20

August

Packers – Rams Video Second Look: Offensive Line

Packers offensive line.There were a few things I noticed while watching the first string offensive line as they were blocking for the rather impressive Eddie Lacy. I mentioned a few in my “First Impressions” post, where I give my initial observations without rewinding. It’s a little game I like to play, a way of testing if my perception of what is happening during the game is accurate or not.

I normally get the answers when I go back and watch the game a second time, this time with the benefit of rewind at will.

Time permitting, I’m going to try to pick one or two of those first impressions and look at them together with you, in video form, every week.

Today’s topic is the offensive line’s run blocking. Although Eddie Lacy had some impressive gains, I was noticing Packers offensive linemen getting pushed into the backfield on several occasions, especially Evan Dietrich Smith and TJ Lang.

In this first video, Lacy breaks off an 8 yard run, but no thanks to Evan Dietrich-Smith (EDS), who can not handle the speed of the gap-shooting DL. Lacy. Matthew Mulligan is also beat badly, and Lacy is confronted with two ST. Louis DL in his path, two yards deep in the backfield. For another running back, this is a loss of a few yards. But thanks to his much-renowned spin move, Lacy gets away from that trouble, breaks a tackle past the line of scrimmage and then plows through a few more defenders for some extra yards. It’s good to have a real running back, isn’t it?

(Note: I slowed the play down in the second part of this video. I also recommend using the pause button to stop the action at various points to get a better idea of what is happening.)

 

3

August

Packers Testing Barclay’s Versatility at Backup Center

Packers OL Don Barclay is taking snaps at center during training camp.

Remember back when you were a kid playing football with your buddies during recess or in the back yard? The quarterback would draw up a play in the dirt, you’d break the huddle, and everyone would jog up to the line.

Whoever ended up closest to the ball was usually the guy who had to snap it to the quarterback. It was never a sure thing, though. Everyone would kind of glance at each other and hope someone would snap the ball. Eventually the kid nearest the ball would sigh, lumber over, bend down, and flick the ball to the quarterback.

It sounds like the Packers are using a similar method to try and find a backup center to starter Evan Dietrich-Smith.

Greg Van Roten, Garth Gerhart and Patrick Lewis were thought to the be the leading candidates during the offseason. Once training camp started, rookie Lane Taylor and Don Barclay — the starting right tackle at the end of last season — have also been given reps.

The results haven’t been pretty so far for Barclay. Forget the footwork, technique and mental adjustments required when shifting from tackle to center — Barclay is having a hard time simply snapping the ball to the quarterback without injuring innocent bystanders.

On one hand I feel for Barclay. When pressed into duty at right tackle last season, the undrafted kid out of West Virginia showed a lot of promise — especially as a run blocker — and earned a chance to win the starting job this training camp. But instead of focusing all of his attention on getting better at right tackle and becoming a full-fledged NFL starter for a Super Bowl contending team, he’s being tossed into the mix as a backup center.

The Packers offensive line is kind of like my living room. One day my wife wants the couch and end table over here. The next day she changes her mind and wants it over there. If she moves things around enough, eventually she’ll end up liking one of the configurations — at least for a little while.

On the other hand, I feel that Barclay needs to step up. He’s a young player who scrapped to make the team and earn playing time. Part of his value might be his versatility, his ability to perform when Mike McCarthy points at him and says “Barclay! We need you at (insert position on the offensive line) now!”

22

July

Packers OL Andrew Datko: Training Camp Dark Horse or Off the Team?

Packers offensive lineman Andrew Datko

We don’t know much about Packers offensive lineman Andrew Datko because he was stashed away on the practice squad all of last season.

What we did know about him after the Packers drafted him in the seventh round in 2012 we’ve probably already forgotten because, well, he was on the practice squad all of last season.

Because the Packers offensive line situation always seems to be in some sort of disrepair, it’s important that we keep any offensive lineman who can walk upright fresh on our mind before training camp battles begin.

Here’s a refresher on Datko so you don’t have to ask yourself “Who is that guy?” should Datko make some noise during camp.

  • At Florida State, Datko started 12 of 13 games as a true freshman at left tackle. Even though he only weighed 260 pounds, he still had 21 knockdown blocks. Talk about starting your college career with a bang.  
  • He started all 13 games his sophomore season and only allowed two sacks. In 11 games as a junior, he only allowed one sack.
  • Things went downhill from there. After starting the first four games of his senior season, Datko hurt his shoulder — the same shoulder he hurt in high school. The injury required surgery in November and Datko couldn’t lift at the NFL combine, causing him to freefall down draft boards and fall right off many of them.
  • Physically, Datko is the type of offensive lineman the Packers like to draft: A successful college left tackle (when healthy) who is athletic, versatile and could theoretically play multiple positions.
  • Datko’s ceiling in 2013 is winning the Packers sixth man job along the offensive line. If he does that, both Datko and the Packers have to be ecstatic. It would mean the 6-foot-6, 315 pounder is healthy and Ted Thompson can breathe a little bit easier if Derek Sherrod is a lost cause.
  • Obviously, Datko’s worst-case scenario is the shoulder acting up again and getting cut.
  • Realistically, look for Datko to be in the mix for the seventh or eighth offensive line slot, probably not the sixth. The sixth-man job likely goes to the loser of the battle to start at right tackle. Datko lined up at guard during OTAs, which also helps his chances of making the team, if healthy.
19

July

Fact Czech: Packers Tackle Marshall Newhouse will Never be any Good

Packers tackle Marshall Newhouse can be good on the right side of the offensive line.

Packers tackle Marshall Newhouse can be good on the right side of the offensive line.

Marshall Newhouse should be benched whenever the Packers play the New York Giants. He shouldn’t even be active.

In three games against the Giants since 2011 — including a playoff loss — Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 11 times and the Packers have managed only 230 total rushing yards when you subtract Rodgers’ scrambles.

Obviously, Newhouse isn’t the only Packers offensive lineman responsible for all that ineptitude, but he’s probably not going to be showing the game film from those contests to his grandkids one day.

Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave Newhouse a cumulative grade of -16.9 for all three Giants games. Both regular season games against the Giants were Newhouse’s worst of the season in 2011 and 2012 according to PFF.

No doubt those abominations against the Giants stick in the minds of Packers fans, as well they should. As my old high school history teacher used to say when lecturing about bloody military battles, “It weren’t purdy.”

I’m sure Mike McCarthy weighed Newhouse’s performance in games against New York — a team with good pass rushers and a disruptive defensive front seven — into his decision to move Bryan Bulaga to left tackle. But just because Newhouse lost his left tackle gig, it doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause.

I think the odds are decent that he’ll end up being a good right tackle in Green Bay. Unfortunately, many Packers fans seem to think there is no hope left for Newhouse. Perhaps they’ll end up being right, but I wouldn’t close the book on him yet.

Let’s crack open the PFF numbers again. I like PFF, but sometimes I hesitate to cite them because people either think PFF’s work is gospel, or complete nonsense, and it distracts from the topic at hand. In Newhouse’s case, I think the PFF numbers give some context to Newhouse’s overall career and helps us not just remember the glaringly bad games, like the three against the Giants.

Newhouse made a drastic improvement from 2011 to 2012. His overall rating jumped 28 points, from -32 in 2011 to -4.3 last season. Newhouse finished with a 5.3 pass-block rating last season, a 21-point improvement from -16.5 in 2011.

28

May

The Battle to be the Packers’ 6th Man on the Offensive Line

Don Barclay

Will Don Barclay be the Packers sixth offensive lineman?

There has been a lot of news worth following on the Packers offensive line this offseason. Another storyline up front that should develop further once training camp heats up is who will “win” the sixth-man slot on the offensive line.

I put “win” in parentheses because, technically, if you’re the sixth man on the line, it means you failed to land a starting spot. In other words, you lost the battle you were actually trying to win.

Nobody goes into camp hoping to “win” a spot on the bench, but when it comes to the offensive line, the sixth man typically ends up getting at least a few starts and playing some type of meaningful role during the season. If you don’t start on the line, being the sixth-man is the spot you want to secure.

The leading candidates to be the Packers sixth man appear to be Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay, Derek Sherrod and rookie David Bakhtiari.

Derek Sherrod
In an ideal world, I think the Packers would like to see Sherrod storm into camp fully recovered from his broken leg and show everyone why Ted Thompson spent a first-round draft pick on him. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like Sherrod is on track to do that.

Ideally, the sixth-man on the line needs to be able to play multiple positions. Sherrod was drafted as a left tackle, but did compete at guard during training camp of his rookie season. Strength and nastiness appeared to be Sherrod’s weaknesses before he was injured.

Can he hold up inside against the big and physical interior lineman if asked to play guard? Is Sherrod physical enough to provide the run-blocking needed at right tackle, or anywhere else on the line?

Marshall Newhouse
Take everything I wrote about Sherrod about nastiness and apply it to Newhouse.

Newhouse has showed signs of being a decent pass-blocker, but the Packers are looking for more of a complete package. They need more consistency in pass blocking and more results in run blocking.

One possible scenario with Newhouse if he doesn’t win the starting right tackle job is this: The Packers would have two “sixth men” up front, Newhouse at tackle and a more physical run blocker-type player at guard.

14

May

Could the Packers Start a Rookie on the Offensive Line?

JC Tretter

Packers rookie offensive lineman J.C. Tretter

If I put the over/under on the number of rookies the Packers will have starting on the offensive line for the regular season opener at 0.5, would you take the over or the under?

What if I changed the season opener to week 10, but kept the over/under at 0.5?

If you believe some of the scuttle out of the Packers rookie mini-camp, recent draftees David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter are in the mix to start at right tackle. There’s also an outside chance that Tretter or undrafted rookie free agent Patrick Lewis of Texas A&M could give presumed starter Evan Dietrich-Smith a challenge at center.

If I had $100 burning a hole in my pocket, I’d take the under for the season opener and the over for week 10.

I don’t think Mike McCarthy wants to start a rookie right away. Ideally, I think he’d like to see Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod or Don Barclay win the job. That’s not to say the rookies won’t get their fair shot. I’m confident they will.

But unless one of the rookies blows the veterans out of the water, McCarthy probably wants the young guys to develop a bit before getting tossed on the field to protect the league’s highest-paid player.

I’d take the over because of injuries if the bet was changed to week 10. If Dietrich-Smith gets hurt, I think a rookie will get a shot at center over Greg Van Roten. Unless Van Roten hit the weight room hard over the summer, he’s doesn’t seem strong enough to hold his own against NFL interior lineman or super freak linebackers at the second level.

A rookie will probably have to move ahead of Barclay at right tackle, but if there are multiple injuries up front, I see Barclay playing the role of sixth offensive lineman and filling in at any position (Dietrich-Smith’s former role), leaving the right tackle slot wide open for Sherrod or one of the rookies.

I know it’s only May, and I might change my mind about all of this 10 times before we get to real football, but it’s fun to speculate for now.

It’s always hard to determine if the “(insert name of Rookie) could start” stories that come out of rookie camp have any meat on them or not. It’s rookie camp. Coaches are going to say good things about the new guys and imply that they’re good enough to start.

5

May

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

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

With NFL draft now behind us, I’ve found myself asking one question about the Packers over the last week: Do the players Ted Thompson selected make the Packers a more physical team?

The answer I come up with is…maybe?

  • First-round pick Datone Jones is 6-foot-4, 280 pounds. When you see him play, you think long and lean instead of tough and mean. But a player’s height and weight doesn’t tell you much about how physical they’ll play. I’m sure Jones will add some weight. If he doesn’t, sometimes smaller guys play with such an attitude that they might as well be 320 pounds of brute force.
  • The first thing that comes to mind when I watch Eddie Lacy run is physical. You can automatically place Mr. Lacy in the immediately-makes-the-Packers-more-physical category. The catch with Lacy is his health. One of his big toes is fused on, he’s got screws in his hand, he can barely bench press because of an old pectoral injury and he’s had hamstring issues. It’s hard to help your team be more physical while riding an exercise bike on the sideline. Let’s hope Lacy is able to use his aggression on the field instead of in the team’s rehab facility.
  • J.C. Tretter and David Bakhtiari are two offensive linemen that were not projected to be drafted because of their physicality. The Packers like drafting athletic college tackles who can play multiple positions in the NFL, and that’s what Tretter and Bakhitiari are. I suppose they could develop into maulers, but neither one makes me think they’ll immediately make the Packers more physical.
  • When you think of being physical, do you think of riding a Jetski? Probably not, but that’s the nickname given to Packers fourth-round pick Jonathan Franklin because of his ability to leave defenders in his wake. Franklin does little to make the Packers more physical, but I don’t really care. You don’t draft speedy running backs to batter the other team. You draft them to run away from the other team once they are already battered.
  • Fifth-round pick Micah Hyde probably won’t get an opportunity to make the Packers more physical on an every-down basis, but he should get his shot on special teams. The Packers could always use more physicality on their special teams. Josh Boyd, the Packers other fifth-round pick, is 6-foot-3, 310 pounds. He at least possesses the measurements to make the Packers more physical.