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

February

2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Outside Linebacker

Clay Matthews and Nick Perry

Matthews and Perry will anchor the Outside Linebacker spots in 2013

Packers Outside Linebackers:  This is a group that had a lot of promise heading into 2o12 but after an injury to rookie Nick Perry and an underwhelming season from 2011 incumbent Erik Walden, there wasn’t nearly as much production as the defense needed nor wanted.  The Green Bay Packers enter the 2013 offseason with some questions at this vital position.

(Note: Listen to the combined linebackers podcast at the end of this article:)

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects:

Clay Matthews III (1st round)

Nick Perry (1st round)

Erik Walden (UDFA)

Dezman Moses (UDFA)

Frank Zombo (UDFA)

Jamari Lattimore (UDFA)

Matthews was, once again, the steady rock of this group.  He had has second-best season, posting 13 sacks despite missing several games with a hamstring injury.  Not much more can be said of Matthews other than he makes the entire Packers defense better and he has to be a top priority of the team to retain when his contract expires at the end of the 2013 season.

Perry had high expectations after being drafted in the first round.  He showed some flash early in the season but was shelved after just six games due to an injured wrist ligament that required surgery.  It’s hard to say what Perry’s impact would have been but the team will enter the 2013 season program with him slated to start at left outside linebacker.

Walden stepped in as the starter when Perry went down and played very marginally.  He missed the first game due to a suspension for an off-field incident during the 2011 season.  After that, he posted two interceptions and a handful of sacks, but he was largely ineffective in games thata mattered most.  He was virtually non-existent during the playoffs and is now an unrestricted free agent.  He is likely low on the Packers list of priorities to bring back, if even at all.

Moses is another undrafted free agent who made a splash during the 2012 OTA’s and training camp.  He earned a roster spot and platooned with Walden and Zombo when Perry and Matthews were injured.  He wasn’t very flashy and while he surely be in training camp this season, his roster spot is all but locked in.

16

January

Injuries Took Their Toll on the Packers Linebacker Corps

D.J. Smith Injury 2012

The injury to D.J. Smith was one of many among the Green Bay Packers linebackers.

When the injuries started compounding for the Green Bay Packers this year, fans didn’t seem to flinch. Too fresh in their memories was the story of 2010, when the Packers overcame several key injuries to become Super Bowl champions. “Next man up” became the rally cry for the team, its fans, and the media.

The motto’s resurgence in 2012 showed the confidence of Packers Nation in Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy’s ability to add and develop depth throughout the team. While concerns still brewed in the back of our minds, they were overshadowed by what we’ve come to expect from Green Bay’s second string players.

No more Desmond Bishop? Bring in D.J. Smith. Now Smith goes down? Get Brad Jones in there. Lose Cedric Benson, James Starks, and Brandon Saine? Promote Alex Green and DuJuan Harris, then re-sign Ryan Grant from free agency. Even undrafted rookie Don Barclay surprised us with his ability to take over for Bryan Bulaga and not get Aaron Rodgers killed.

The specific team building philosophy of Thompson and McCarthy have allowed the Green Bay Packers to succeed even when some of their best players end up on injured reserve. Many other teams would struggle to handle such losses, whereas the Packers push through, fill in the holes, and still win their division.

Unfortunately, with all this confidence in the “next man up” mentality, we tend to lose sight of the fact that Green Bay’s offensive, defensive, and special teams units still lose some of their effectiveness from these starters going down.

In 2012, the position group that suffered the most was by far the linebacker corps. If you compare this season’s final roster to last year’s, the differences are striking. Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk didn’t go anywhere, despite Matthews missing a few games; however, the losses of Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith were huge.

Yes, Brad Jones filled in admirably, but he is not the playmaker that Bishop is. (Nor is Smith.) Desmond Bishop is perhaps the biggest playmaker on the defense outside of Clay Matthews. His tough and ruthless attitude brings a punch that helps to balance out the lack of plays made by Hawk. While the “assignment sure” Hawk has been a perennial disappointment to many fans, he and Bishop complement each other extremely well. Without one, the other suffers.

15

May

Packers Rookie Bio: LB Dezman Moses

Dezman Moses

Rookie OLB Dezman Moses

Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers have signed a total of 27 rookies to contracts within the past week. Eight of those were his 2012 NFL Draft picks, while the other 19 were undrafted free agents picked up immediately after the draft or brought in as tryout players during Rookie Orientation Camp. With the roster now at a full 90 players, it’s time to get to know some of these new faces.

First up is outside linebacker Dezman Moses.

Born on Jan. 4, 1989,  Dezman Mirrill Moses hails from Willingboro, N.J., where he played wide receiver and inside linebacker at Willingboro High. He was named first-team all-county, all-conference and All-South Jersey as a senior, when he hauled in 35 passes for 596 yards and 10 touchdowns as a wideout while recording 87 tackles and five interceptions – including two returned for touchdowns. Dezman is the son of Vernon and Valerie Moses and brother to two sisters, Lauren and Shaina.

Moses graduated with scholarship offers in basketball, football and baseball. He made the decision to play football at the University of Iowa, but transferred after two seasons to Tulane in 2009 and sat out that fall per the transfer rule.

Making an immediate impact as left defensive end with the Green Wave, Moses would go on to record 114 tackles, 24 1/2 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, six forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered across two season. In 2011, he led Tulane’s defensive line in total stops and ranked fifth overall in tackles. Moses ranked third among C-USA players and 17th nationally in sacks. His 15.5 sacks in two seasons ranks fifth among Tulane’s career leaders, and his sack total in 2011 ranks third all-time.

Moses was also suspended by Tulane coach Bob Toledo for the first two games of 2010 for a prior incident of public intoxication.

At 6-2, 239 lbs., Dezman Moses’ lowest recorded 40-yd. time was 4.82 on his Pro Day, and he benched 225 ponds 22 times. Based on his body type, he was projected as 3-4 outside linebacker, which is where the Packers currently have him.

23

April

Report: Packers Resign OLB Erik Walden

Everyone take a deep breath and relax.

The Packers have announced that they have re-signed outside linebacker Erik Walden; details of the contract were not made available (which is a statement in itself), but considering the lack of interest Walden received during free agency and the fact that the signing is a mere 3 days before the NFL draft indicates that Walden was desperate to sign and probably took a 1 year minimum contract.

Walden was viewed as a potential starter after an impressive 2010 campaign, but literally saw the 2011 season fall apart as he started 15 games but ended up as a liability on defense, was replaced by Brad Jones during the playoffs and was the center of an ugly domestic violence dispute with his girlfriend that resulted in him having to spend Thanksgiving in jail.

My impression of the signing is more to take advantage of the larger roster size than anything to do with depth or playing time.  I’m sure if the Packers viewed Walden as either the starter or as a key backup, they wouldn’t have let him sit in free agency this long.   Right before the draft, basically all leverage is with the teams as 1) all the coveted players are probably already with new teams and 2) teams are hesitant to sign players as they waiting to see what players they can draft.  Walden and his agent probably figured that biting the bullet and signing a cheap contract with the Packers offered the best chance to compete for a spot.  As such, Walden’s contract does not likely include any signing bonus so his spot on the roster is anything but secure.

All in all, a pretty smart move by Thompson; if Walden returns to 2010 form and plays lights out, then the signing is a great value but if Walden doesn’t improve he ends up as a camp body and gets cut before the end of training camp.

——————

Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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9

April

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

NFL Draft Prospect Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB Alabama

Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB Alabama

Green Bay Packers draft prospect profile: Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama

Player information:

  • Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama
  • 6-foot-2, 279 lbs.
  • Upshaw surprisingly weighed in at 279 lbs at the Alabama Pro Day, 6lbs heavier than he weighed at the NFL combine. He says he feels “250″ thanks to workouts he’s been doing, but wanted to come in under 270. Reportedly ran a 4.77 40 yard dash.

NFL Combine:

  • N/A 40-yard dash
  • N/A 20-yard shuttle
  • N/A 3-cone drill
  • N/A broad jump
  • N/A vertical jump
  • 22 bench press reps
  • 32″ arm length
  • 9″ hands

News & Notes:

A two-year starter for the Crimson Tide, Upshaw notched 17 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss in those two seasons.  He played both defensive end and linebacker, with primary responsibility to get after the quarterback. Upshaw consistently was at his best in big games – doesn’t shy away from the pressure.

What they’re saying about him:

Frank Cooney (CBS Sports): “Alabama coach Nick Saban predicts Upshaw can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or “put his hand in the dirt and play defensive end” in the NFL. Based on his play in college, regardless of where Upshaw lines up, he will probably wind up in a quarterback’s mug. Used as an edge rusher, sometimes as the Tide’s so-called “Jack” linebacker and sometimes as an end, Upshaw thrashes blockers with great hand and arm action and shows ample speed and agility to find his way into the offensive backfield. He has instincts beyond that of a pure pass-rusher, with an uncommon awareness for draws, screens, counters and reverses. Although he was not asked to drop into coverage often at Alabama, he has a fluid athleticism that may allow him to adapt to such a demand.”

National Football Post (Wes Bunting):  ”I like him as a 34 outside backer who can play on the strong side, take on linemen at the point and also rush the passer. He’s at his best attacking downhill, using his strong hands to disengage and always is around the football. Looks like a year one starter to me at the next level with scheme versatility.”

NFL Combine: “…due to his size, strength, and play against the run, Upshaw has late first-round talent. Look for him to pair with a pass-rush specialist opposite of him at outside backer in a 3-4 scheme where he can set the edge, work against tight ends and be a heavy run defender.”

26

March

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Jonathan Massaquoi, OLB, Troy

Troy OLB Jonathan Massaquoi

Green Bay Packers draft prospect profile: Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy

Player information:

  • Jonathan Massaquoi, OLB, Troy
  • 6-foot-2, 262 lbs.
  • Majored in social sciences at Troy and is the cousin of both Visanthe Shiancoe and Mohammed Massaquoi.

NFL Combine:

  • 4.89 40-yard dash
  • 4.53 20-yard shuttle
  • 7.38 3-cone drill
  • 120″ broad jump
  • 33.5″ vertical jump
  • 20 bench press reps

News & Notes:

A top prep prospect in the state of Georgia, Massaquoi committed to Troy early but failed to qualify his freshman year…Spent one year at Butler Country Community College, racking up 20 sacks, before transferring back to Troy in 2008…Redshirted in 2009…Was a first-team All-Sun Belt conference selection after posting 13.5 sacks in 2010…Had five games with more than one sack…2.5 sacks against Ohio in Troy’s bowl game…Posted just 5.5 sacks his junior year after being named preseason defensive player of the year in the Sun Belt…Finished his two-year career at Troy with 31 tackles for losses…Has long arms at over 34 inches…Looks more like a developmental prospect at outside linebacker rather than an immediate upgrade/fix.

What they’re saying about him:

Frank Cooney (CBS Sports): “Some NFL teams think Massaquoi is an untapped talent who might have benefitted more if he played college at a higher level with more expectations and better competition. He has an interesting combination of strength and agility that served him well at that level without showing much technique.”

National Football Post (Wes Bunting): “An effective small-school pass rusher because of his length. However, isn’t a real flexible kid, lacks a sudden/explosive element to his game and looks more like a reserve only to me.”

NFL Combine: “He put an “above average” season on film and is a middle- or late-round prospect. He is hurt by the fact that he is such a tweener, playing defensive end in college at 250 pounds without showing the type of athletic ability that would intrigue a 3-4 team to move him to outside linebacker. Massaquoi’s stock will depend on his pre-draft workout numbers — he could be selected nearly anywhere.”

Video:

Video Analysis:

  • Not much explosion to his game
  • Looked lost in run support
  • Motor always appears to be running
  • Shows some bend/ability to get skinny
  • Very quick off the edge on sacks vs. Ohio