What do you think of the Packers' changes on the offensive line?
Posted May 3rd, 2013 @ 03:05pm
Consider the Marshall Newhouse experiment over. The Packers are completing an offensive line makeover and it's likely that Newhouse will be on the outside looking in. That's a good thing. The promise he showed in '11 disappeared in '12, and the team is moving on.
The Packers believe that Bryan Bulaga will be able to move seamlessly to left tackle, despite not having the prototypical left tackle body (short arms). The good news is they must believe he has fully healed from the hip injury and is ready to step right in and protect their most valuable asset. Bringing Josh Sitton over to assist on the left side will certainly help.
When Ted Thompson drafted Derek Sherrod a couple of years ago, he hoped he'd step right in to replace a soon to be retired Chad Clifton. But injuries have kept him stuck in neutral and the team decided it can't wait for him any longer. If and when he's able to walk without a limp and try to play football, he'll compete for the right tackle job which right now is an open competition between him, Newhouse, Don Barclay and rookie David Bakhtiari. My guess is Barclay wins the job.
TJ Lang will slide from the left to the right side, which shouldn't be a major transition for a guy who played almost a quarter of the season at right tackle when Bulaga first went down, while dealing with his own elbow and arm injuries. As a beefier guard than Sitton, he'll be more concerned with run blocking on that side, while letting the nimbler Sitton deal with the stunts and blitzes that will come from elite pass rushers on his new side.
I like the move. The Packers are moving their two best linemen to the left side to give Aaron Rodgers more protection on his blind side. As mobile as Rodgers is, he doesn't necessarily need Joe Thomas over there. But a chance to remain in the pocket a bit more often and a few extra fractions of a second could be all he needs to take the passing game to another level.
Posted April 28th, 2013 @ 03:04pm
For those of you who were crestfallen when the Packers missed out on free agent Steven Jackson, I hope you're feeling a lot better now. The story of this draft for the Packers is the acquisition of two of the top five running backs and what it means for the offense.
We all know the offense has been one dimensional the past two seasons. We got a glimpse of what a legitimate running game could mean in that magical January run in 2011, when James Starks caught lightning in a bottle and the Packs steamrolled to the Super Bowl.
Two years later the team will be waving good-bye to Starks and Alex Green, as the position gets a make-over, with a pair of legit starters with loads of upside. When Eddie Lacy was passed over three times in the second round (by the Bengals, Steelers and Broncos) he fell into the Packers' lap at #61 and the team pounced. He was regarded by most as the best back in the draft, but lingering injury concerns scared some teams (as did the fact that his o-line at 'Bama was filled with NFL talent).
But no one can deny the talent Lacy has when healthy. He's big, tough and will be a punishing runner between the tackles. He's also got quick feet for a guy his size and has shown he has a burst. His signature spin move may need to be toned down a bit, or he's likely to get leveled by someone.
So, when the Pack traded out of the third round on Friday night, we headed into Saturday knowing the team had added a big, tough, pass rushing defensive end and the top back in the draft. Armed with ten picks on Saturday, you figured Ted Thompson would use them to move up if he saw a guy he couldn't pass up.
He used his two fourth rounders on offensive linemen. Colorado's David Bakhtiari sounds like a guy who could be in the mix for one of the tackle spots, if not this season in the near future. Cornell's JC Tretter could eventually land at any of the interior spots. A maligned position added some depth and will increase the competition among the group.
Then Thompson found a reason to move up, trading a fifth and sixth rounder to move back into the fourth to grab a player to whom they had given a second round grade. That guy was Johnathan Franklin, the dynamic UCLA running back, who reminds many of Warrick Dunn. Go watch his highlights on you tube. This kid is exciting and he's the whole package: besides being a tough, nifty runner, he's a good receiver out of the backfield and handles pass protection well.
Can you say thunder and lightning?
Now the team has protection if Lacy gets nicked up. Now the Packers have two legitimate blue chip running backs and now the Packers offense is ready to move to another level. Teams can no longer drop their safeties 10-15 yards behind the line of scrimmage and dare the team to run. No longer will we be forced to watch the hand off to John Kuhn on fourth and one. This team will be able to run the ball and it will make the passing attack even deadlier. Why, the Pack may even be able to legitimately run play action pass plays.
I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what these two backs bring to the table. The picks in round five through seven are for the most part works in progress. Most will need to show they can play special teams if they want to stick. Iowa's Micah Hyde was the Big Ten's defensive back of the year. There are questions as to whether he has the speed to play corner in the NFL--he may get a look at safety.
That's my one disappointment about this draft: the team didn't add a big-hitting safety to compete with MD Jennings and Jerrion McMillain. The latter was a fourth rounder last year and maybe they expect him to make a jump in year two. Maybe they will watch as teams waive veterans and they'll pick one up this summer. I still believe this team needs a talent infusion at free safety and we didn't see them go that route over the weekend.
The three other day-three defenders are defensive tackle Josh Boyd out of Mississippi State who is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher, and two outside linebacker prospects: Nate Palmer from Illinois State and Sam Barrington from South Florida. With Walden and Zombo moving on, one or both will have a chance to earn a roster spot if they show something in training camp.
The last two picks were wide receivers, another position I thought the team would address earlier, but have no issues because of the way the draft board fell. Charles Johnson is the more intriguing prospect: a journeyman who spent six years moving from school to school, he ran a sub 4.4 40 at his pro day and has size and a lot of speed. He may have a chance to turn heads. Maryland's Kevin Dorsey put up no numbers because his offense was so wretched, but earned a look because scouts like his measurables.
As of now the team has brought in ten undrafted guys, including former Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner, who could compete for the Crabtree spot. The team also added QB Matt Brown from Illinois State.
The takeaway from this draft: Datone Jones will step right in and have a chance to make an instant impact on the defense at a spot that desperately needs it. The team has lacked a pass rushing defensive lineman since Cullen Jenkins left and Jones fits the bill. The additions at offensive line should add depth and competition to a unit that needs it.
But what everyone around the league will be talking about is the Packers' brand new backfield toys. Lacy and Franklin. Thunder and lightning. Aaron Rodgers is smiling, and not just because he keeps staring at his new contract. This team will be able to run the ball now. That will make the offensive line look better, that will keep Rodgers from running for his life so much. And that will make the Packers offense even more deadly.
You say the Super Bowl will be played in New York next year, outdoors in the cold? Suddenly the Packers' offense seems ready for that. What we'll find out next season is whether the defense is too.
Posted April 26th, 2013 @ 02:04pm
When you swing and miss on predicting your team's first pick, it bugs you. For about five minutes. Then you listen to the Mike Mayocks and Jon Grudens gush and you start to get excited.
Four years later, the Packers have a Cullen Jenkins replacement. The addition of UCLA's Datone Jones will give the defensive line a much needed infusion of speed and versatility and should make the linebackers behind him look better.
When the Packers were on the clock, I figured they were debating between nose tackle Sylvester Williams (who was expected to be off the board) and Eddie Lacy, Bama's hard-nosed running back. But clearly Ted Thompson and the scouting department had their hearts set on Jones and it sounds like they got a guy who has big time upside.
His college coach, Jim Mora, says he'll be a better pro than he was a college player. Mayock said his combination of length and quickness make him an ideal end in the 3-4. He completely manhandled the #1 pick, tackle Eric Fisher in the Senior Bowl. He'll likely be a three down guy, moving inside on sub-packages, since he is strong and quick enough to deal with interior linemen. Gruden calls Jones his sleeper of the draft. I'm pretty sure he only said this once on Thursday night--even though he loves pretty much everyone.
Plus, he grew up in Compton, CA a Packer fan, because of Reggie White.
I had my heart set on a safety and Ravens took my guy, Florida's Matt Elam with the final pick of the first round. I have to believe the Pack will consider that position if they like who's left on the board when they pick at 55. Tackle and running back could also be in play.
And now, a thought on the Vikings' first round haul. When Sharrif Floyd fell in their laps at 23, the night was a success, no matter what happened next. They grab Xavier Rhodes next, one of the few calls I got right in the first round, giving them a big, physical corner: precisely what they needed most. So they add two instant starters to their defense, which was a must--though middle linebacker is still a huge need.
Then Rick Spielman made the big splash, handing the Patriots both Friday night picks, plus a 4 and a 7 to jump back in and take WR Cordarrelle Patterson. You've got to give him credit in the cojones department. He could have gone to sleep knowing he made his defense instantly stronger and that he could probably grab a receiver in the second round.
But Patterson is the one guy who was different from all the other guys. He's completely raw, playing just one year of major college ball. He won't be ready to contribute as a starting WR because he needs to learn a whole lot about running routes, making adjustments, reading defenses, etc. His Wonderlic was in the single digits.
But he will make an instant impact in the return game, and as a guy who can run some Harvin plays: bubble screens, running plays. His size and speed had scouts drooling, but he's a work in progress. Having Greg Jennings around to mentor him will be huge. Vikings get an "A" for Thursday night, but will now be spectators until Saturday. I'll give the Pack an "A" as well. Adding Jones should make Clay Matthews even more deadly.
As for the other two, the Lions needed to add a defensive end, since both of their starts from a year ago are gone. Ziggy Ansah had never heard of football a few years ago. He's raw and inexperienced but many feel he has the potential to be a Pro Bowler. The Bears raised more than a few eyebrows with their selection of Howie Long's other kid, Kyle Long. He's another raw prospect that most of the experts projected to go in the second or third round. Yes, the Bears need all the help they can get on the line, but they could've waited. I thought they'd grab TE Tyler Eifert here.
I'll break down the first three round in depth "In the Zone" Saturday morning from 8-10 on KFAN and kfan.com. With my partner Trent Tucker absent (to attend Michael Jordan's wedding), we'll put the NBA aside for a week and talk NFL draft for two solid hours.