16

July

Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #9 — Battle at Right Tackle

The Packers felt strongly about Sherrod in 2011 when they spent their first-round pick on the tackle. But is he now healthy and ready to play?

The Packers felt strongly about Sherrod in 2011 when they spent their first-round pick on the tackle. But is he now healthy and ready to play?

The Green Bay Packers offensive line has underwent a significant shift this offseason. Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton moved from the right side of the line to Aaron Rodgers’ blindside, while T.J. Lang kicked over to Sitton’s old spot at right guard.

Evan Dietrich-Smith will begin the season as the starting center, leaving right tackle as the lone unclaimed spot on the front line.

Last year’s starting left tackle, Marshall Newhouse, will begin training camp perhaps as the favorite to win the job. Newhouse has started 29 games the past two seasons for the Packers, but according to Pro Football Focus, he hasn’t performed overly well.

PFF’s grades have Newhouse ranked No. 54 among 80 offensive tackles in 2012. Newhouse came in dead-last at No. 76 during the 2011 season.

The Packers view Bulaga as their best pass protector, and they hope that by moving him to the left side, they’ve better protected their biggest asset in Rodgers. Newhouse will compete with Don Barclay, who started the last five games of the season, and 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod for the right tackle job.

Sherrod didn’t play a snap last season after appearing in five games as a rookie in 2011. The team will give the former No. 32 overall pick every opportunity to win the starting job, but Sherrod has yet to practice this spring, still recovering from a devastating leg injury suffered in 2011.

Barclay, in some ways, was the unsung hero of the Packers offense last season. With Sherrod on the sideline and Bulaga ending up on the injured reserve with a hip injury, Barclay was called upon to take over as the starting right tackle as an undrafted rookie.

The offense didn’t miss a beat without Barclay, as they averaged 32 points per game in the six games he started.

In April’s NFL Draft, the Packers used their third pick on Colorado tackle David Bakhtiari. The rookie played all along the offensive line in college, and he’ll enter training camp as the probable backup to Bryan Bulaga on the left side.

Question: Who wins the starting right tackle job?

9

May

Did the Packers Want to Draft Kyle Long?

“A couple of days before the draft, I heard the Cowboys were a threat to take (Kyle) Long in the first round, perhaps if they moved down from the 18th pick. I later heard from league sources outside of Halas Hall that the Colts (24th pick) and Rams (22nd pick) were very interested in drafting him. Some suspected the Packers (26th pick) also were in the Long market.” – Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune

This recent bit of news caught my attention claiming that Kyle Long was actually a very hot commodity in the 1st round with at least 4 other teams, including the Packers, were willing to take the multifaceted offensive linemen, who will begin his career as a guard.  The only reason that this struck me as a little odd was that this exact same story popped up after last year’s draft, again involving an offensive guard.  In 2012, Kevin Zeitler was selected 27th overall to the Cincinnati Bengals, one spot ahead of Nick Perry, who was selected by Packers with the 28th overall pick.  Again the Packers were rumored to be in love with Zeitler and were distraught when the Bengals stole him away with the pick before theirs that they dejectedly handed in their card for Perry (so the story goes).

From the offset, the question becomes what would the Packers do with a high draft pick guard in either 2012 or 2013?  General manager Ted Thompson seems to like his current two starters in TJ Lang and Josh Sitton, both who where signed to extensions without hitting free agency, which is perhaps the highest honor Thompson can bestow a player.  But again, with “the silver fox” you never really know what he’s going to do in the draft, sometimes he drafts heavy in positions of depth while ignoring positions of need, ostensibly under the “best player available” philosophy.  I don’t claim to know how Ted Thompson truly operates, but I’d assume that if a guard were the best player available, he probably wouldn’t hesitate to draft him.

27

April

Packers 2013 NFL Draft – Fourth Round Pick: David Bakhtiari, OT, Colorado

David Bakhtiari, OT Colorado

David Bakhtiari, OT Colorado

With their first fourth round pick (109th overall) in the 2013 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers select Davit Bakhtiari, an OT from Colorado.

PLAYER DETAILS: 

David Bakhtiari
OT
Colorado
6’4″/299lbs

CAREER NOTES: 

After redshirting in 2009 at the University of Colorado, Bakhtiari was thrown into the fire at right tackle in 2010, starting eleven games while playing in all twelve. He earned All-Big Twelve Conference honorable mention from the Associated Press after producing an 89.8% grade for blocking consistency, the second-best mark on the team, behind Nate Solder (94.3%).

In 2011, Bakhtiari took over Solder’s vacant left offensive tackle spot and was recognized as a second-team All-Pac 12 Conference performer. He was also named to the College Football News Sophomore All-American squad. He suffered a severe knee sprain on the seventh play of the season opener vs. Hawaii that would sideline him for the Buffs’ next two games before returning to the lineup for the rest of the schedule. He again finished second on the team with an 84.4% blocking consistency grade.

While Colorado struggled through yet another poor season in 2012, which ultimately led to the firing of head coach Jon Embree, Bakhtiari again was a bright spot with second-team All-Pac-12 Conference honors. He led the conference offensive tackles with 94 knock-downs, despite playing for a team that ranked 116th in the nation and last in the Pac-12 with an average of 302.75 yards per game in total offense.

Bakhtiari played in 34 games at Colorado, starting 33 contests – 22 at left offensive tackle and eleven at right tackle…He closed out his career with an 88.00% grade for blocking consistency, the best for any active offensive tackle in the Pac-12 Conference, as he also registered 255 knockdowns as a starter, an average of 7.73 per game…Also produced 27 touchdown-resulting blocks for the running corps.

COMBINE: 

5.09 40 yard dash, 28 bench, 1.79 10yd split, 34″ arms, 25.5″ vertical, 101in. broad jump, 7.7 3-cone, 4.74 20yd shuttle

 NFL.COM Profile

 

SCOUTING REPORT: 

What Bakhtiari offers a professional team is a well-built athlete with a tireless work ethic, one that his coaches call a “gym rat” that usually has to be chased out of the training room late at night. It was common on campus for the offensive lineman to “lock up the facility,” as the coaches would simply hand him the keys, tell him to “turn the lights out” and they would then head home hours before Bakhtiari would.

7

July

Packers’ Chad Clifton Must Once Again Channel Major League’s Jake Taylor in 2011

If the crafty Chad Clifton can avoid scenes like this in 2011, it should be another good run for the Packers.

With Chad Clifton hobbling through the first couple of games, it looked like the Green Bay Packers were going to endure another season of uncertainity at left tackle in 2010. Then — like Jake Taylor helping the Indians win the pennant in Major League – Clifton showed that he wasn’t a past-his-prime washout and played a significant role in the Packers run to the Super Bowl.

I love watching Clifton. I love how he lumbers up to the line of scrimage, never appearing to be in too much of a hurry to get into his stance. I love how speed rushers think they can beat him around the edge, then are stopped cold once Clifton get his hands on them. I love how he maximizes his time on the field, refusing to dive wildly into the pile at the end of a play or do something silly that could add additional stress to his aging body.

Clifton is my favorite kind of player: A crafty veteran. There’s a misconception about crafty veterans. Many people think crafty veterans are just old guys past their prime that are only on the field because of career achievements or some intangible leadership skill they bring to the locker room. Sometimes that’s true, but not in Clifton’s case.

Clifton, when healthy, is still a damn good left tackle. He proved it last season by getting selected to the pro bowl. Pro Football Focus ranked Clifton 11th in pass blocking efficiency in 2010. Acme Packing Company points out that 11th is good, but probably not entirely fair since Clifton really came on in the season’s second half after he got healthy. Are there really 10 other left tackles in the NFL you would want on your team ahead of a healthy Clifton?

Clifton is the second most important player to the Packers offense. If he gets hurt or if age finally catches up with him next season, he’s going to be the hardest player to replace next to Aaron Rodgers.

If the regular season starts on time, the Packers are in good shape. Their coaching staff has been in place for a while, their offensive and defensive schemes are entrenched and their mixture of veteran and young talent is as good as any team in the league.

6

May

Bryan Bulaga vs. Derek Sherrod: Battle for Left Tackle!

With the 32nd pick, the Super Bowl Champions selected Derek Sherrod, offensive tackle from Mississippi State and raised one big question, where is he going to play?  The question stems from the 2010 NFL draft, where the Packers used their 1st round selection to nab offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga from Iowa.

Bulaga and Sherrod seem to have a lot in common; both players were predicted to be drafted far ahead of where they actually ended up and both were technically sound and athletic offensive linemen who weren’t as highly touted as some of the other offensive linemen in their respective drafts (such as Russel Okung and Trent Williams in 2010 and Gabe Carimi and Tyron Smith in 2011).  Both are considered more technicians than maulers and were considered left tackle prospects.

The Packers have claimed after drafting Sherrod that both will get a chance to battle it out in training camp, but lets see how they compare to each other and who fits the mold of a left tackle.  Below is a side by side comparison of Bulaga and Sherrod.  I don’t claim to be a evaluator of talent, so I’ve used analysis from CBSports.com (most likely written by Rob Rang), Doug Farrar (of Yahoo’s Shutdown Corner and Football Outsiders) and Kevin Seifert (of ESPN).

 

Name Bryan Bulaga Derek Sherrod
Pass Blocking Takes a strong angle on kick slide, keeps knees bent, head up, and arm extended to keep defenders at bay. Very difficult to get off his blocks if he’s mirroring. Has a strong punch. Tends to lunge against inside moves, lacks great recovery speed and can be beaten by secondary rush. Slow to recoil once extended. Hesitates when defenders let up. Gets bull rushed into the pocket by strong ends because he allows their hands into his chest, but typically anchors before reaching the quarterback. Must improve his arm-bar to keep rusher out of the pocket. Inconsistent quickness after the first step in his kick slide makes him susceptible to giving up the edge to quicker pass rushers.-NFLDraftScout.com 

 

Good initial quickness. Eases out of his stance and has the lateral agility and balance to mirror the defender. Good hand strength and has long arms that he uses to latch onto and control his opponent. Generally plays with good knee-bend and leverage, but can lose his anchor when he tires. Can become fundamentally lazy and lean into the defender; gets knocked off-balance and gives up the inside lane. Should improve in this area with greater focus on his technique, but has an upside-down triangle build due to broad shoulders and relatively narrow hips, making him top-heavy and susceptible to being overpowered. Among his better attributes is his recognition. Recognizes the blitz coming and gets a good initial pop on his primary target (defensive end) before passing him off to the guard and working his way outside to catch the rushing linebacker or stunting defensive tackle.-NFLDraftScout.com
4

May

3 Main Themes Emerge From Green Bay Packers 2011 NFL Draft

The 2011 NFL draft is now officially over, and its time to take a look at what the Packers did.  Over the next couple of weeks, fans and analysts alike will sit in front of their computers and grade each team’s draft class; in my opinion this is completely absurd for two reasons.

For one, these players haven’t played a single snap in the NFL yet and no one knows exactly how these players are going to pan out; if anyone did the draft would be a pretty boring affair.

And second, the inherent flaw in grading is that it’s based on a big board typically made by an analyst or the fans themselves.  There are only a few people privy to the actual boards of the 32 teams, and I’m willing to bet that none of the boards you see online are even remotely close to the real things.

Nevertheless, one fact that must be true is that every team drafts with a logical purpose; whether drafting purely on talent, athleticism, speed, need or value, it would be simply foolish for a team to draft a player without an idea of what to do with him and how that player fits into the team.  With that in mind, in the following article I hope to analyze what the Packers were thinking when they drafted each player.

Overall Impressions:

  1. The retooling of the defense is basically complete: Teams set a tone with the players they draft and this year it was all about giving Aaron Rodgers more help.  Many people have forgotten that the Packers are only two years removed from completely changing their defensive scheme from a 4-3 bump and run scheme under Bob Sanders to a 3-4 zone blitz scheme under Dom Capers.The 2009 and 2010 drafts were very defensive heavy, with BJ Raji and Clay Matthews III being drafted in the 1st round in 2009 and Mike Neal and Morgan Burnett being taken in the 2nd and 3rd round in 2010.  This was simply based on the fact that many of the players acquired pre-2009 weren’t ideal for a 3-4 defense (such as DE/OLB Aaron Kampman).  In comparison, the 2011 draft was definitely an offensive draft, with the first 3 picks on the offense and 4 offensive skill positions being addressed overall.
29

April

Packers GM Ted Thompson Pulls Another Fast One In Picking Derek Sherrod

Packers GM Ted Thompson has a long list of successful draft picks during his seven-year run as Green Bay’s draftmaster.

Some of those selections, like Jordy Nelson or A.J. Hawk, have become solid players for the Packers. Others have gone on to be Super Bowl MVP’s or Pro Bowlers.

But where will Thompson’s most recent pick, offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, fit in with his other successes?

You’d have to think somewhere closer to the latter group. Maybe not a Super Bowl MVP, but Sherrod looks like he might have Pro Bowls in his future.

Why? Sherrod simply has all the tools you’d covet in an offensive tackle.

To start, he undoubtedly looks the part. Sherrod is 6-5, 320 pounds with an 83 7/8″ wing span. For most NFL teams, that’s exactly the body you’re looking for in an offensive tackle.

But Sherrod does more than just look the part—the production matches the frame. Playing in SEC at Mississippi State, Sherrod didn’t allow a sack his final two seasons, and this is a conference that has featured several elite pass rushers over the years.

What really jumps out at you, however, is the cerebral capacity.  Sherrod graduated in just three years with a degree in business, and he started working on his Masters in 2010. Scouts note that he’s been a quick learner on the football field as well.

He’s going to be able to pick up an NFL offense in a hurry, and I have no worries about him being able to move around on the offensive line. He’s best suited to play tackle, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he could slide inside to guard and still be effective.

That should give the Packers plenty of flexibility on the offensive line. It’s still early, but if I had to make a prediction, I’d say Bryan Bulaga moves inside to left guard and Sherrod plays right tackle to open the 2011 season. Chad Clifton can stay at left tackle, and the Packers still have a plan B if his knees start barking at him.

Further down the road, Sherrod can then move to left tackle—he’s the more athletic player of the two—and Bulaga can move back to right tackle. Either way, the Packers have their bookend tackles.