Friday, May 17, 2013

Packers Committing to Running Game

By: Matt Bove

One of the greatest myths about the 2012 Green Bay Packers from the media and fans was that they did not try to run the football.

Over the last 10 games of the season, the Packers averaged 26 rushing attempts per game. It was clear that Mike McCarthy was committing much more to running the ball. However, the issue was that he was getting very little production, as the Packers only averaged 3.9 yards per carry against mostly six man boxes.

The Packers finally got tired of not having a legitimate threat out of the backfield to keep defenses honest and  to get them out of the Cover-2 look that the Packers were seeing all season long. Cedric Benson, James Starks, Alex Green or DuJuan Harris were not the answers that the Packers were looking for.

Ted Thompson selected Alabama running back Eddie Lacy with the 61st overall selection of the NFL Draft, which was the highest pick Thompson has ever spent on a running back. He followed that up by trading up in fourth round to select UCLA running back Jonathan Franklin. Both running backs were considered by different people to be the best running back in this years class and I had Lacy #1 and Franklin #3 in my draft running back rankings on Packer Addicts.

Lacy was bypassed by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos due to concerns about the toe fusion surgery that Lacy had prior to his final season at Alabama. His toe did not hold him back whatsoever last year, as Lacy ran for 1,322 yards on 204 carries (6.5 YPC) and 17 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide. Lacy only had 335 career carries at Alabama, so he has little wear and tear compared to Le'Veon Bell (671 carries) and Montee Ball (924 carries), the two running backs selected ahead of him   He looked to be able to push off the toe and cut just fine, and he was as physical of a back as there was in the country.

The Packers have not had a back with Lacy's bruising style in a very long time. He is a bull running through tackles and some defenders may be reluctant to want to take him on in the frigid temperatures at Lambeau Field late in the season. Lacy should be able to solve many of the 3rd-and-short woes that plagued the Packers last season. While Lacy is more of a pounding runner, he does have some elusiveness to him, including his trademark spin move that made some college defenders look silly.

Franklin is a much different runner from Lacy and he should be a great compliment to him. If Lacy's injuries crop up again Franklin should be able to step him in for him just fine. He set a single season UCLA record by running for 1,734 yards last season.

Franklin should be able to step in right away as the third down back and be dangerous catching balls out of the backfield. He is lethal on the edge turning up the sideline and away from defenders. His cutting ability is excellent and he does not lose much speed while cutting. Franklin's cutting is the key to his tackle breaking because he won't be running many people over at his size. Also, Franklin gets to the line and through the holes very quickly. His biggest issues are fumbles and his lack of bulk.

With so much invested in Lacy and Franklin they will be expected to revamp the Packers' run game right away.

"Obviously, with Lacy being a such a big, strong, powerful back, I think he has a lot better feet than people realize," McCarthy told Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal."He's obviously an accomplished player. And Franklin now, I don't know how you cannot be excited about his film."

As for the Harris, Starks and Green they will be battling just to keep their roster spots. The potential Harris showed will probably keep him on the roster, so that will probably leave Starks and Green to battle for one roster spot. Green has recently stated that he is finally 100% healthy, but it might be too late for him with the new additions. Starks has had many injury issues himself and is just never healthy enough to be relied upon.

Lacy and Franklin should bring stability to the running back position once and for all. McCarthy should no longer have to change running backs on a weekly basis and not know what to expect. The Packers shouldn't have to rely on a mid season pickup like Harris to save their running game ever again.

The Packers had one of the best offenses in the NFL again last season, but it always seemed like they were not living up to their full potential and something was missing. Also, they seemed to have issues against elite defenses like the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers struggled against Cover-2 looks all season and were not able to hit the deep ball that Aaron Rodgers loves so much. Lacy and Franklin should be able to get teams out of those looks more so that Rodgers will have more opportunities for those deep balls.

The Packers will always be a pass heavy team under Rodgers and McCarthy, as they should be. However, a better running game will only make it easier. They found that out the hard way in 2012 and they appear to be learning from that. The Packers' offense will be even more dynamic with Lacy and Franklin and we will finally be able to see what Rodgers is like when he has a capable running game.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Packers Shuffling Offensive Line

By: Matt Bove

This offseason Mike McCarthy guaranteed that the Packers would have a better offensive line this upcoming season and he particularly called out the left side of the line.

According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, McCarthy took the first step in improving that area by moving Bryan Bulaga from right tackle to left tackle and Josh Sitton from right guard to left guard.

Also, T.J. Lang will move from right guard to left guard and Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse and Derrick Sherrod will compete to start at right tackle. Rookies David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter will have their positions decided following next week's rookie mini camp.

"I sat down with Bryan and Josh on Monday and I told them I wanted to make the move to where they're on the left side," McCarthy told Silverstein. Those two are our most accomplished and experienced players. I told them about the responsibilities and my expectations about playing the left side."

Logistically, this move make plenty of sense, as most teams want their best offensive linemen protecting their quarterbacks blind side.

After signing Aaron Rodgers to a five-year contract extension worth $110 million, protecting him from injury is of the utmost importance. Newhouse allowed 11 sacks and 42 1/2 pressures at left tackle last season, which is just way to many hits for Rodgers to take.

Sitton is one of the best pass blocking guards in the NFL and Lang struggled in that area last year in part due to injuries to his arm. Lang is more of a power guard anyways, so he might be better off on the right side.

Bulaga, a first-round pick in 2010, has made all 33 of his regular season starts on the right side. He played left tackle at the University of Iowa, but scouts questioned whether 33 1/4 arms were long enough to play left tackle in the NFL. Bulaga filled in for Mark Taucher in 2010 when he went down with a season-ending injury and has been playing right tackle ever since.

The two veterans should be able to pick up all the nuances of playing the left side quickly and be able to pick  up all of the stunts and blitzes teams throw at Rodgers' blindside. As long as Bulaga has physically recovered from bad hip injury that ended his season last year the transition should be smooth.

On the right side, the competition will be fierce between Barclay, Newhouse and Sherrod. I would give a slight edge to Barclay since he is the much better run blocker than Newhouse, which is important on the right side and you do not know how healthy Sherrod is. However, that is just a really early guess.

The Packers wanted to get more physical this season and the play of the offensive line will have a lot to do with whether that happens. Watching rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin run behind this newly shuffled offensive line will be on of the main things to watch for this training camp.

The Packers have certainly been proactive in trying to improve their offensive line, now they just have to wait and see if it pays off.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013 Packers Draft Review

The last weekend was pretty crazy with all of the moves that the Packers made moving backward in the draft.  Of course the move forward for Johnathan Franklin is always interesting since the Packers rarely move up.  Well let's take a look at the players that we drafted this year and see exactly what they were up to in college.

1st Round (Datone Jones)--6'4" 283 lbs DE-UCLA.  Will wear 95 for the Packers.

This past season he had 62 tackles, 19 for loss, 6.5 sacks.  High for one game in tackles against Arizona State with 9.  In the game I watched with him against Nebraska (my favorite college team) he had 3 tackles for a loss, including a safety on Taylor Martinez.  He will definitely end up as a 3-4 DE for us, and like many Packer fans have noted, he gives us a lot of flexibility in a zone blitz look, which is really helpful for our defense since we need to be able to throw a lot of complex looks at the QB since we have had trouble getting people off the field in recent years.  The last time that the Packers have drafted a DE this high was in 2001 when we took Jamal Reynolds from Florida State at #10 overall.  If nothing else then I sure hope that Jones is a lot better than Reynolds was.

2nd Round (Eddie Lacy)--5'11" 231 lbs RB-Alabama. Will wear 27 for the Packers.

Last year Eddie Lacy ran for 1322 yards and totaled 19 touchdowns.  The entire packers team ran for 1702 yards last season and had only 7 touchdowns.  The main issue with Lacy of course is that he has injury concerns.  Everyone has brought up the toe fusion and the issues with that.  The most recent RB we selected near this was Brandon Jackson at pick 63 back in 2007.  Jackson was the 6th running back selected.  The NFL draft profile shows a NFL comparison to Frank Gore.  That would be amazing.  Gore, despite some injuries, has been a strong running back and has been durable when under a committee the past few years.  If that is the situation that we are in with Lacy, then we would definitely be incredibly happy about that.

4th Round (David Bakhtiari) 6'4" 299 lbs OT-Colorado.  Will wear 69 for the Packers.

One thing that I find incredibly interesting is that we used pick 109 in the draft on Bakhtiari (Bock-T-are-E) and our current starting guard, T.J. Lang.  They both had played OT in college, because that's where a team should put it's best offensive lineman.  But like Lang, Bakhtiari is expected to move inside for the Packers.  He only missed one game this past season with a knee sprain, and so we are definitely hopeful that his health stays on the upswing.  David does have an older brother Eric who has played linebacker for several teams in the NFL.  Another great thing is that he only allowed 5.5 Sacks in all 3 seasons he played at Colorado.

4th Round (J.C. Tretter) 6'4" 307 lbs OT-Cornell. Will wear 73 for the Packers.

Just to bring up another previous draft comparison, we drafted Josh Sitton in the 4th round as well.  Tretter has only been an offensive lineman for two years, because he had initially gone to Cornell as a Tight End, but did make 20 starts after quickly learning the tackle position.  He had played basketball in high school, where he was the school's all time leader in scoring and rebounding.  The main thing that I think of for Tretter is that he is an athlete, who is still learning how to block.  Like Lane Johnson, Tretter had played quarterback in high school as well.  He had a 3.4 GPA at Cornell, he's crazy smart.  He's an athletic, smart kid who I hope is able to do a lot of great things with our offense.

4th Round (Johnathan Franklin) 5'10" 205 lbs RB-UCLA. Will wear 23 for the Packers.

The last running back that we selected in the fourth round was Najeh Davenport, and I think hopes are much higher for Franklin.  His senior season was the best season by far at UCLA.  He ran 282 times for 1734 yards and 13 touchdowns.  He cleared over 200 yards in a game twice last season.  Franklin is a great back.  He looks to be able to do a lot in our offense.  Last year he had been coached by Jim Mora, and that is where he had thrived.  Franklin is able to do a lot with the football, and if nothing else he was great value at pick 125, plus he also is insurance for our second round pick Eddie Lacy.

5th Round (Micah Hyde) 6'0" 197 lbs CB-Iowa.  Will wear 33 for the Packers.

Hyde could easily be either a CB or a S in our defense.  Some of his major strengths are his ball skills and his ability to read zone coverage.  He had 8 interceptions in college in 3 years as a starter.  He simply seems to make plays.  McShay said that he played his best games against his best opponents.  There is also a play from the 2011 season where one of his teammates picks off Kirk Cousins, laterals the ball to him, and then he takes it 66 yards and across the field for a touchdown.  I would love to put him back on our kick return team while he learns our defense.

6th Round (Nate Palmer) 6'3" 240 lbs OLB-Illinois State. Will wear 51 for the Packers.

I must agree with my dear friends at the Packer Addicts forum, that he should be known as "Napalm" from here on out, as long as he is able to earn the nickname.  Palmer is going to be around to try to push Perry and Moses.  Also, you can never really have enough depth at OLB, always need to be able to get pressure on the quarterback.  The main numbers that I like from him in college are 15 TFL, 7.5 Sacks, 3 FF.  Right now he runs a 4.7 40 yard dash, but I think the Packers want him to put some muscle on in order to consistently rush the passer.

7th Round (Charles Johnson) 6'2" 215 lbs WR-Grand Valley State.  Will wear 17 for the Packers.

Runs underneath 4.4 40 yard dash, has great size.  It looks like his measurables are what makes him with the late round pick.  They say that his vertical (39 inches), broad jump (11 feet) would put him among the top performers at the combine, if he had been invited.  A lot of good natural ability, and he put up 72 catches for 1199 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.  Definitely worth the seventh round pick and could be in position to challenge for a roster spot.

7th Round (Kevin Dorsey) 6'3" 210 lbs WR-Maryland.  Will wear 16 for the Packers.

4.47 40 yard dash.  Only 18 catches last season, but of course they started 5 different quarterbacks last season.  On those 18 catches he had 4 touchdowns and averaged 17.3 ypc.  38 inch vertical and a broad jump of 10'10".  Again, another guy who has strong skills as far as how they are tested.  He had a former LB throwing him the ball at one point last year, and now he gets to play for arguably the best quarterback in the game.  That is what I call an upgrade for him.

7th Round (Sam Barrington) 6'1" 246 lbs. LB-South Florida. Will wear 58 for the Packers.

65, 72, and 80 tackles for him as he started the last 3 years.  I'm a little worried about his speed, as he only ran a 4.91 40 yard dash at the combine.  Probably needs to lose a little bit of weight in order to truly challenge some of the current ILB that we have in Hawk & Bishop.  One thing that I find intriguing is that he had forced 5 fumbles last season.  I like someone who can strip the ball, but that's easier said than done.

Obviously it's too early to grade this draft, but I am hopeful for the future and ready for us to have our first game against the San Fransisco 49ers.