12

March

2013 NFL Draft Preview: Ranking the Interior Linemen

Alabama OG Chance Warmack

Alabama OG Chance Warmack

Typically, offensive guards are not drafted very early in the first round. In last year’s draft, Stanford guard David DeCastro was thought to be one of the “safest” picks in the entire class, but he fell all the way to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 24th overall pick.

This year, Alabama’s Chance Warmack has a chance to crack the top ten. Warmack (6-2 317) is a throwback who will help a team immediately as a rookie.

He could go as high as No. 7 to the Arizona Cardinals, so it’s unlikely that he’ll endure a DeCastro-type fall. But either way, Warmack is a surefire first-round pick.

Behind Warmack, the next-best interior offensive linemen in this year’s draft is Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina. Cooper is more athletic than Warmack but isn’t quite as physical. His versatility could help him on draft day, as he also has the ability to play center.

The center position lacks a true can’t-miss guy at the top.

Alabama’s Barrett Jones, Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick and California’s Brian Schwenke all figure to be drafted at some point on Day 2. Jones is the most versatile of the bunch, Frederick is the most physical, while Schwenke is the most athletic.

Warmack and Cooper will likely be first-round picks, but the depth at offensive guard doesn’t stop there. Larry Warford (6-3 332) of Kentucky is viewed as a starting-caliber guard, as is Syracuse’s Justin Pugh (6-4 307) who some prefer as a right tackle.

The Packers’ offensive line has been heavily debated. Aaron Rodgers may very well be the best quarterback in football, but he was sacked more than anyone else in the league. Rodgers deserves some of that blame along with the offensive line.

At guard, the Packers are set with T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton. Adding depth is always a possibility, as is bringing in a center, whether Evan Dietrich-Smith returns or not.

1. Chance Warmack, Alabama – OG (6-2 317)

  • Draft stock: Early-Mid 1st
  • 225-pound bench: DNP, Arm length: 34.68, 10-yard split: 1.83
  • Three-year starter at left guard.
  • The last time an offensive guard was drafted in the top ten was 1997 when the New Orleans Saints took Chris Naeole out of Colorado. Leonard Davis (2001) and Robert Gallery (2004) both have had long NFL careers at guard, but both players were drafted as tackles. Warmack is a guard, without a doubt.
12

February

Packers T.J. Lang: 2012 Player Evaluation and Report Card

T.J. Lang

Packers G/T T.J. Lang

1) Introduction: Armed with a new four-year contract, T.J. Lang was excellent early in the season. Then he tore a ligament in his elbow in game five and regressed a little bit. Having to fill in at right tackle didn’t help matters, either. Overall, though, Lang had a good season and he’s another player the Packers don’t have to worry about when it comes to toughness and attitude.

2) Profile:

T.J. Lang

  • Age: 25
  • Born: 09/20/1987, in Royal Oak, MI
  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 318
  • College: Eastern Michigan
  • Rookie Year: 2009
  • NFL Experience: 4 years

Career Stats and more:

3) Expectations coming into the season: Teams don’t hand out four-year extensions to bad players (well, smart teams don’t, anyway). The Packers had high expectations for Lang and, for the most part, Lang proved he was worth his new deal. I’d rather not see Lang moved to tackle ever again, but it’s not like he was a total disaster out there. His flexibility is another asset.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: The Cardinals have a decent defensive line, but Lang might have had his best game against Arizona in week 9. He earned a season-best 4.6 grade for that performance from Pro Football Focus despite having to fill in at tackle once Bryan Bulaga went down. Quicker defensive lineman give Lang a little bit of trouble, but he’s capable of using his brain to work around those shortcomings.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: The offensive line was shaky early, but Lang was excellent. If Lang stumbled out of the gate, who knows what direction the Packers season may have turned? Josh Sitton was the only Packers offensive lineman who could say he played well for a full season. Lang can’t quite say that, but he looks capable of reaching that level.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: As well as the offensive line played in the postseason, you’d think the Packers would be in the Super Bowl. Like most of the rest of his linemates, Lang was solid and kept pushing to the bitter end in the postseason.

Season Report Card:

(B-) Level of expectations met during the season

(B-) Contributions to team’s overall success.

(B) Contributions to team during the playoffs

Overall Grade: B-

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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15

January

Packers Stock Report: Season’s Over Edition

Sam Shields was one of the bright spots for the Packers against the 49ers.

The Packers season is over. They got smoked by the 49ers in the NFL playoffs on Saturday night.

I’m sick of writing about it. I’m sick of talking about it. I’m sick of thinking about it.

On to the stock report:

Rising

Sam Shields
The combination of Shields getting healthy and realizing he’s a restricted free agent really got him going. Shields will likely get a first-round tender and I expect the Packers to open their checkbooks and lock him up for the next few years. Let’s hope he stays motivated, keeps improving, and plays like he did down the stretch.

James Jones
With Greg Jennings likely gone and Jermichael Finley possibly following him out the door, Jones can establish himself as an upper-echelon receiver next season. Jones came to play on Saturday night. It was nice to see Jones use his size a bit this season. I always thought he played smaller than he was, but he went up and got a few balls in traffic this season and played angrier.

Marshall Newhouse
How often did we hear about Newhouse down the stretch? Hardly at all. And that’s a good thing. Jared Allen and Aldon Smith didn’t do much against Newhouse in the last three games. I was thinking about the offensive line today. Would T.J. Lang have any trade value? He’s young, decent enough, and has a favorable contract. Perhaps the Packers could move him for an extra pick and the line in 2013 could be Newhouse at LT, Barclay at LG, Dietrich-Smith or a rookie at C, Sitton at RG, Bulaga at RT, Sherrod as the backup T and Dietrich-Smith or a rookie at backup G. Who knows. This is just me daydreaming and pretending I’m Ted Thompson.

Steady

DuJuan Harris
Another solid game for Mr. Car Salesman. I have no idea why McCarthy ignored Harris in the second half against the 49ers. Look for Harris to be in the mix for the starting running back job next season.

Clay Matthews
Matthews probably belongs in the rising category. He closed the season strong and I’m looking forward to getting Nick Perry on the other side once again for next season.

Falling

9

December

Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

 

Aaron Rodgers and Ndomukong Suh

The Packers are hoping Suh won’t get this close to Rodgers on Sunday

We’re back to the Detroit Lions already?  It seems like just three weeks ago I was breaking down the key matchups between these same Lions and the Green Bay Packers.  That’s because I was.  Due to the fate of the 2012 scheduling, the Green Bay Packers ended up with five divisional games in their final seven and didn’t see either the Lions nor the Vikings for the first time until week 11.  That means there will be a short time in between each matchup.  In the case of this rivalry, it was a mere 21 days.

With not many changes in the game’s key matchups, I’m going to drill down on the top three and spend more time on them.

Packers Offensive Line vs. Lions Defensive Line

No, not an earth shattering proclamation and yes, it’s a repeat from the first matchup.  But alas, it’s still a key in this game.  Since the last matchup, the Packers are dealing with yet more injuries on the line.  Starting guard/tackle T.J. Lang did not participate in practice on Wednesday and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy did not seem too optimistic with his progress early on this week.  I don’t expect Lang to play on Sunday which clears the path for rookie undrafted free agent Don Barclay to make his first NFL start at right tackle.

Barclay will be matched up against Lions left defensive end Cliff Avril.  Avril has had another solid year for the Lions and has 8.5 sacks on the season.  His quick initial burst will immediately test Barclay’s footwork and I expect the Packers offensive game plan to slide some help to that right side.  In a one-on-one matchup, I would expect Barclay to struggle.  For the football junkies out there, keep an eye on this matchup throughout the game as there will surely be a few mano-a-mano opportunities.  This will tell us a lot about what the Packers have in Barclay.

One source that may provide that much-needed assistance to the right side is newly acquired veteran running back Ryan Grant.  Grant was signed after it was determined the James Starks would miss quite some time with a knee injury.  While not the fleetest of foot, Grant is solid in his pass protection and should provide a boost there.  He knows the offense and should be able to step in and contribute right away.

7

December

Around the NFC North in Week 14

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 14

For the first time this season, there are two divisional matchups in the NFC North.  The Chicago Bears travel to Minnesota to round out their season series against the Vikings.  Both of those teams are coming off of tough losses last week and cannot afford another in this game.

The Detroit Lions come to Lambeau Field where they haven’t logged a victory in over 20 years to take on the Green Bay Packers in the Sunday night football matchup.  Detroit suffered a gut-wrenching and last-second defeat at the hands of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.  The Packers were the only victorious team in the North this past week.  The win helped them reclaim sole possession of first place in the divsion.

Here’s a sneak peak at each matchup and some storylines heading into the games.

Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

The Bears are starting to feel the effects of their hard-fought season.  They learned that they will be without long-time veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher for at least the next three weeks due to a hamstring injury.  While Urlacher has been hampered by some bumps and bruises this season, there is no question the Bears defense is better with him on the field.

Chicago’s starting cornerback Tim Jennings was also injured in last week’s game vs. the Seattle Seahawks when he collided with another player and hurt his shoulder.  As of Tuesday, it was still not known how serious the injury was and more tests were expected later in the week to determine if there is any structural damage.  Any such news would mean Jennings will miss some time which would be a huge blow to the Bears’ secondary.  Jennings has been the team’s top defender this season and leads the team with eight interceptions.

The Vikings are also awaiting some news on the health of one of their star players, wide receiver Percy Harvin.  Harvin has missed the team’s last four games with an ankle injury and has battled health issues since coming into the league as a rookie in 2009.

Minnesota and Chicago are both in need of a win to make a strong run at the postseason.  The Bears and Packers have the same record at 8-4 but Green Bay holds the tie-breaker, having beaten Chicago head-to-head earlier this season.  The Vikings dropped to .500 and are trying to stay alive in the Wild Card race with an outside chance at a division win.

4

December

Packers Beer Mug Perspective: Should Barclay stay at RT?

Packers Beer MugWhen T.J. Lang went down with an injury, the Packers’ offensive line depth was tested.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was already on the injured reserve with a hip injury, forcing the Packers to turn to undrafted rookie Don Barclay to fill Lang’s shoes. Nicole Richie thinks the Packers are thin on the offensive line.

But fortunately for the Packers, Barclay came in for Lang and filled in admirably at right tackle. Sure, the rookie from West Virginia had his fair share of speed bumps, but overall, he made the most of his opportunity and has earned the respect of his head coach.

Now, Packers coach Mike McCarthy faces a tough decision. Does he think the offensive line is a stronger unit with Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard, or Barclay at right tackle?

Playing Barclay at right tackle would allow Lang to kick over to his natural position of left guard. Lang and right guard Josh Sitton are one of the league’s best young duos on the interior of the offense line. But as a right tackle, Lang is an average player at best. So, the question is:

Will Barclay remain the Packers starting right tackle?

In the format of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, let’s take a look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half full” or “half empty.”

THE MUG IS HALF FULL

With Lang’s status still up in the air, McCarthy admitted we may be getting ahead of ourselves in considering Barclay as a starting right tackle. The team will learn more about Lang’s injury on Wednesday.

However, the possibility still remains that Barclay could be inserted into the starting lineup.

The Packers are notorious for playing “musical chairs” on the offensive line. Many people disagree with their philosophy of rotating players around into different positions. But McCarthy has always been adamant on putting the best five linemen on the field, and Barclay is at least being considered as one of the top-five right now.

“I thought (Barclay) did a nice job,” McCarthy said. “It’s pretty much what I thought last night when I left here. He went into the game, we tried to protect him a little bit there in the 2-minute drive. Then really at halftime we made some protection adjustments – not really adjustments – which way we were going to lean on in the second half.”

30

October

Packers Film Study: Expanding the Running Game

Evan Dietrich-SmithWhile reviewing the game book and watching the film of the Green Bay Packers’ 24-15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, I noticed something strange. Well, it’s not strange from a football standpoint, but it is very much out of the ordinary for Mike McCarthy’s offenses. He added backup C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith as a sixth offensive lineman on four running plays.

Someone will have to let me know if he’s done this before, but I don’t ever remember McCarthy adding an offensive lineman as an eligible receiver for the running attack. He came to this team with the idea of implementing the zone blocking scheme, and it’s been nothing but a point of contention among fans ever since. Our fearless leader, “Jersey” Al, pointed out the fact that he’s been pulling guards lately, making this new development a rather interesting expansion of the running game.

Here are the four plays where Evan Dietrich-Smith (#62) reported as eligible against the Jaguars:

 

This is the only time in the first half where EDS plays as eligible. My guess would be that, before going back to it, McCarthy wanted to get a look at not only the execution, but also how the Jaguars would respond to it.

In this instance, the Packers are lined up in a Unit Wing formation before EDS motions left and puts them into a formation that I’m not sure what to call. He’s playing a wingback role, but lined up inside behind the tackle and guard.

The results of this play is less than desirable, though it’s hard at first to tell where it went wrong without knowing the play call. EDS looks like he might initially take his block inside but continues to go outside the right tackle. Green, meanwhile, looks like he could have gained a little more yardage had he cut to the outside and followed EDS around.

Looking further, though, the culprit might really be Bryan Bulaga. Not only does he provide no help to Crabtree before moving to the next level, but he completely whiffs on the linebacker. Green initially heads towards the inside of the right tackle, leading me to believe this is where the play broke down.