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.

Post-Combine 7-Round 2017 NFL Mock Draft for the Green Bay Packers

Ted Thompson 2016 Combine

The 2017 NFL draft is about a month and a half away, as it will take place in Philadelphia and will start on April 27 and last through April 29.

In terms of the pre-draft evaluation of prospects, we have now seen the bowl games, the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl).

We also recently had the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis which lasted from February 28 though March 6.

The only thing left for the prospects to help improve their draft value is the various pro days for the players, which will be viewed by the the scouts, coaches and front office-types who will be in attendance.

Sometimes, a player’s draft value will be severely compromised during a workout, which is what happened last week for cornerback Sidney Jones at the pro day at Washington. Jones suffered a torn Achilles tendon Saturday during the workout.

Jones was projected to be a first round selection as well.

Anyway, it’s been a little over a month since I did my initial 7-round mock draft for the Green Bay Packers.

A number of things have changed since then for the Packers, as free agency has really affected the look of the roster up until this point.

The Packers have seen a number of their players move on from the team in free agency. The list includes center/guard JC Tretter, who signed with the Cleveland Browns, defensive back Micah Hyde, who signed with the Buffalo Bills, outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who signed with the Carolina Panthers (the team which originally drafted Peppers), right guard T.J. Lang, who signed with the Detroit Lions on Sunday and finally running back Eddie Lacy, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday.

In addition, tight end Jared Cook will not be returning to the team either, as the Packers bolstered that position by signing Martellus Bennett (New England Patriots) and Lance Kendricks (Los Angeles Rams) via free agency.

The Packers also re-signed outside linebacker Nick Perry, as well as reserve offensive lineman Don Barclay. The team also brought back restricted free agent Jayrone Elliott, who signed a one-year, $1.6 million contract on Monday night according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.

In addition to that, the Packers also brought back cornerback Davon House on Tuesday in another free agent acquisition. House played the past two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Packers originally drafted House in 2011 and he stayed with the team through 2014 before leaving for Jacksonville via free agency in 2015.

The free agency frenzy is not over, as I expect the Packers to re-sign more of their own players, as well a couple of other players from other teams.

In terms of other unrestricted free agents on the Packers, you still have defensive end/outside linebacker Datone Jones (visiting the Vikings on Monday), running back Christine Michael and longsnapper Brett Goode, who are all unsigned at this time. I expect both Jones and Goode to re-up with the Packers.

Then you also have restricted free agent linebacker Jordan Tripp, who was not tendered an offer.

Plus there are the exclusive rights free agents. The list includes punter Jacob Schum (signed his exclusive rights contract), inside linebacker Joe Thomas (received tender offer), defensive lineman Christian Ringo (received tender offer), wide receiver Geronimo Allison (received tender offer), running back Don Jackson (received tender offer), running back John Crockett (did not receive tender offer) and fullback Joe Kerridge (received tender offer).

Getting back to the draft. In my first mock draft, I had the Packers selecting outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round. I still feel like that the drafting of Watt definitely has a real chance to happen (Watt met with the Packers at the combine), but for this mock draft, I will be selecting different players in each round.

But just like I did in my first mock draft, I selected players who I believe would fit in well with the Packers. Not just because of the schemes the team runs on offense and defense, but also how the player can help the special teams units, which were ranked 29th in the NFL in 2016. My buddy Rick Gosselin does a fantastic job of evaluating and ranking the special teams units for all 32 teams in the NFL each and every year.

One of the reasons I’ve had a decent track record over the years in my mock drafts for the Packers is because I utilize the expertise and insight from NFL scout Chris Landry.

Landry will comment on each and every player I select in each mock draft I do.

Okay, enough of that, let’s take a look at my post-combine mock draft for the Packers in 2017.

Round 1: Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)

Marlon Humphrey

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 197 pounds

Marlon Humphrey was a two-year starter at Alabama, where he had 81 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, five interceptions (one for a score) and three forced fumbles.

Humphrey was a Freshman All-SEC in 2015, as the Alabama won the national championship.

Humphrey played in a number of different coverage schemes with the Crimson Tide and he used his track-star speed and athleticism to his advantage. Humphrey is also a very aggressive tackler both in the secondary and in playing the run.

Humphrey recorded a 40-yard dash time of 4.41 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. His three-cone drill time of 6.75 seconds was among the best of his position group.

Speaking of the combine, just like they did with Watt, the Packers also met with Humphrey.

The cornerback position for the Packers definitely needs to fortified in the draft and also in free agency. Humphrey would also add much needed speed in the secondary of the Packers.

Landry said this about Humphrey before the national championship game between Clemson and Alabama: “Humphrey steps into the role as Alabama’s lockdown cornerback this season. He’s physical against the run, and he has legitimate track speed.”

Round 2: Center/Guard Ethan Pocic (LSU)

Ethan Pocic

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 310 pounds

Ethan Pocic  started 37 games on the offensive line at LSU, 27 at center, nine at right guard and one at left tackle. That bodes well for Pocic about possibly playing for the Packers, as versatility is one of the attributes that Green Bay looks for with offensive linemen.

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.

Pocic knows how to keep his hands inside while pass-blocking and also has nice lateral movement to pick up blitzers or stunts. Even with his size, Pocic has the ability to get to the second-level with ease.

The former Tiger is also athletic enough to be very effective on sweeps and screens.

With the Packers losing both JC Tretter and T.J. Lang in free agency, selecting a player like Pocic who can help out at both center and guard makes a lot of sense.

Landry said this about Pocic after a Senior Bowl practice: “LSU C Ethan Pocic was up and down today. On one particular snap he was beaten by UCLA DT Eddie Vanderdoes with a swim move. On the next, snap he was able to thwart Alabama DT Dalvin Tomlinson on a speed move inside. Pocic showed the type of adjusting that you like to see after a mistake and looks to take coaching very receptively.”

Round 3: Running Back Marlon Mack (South Florida)

Marlon Mack

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 213 pounds

Marlon Mack was a three-year starter at South Florida, where he rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of those years. In his career as a Bull, Mack rushed for 3,609 yards (6.2 average) and 32 touchdowns.

Mack was also a threat in the passing game as well, as he hauled in 65 passes for 498 yards and another score during his time at USF.

Mack led the All-American Athletic Conference in rushing as a freshman and a sophomore and was named first-team All-AAC in each of his three seasons at USF.

Mack has an explosive burst when running the ball and is very shifty. Has the ability to run away from tacklers, as six of his 15 touchdowns in 2016 went for 43-plus yards.

At the combine, Mack ran a 4.50 40 and excelled in the broad jump with a mark of 125 inches.

Right now, the Packers only have Ty Montgomery as a sure thing at running back. And that is just a year after taking on that position full-time after being a wide receiver his first year with the Packers. With the loss of Lacy in free agency, don’t be surprised if the Packers don’t sign a veteran free agent running back themselves.

Drafting a running back will be a focus of the Packers in the draft and Mack would be an excellent addition. I saw him play many times and Mack is the real deal.

Landry said this about Mack prior to the Birmingham Bowl when USF played South Carolina: “Mack will go down a year or two from now as the steadiest offensive player in Bull history. He’s been a reliable workhorse from the moment he stepped foot on campus, working between the tackles and powering through defenders for additional. The consistency of Mack, who rushed for at least 100 yards in all but three of the games he played in 2015, allowed young QB Quinton Flowers to develop incrementally, without having to overextend himself in the early stages of his career.”

Round 4: Linebacker Vince Biegel (Wisconsin)

Vince Biegel II

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 246 pounds

Vince Biegel  was the Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in high school (172 tackles, 21 sacks). That took Biegel to Madison where he was a four-year starter at Wisconsin and was named team captain his senior year. In his career as a Badger, Biegel had 131 total tackles, 28.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, three passes defended and two forced fumbles.

Biegel was named third-team All-Big Ten in 2015 and also second-team All-Big Ten in 2016.

Biegel has excellent quickness around the edge and can diagnose blocks when he dips inside to find the football. Biegel also has nice run-pass recognition and is solid in the running game.  Has also shown decent cover skills. The former Badger plays with a tenacious edge and his motor never stops running.

Biegel was solid in all the drills at the combine and ran a 4.67 in the 40.

At the outside linebacker position, the Packers lost Peppers in free agency and have seen Clay Matthews and Perry miss playing time due to injuries. The team did re-sign Perry and Elliott to bolster the depth. Re-signing Jones is still a possibility, plus the Packers also like the upside of Kyler Fackrell. Still, more quality depth is need at the position, as the Dom Capers 3-4 scheme is based on putting pressure on the quarterback.

Landry said this about Biegel after a Senior Bowl practice: “Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel was hyper aggressive. He is an impressive athlete who needs his athleticism to be honed a bit. Biegel was working tight ends in 1-on-1s and he made a couple of solid plays in coverage. Pass rushing versus tackles was rough today for Biegel, but he’s aggressive and athletic nonetheless. He might be suited to move to an off ball spot.”

Round 5: Cornerback Shaquill Griffin (Central Florida)

Shaquill Griffin

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 194 pounds

Griffin played four years at UCF and started the last two years. In his career with the Knights, Griffin had 113 total tackles, three tackles for a loss, six interceptions (two for touchdowns), 27 passes defended and one fumble recovery.

Griffin played at UCF with his twin brother Shaquem, who only has one hand. Both brothers had big years in 2016, with Shaquem winning the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year award as a hybrid defensive back/linebacker, while Shaquill was named second-team All-AAC at cornerback.

Shaquill has excellent size, speed and strength for a cornerback. He has the physical ability to succeed in press coverage, plus match receivers stride for stride after their release. Is also an aggressive run defender.

Griffin had a very good combine, as he excelled in a number of drills, which included running a 4.38 in the 40 and having a vertical leap of 38.5 inches.

The Packers need to add speed and physicality to the cornerback position and Griffin can deliver in both areas.

Landry said this about Griffin before the Auto Nation Cure Bowl game between UCF and Arkansas State: “UCF boasts a growing history for developing next-level defensive backs. Griffin has a chance to be the next Knight to play on Sundays. He laid the ground floor in 2015 by starting 11 games, two at safety and nine at corner, and posting 50 tackles, two interceptions and a Knight-high 13 pass breakups.”

Round 5 (compensatory): Defensive Lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)

Eddie Vanderdoes

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 305 pounds

Eddie Vanderdoes was a five-star recruit coming into UCLA, but injuries have hampered his time in Westwood. Out of the gate though, Vanderdoes showed the ability he showed in high school, as he was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 and also received Freshman All-American honors.

Vanderdoes followed that season by being named honorable mention again his sophomore year, as he had 50 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

But the former Bruin star tore his ACL his junior year after playing exceptionally well versus Virginia in the season opener. Vanderdoes came back his senior year and was given honorable mention status for the third time in his career at UCLA.

In his career, Vanderdoes had 122 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.

Vanderdoes showed off his athletic ability at the combine, as the big man ran a 4.99 in the 40.

Ted Thompson likes selecting defensive linemen out of UCLA, as he drafted Datone Jones in 2013 and Kenny Clark last year. Vanderdoes would add some quality depth to the defensive line, plus would offset the loss of Letron Guion, who will miss the first four games of the 2017 season due to a PED violation.

Landry said this about Vanderdoes after a Senior Bowl practice: “Vanderdoes played exceptionally well today in all areas. He beat opponents with quickness, power and intensity. From the snap he’s tough to stop as he showed a great first step, power in his lower body and he worked his hands incredibly well. Even when it looked like Vanderdoes was outmatched, he won the down.”

Round 6: Linebacker Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Ben Boulware

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 238 pounds

Ben Boulware started his career at Clemson as a special teams demon, before becoming a starter at linebacker the past two seasons. Besides being team captain of the eventual national champion Tigers in 2016, Boulware led by example with his fiery play, as he was named first-team All-ACC both in 2015 and this past season.

In his career at Clemson, Boulware had 261 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles.

Like Biegel, Boulware is a natural leader and never stops playing hard until he hears the whistle. Boulware is compact, but is fast to the football. He seems to have the knack for making a big play. Boulware has also shown some nice ability in pass coverage. No matter what, you are going to get a terror on special teams.

The biggest area in which Boulware can help the Packers immediately is on special teams, which really need help. Boulware will also push Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas for playing time at inside linebacker.

Landry said this about Boulware after a Senior Bowl practice: “Boulware is not a great athlete but he is a terrific football player. Best in the box, he’s instinctive, shows great anticipation and fires up the field. He’s also nasty and wraps up tackling. He struggles moving outside the numbers and in reverse.”

Round 7: Offensive Tackle Jonathan McLaughlin (Virginia Tech)

Jonathan McLaughlin

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 293 pounds

Jonathan McLaughlin started all four years at Virginia Tech and started 49 games overall. In his freshman year, McLaughlin started all 13 games and was named second-team freshman All-American by College Football News.

In his career as a Hokie, McLaughlin started 26 games as a left tackle and 23 games at right tackle. In 2016, McLaughlin was named third-team All-ACC at right tackle.

McLaughlin has a good wingspan and has quick feet, but needs to become more consistent. He shows good power in blocking for the run game.

McLaughlin is better suited for zone-blocking scheme, and has the physical attributes which could see him move inside to guard in the NFL.

With the Packers losing both Tretter and Lang to free agency, there is a good chance that one of their draft picks from last season, either Jason Spriggs or Kyle Murphy, would move inside from the offensive tackle position to play right guard. Because of that, it would be wise to draft a player who has experience at both tackle positions, plus one never knows when the injury bug will bite Bryan Bulaga at right tackle.

Prior to the East-West Shrine Game, McLaughlin met with the Packers. As did two other players who I had the Packers selecting in my first mock draft, cornerback Fabian Moreau and running back Joe Williams.

Landry said this about McLaughlin after an East-West Shrine Game practice: “McLaughlin displayed strength in his legs when getting into his pass set, as he was hard to move in one-on-one drills and had a great base. He has a lot of length in his arms and legs and uses it well. McLaughlin could stand to improve his quickness in his feet. McLaughlin had a very good day of practice. He was quicker today and was strong in the 11-on-11 period. He is able to stay low through his blocks and has a strong drive in his run blocks.”

Green Bay Packers: Free Agency is Like a Poker Game to Ted Thompson

ted-thompson-at-the-combine

I don’t know how many of you play poker, but if you ever did or do, you probably wouldn’t like sitting across the table from someone like Ted Thompson. Why? Well, not because he wins all the time, but because you could never get a good read on his hand based on his facial expressions.

Thompson of course is the head honcho in the front office of the Green Bay Packers and he runs his team similar to how he views a poker table. Sometimes he won’t even sit down at the table. Other times, he wins a big pot and then just walks away. But his look will never change.

When it comes to free agency, at least since Thompson became general manager of the Packers in 2005, the former Houston Oiler linebacker rarely dips his toes into the abyss known as unrestricted free agency.

Thompson’s approach to running the Green Bay organization, along with head coach Mike McCarthy, is to utilize a draft-and-develop program.

In 11 seasons since that partnership of Thompson and McCarthy took place in 2006, the Packers have had 114-61-1 regular season record, with six NFC North titles, nine playoff appearances, four NFC title game appearances and one Super Bowl win.

It’s rare that Thompson dips his toes into “pure” free agency, when he picks up a veteran NFL player who has had decent success with another team or teams in the NFL. Instead, Thompson depends much more on the draft and signing “street” free agents or undrafted rookie free agents.

But when Thompson has signed a free agent player like Ryan Pickett, or signed players who were recently released by the previous teams like Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders), Julius Peppers (Chicago Bears) and Jared Cook (St. Louis Rams), the results have been pretty good.

When it comes to re-signing their own players in free agency, Thompson and the Packers often wait close until to the midnight hour in bringing back that player. Thompson has done that over the years with players like corner back Sam Shields, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, wide receiver Randall Cobb and most recently with outside linebacker Nick Perry.

Going into the start of free agency in 2017, the Packers had several players who were eligible to become unrestricted free agents. One was Perry, who the Packers re-signed Thursday morning before the actual start of free agency later that afternoon.

Perry signed a five-year, $59 million contract on Thursday, while the Packers also re-upped reserve offensive lineman Don Barclay to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.

Nick Perry

With the signings of Perry and Barclay, the Packers were approximately $30 million under the cap figure of $167 million set for this year.

The Packers have lost three players to free agency already, as center JC Tretter signed with the Cleveland Browns, while defensive back Micah Hyde signed with the Buffalo Bills and outside linebacker Julius Peppers signed with the Carolina Panthers, who were the team who first drafted Peppers back in 2002.

Jason Wilde, citing a league source, reports that the Packers never made offers to either Hyde or Peppers.

That left players like right guard T.J. Lang, running back Eddie Lacy, tight end Jared Cook, outside linebacker Datone Jones, running back Christine Michael and longsnapper Brett Goode as unsigned unrestricted free agents.

Thompson is playing the ultimate poker game of bluffing with both Lang and Lacy, as the Packers are allowing them to visit other teams to see what the market says that they may be worth. It’s important to know, that Thompson has an ace up his sleeve, as reportedly both Lang and Lacy will allow the Packers to match or at least counter the offers made by other teams.

Speaking of poker, both Cook and his agent now know that they overplayed their hand against Thompson and Russ Ball, who is the team’s contract negotiator, on Friday.

The Packers made the re-signing Cook a priority this offseason, as he played a big role in the team’s six-game winning streak to the end the regular season and then also the success the Packers had in the postseason.

In fact, quarterback Aaron Rodgers often praised the addition of Cook as being the main reason the offense was clicking late in the season and in the postseason. Rodgers also said that re-signing Cook should be a priority for the Packers.

With that as ammunition, Cook and his agent bluffed Thompson and the Packers one too many times, as the team broke off talks with Cook and then signed Martellus Bennett instead.

The Packers signed Bennett to a three-year deal worth anywhere from $18.5 to $21 million.

This was a rare signing for Thompson, which made this move somewhat shocking. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not that Thompson won’t bring in other players from other teams, as he did that with Woodson, Peppers and Cook, but Thompson shies away from signing “true” unrestricted free agents.

Why? Because they can have an impact on the compensatory picks a team will receive in the NFL draft the following season. Woodson, Peppers and Cook were all released by their former teams before the Packers signed them. That meant that the Packers would not be affected at all in the compensatory pick process.

Martellus Bennett

But the signing of Bennett will, but Thompson still thought it was a risk well-worth taking. Thompson knew all about Bennett, who had played with the Chicago Bears for three seasons before being traded to the  New England Patriots last season.

Bennett, who stands 6’6″ and is 248 pounds, is a tight end who can stretch the seam down the middle with his speed and athleticism, plus is solid run-blocker, which is something the Packers have been looking for at that position for years now.

Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards (12.7 avg.) and seven touchdowns for the Patriots in 2016. In his career with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Bears and Pats, Bennett has 403 receptions for 4,287 and 30 touchdowns.

Bennett was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014 when he was with da Bears.

Time will tell how things will develop with both Lang and Lacy, along with all the other free agents like Jones, Michael and Goode, but one thing is for sure, with the signing of Bennett, Thompson is looking to win at the poker table in free agency.

Even if you can’t tell by looking at him.

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.

A Scout’s Take on the Recent Play of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Offense

Rodgers getting hit..jpg

There has been a lot of speculation recently as to what’s the problem as of late with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense of the  Green Bay Packers.

I wrote about that very subject earlier this week.

As did Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, who listed five reasons why Rodgers is struggling. Reason No. 5 brought out the ire of actress Olivia Munn, who is the girlfriend of Rodgers.

Why? Because Demovsky wrote that Rodgers could be having off-the-field issues in his personal life.

Munn responded to Demovsky via Twitter.

Playing it fast & loose w/the journalism @RobDemovsky,” Munn said. “Your professional skills are lacking… you must be having personal problems at home.”

I did not list personal issues as to a reason why Rodgers and the offense of the Packers have struggled the past three games in my article.

I did however, bring up the fact that Rodgers has taken a lot of sacks and hits over the past three games and that I believed No. 12 was playing with some physical ailments.

On Wednesday, Rodgers was listed as limited in practice with a right shoulder injury.

Week 11 Injury Report

This wouldn’t be the first time Rodgers has injured his shoulder while playing quarterback for the Pack.

I was at the 2008 game between the Packers and the Tampa Bay Bucs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, when Rodgers was forced to leave the game with a right shoulder injury.

Although Rodgers could not finish that particular game, he didn’t miss any more playing time the rest of the 2008 season.

In my recent story, I thought the biggest reason that Rodgers and the offense of the Packers is struggling is due to the play of the offensive line. Both in pass protection and in run-blocking.

On Wednesday, I wanted to get an opinion regarding this situation from NFL scout Chris Landry, who was on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

I have talked to Landry many times over the years and have used his insight and expertise in a number of stories.

Earlier this season, in another story I wrote, Landry talked about how phenomenal Rodgers was playing.

“He’s the best right now that I’ve ever seen in all aspects of quarterback play,” Landry said after Rodgers performance in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. “I mean, there’s nothing this guy doesn’t do well. The cerebral part is where he has just become right on the level of the best.

“Can you imagine a guy with a gun for an arm and can throw every route? He is the most accurate, and has been for awhile, throwing on the move. [John] Elway could throw across his body where the coverage wasn’t.

“This guy [Rodgers] can throw it at any arm angle into the smallest spots. It’s just incredible. It’s like hitting fall-away jumpers all the time. This guy is just really innate. His anticipation skills are phenomenal. And the ability to extend the play.

Rodgers vs. the Chiefs

“It doesn’t matter if a lineman is injured or a lineman missed a block, he’ll still extend it and he has the tremendous ability to adjust. Okay, like this broke down, so we are going to do this. He’s got all sorts of built-in options.

“He’s running the whole offense from under center, behind center and even post-snap. It’s a work of art. I have so much fun watching the coaching tape of him, as it’s truly an art form. It’s like watching Ben Hogan hit a golf ball. You just sit there mesmerized in a rocking chair and watch it flow so naturally.”

That was then and this (three-game losing streak) is now.

The passer rating for Rodgers in the last three games has been 69.7, 96.6 and 83.6. That’s a cumulative rating of 83.3.

That’s also over 22 points lower than Rodgers career passer rating of 105.8.

Something is wrong.

I wanted to get Landry’s take on how Rodgers and the offense of the Packers has struggled the past three weeks. Before I even had a chance to talk to him about that scenario, Duemig asked Landry about it to open the show.

Landry gave Duemig quite an answer.

“You know, it’s a few things,” Landry said. “But it really stems from this. In the early part of the season, they were running the football fairly well.

“They’re not playing well up front. They are not running the football well. Against Denver, they were really exposed. And Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have time to make plays.

“The receivers are having a hard time getting off press-coverage. So, they are really out of sorts on offense. And it starts from up front. And if they can’t run the football any better, they are going to have a hard time because they are struggling to hold up under pressure.

Broncos sacking Rodgers.jpg

“Listen, Aaron can extend plays, but guys aren’t getting open and making plays for him. And he’s starting to miss things and see things and it’s just not working.

“They’ve got to settle down and it’s got to start with from up front. I’ve kind of looked at it and thought maybe it’s time that Mike [McCarthy] looks at play-calling again.

“Listen, they miss Jordy Nelson. But it’s not all about Jordy Nelson. They were a little more effective in the first few games where didn’t have him in either, and Mike’s not ready to do that yet (call plays again).

“But they are going to have to start scheming people (receivers) open a little bit. Really, it’s a long-winded answer, but really it’s the offensive line which is the biggest culprit.

“If they can’t run the football any better, they are going to be in trouble. Listen, they’ve got a shot, because they’ve got Aaron Rodgers. They’ve got the ability to make some plays, but at this point it really is an issue up front.

“They have to figure that out, because I do think they are a team which is potentially dangerous. But right now, they are only dangerous to themselves.”

I totally agree with Landry and said so in the story I wrote earlier this week.

It’s not just one player on the offensive line who has had problems, as it seems like all the players have struggled at one time or another.

Yes, I know the line has had some injury issues, especially at the tackle position, but that’s life in the NFL.

What’s most shocking to me is the subpar play that the Packers are getting at times from the middle of their offensive line, principally the last three games.

The Packers have a fairly talented offensive line. Last year, this same offensive line of left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Josh Sitton, center Corey Linsley, right guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, helped make the offense of the Packers one of the very best in football.

In 2014, the Packers led the NFL in scoring with 486 points. The Packers were sixth in total offense, eighth in passing offense and 11th in rushing offense.

This year, through nine games, it’s been much different. The Packers are 12th in the NFL in scoring. Green Bay is also 21st in total offense. That includes being 22nd in passing offense and 16th in rushing offense.

It’s an old adage, but it’s true. Football games are won or lost in the trenches.

The offensive line has been out performed in the last three games and the team lost every one of those games.

But it’s not all on the back of the offensive line. Receivers on the Packers have to fight to get open more often and then catch the ball when it’s thrown in their direction.

There have been way too many drops as of late, as well as some off-target throws by Rodgers.

The play of the running backs need to improve as well, especially with Eddie Lacy. The best thing that could happen to the offense of the Packers is to see the return of the old No. 27.

Eddie Lacy

This is the time of year when Lacy has always excelled. 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.

Bottom line, all phases of the offense of the 6-3 Packers need to improve very quickly, especially with the 7-2, NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings on tap for a game this Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.

That being said, the biggest improvement has to come from the offensive line of the Packers.

They must win the battle in the trenches on Sunday if the team expects to win and regain a place at the top of the NFC North.