Green Bay Packers: A Scout’s Take on Rookie Offensive Lineman Kofi Amichia

Kofi Amichia

Kofi Amichia

The Green Bay Packers lost a couple of key members of their offensive line in free agency, as center/ guard JC Tretter signed with the Cleveland Browns and right guard T. J. Lang signed with the Detroit Lions.

Tretter had done a good job as a starting center when called upon, plus had also helped out at guard and also at left tackle in the 2015 postseason. Lang was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2016 and was one of the better guards in the NFL when healthy.

The health of both Tretter and Lang was a key concern of the Packers, as Tretter had been sidelined twice for long stretches with leg/knee injuries, while Lang has been playing hurt (shoulder/foot/hip) for a couple of years now.

So with both Tretter and Lang now gone, the Packers had to fill the void in both free agency and the draft. First, the Packers re-signed Don Barclay, not so much to be a starter, but to be a key reserve for almost every position along the offensive line.

It was also announced by head coach Mike McCarthy that offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, who was drafted in 2016, would be competing at both right guard and right tackle in OTAs and training camp.

Then on the eve of the 2017 NFL draft, the Packers signed guard Jahri Evans, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. Evans was once one of the very best guards in the NFL, as he was named to six Pro Bowl teams and was named first-team All-Pro four times.

After being released by both the Saints and the Seattle Seahawks before the 2016 season, Evans returned to New Orleans and played solidly in all 16 games after dropping some weight.

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the one-year contract is worth $2.25 million, with a $1.15 million base salary, a $200,000 signing bonus, $50,000 per game in roster bonuses ($800,000 total), $100,000 in workout bonuses and $225,000 in likely to be earned incentives.

Then on the third day of the draft, the Packers selected offensive lineman Kofi Amichia of South Florida. Seeing as I live in the Tampa area, I had a chance to view many of the USF football games. And from what I saw from Amichia, I was impressed.

The 6’4″, 304-pound Amichia started two games at right tackle in 2014 before starting 26 straight games at left tackle in 2015 and 2016.

Amichia was named first-team All-American Athletic Conference in 2016.

In the NFL, it is expected that Amichia will move inside and play guard and center.

I wanted to get a scouting perspective on Amichia from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had another opportunity to talk with Landry earlier this week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.

When I talked to Landry, I first mentioned what a great pro day workout Amichia had at USF, as he ran the 40 in 4.99, did 32 reps in the bench press drill, had a vertical jump of 33½ inches and a broad jump of 9 feet 6 inches.

I also mentioned that Amichia had scored a 31 on the Wonderlic intelligence test.

Landry was impressed with the selection of Amichia by the Packers.

“He’s very quick. He really understands blocking angles,” Landry said. “He is very smart. He needs to get a little stronger in the upper-body. I like him at center even more than guard.

“I think he’s got position versatility and it’s really good that he can play both spots. A really good value, as they normally do in Green Bay, getting good value in the sixth round. I thought it was a really nice pick for them.”

General manager Ted Thompson has done very well in the middle and late rounds of the draft in selecting good offensive lineman, as Landry eluded to.

For example, the Packers picked Lang (2009), Josh Sitton (2008) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (2013) in the fourth round, while center Corey Linsley (2014) was selected in the fifth round.

They key in selecting a player like Amichia is his versatility. Instead of picking both a guard and a center in the recent draft, the Packers now have a player who can play both.

Time will tell how things will shape up on the offensive line in 2017 for the Packers, but by adding a player like Amichia, they have a player who can provide flexibility along the line in a number of positions.

Being athletic, quick and smart won’t hurt Amichia’s cause either.

A Scout’s Take on the Top Interior Offensive Linemen in the 2017 NFL Draft

Forrest Lamp

Forrest Lamp

Going into the 2017 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers have a number of positions that they need to address during the draft. The list includes cornerback, running back and outside linebacker.

You can also add the interior offensive line position to the group as well. Especially after starting right guard T.J. Lang and the sometimes starter at center, JC Tretter, as both exited the team via free agency.

The Packers still have a solid offensive line with David Bakhtiari at left tackle, Lane Taylor at left guard, Corey Linsley at center and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.

But who now fills the hole at right guard is a question, as is who will back up Linsley at center if he can’t play due to injury?

The Packers drafted two offensive tackles in the 2016 NFL draft, but both Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy are not sure bets to successfully make the move inside to guard. When Spriggs did get playing time last year, at both tackle and guard, he showed good foot quickness, but also showed a lack of strength at times.

The Packers hope some time in the weight room will improve the latter situation for Spriggs. It certainly did for Bakhtiari. I believe the Packers see Spriggs as their swing tackle.

Murphy would have a better chance to move inside to play guard in my opinion, as he was able to effectively play both left and right tackle at Stanford. The Packers love versatility out of their offensive linemen. Murphy is also a better run-blocker than Spriggs.

Plus, the Packers did re-sign Don Barclay to a minimum contract to remain as a key backup. Barclay can play all the positions on the offensive line, including center, but would be best used as a backup only.

The Packers also really like guard Lucas Patrick who was on the practice squad last season.

All that being said, the Packers definitely need to address the interior offensive line position in the draft. They need to draft a guard and maybe a center as well. Or perhaps someone who can play both positions.

Speaking of the draft and interior offensive linemen prospects, I had another opportunity to speak with NFL scout Chris Landry the other day on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show, which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.

I talked with Landry last week on the same show about the running back class in this year’s draft.

Unlike the cornerback, running back and edge-rusher positions, the classes for interior offensive linemen (guards and centers) are not nearly as deep or talented.

That’s why I wanted to get a read on the top interior offensive linemen in this draft. Prospects who will most likely be selected in either the first round or the second round, if the Packers and general manager Ted Thompson decide to go that route.

I asked Landry about four prospects, Forrest Lamp of Western Kentucky, Dan Feeney of Indiana, Pat Elflein of Ohio State and Ethan Pocic of LSU.

Landry talked about each of those linemen, as well as Dorian Johnson of Pittsburgh.

“Lamp is a Zack Martin-type player,” Landry said. “Very athletic. Very smart. Very instinctive. Takes good angles. Best in a zone-blocking scheme. And he is the best interior offensive lineman in this draft.”

Lamp was a four-year starter at Western Kentucky. He started three games at right guard in 2013, before moving to left tackle for the rest of his career with the Hilltoppers. All in all, had 51 career starts.

Lamp was named honorable mention All-Sun Belt as a freshman, honorable mention All- CUSA as a sophomore and then was named first-team All-CUSA as a junior and senior.

Lamp tested out well at the NFL Scouting Combine, as he excelled in a number of drills. Lamp also had 34 sets in the bench press, which tied him for second among all offensive linemen.

Landry has Lamp ranked at No. 18 on his horizontal draft board.

“Dan Feeney is more of a power guy,” Landry said. “He’s more of a pure-guard type.”

Feeney played in a program at Indiana which plays at a up-tempo style. Like his former teammate Jason Spriggs, now with the Packers, Feeney also was named as a first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten as a senior.

Feeney was also named honorable mention All-Big Ten as a freshman and sophomore, named first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-American as a junior.

Feeney led the way at Indiana for running backs like Tevin Coleman (now with the Atlanta Falcons) and Jordan Howard (now with the Chicago Bears).

Played some right tackle as a senior due to injuries, but playing inside at guard is where he operates best. Some scouts believe Feeney could also play center.

Landry has Feeney ranked at No. 49 on his horizontal draft board.

“Ethan Pocic played center at LSU,” Landry said. “I think he’s more of a guard and can play tackle. He’s played all positions. His strength is his versatility.”

Ethan Pocic

Ethan Pocic

Pocic  started 37 games on the offensive line at LSU, 27 at center, nine at right guard and one at left tackle.

Pocic was second-team All-SEC in 2015 and first-team All-SEC in 2016, when he also received multiple second and third-team All-American honors.

I had the Packers selecting Pocic in the second round in my post-combine 7-round mock draft for the team recently.

Landry has Pocic ranked at No. 76 on his horizontal draft board.

“Dorian Johnson of Pitt is a very underrated player,” Landry said. “He can play right tackle in a pinch, but is primarily a guard.”

Johnson started three games his freshman year, two at left tackle and one at right guard. Since then, Johnson became a regular at left guard where he started 39 straight games.

Johnson was named second-team All-ACC as a junior and then was name first-team All-ACC as a senior,plus was named to a number of All-American teams.

Johnson excelled in the vertical jump and the broad jump drills at the combine.

Landry has Johnson ranked at No. 77 on his horizontal draft board.

“In terms of Pat Elflein, I think he’s a center,” Landry said. “That’s what he is best at. I think he can play guard, but he is the best center in this draft. I think he’s really effective.”

Elflein was first-team All-Big Ten three times in his career with the Buckeyes. In 2014, Elflein started three games at left guard and 12 at right guard. In 2015, played strictly right guard, when he was also a second-team Associated Press All-American.

In 2016, Elflein moved to center and was named first-team All-American.

Landry has Elflein ranked at No. 45 on his horizontal draft board.

“I think all those guys who I mentioned are all [up there],” Landry said. “Lamp is a first rounder and all the rest are second-round values.”

Pat Elflein

Pat Elflein

In terms of what Thompson might do about selecting an interior offensive lineman in this draft, we can look at his history of doing that since he started running the front office of the Packers in 2005.

In his first year as GM, Thompson faced a situation which closely mirrors what has happened to the team over the last year with his starting guards, when both Josh Sitton (released in 2016) and Lang (left via free agency in 2017) moved on from the team. Both Sitton and Lang had achieved Pro Bowl status as Packers before they found new homes in the NFL.

In the 2005 offseason, both Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle left the team via free agency. Rivera had been named to the Pro Bowl three times in his career with the Packers, while Wahle had been named first-team All-Pro by Sports Illustrated in 2003.

The loss of both Rivera and Wahle opened up a big hole in the middle of the offensive line that Thompson tried to correct that offseason.

Thompson selected two guards (Junius Coston and Will Whitaker) late in the 2005 draft, plus signed Adrian Klemm and Matt O’Dwyer via free agency.

The results were not good, as the offensive guard play was horrible. The Packers finished 4-12 in 2005 and Mike Sherman was fired and replaced by Mike McCarthy in 2006.

Thompson looked earlier in the draft in 2006 to add talent to the guard position. Unlike 2005, this time Thompson selected Daryn Colledge in the second round and Jason Spitz in the third round.

Those selections helped to solidify the guard position as both Colledge and Spitz became starters as rookies and remained starters for a numbers of seasons. Colledge started through the 2010 season, while Spitz started through the 2008 season.

The next changing of the guards occurred in the 2008 and 2009 NFL drafts. In 2008, the Packers selected Sitton in the fourth round and then in 2009 selected Lang in the same round.

Sitton became a starter at guard in 2009 and remained as a starter (both at RG and LG) until he released just before the 2016 regular season.

Lang became a starter in 2011 (both at LG and RG) and remained a starter through the 2016 season.

The replacement for Sitton in 2016 was Lane Taylor, who Thompson signed as an undrafted rookie in 2013. Taylor did a solid job as Sitton’s replacement last season.

The center position was manned by veteran Mike Flanagan in Thompson’s first year as GM in 2005, but he was replaced by Scott Wells in 2006. Wells was originally drafted in the seventh round by Sherman when he was both head coach and general manager back in 2004.

Wells remained a starter through the 2011 season, when he left the team via free agency. Thompson tried to solve that issue by signing veteran free agent Jeff Saturday, but towards the end of the 2012 season, it was apparent that the Packers needed to upgrade the position once again, as Evan Dietrich-Smith, who Thompson originally signed as an undrafted rookie in 2009, became the starter.

Dietrich remained the starter through the 2013 season, but then left the Packers in free agency the next offseason.

The Packers found his successor, Corey Linsley, in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. Linsley had faced a spirited battle in training camp with JC Tretter, who the Packers had drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. But Tretter suffered a knee injury which took him out of the competition.

Both Linsley (38 starts) and Tretter (10 starts) were very solid in their play at center over the past three seasons. After Tretter was injured again in 2016, Linsley took over again at center and never looked back. Tretter then moved on via free agency to the Cleveland Browns.

So what does this all mean for Thompson regarding the 2017 NFL draft and selecting an interior offensive lineman? I’m sure he’ll look back on the 2005 draft and ponder if he waited too late in the draft to select a guard that year. Then again, Thompson couldn’t be too disappointed in that draft, as he selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round and Nick Collins in the second round.

My guess is that because the classes for the interior offensive linemen in this draft are not especially deep, that Thompson will select one fairly early in the draft.

Which means that one of the five players Landry discussed in this story could be a Green Bay Packer in 2017.

Green Bay Packers: The Play in the Trenches Has Been Stellar

rodgers-and-the-offensive-line-of-the-pack

Going into the 2016 NFL season, looking at the units on both the offensive and defensive lines of the Green Bay Packers, there were a number of questions that needed to be answered.

On the offensive line, the biggest question was how would the Packers be able to replace two-time Pro Bowler and two-time (second-team) All-Pro Josh Sitton, who was a surprise cut for the team just before the season began?

Plus, how would JC Tretter do as the starting center, with Corey Linsley on the PUP list?

In addition, the offensive line as a whole did not have a great campaign in 2015, but a lot of that was due to injuries. Everyone of the starters on the line was affected. So, would the group be able to bounce back and play well as a unit if healthy?

The defensive line had a number of questions too. For one thing, nose tackle B.J. Raji surprisingly retired. How would he be replaced?

In addition, Mike Pennel was facing a four-game suspension to start the regular season. How would the Packers overcome losing Pennel over those four games?

Also, first-round draft pick Kenny Clark hurt his back late in the preseason, plus wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire either with his play. Would he be able to play? And if he did, would he play effectively?

The units on both the offensive and defensive lines have answered these questions quite well over four games.

First, let’s look at the offensive line. Lane Taylor has done a very nice job replacing Sitton at left guard. Not only is his run-blocking been good, but his pass-blocking has been effective as well.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari, who was given a contract extension shortly after Sitton was released, is playing the best football of his career. The most notable improvement for Bakhtiari is his run-blocking. No. 69 always had the quick feet to be an excellent pass-blocker against edge-rushers, but now that Bakhtiari is stronger, he can wade off the bull-rushers too.

david-bakhtiari-vs-the-boys

Tretter isn’t as strong as Linsley, but is quicker, especially getting to the next level. All in all, Tretter will probably remain the starter when Linsley comes off the PUP list. It’s a great problem for the Packers to have though, as both are effective starters.

Right guard T.J. Lang played through some shoulder woes in 2015 that affected his play, but is healthy in 2016 and his excellent play shows that. The play of Sitton over the past few years has over-shadowed the play of Lang, but like Sitton, Lang deserves Pro Bowl consideration, as well as All-Pro mention.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has always been considered one of the top players at his position since he came into the NFL in 2010. The problem with Bulaga has been staying healthy. Right now, No. 75 is indeed healthy and playing very well.

Pro Football Focus just put out their rankings for the top offensive lines in the NFL so far in 2016, and the offensive line of the Packers is ranked No. 2.

Here is what Pro Football Focus said about the offensive line of the Pack:

Another team with no real weak link along the line, the Packers have had all five starters playing well, especially when it comes to pass protection. The Packers’ line has allowed just 17 total pressures on the season, the best mark in the league (albeit across only three games). They have the second-best pass-blocking efficiency score, trailing only New Orleans, despite Aaron Rodgers ranking among the bottom half of QBs when it comes to the average time it takes to get rid of the football.

In terms of the defensive line, the production has just been outstanding. And also somewhat shocking. In fact, if one was going to rank the various units on the defense of the Packers before the 2016 season, the defensive line would have come in third, behind the defensive backs and linebackers.

Now, four games through the 2016 season, the exact opposite is true.

The Packers are ranked No. 1 in rushing defense in the NFL currently. No other team comes close to how good the Packers have been playing the run. After four games, Green Bay has only allowed an average of 42.8 yards per game.

The next closest team to the Packers in that category, is the New York Jets, who have allowed an average of 68.4 yards per game.

The line has been very stout in stopping the run, especially Mike Daniels, who is having a Pro Bowl and All-Pro season. Daniels has been unblockable at times.

packers-run-defense

Daniels isn’t the only one performing well. The rookie Clark has played much better than he did in the preseason and has shown steady improvement. Veteran Letroy Guion has also played solidly.

Christian Ringo and rookie Dean Lowry have also chipped in at times in stopping the run.

The play of the line has made it much easier for the inside linebackers to get to the hole and the running back. Jake Ryan leads the Packers with 29 tackles, while rookie Blake Martinez is second on the team with 21 tackles.

The ability to stop the run should get even better now that Pennel will be back after serving his four-game suspension.

That will come in handy this upcoming Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, as the 3-1 Packers take on the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas leads the NFL in rushing, as the Boys average 155.2 yards per game on the ground.

Plus, the Cowboys are not just a running team, as the offense as a whole is second in the NFL in total offense (397 yards per game), as the team is led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.

The Cowboys aren’t bad on defense either, as the team is ranked 11th in the NFL in run defense.

It doesn’t help that the Packers have listed both Eddie Lacy (ankle) and James Starks (knee) as questionable for the game on Sunday. It may get to the point where the Packers may need to call up rookie running back Don Jackson from the practice squad for the game on Sunday.

The Packers can also use Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb at running back if need be.

But the good news for the Packers is that both the offensive and defensive lines are playing exceptional right now. That should bode well for the rest of their units to follow suit.

In the total offense category, the team is ranked just 25th in the league. That should improve, especially in the passing game, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been given more than ample time to scan the field for open receivers.

Rodgers has a solid stat line, as he has thrown nine touchdown passes versus three interceptions, but his passing yardage (876 yards) has not been up to snuff, nor has his passer rating (87.7).

If Rodgers continues to get the protection he has received thus far this season, the improvement in the passing game is sure to follow. Against the New York Giants last Sunday night, Rodgers sometimes had seven or eight seconds to look for open receivers.

As it is, Rodgers has been sacked eight times in four games, which is the eighth-best mark in the league.

The Packers are ranked 12th in the NFL in running the football. Lacy has had a good bounce-back season thus far, after having a disappointing 2015 season. Currently, Lacy has run for 295 yards and has averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

Lacy always seems to run the ball well against the Cowboys, so it would be nice if he could play on Sunday. In two games against the Cowboys in his career, including last season, No. 27 has averaged 132.5 yards per game on the ground and has two touchdowns.

eddie-lacy-vs-the-boys

By the way, Rodgers also plays very well against Dallas. In five games against the Cowboys, Rodgers has thrown seven touchdown passes without a pick and has a passer rating of 100.8.

The defense of the Packers should also continue to improve. Overall, the Packers are ranked ninth in total defense. The line play has been outstanding to be sure, but so has the play of the linebackers, especially outside linebacker Nick Perry.

Perry is off to the best start of his career. No. 53 has 17 tackles, 4.5 sacks and has been very good in stopping the run around the edge.

As a team, the Packers are tied for fifth in the NFL with 14 sacks.

The Packers have had some issues in their secondary so far this season, but a big reason has been the absence of their best cornerback…Sam Shields. Shields suffered a concussion during the opener versus the Jacksonville Jaguars and has not played since. No. 37 will be out again on Sunday against the Cowboys, but is showing steady improvement and should be playing soon.

Demarious Randall has also been hampered by a groin injury and his availability for the Dallas game is still in question. No. 23 missed the game against the Giants last week due to the injury.

But the bottom line is that NFL games are won or lost in the trenches more times than not. And that is why the Packers should feel very good about their football team, as both lines are playing very well up to this point.

A Scout’s Take on the Offensive Line Play of the Green Bay Packers in Week 1

aaron-and-the-offensive-line

Before training camp began for the Green Bay Packers, I asked NFL scout Chris Landry how he thought quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense of the Packers would do in 2016, after a disappointing performance in 2015.

Rodgers had a decent year individually, as he threw 31 touchdown passes versus just eight interceptions, but as a team the Packers were ranked just 25th in the NFL in passing offense last season.

Green Bay was also ranked 23rd in total offense.

“I’m not worried about Aaron,” Landry said in July. “I’m more concerned about the offensive line. That will dictate how effective they will be running the football and that’s going to determine the protection level and what he [Rodgers] can do in the passing game.

“Listen, you never know, but you hope for good health, better health. They [the Packers] have got weapons. I think they have better weapons than they have had in the past. But to me, the success of the offense is going to come down to the offensive line play and how well they are able to hold up there.

“If they do, this offense can flip around and be one of the eight or ten best offenses in the league and be a big, big factor for them going deep into the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t even win their division, because I think this Minnesota team is pretty good and pretty consistent.

“I think it’s pretty clear where the issues are. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I like at least some of the things I’ve seen. The offensive line to me is one you have to see and grow and develop. They won’t be as good in Week 1 as they will be in Week 7 or 8, but I want to see the progress there. That will determine ultimately how good this team will be.”

In the 2016 NFL draft, the Packers added some depth to the offensive tackle position by selecting Jason Spriggs of Indiana and Kyle Murphy of Stanford.

Both showed flashes of being very solid additions to the team at tackle this preseason, but they also had a few down moments, which is the norm for a rookie.

The big news on the offensive line in training camp was that starting center Corey Linsley was unable to play due to a hamstring issue, which ended up putting the former Ohio State Buckeye star on the PUP list.

JC Tretter stepped in at center and played so well that head coach Mike McCarthy named him as the starter, even before the injury status of Linsley had been determined.

At that point, it looked like the Packers would have a very solid offensive line from left to right. The Packers would line up with left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Josh Sitton, Tretter at center., right guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Bryan Bulaga.

But the football world was shocked when the Packers released Sitton on the team’s final cut.

Sitton had been considered one of the best guards in the NFL. Over the past four seasons, Sitton had been named to three Pro Bowls and was named second-team All-Pro twice.

There were a number of reasons why the Packers may have released Sitton. One may have been the back issues which have been bothering him the past couple of years. Not to mention the ligament tear below his left big toe, which has also hampered him for a couple of seasons.

But the main reason Sitton was released most likely had to do with his contract status and also the contract status of others on the offensive line.

Sitton, Lang, Bakhtiari and Tretter were all going to be unrestricted free agents in 2017.

Something had to give.

Last week, Lang confirmed a report that both he and Sitton were told their contract negotiations would be put on hold while the Packers worked on younger players’ contracts during the season.

That may not have sat well with Sitton. Pete Dougherty of USA Today Network-Wisconsin also put out a very interesting article shortly after Sitton was released which included a comment from an NFL source.

The source said that in the eyes of the Green Bay organization, Sitton had become haughty and uncommunicative.

When asked about why he decided to release Sitton, general manager Ted Thompson didn’t really add any insight.

“I’m not going to go there,” Thompson said. “Not right now, no.”

Thompson did however have a comment about the former No. 71 of the Packers.

“I will say this,” Thompson added. “Josh Sitton is a heck of a football player and a good teammate. He’s one of the better picks I’ve ever made.”

josh-sitton-ii

Josh Sitton

But when it was all said and done, the Packers released Sitton. And one the eve of the opening game of the 2016 NFL season against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Packers came to an agreement with Bakhtiari on four-year extension worth almost 52 million dollars.

The release of Sitton meant that Lane Taylor would be taking his place and he had a big first test, as he would be going up against Malik Jackson, who came to the Jaguars via a big free agent deal, after playing four years with the current Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

I had another chance to speak with Landry on Thursday on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig show. I asked Landry how he thought Taylor and the Packers offense did as a whole against a very talented Jaguar defense in very hot Jacksonville last Sunday.

“I thought Lane played very well,” Landry said. “I thought JC Tretter and [T.J.] Lang did too. I thought the interior of the offensive line was very solid.”

Landry then gave his take on the situation regarding Sitton.

“One of the reason why they wanted to move on from him [Sitton] was because look, they understand Josh’s value, but they like the players they have,” Landry said. “In terms of the overall structure of what to pay, they weren’t willing to go there at this point. And if it’s going to be a problem and going to be an issue, then they just move on.

“Just another note. This move certainly helped out the Bears interior offensive line. Because even though Kyle Long is dealing with a shoulder issue, he and Sitton graded out very well this past week.”

Landry then continued to talk about the line play of the Packers versus the Jaguars.

“I thought they did a pretty good job,” Landry said. “The interior of the line did a good job. [David] Bakhtiari played well for them. It was a really good performance. Jacksonville is a good team. I thought that Jacksonville had a good chance to beat them [the Packers] at home. If it wasn’t for Aaron Rodgers, they would have.

“Aaron, I didn’t mean to omit him, because he was one of the highest-graded players. Of spectacular plays, there is no doubt that Aaron Rodgers had the most spectacular plays of any quarterback in last week’s games.

“He kind of bailed them out. Jacksonville was really good and [Blake] Bortles played well enough to win, but that’s the beauty of Aaron Rodgers. What I’ve mentioned to Bob and other Packer fans is that last year they had no protections and had no vertical passing game, everything was horizontal.

“The ability to protect better allows Aaron Rodgers, it puts that paint brush in his hands, and it allows him to make plays. Yeah, they aren’t healthy, Jordy Nelson is not quite back, and there are issues, but he [Rodgers] cures a lot of ills.”

aaron-vs-the-jags

The 1-0 Packers face another big road test this Sunday night when they travel to Minneapolis to take on the 1-0 Minnesota Vikings at their new U.S. Bank Stadium. The defense of the Vikings has one of the better front sevens in the NFL.

That front seven was responsible for two defensive touchdowns last week when the Vikings defeated the Tennessee Titans 25-16 on the road.

Bottom line, the Vikings will be another difficult challenge for Rodgers and the offensive line of the Packers to overcome.

We shall soon find out how that situation unfolds in this big NFC North matchup.

The 2016 Green Bay Packers: The Depth at Offensive Tackle is Much Better

Jason Spriggs

Jason Spriggs

In looking back at the 2015 Green Bay Packers, one position stood out like a sore thumb in terms of lack of depth. That would be the offensive tackle position.

The situation at offensive tackle reared it’s ugly head when the Packers played the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale two days after Christmas last season.

Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari didn’t play due to an ankle injury. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed most of the second half with an ankle injury. That meant that Don Barclay replaced Bakhtiari at left tackle and Josh Walker took over for Bulaga at right tackle.

Both played like they were swinging gates trying to stop oncoming pass rushers, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hit 12 times, sacked eight times and fumbled three times (two of which were returned for touchdowns).

The bottom line is that the Packers did not have a true swing tackle on the offensive line last season. Yes, Barclay had started 18 games at right tackle in 2012 and 2013, but that was before he tore his ACL in 2014.

Even before that injury, Barclay showed that he didn’t have the quick feet necessary to stop edge rushers. That is what the Packers realized when they first signed Barclay as an undrafted rookie out of West Virginia in 2012.

The Packers immediately moved Barclay inside to guard, as he was a better than average run blocker. It wasn’t until the Packers had injuries at the tackle position that Barclay moved outside to tackle, as he had played the position in college.

General manager Ted Thompson certainly addressed the shortcomings at offensive tackle in the 2016 NFL draft.

In the second round, the Packers traded up and selected offensive tackle Jason Spriggs of Indiana with pick No. 48. NFL scout Chris Landry had Spriggs ranked 32nd of his horizontal draft board, just one spot behind Taylor Decker of Ohio State.

Spriggs was a four-year starter at Indiana and he started 47 times in 48 games at left tackle for the Hoosiers.

The 6-foot-51/2, 305-pound Spriggs impressed Landry at the Senior Bowl. Landry put out this report on Spriggs after his impressive week in Mobile, Alabama:

OT Jason Spriggs of Indiana, consistently stood out as one of the most effective pass protectors at the Senior Bowl. The former tight end is big and strong, yet agile and light-footed enough to seal off the edge on opposing pass rushers.

Kyle Murphy

Kyle Murphy   Photo: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In the sixth round, with the 200th selection in the draft, the Packers picked offensive tackle Kyle Murphy of Stanford.

The 6’6″, 305-pound Murphy started at both left and right tackle for the Cardinal. He was named first team All-Pac-12 in 2015 at left tackle and second team All-Pac-12 in 2014 at right tackle.

Landry had Murphy ranked at No. 97 on his horizontal draft board, but the former Stanford star lasted until pick No. 200. That’s what I call excellent value. This is what Landry said about Murphy in his scouting report:

A former five-star recruit, Murphy was named to the All- Pac-12 first team in 2015. He was a third-team All American. He is a solid football player who does everything very well. He had 34 career starts at Stanford, including all 27 his junior and senior seasons. He can get off the ball quickly, has explosiveness on contact, gets movement with run blocks and gets and keeps good position in pass protection. He plays with a natural bend and can anchor. Murphy is athletic enough to pull and play in space. He just needs to get a little bigger and stronger.

In training camp so far and through the first two preseason games, neither Spriggs or Murphy have disappointed, although both have had their ups and downs.

Spriggs has played a ton a snaps in both preseason games and looked very solid in the game versus the Cleveland Browns at left tackle. Against the Oakland Raiders and defensive end Khalil Mack in the second quarter, Spriggs had some issues.

Mack is one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. Perhaps only J.J. Watt is better. Spriggs allowed Mack to have four hurries and one sack. After Mack left the game, Spriggs still struggled at times, but he never stopped competing and had some nice moments as well.

Murphy didn’t play against Cleveland in the first preseason game due to a concussion issue, but he stood out with his fine play at right tackle against the Raiders.

Murphy was matched most of the second quarter matched against Bruce Irvin, the former Seahawk, who had 25 sacks in four seasons in Seattle.  While Spriggs was struggling against Mack, Murphy handled Irvin with relative ease.

Like Spriggs, Murphy received plenty of snaps as well. Both rookies are getting some nice experience this preseason. More importantly, it also looks like both of them have the capability to come in at a moment’s notice to play at a solid level if either Bakhtiari or Bulaga go out with an injury.

There is some even better news on the offensive line front. Barclay is playing very solidly at both guard and center. A lot of people were shocked that the Packers re-signed Barclay to a one-year deal when he was an unrestricted free agent. This was after giving up nine sacks in just five starts at tackle last season.

I tried to explain why the Packers did that in an article I wrote about Barclay in April. The main reason I thought Green Bay brought him back was to move him back inside to guard.

<> at Ford Field on November 28, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.

Don Barclay

The Packers did do just that, plus gave him several snaps at center backing up JC Tretter, as starting center Corey Linsley has been out with a hamstring injury. Barclay had been given limited reps at center earlier in his career in Green Bay, so playing center wasn’t foreign to him.

It looks like Barclay has resurrected his career this training camp, as he is moving around much better two years removed from his ACL injury.

Tretter has also been exceptional as the starting center while Linsley has been out.

If the Packers keep just nine offensive linemen this season, I believe that the nine linemen will be Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Linsley, T.J. Lang, Bulaga, Tretter, Spriggs, Murphy and Barclay. If they keep 10 linemen, Lane Taylor would probably be the next guy in.

If it comes down to one job between Barclay and Taylor, Barclay has played much better this preseason, plus can play multiple positions, while Taylor is strictly a guard.

The bottom line is that the Packers have the offensive weapons to be really special this year in terms of being productive and putting up points.

But as Landry has reminded me a number of times, the offensive line has to it’s job.

Back in July, Landry had this take on the offensive line, when I asked him how productive Aaron Rodgers will be in 2016.

“I’m not worried about Aaron,” Landry said. “I’m more concerned about the offensive line. That will dictate how effective they will be running the football and that’s going to determine the protection level and what he [Rodgers] can do in the passing game.

“Listen, you never know, but you hope for good health, better health. They [the Packers] have got weapons. I think they have better weapons than they have had in the past. But to me, the success of the offense is going to come down to the offensive line play and how well they are able to hold up there.

“If they do, this offense can flip around and be one of the eight or ten best offenses in the league and be a big, big factor for them going deep into the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t even win their division, because I think this Minnesota team is pretty good and pretty consistent.

“I think it’s pretty clear where the issues are. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I like at least some of the things I’ve seen. The offensive line to me is one you have to see and grow and develop. They won’t be as good in Week 1 as they will be in Week 7 or 8, but I want to see the progress there. That will determine ultimately how good this team will be.”

So far, there has been some definite headway with the offensive line this preseason. The depth on the line is definitely a work in progress, but the Packers have to be thrilled with the overall play of  Spriggs, Murphy, Barclay and Tretter. That all adds up to holding down the fort effectively if injuries do occur with the starters.

Why the Packers are Bringing Back Don Barclay

Don Barclay

I’m sure many of the faithful in Packer Nation are wondering why the Green Bay Packers decided to reportedly bring back offensive lineman Don Barclay. According to an article by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Barclay will re-sign with the team.

This decision probably shocked more than just a few people, especially based on the performance of Barclay in 2015. No. 67 started five games for the Packers last season, four at right tackle and one at left tackle. In those games, Barclay gave up nine sacks and multiple pressures.

To be fair, Barclay was coming off an ACL tear which kept him out the entire 2014 season.

Still, the Packers knew that Barclay did not have the feet necessary to play offensive tackle in the NFL. That’s why the team played him at guard most of the 2012 training camp, after he was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent out of West Virginia.

I was at training camp a number of times in 2012 and Barclay was impressive. He was tenacious to the whistle and his run-blocking stood out while he played inside. When injuries and lack of depth occurred at the tackle position, Barclay started getting some reps at right tackle behind Bryan Bulaga.

Barclay showed the coaching staff enough that summer in training camp to make the team. A little over halfway through the 2012 season, Barclay was suddenly thrust into starting at right tackle, as Bulaga suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 9.

Barclay had his ups and his downs in four starts at right tackle throughout that season. Overall, his pass-blocking was adequate, although he struggled versus edge rushers. Like he showed in training camp, Barclay was better than average as a run-blocker.

In 2013, the plan was for Barclay to get more work inside at guard, plus he had some reps at center as well. But when Bulaga tore his ACL on Family Night, Barclay was pressed to play right tackle again for the entire season.

Once again, Barclay struggled with edge rushers in 14 starts. But all in all, he did a somewhat decent job protecting the quarterback for the most part. The run-blocking of Barclay was his again his biggest attribute.

In 2014, the plan was for Barclay to be sort of the Swiss Army Knife for the offensive line and play both inside and outside in reserve. But then he tore his ACL and missed the entire year.

The ACL tear took it’s toll on Barclay last season, as his lack of foot speed was very apparent when he played either tackle position, but especially left tackle.

After his dismal pass-blocking performance in the Week 16 game against the Arizona Cardinals at left tackle, as the team gave up nine sacks as a team, the Packers never looked at Barclay again at either tackle position the rest of the season or the playoffs.

The most important player on the Packers is quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It’s imperative that the team protects No. 12 with the best possible set of offensive tackles.

Bulaga is one of the best right tackles in the NFL when he’s healthy. Left tackle David Bakhtiari played hurt in 2015, but has made steady improvement over his three years in the NFL.

The Packers need to find quality talent and depth at the position, especially since Bulaga has been somewhat injury prone (38 missed games) his entire career. Up until last season, Bakhtiari had been fairly healthy, but it’s also important to know that he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017 as well.

To me, there is only one reason that the Packers are bringing back Barclay. It’s because the Packers want him to get some reps at guard, where he was best suited to play when he first arrived in the NFL.

Barclay’s run-blocking skills can be better utilized at guard, plus the pass-blocking issues that Barclay has had in the past will not be so apparent on the inside of the line.

The Packers know that they could have some issues at the guard position soon. Both left guard Josh Sitton and right guard T.J. Lang have played hurt the past couple of years. Plus, both players will be unrestricted free agents in 2017.

Another player who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017 is center/guard JC Tretter. Tretter did a nice job playing center last year while Corey Linsley was injured, plus did a pretty nice job at left tackle in the playoff game against the Washington Redskins.

The Packers also re-signed backup guard Lane Taylor to a two-year, $4.15 million contract early last month. Taylor made only two starts last season and was active for just six games, including playoffs, but the Packers saw enough in his performance to bring him back.

The Packers are also very high on Matt Rotheram, who spent all of the 2015 season on the practice squad. In fact, the Packers upped the salary for Rotheram in early December to over $25,000 per week, which is active roster money.

The Packers did the same thing with defensive lineman Christian Ringo. That procedure is usually done when another NFL team is attempting to the sign a player like Rotheram or Ringo to their active roster.

Don Barclay II

Back to Barclay. I can’t see the Packers offering him more than the minimum veteran’s salary to come back. He certainly won’t make the $1.542 million he made last season.

Bottom line, I believe the Packers are going to give Barclay an opportunity at the position that he looked pretty good at in training camp in 2012. That would be at guard.

I may be wrong, but the Packers would be much better served to find more quality depth at the offensive tackle position in the 2016 NFL draft.

Let Barclay play the guard position that he is best suited for and let’s see what happens.

The 2013 Draft Class of the Packers Comes Up Big vs. the Vikings

In their 30-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers received a lot of help from members of their 2013 draft class.

The number one pick in that draft class was Datone Jones. I wrote for Bleacher Report at the time, and I had the Packers selecting Jones in the first round in my final mock draft.

Going into the 2015 season, Jones had shown a lot of potential when he was healthy, but he had underachieved overall in two years with the Packers.

The 6’4″, 285-pound defensive end had only had five sacks in those two years.

In the first half of this season, the Packers used him exclusively when the team went to a dime scheme on defense. As time went on, the former UCLA Bruin showed that he deserved more playing time due to his stellar play.

The Packers have recently put Jones on the field when the team runs it’s nickel scheme as well. The nickel scheme is the one the Packers use most often on defense.

On Sunday versus the Vikings, Jones showed the coaching staff that they had made the right decision in playing him more often.

Jones had two of the six sacks that the Packers had it the game. Both came at crucial times. For the season thus far, Jones now has three sacks, six tackles-for-a-loss and two passed deflected.

The second pick of the Packers in the 2013 NFL draft was Eddie Lacy. I had my eyes on Lacy before the draft as well that year. In an earlier mock draft that I did for Bleacher Report, I had the Packers taking Lacy in the first round.

No running backs were chosen in the first round that year by any team in the NFL. But in the second round, the big names were starting to come off the board.

The Packers actually traded back six spots in that round, but were still able to select Lacy.

Up until this year, Lacy’s career in Green Bay had gotten off to a fabulous start.

In his rookie year in 2013, Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. No. 27 also caught 35 passes for 257 yards. That performance was why Lacy was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. Lacy was also named to the Pro Bowl.

In 2014, Lacy was outstanding again. He rushed for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns. Lacy also had 42 receptions for 427 yards and four more scores.

But before the game against the Vikings, Lacy had struggled in 2015. Between ankle, groin, weight and fumbling problems, the former Alabama star seemed to be a shadow of his former self.

Before the contest against Minnesota, Lacy had rushed for just 308 yards and had just two touchdowns.

But against the Vikings, the old Eddie was back in town, as Lacy ran for 100 yards on 22 carries, which a 4.5 average.

This is the time of year when Lacy has really excelled in running the football for the Packers, at least based on what he did in 2013 and 2014.

In the last two seasons in November and December, Lacy has averaged 746 yards and nine touchdowns in those two months and has had a 4.57 yards-per-carry average.

After Sunday’s performance, Lacy looks to be on track to be very productive again as this season goes into the stretch run.

In the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft, the Packers had three selections and they used two of those picks on offensive linemen.

The first pick was used on offensive tackle David Bakhtiari. The former Colorado Buffalo became the starter at left tackle for the Packers his rookie year and has never missed a start there in 42 games.

Bakhtiari has struggled this season at times because of a knee injury and has been called for holding a number of times, including a couple of times on Sunday.

No. 69 did not exactly have a great game against the Vikings, but the guy is a gamer who just keeps battling no matter what.

Speaking of injuries, the Packers lost starting center Corey Linsley to an ankle injury early in the game on Sunday. Linsley was replaced by the second offensive linemen the Packers took in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, JC Tretter.

The former Cornell star played about as well as a backup could play at the center position. It was like nothing had changed.

No. 73 missed basically all of his rookie year in 2013 because of a ankle injury, but was slated to be the starting center in 2014 before he suffered a knee injury in a preseason game.

That opened the door for Linsley to become the starting center and he has never given up that job. Up until Sunday, Tretter has just filled in as a backup at both guard and tackle.

Defensive back Micah Hyde was taken in the fifth round of the 2013 draft by the Packers. Hyde has played in 42 games since he was drafted, with 22 starts, both as a cornerback or as a safety.

The former Iowa Hawkeye has also excelled on special teams, both as a returner (three punt returns for touchdowns) and on coverage units.

No. 33 left the game on Sunday fairly early after he was beaten by tight end Kyle Rudolph of the Vikings on a 47-yard touchdown pass. Hyde hurt his hip trying to tackle Rudolph.

In the sixth round of the 2013 draft, the Packers drafted linebacker Nate Palmer.

In his rookie season, the former Illinois State star started two games at outside linebacker, and played in eight games overall.

In 2014, Palmer spent the entire season on injured reserve due to a knee injury.

This season, after a switch to inside linebacker, Palmer received an opportunity to start after starting ILB Sam Barrington was place on injured reserve because of a foot injury.

Barrington was also a member of the 2013 draft class who was taken in the seventh round out of South Florida.

Palmer has been up and down with his performance this year as a starter, but after he was benched in the game against the Carolina Panthers a couple of weeks ago, his play has gotten much better.

Against the Vikings, Palmer was in on four tackles and had one sack. For the season, Palmer has 39 tackles and 17 assists.

Bottom line, the Packers won a huge game against the Vikings on Sunday.

The draft class of 2013 played a big part in that victory.