seems like the Packers are pretty content to go ahead with Evan Dietrich-Smith as their starting center, they haven’t signed him to a long term deal yet, meaning they still want to see a full year’s worth of play from EDS before fully committing to him.  Behind him isn’t much either, outside of Lewis,  1st year player Garth Gerhart is the only other center, although several other players such as Greg Van Roten might also be in the mix .

Outside Analysis:

TFY Draft Insider:  Short, squat small-area blocker who plays with tremendous quickness. Fires off the snap and works his hands throughout the play. Keeps his knees bent and shows the ability to adjust. Works well with linemates and effectively quarterbacks the offensive line. Displays a good understanding for the position, quick to the second level, and displays skill blocking in motion.

Video:

Analysis:

  • A little hesitant at the second level if there’s no one in front of him
  • Doesn’t have the quickest feet, seems to have limited flexibility as well
  • Has some issues with bulrushes, especially when pass blocking
  • Much better run blocker than pass blocker
  • Can definitely shotgun snap, can he snap the ball in a pro offense?
  • Pro day numbers are pretty underwhelming, especially the bench

 

Packers rationale:  Lewis strikes me as a prototypical camp body.  He won’t get a team killed if he’s forced into action, but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be the preferred starter.  His physical limitations of poor foot speed and functional strength are likely to be exposed at the pro level to the point where his good technique can no longer compensate.  In particular, with many defenses employing a 3-4 defense with a mammoth 0-technique nose tackle, being able to stop a bull rush as a center is becoming more and more important.  Perhaps the biggest indication of his ability to stick on the team or practice squad will be his ability to play guard (especially considering offensive linemen rarely play on special teams); the Packers typically only keep one interior offensive linemen and while playing guard should be easier to play than center in the Packers offense, it isn’t exactly apples to oranges.