14

March

Evan Dietrich-Smith Signs With The Buccaneers

Packers C Evan Dietrich-Smith

Packers C Evan Dietrich-Smith

Tom Silverstein has been a busy guy, first reporting on the resigning of defensive end/nose tackle BJ Raji and now reporting that center Evan Dietrich-Smith has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

 

With that, the Packers now have a big question to answer this offseason, much like they did when they let Scott Wells sign with the St. Louis Rams.   JC Tretter becomes perhaps the de facto starter, which is a little scary considering he was a left tackle in college and broke his foot during rookie orientation last year, essentially giving him a redshirt rookie season.  Other options might include Don Barclay, who practiced at center during training camp last year with somewhat disastrous results or TJ Lang, who is rumored to be the emergency center (or at least Josh Sitton jokes that he is). Luckily, the Packers have some other options on the offensive line, with both Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod likely being in the mix at tackle, either Don Barclay and/or David Bakhtiari could slide into the interior.

In terms of the draft, the Packers have never thought very highly of centers (Wells was a 6th round draft choice while EDS was a undrafted free agent), so it’s unlikely that they would draft a center high, rather they like to draft tackles who likely wouldn’t make it in the NFL and convert them to interior linemen.

The top free agent center is Alex Mack, who was designated the transition franchise tag for the Browns, likely meaning that the Packers will not try to pry Mack away from the Browns.  Again going back to Thompson’s history drafting and retaining centers, it appears as if the Packers front office views centers as largely fungible, meaning the Packers backup likely will be another low round draft pick or an undrafted free agent.  Another option might be to run the “Jeff Saturday” play, where the Packers sign a veteran center while they hope JC Tretter or Don Barclay gain enough experience at center to play next there next season.

11

February

TJ Lang 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

 

Packers offensive lineman TJ Lang

Packers OG TJ Lang

1) Introduction: Entering his fifth year with the Packers and third straight as a starter, TJ Lang has proven himself to be the dependable, gritty, tough son-of-a-gun every offensive line needs. He was rewarded with a four year contract extension last season and has not given the Packers any reason to regret that move.

2) Profile:

TJ Lang

  • Age: 26
  • Born: 9/20/1987 in Royal Oak, MI
  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 318
  • College: Eastern Michigan
  • Rookie Year: 2009
  • NFL Experience: 5 years

Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season:  TJ Lang came into 2013 needing to quickly acclimate to the right guard position, previously manned by Josh Sitton. With either inexperienced Don Barclay or shaky Marshall Newhouse as the starting right tackle, Lang would be expected to be the glue to keep the right side of the line together. Lang would also need to be ready, if called upon, to act as an emergency offensive tackle or even center should game day injuries require it.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: While he earned a season-best 4.8 grade from Pro Football Focus for his game 2 performance against the Redskins, perhaps his most impressive day was the following week against Cincinnati. Lang completely shut down the very tough Geno Atkins, leaving him with a string of goose eggs. No tackles, no sacks, no QB hurries… zippo. On the downside, after performing well against the Lions front four in their first meeting, Lang struggled mightily (as did the entire Packers OL) in the rematch on Thanksgiving day.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: The move to the right side seemed to agree with Lang, who showed some improvement in his game in all areas, according to ProFootballFocus. The most notable change was cutting down his sacks allowed, from nine in 2012 to three last season.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Lang was mostly solid against the 49ers, allowing only 2 QB hurries and for the most part, playing well against the very tough 49ers front.

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+

18

October

What Happens If Evan Dietrich-Smith Gets Hurt?

Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith

Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith

The injury headlines mostly coming out of Green Bay right now have been dealing with Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, James Jones and of course Randall Cobb.  While all these injuries are serious to the success of the team, one injury that has slipped under the radar a little bit that could have even more disastrous ramifications is that backup interior linemen Greg Van Roten has been placed on injured reserve with a foot injury, ending his season.  The reason why this should be more concerning then most people are realizing is two fold 1) there is no official backup center at the moment (Ourlads still has Van Roten as the backup) and more importantly 2) knowing how the Packers offense, chances are good an injury to starter Evan Dietrich-Smith will result in a lot of linemen playing new positions.  While losing two outside linebackers or two wide receivers is obviously not great, young back up players have a good shot at hiding some of that loss; for instance Jamari Lattimore did a astounding job last week in his first start, Mike Neal and Nick Perry have also done a great job covering for the loss of Clay Matthews and Jarrett Boykin looked to finally get in sync with quarterback Aaron Rodgers near the end of the game. However, losing the starting center for the Packers is like losing the starting center, guard and probably tackle as the entire offensive line will be shuffled as a result.  Considering the fact that the backup center is currently unknown, below are some of the possible offensive line options.

 

Situation: Evan Dietrich-Smith is injured, the Packers offensive line will look like…

 

Option 1: Bakhtiari (LT), Sitton (LG), Barclay (C), Lang (LG), Newhouse (RT) – postion changes: 2

Under the “best man available” strategy that the Packers love to employ, they bring out their 5 best offensive linemen out but probably in the worst position.  Barclay was seriously considered for the center position during the offseason but was pretty much an abject failure with multiple botched snaps and a general uneasiness about the position according to reports.  Newhouse takes Barclay’s place at right tackle, a position he’s never played in the NFL and one where he didn’t look all that comfortable in during preseason games either.  Surprisingly, Barclay has been pretty decent in pass protection this year and is a sizable upgrade in terms of run blocking to Newhouse so overall, it’s a total loss at right tackle.  On the plus side, Newhouse does have the most experience of the backups and probably has the best rapport with Rodgers but he’s never been able to overcome his limited physical abilities to become a really dependable player.  Nevertheless, if Dietrich-Smith was injured this week, I’m guessing this is what the Packers do.

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.)

 

12

August

Word of Hobbes: Marshall Newhouse and David Bakhtiari

One of the best football writers out there is Ben Muth; many people claim not to know much about offensive line play, but this man obviously is not one of them.  If you don’t follow or read his stuff, stop reading this article and head over there now,  you’ll thank me later.  In a little bit of a homage, I’ve decided to do a “Word of Hobbes” on the Packers preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals.  I choose Aaron Rodgers’ 50 yard bomb to James Jones not because it was a big play, but because Rodger’s held on to the ball longer than he probably should have, thus forcing the offensive linemen to hold their blocks a lot longer, which exposes technique and athleticism.

Screen shot 2013-08-11 at 8.10.11 AM

The Packers are in a 3-1-1 personnel group (3 WR-1TE-1RB), although since we are looking at offensive tackle play this is largely unimportant; perhaps the most important thing to note about the receivers is that neither the tight end nor the running back are responsible for any blocking assignment, both immediately go out on their routes without chipping or really trying to influence the defensive line.  So for all intents and purposes this is a straight 5 OL vs 4 DL battle. As this is the preseason, you aren’t going to see many complicated stunts or exotic blitzes, so really it’s a 1 on 1 battle with rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari vs. Matt Shaughnessy and right tackle Marshall Newhouse vs. Calais Campbell.  Also keep in mind Newhouse has the bigger issue on his hands as Campbell is a considerably better pass rusher than Shaughnessy and is also huge at 6’8″

Untitled1_0000_Screen shot 2013-08-11 at 8.13.46 AM.png

Immediately after the snap Campbell goes for a swim move, and Newhouse makes matters worse by completely whiffing on his initial punch with his right arm (which you can see is at Campbell’s left arm instead of on his frame).  Shaughnessy on the other hand opts to go with a pure speed pass rush, either hoping to outrun or outturn Bakhtiari to the quarterback.  However Bakhtiari easily matches Shaughnessy with his kick slide.  Also notice how much lower Bakhtiari and how much more his hips are sinked compared to Newhouse, who due to his whiffed punch now is up close with Campbell

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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.
3

May

Bulaga to Left Tackle Highlights Changes on Packers Offensive Line

Green Bay Packer Offensive Tackle Bryan Bulaga

The Packers will move Bryan Bulaga from right tackle to left tackle for the 2013 NFL season.

The Green Bay Packers aren’t waiting until training camp to shuffle their offensive line.

Details of the Packers new-look line can be found in this excellent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story by Tom Silverstein. To summarize:

  • Bryan Bulaga moves from right tackle to left tackle
  • Josh Sitton moves from right guard to left guard
  • T.J. Lang moves from left guard to right guard
  • Marshall Newhouse (last season’s starting left tackle), Don Barclay (who got a few starts in 2012) and Derek Sherrod (coming off a major leg injury that forced him to sit out last season) will compete to start at right tackle.
  • Evan Dietrich-Smith is the starting center

Essentially, Packers coach Mike McCarthy is moving his two most talented and experienced offensive lineman from the right side to the left, which is Aaron Rodgers’ blind side, the Packers franchise quarterback who just signed a five-year contract extension worth $110 million.

Having a shutdown left tackle isn’t as important as it used to be in the today’s NFL. If you have a quarterback like Rodgers — someone who is mobile, smart and reads the opposing defense like a coach — you can get away with having an average left tackle.

But why take that risk? Why not combine your all-world quarterback with a reliable left tackle? If I climbed inside McCarthy’s head, I’m guessing that’s what his thinking behind the move would be.

On the surface, I like the move. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the Packers offensive line woes are magically cured by moving a few players around.

Bulaga is coming off a bad injury and has missed 11 games in his three seasons in the league. He also looked completely lost at the beginning of last season. Lang played hurt most of last season and isn’t the most physically dominant guy to begin with. Who knows what the Packers will get out of the Newhouse/Barclay/Sherrod three-headed monster on the right side?

Evan Dietrich-Smith is a new starter center and is a smallish guy. Josh Sitton, if healthy, will be fine no matter where you line him up.

The Packers want to be more physical in 2013 and the offensive line will play a big role in making that happen. Eddie Lacy and the continued development of DuJuan Harris should also help.