Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Observations of a Railbird I

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
by Ted Verges

               It is with considerable anticipation that this railbird drives to Green Bay today to attend Packer practice. It is the first practice I could attend this year.  It seems that there are many potential stories that can come out of training camp. Among them are the offensive line, the second string quarterback, who will be the running backs, the safety position, who will replace Jennings, and who will be the kicker.  I hope to bring you information on these matters as training camps proceeds.

               I will start with the offensive line as that group draws most of my attention.  Some of the news is good; some isn’t. Bulaga and Sitton look very good in all phases of their work. Lang is OK, but the rest of the guys have issues. The Packers are working Barclay hard at multiple positions.  They have Barclay working on his center snaps while the rest of the team is doing stretching at the start of practice.  He is working on snaps with Rodgers under center and the shotgun snap.  There are issues with both. He also has a bad day doing the one-on-one pass blocking drill. But he isn’t the only one!  Bakhtiari has problems with his fundamentals. He is dropping his head, loses his balance, bends at the waist, not his knees, and doesn’t have much of a punch. He has a long way to go to be a professional pass blocker. His run blocking looks good, as it is way ahead of his pass blocking. Barclay looks slow as he is beat regularly both at center and tackle. Guys are consistently getting the edge on him.  Meanwhile Datko has worked at both tackles and at guard. He has the same problem that plagued him last year in camp . . . he can be bull-rushed. He plays too high. EDS also has his share of problems. Guys are blowing past him.  Also, Newhouse is inconsistent. He has some real good reps as well as some that should bother him.  One of the best pass blockers is a guy by the name of Gerhart from Arizona State. He is fundamentally very sound.

               The running back situation is very interesting. For some reason, maybe it’s the competition, but Starks looks very good. He almost looks like a different runner.  In previous years he was a rather upright runner with a long stride. Today he lowers his shoulder on guys and, using short choppy steps, makes some real nice cuts. It looks like he’s playing for a job! Also, I like Lacy. I wasn’t thrilled with him as a draft choice because I thought he should have gotten decent yards running behind that Alabama line, and the fact that many teams passed on him twice! But the guy can play!  He looks a tad heavy in the butt and thighs, but he runs tough. I am surprised at how well he catches the ball. He is physical. He moves the pile in red zone running plays. Yes, you read me correctly! We actually ran the ball in the red zone! There is a neat drill where Lacy shows toughness. The backs and ends have to catch a flat pass and then turn up field and go down the sideline where offensive linemen try to knock them out of bounds with handbags. Lacy and Finley are very physical, take on those bags, and stay in bounds.  Franklin is quick but small.  Green practices today. I think it is his first practice in a long time.  He looks to be both physical and quick.  Harris isn’t on the field because of injury issues. It will be interesting to see how the running back situation plays out in camp.

               Quarterbacks . . . Rodgers doesn’t have his best day in 7 on 7 and in scrimmage work. It seems he is throwing the ball high too often. He still makes some plays that take your breath away. One is a TD pass down the middle to Cobb. Rodgers throws that one under great pressure, and he threads a tight window.  It would be nice to see Harrell and Coleman throw a tight spiral once in awhile. Maybe they’re doing a nice job with the huddle and plays and all that, but how about a tight spiral completion every so often!

               Among the receivers, Cobb and Finley stand out. Cobb is so quick in and out of his cuts. He looks small, but I don’t think people get solid hits on him very often.  He gets some work in today as a running back.  He does a good job on some draw plays. Finley looks like a different player. He is much more physical and aggressive than in the past. He catches everything with his hands and attacks the tacklers.  His commitment level may be up. For instance while the team is working on kick-off stuff, Finley is working on pass catching drills with a ball boy.  He could have taken a knee and watched with the other guys; instead, he was working on his skills.  He also takes some of his catches the distance of the field much like Grant used to do. One might think Finley is playing for a contract! Bostick makes a nice physical run after a catch over the middle. After he catches the ball, it seems he goes hunting for tacklers! Also, right now, I’m thinking Boykin makes the team. While he may lack top end speed, he is very quick. He looks like a slot receiver.

               The defense also practices today! I wanted to check out Nick Perry.  He does have something on his wrist, but his movement is very good. He looks so much better than last year at this time.  Meanwhile Datone Jones looks good out there. He can move, and he is a tough guy. On a zone blitz, he drops back and knocks down a pass. Jones also looks good while the defense is working against option plays.  And, Johnny Jolly can still play. He makes a great pass rush with a spin move that has the offensive lineman grabbing at air. B.J. Raji also executes that move for a sack. Tramon Williams is not in pads, and House replaces him at left corner. He does a good job. Micah Hyde later replaces House with no fall off.

               The highlights for this railbird today are the aggressive confident play of Finley, the skills of Eddie Lacy, and the general physical tone evident on the field. There’s an old saying among coaches that if you never ask for it you’ll never get it. Last year McCarthy asked for better tackling and improved special teams play, and he got it. This year he wants a more physical team, and I think he’s getting it.

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