5

June

What Is Mike Neal Doing At Outside Linebacker?

Admittedly, the Packers can’t claim to have much depth at outside linebacker at the moment; of course they have one of the best in Clay Matthews III, another 1st round selection they are high on and hope to see marked improvement in Nick Perry and a undrafted free agent looking to make a big jump in year 2 in Dezman Moses.  But that’s pretty much it in terms of actual experience; the Packers did draft Nate Palmer, a projected outside linebacker in the 6th round from Illinois State (much to the chagrin of commenters apparently) but they also did lose Frank Zombo to Kansas City and interestingly Erik Walden to the Colts for a 4-year $16 million contract (this is after the Packers signed Walden last year to a veteran minimum contract worth $700,000).  There has been some speculation that either Brad Jones or Jamari Lattimore, both who joined the Packers as outside linebackers but where converted to inside linebacker last year, could again make the transition back to the outside.

However, one dark horse candidate making headlines in OTAs was Mike Neal.  Just from initial impressions, you have to wonder what the Packers are doing.  2012 1st round pick Nick Perry was a little bit of a “square peg” weighing in a 271 pounds at the draft, but Neal outweighs Perry by a good 25 pounds.  Add to that Neal’s inexperience in playing from a two-point stance, and the multitude of extra responsibilities outside linebackers have (most notably dropping back into coverage) and Mike Neal is probably the last guy you’d think could have a shot at playing outside linebacker. Ironically most 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL are converted 4-3 defense ends, but this is the only occasion I can think of where a college 4-3 DT has been asked to transition to 3-4 outside linebacker.

Yes the Packers are tinkerers during the offseason; they love to mix and match offensive linemen and you’ll see players line up all over the place, but at least in my opinion, most of these were just small experiments to see how players would react to a new position; after all if getting the most out of a player is the main goal of a coaching staff, it would make sense to see how much positional versatility or even positional potential each player has.  Again, I would argue that if Neal had been a complete disaster the moment he lined up at linebacker (and I don’t think that should be a fault on him), the Packers probably would have pulled the plug on that idea in a hurry.  However, it does seem like the Packers like what they have seen and are willing to expand the experiment further.

20

April

NFL Draft Prospect: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA

Datone Jones

UCLA DE Datone Jones

Player Information:

Datone Jones, Defensive End, UCLA

6’04″, 283 pounds

Compton, CA

STATS

NFL Combine:

40 time: 4.80

225-pound bench: 29 reps

Vertical: 31 1/2″

20 yard shuttle:  4.32

News and Notes:

Jones was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. . .started as a true freshman in 2008 and in 2009, racked up 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. . . missed the entire 2010 season due to a foot fracture suffered in Spring practice. . . in 2012, Jones was extremely productive. He tallied 62 tackles with 19 for a loss.

What they’re saying about him:

  • CBSSports.com: “Well-built athlete with long arms and good strength, throughout. Flashes an explosive initial burst off the snap to penetrate gaps. Uses his hands well at the snap to rip free from blocks, showing a variety of pass rush techniques (swim, rip, club), as well as enough power to simply bull over offensive linemen into the backfield.”
  • NFL.com: “Versatile lineman that can fit in an odd or even front. Fires off the ball with impressive pad level and is often able to shock the offensive lineman with a quick jolt. Use active hands to disengage quickly. If he cannot disengage, he keeps his arms extended.  Maintains the line by keeping his body leaning forward. Difficult for running backs to avoid him in tight quarters, keeps his feet moving while wrapping up.”

 

Video Analysis:

  • Has a good initial move.  Quick burst, powerful
  • Uses hands effectively but will initially have issues disengaging NFL O-linemen
  • Can get downfield and pursues well
  • Has a good motor and his initial burst can get him into the backfield
  • Lacks ideal size for a 3-4 DL.  Will need to add some weight
  • As with many college defensive prospect, overruns the play, taking himself out of it

If drafted by the Packers:

16

April

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: William Campbell, DT Michigan

Green Bay Packers NFL Draft prospect profile: DT William Campbell

Player Information:

William Campbell, DT Michigan
6-5, 311 pounds
Hometown: Detroit. MI

STATS

Pro Day: 

40 yard: 5.15

Bench: 35

Vert: 27″

Broad: 107″

3 cone: 7.28

News and Notes:

William Campbell is your quintessential late round/priority rookie free agent.  Coming into Michigan, Williams was a 5 star recruit who never lived up to expectations; typically overweight and unrefined, Williams bottomed out when he was asked to switch to offensive line during his sophomore season.  That didn’t work out either and by his junior year he was back to defense.  Things took a turn for the better when Williams reported to camp in his senior year after dropping 46 pounds, which translated to on the field production.  However, just as things were improving, Williams was charged with  felony malicious-destruction-of-property when he attempted to slide across a car hood ala Starsky and Hutch.  In the end Campbell presents an enticing mix of size and athleticism muddled with immaturity and inexperienced.

 What they’re saying about him:

  • CBSSports.com: “Looks the part with a tall, well-built frame, broad shoulders and a large wingspan (80 inches). Can carry a lot of weight on his frame without losing his athleticism. Quick feet for his size with the agility to collapse inside and disrupt the pocket. Natural power to bully blockers at the point of attack, reset and redirect. Takes up room and has the size/strength combination to command double-teams.”

Video:

Video Analysis:

  • Looks the part of a potential 3-4 DE.
  • Very fast for a guy his size; at about 1:20, Campbell starts at the line of scrimmage at the Alabama 35 and hustles to make the tackle at the Michigan 35.  Not many 300+ lbs defensive tackles can run 30 yards to catch up to a running back.
  • Up against the best representation of a NFL offensive line in college, I though Williams acquitted himself fairly well.  He managed to beat Barrett Jones twice (thought to be the best center in the draft) and Chance Warmack three times (though to be the best guard in the draft), once for a sack where Williams swatted Warmack’s punch and “turned the corner” on Warmack (check it out at 2:40, it’s like Clay Matthews in super slow motion)  It should be mentioned that Williams was also destroyed on a couple plays, and it’s not like he’s the second coming of Reggie White.
7

March

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Margus Hunt, DE Southern Methodist

Margus Hunt

Green Bay Packers NFL Draft prospect profile: DE Margus Hunt

Player Information:

Margus Hunt, DE Southern Methodist

6-8, 277 pounds
Hometown: Karksi-Nuia, Estonia

STATS

NFL Combine:

40 yard: 4.66

Bench Press: 38

Vertical: 34.5″

Broad: 121.0″

3 Cone: 7.07″

Shuttle: 4.51

News and Notes:

One of the more interesting stories of the 2013 NFL draft, the 25-year old native of Estonia started out in track and field in high school and ended up winning gold medals in both shot put and discuss in the 2006 World Junior Track and Field Championships in Beijing.  Wanting to attend college in the United States, Hunt travelled to SMU in hopes of resurrecting the men’s track team under legendary coach Dave Wollman.  Unfortunately, neither Hunt nor Wollman were able to find funding for a track team so in order to stay in the United States Hunt turned to the football field.  Now 4 years later, Hunt approaches the NFL draft as one of the most intriguing prospects.

 What they’re saying about him: 

  • CBSSports.com: “Naturally powerful defender who can simply bull-rush his opponent deep into the pocket. Big, strong and reasonably active hands to fight through blockers’ attempts at grasping a hold of him. Good hand-eye coordination and times his leaps well to aid in his kick-blocking prowess. Has emerged as a player the offense must account for on virtually every snap and yet remains a better athlete than football player, which speaks to his exciting upside.”
  • NFL.com: “ Tall, thick but athletic lineman with loads of potential. Much quicker than you’d expect off the snap given his size, and his long first step helps him pressure the outside shoulder of tackles when outside and win the gap at three-technique. Shows the ability to anchor from both the 3-tech and 5-tech spots. Has the speed to run the arm and beat tackles off the edge. Fast and strong hands stun his man, extends his arms to keep leverage. Uses his length very well to keep blockers off his body. Plays contain well on the edge, pops off his block and swallows backs with his strong upper body. Long strides eat a lot of grass when closing to the quarterback. Good closing speed. Will chase plays downfield. Height and length allow him to affect quarterbacks’ vision when unable to reach him; they also make him an ideal interior player on the field goal block team. Flashes the ability to come off the ball hard and low in short-yardage situations despite his height. Good natural strength – can anchor and shed even when he loses the leverage battle. Varies the tempo of his pass rush well once the offensive line overplays his speed rush.”
6

October

Packers News: Team activates Neal, releases Merling

Packers DE Mike Neal

Packers DE Mike Neal

Defensive end Mike Neal served a four-game suspension to start the 2012 season. And now that he’s eligible to return to the field, the team has activated him to the 53-man roster.

Neal practiced with the team this past week, and he’s now available to play tomorrow against the Indianapolis Colts. Sunday’s game will be a bit of a homecoming for Neal, who was born in Merrillville–about 150 miles north of Indianapolis.

The Packers selected Neal in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but he’s appeared in just nine games in two NFL seasons. Still, Neal remains one of the Packers’ most athletic defensive linemen, and the team hopes he can provide a push up the middle.

Green Bay’s pass rush has registered 15 sacks through four games this season. However, the interior of the defensive line has been unable to generate much of a pass rush. None of the Packers’ six defensive lineman to play this season currently holds a positive grade in the pass rush department, according to Pro Football Focus.

To make room for Neal, the Packers cut veteran defensive end Phillip Merling.

The Packers signed Merling this summer as an unrestricted free agent from the Miami Dolphins. After an impressive training camp, the coaching staff decided to keep Merling over defensive lineman Daniel Muir while Neal served his suspension.

With Neal back in the fold, he and Jerel Worthy will likely be the Packers’ two down linemen in their 2-4-5 nickel alignment. Stay tuned on Sunday for the team’s inactive list to see whether or not Neal is active for week five.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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25

May

Green Bay Packers Taking Shotgun Approach to Improving the Defensive Line

Phillip Merling

Veteran free agent DE Phillip Merling became the twelfth defensive lineman on the Packers' offseason roster.

Call it the “shotgun approach.” Ted Thompson added his twelfth defensive lineman to the roster on Wednesday with his signing of DE Phillip Merling, who spent the last four years with the Miami Dolphins. Of the four (non-Packer) veteran free agent signings by Thompson this offseason, three have been defensive lineman: Daniel Muir, Tony Hargrove, and now Merling.

There’s obviously been some emphasis by the Packers on bolstering the talent and depth across the unit. The drafting of Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels take the total number of new linemen up to five, meaning almost half of the group will be new faces in training camp.

Is this a case of desperation in response to the horrible performances of last season? No, that’s taking it a bit far. Ted Thompson is not spending beaucoup money on these free agent players, which one would tend to do when desperate.

But he is stockpiling the talent pool in a variety of ways, and hoping a good number of them stick.

The three free agent signings are not superstars. Tony Hargrove is the most well known of the group, but he’s probably not going to be a game-changer. His career has been up and down, playing with four different teams over eight years and racking up just 19.5 sacks and 16 run stuffs in the process. Hargrove hasn’t started a game in two seasons, and he only has 25 starts to his name across his entire career. Those numbers aren’t meant to discourage anyone – they’re certainly not the whole story – but they’re not indicators of a guy who’s going to “tilt the field.”

Then there’s Daniel Muir, whose career contrasts with Hargrove’s. Both are 28 years old, but Muir has 3 years less experience in the league and a slightly less impressive resume. Unlike the travelling Hargrove, he spent most of his years with the Indianapolis Colts after his rookie stint with the Packers. Muir’s numbers aren’t as flashy (just a half a sack in his career), but he is also an inside tackle player rather than a defensive end, so his role is considerably different.

28

July

Packers 2011 Training Camp: The Best Positional Battles to Watch

Ryan Grant will be taking on all challengers for his starting job

Ryan Grant will have plenty of competition in Packers training camp.

With the NFL’s longest work stoppage in league history in the rear view mirror, the Green Bay Packers will begin their 2011 training camp on Saturday, July 30th in De Pere, Wisconsin. It will be the first step in the Packers Super Bowl title defense, and like most training camps, it should provide a framework for how the organization’s roster will look heading into the 2011 season.

But it will also be home to several intriguing and important positional battles that will determine who starts and who rides the bench to open the year. Let’s go in-depth to breakdown some of the Packers best battles to watch during training camp.


RUNNING BACK

This will be the one everyone watches. 28-year-old Ryan Grant is returning from a season-ending ankle injury, and as the leading man to start each of the last three seasons, Grant still believes he is going to be the primary carrier. Grant claims the ankle is 100%, which is more then conceivable considering he believed he could have played in the Super Bowl if not on IR. He’s also the most experienced and accomplished back on the roster, as Grant rushed for over 3,400 yards and 23 touchdowns from 2007 to ’09.

When Grant’s 2010 season ended just eight carries in, the Packers running game floundered in his absence. Grant’s vision and one-cut and go mentality were sorely missed. Neither Brandon Jackson or John Kuhn were able to handle the No. 1 role, and the Packers running game was nearly non-existent. That is, of course, until 2010 sixth rounder James Starks took control of the position late in the season.

Starks rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries in his NFL debut against the 49ers, marking only the second time to that point that a Packers rusher went over 70 yards in a game. Starks then mostly disappeared for the remaining of the regular season, but reemerged for the playoffs and took the postseason by storm. His 123 yards against the Eagles in the Wild Card was a Packers rookie playoff record and arguably the team’s best rushing performance of the 2010 season. He rushed for just 66 and 74 yards in the following two games in Atlanta and Chicago, respectively, but Starks provided the kind of offensive balance the Packers needed.