Author Archives: Jay Hodgson | About Jay Hodgson:

21

July

Packers Xs and Os: What We Might See From McCarthy’s Up-Tempo Offense (Part 1)

Will Aaron Rodgers be leading an up-tempo or no huddle offense in 2014? (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today).

Will Aaron Rodgers be leading an up-tempo or no huddle offense in 2014? (Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today).

This off season, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy mentioned two philosophical adjustments he would like to see his offense implement this year: 1) run a faster up-tempo game plan with 75 plays per game, and 2) have three-down players on the field to limit the number of substitutions, which will speed up the game tempo.

These are pretty lofty goals, but the Packers do have the offensive personnel to execute it, particularly because their top three running backs (Eddie Lacy, James Starks, and DuJuan Harris) are three-down backs. The biggest question mark will be if their starting tight end is up to the task of multiple formations and assignments.

In order to execute those two offensive objectives, it’s more than just snapping the ball with plenty of time left on the play clock; it’s an elaborate implementation of situation football.

As my standard disclaimer, I’ve never seen McCarthy’s playbook and none of us will know how he will go about carrying out these plans until the week one opening game against the Seattle Seahawks. But, I will speculate about some things I expect us to see while the Packers are in their up-tempo game.

When to Go Up-Tempo

The offense should only go up-tempo when the score is close or they are behind. If they are sitting on a large lead, it makes sense to slow down the plays to bleed the clock. But, there’s also down and distance rules, as well as clock management strategies, that should be considered.

  • 1st and 2nd downs at almost any distance to gain are acceptable for up-tempo and no huddle.
  • 3rd down and 7 yards or less are also acceptable for up-tempo and no huddle. Longer 3rd downs often necessitate a huddle to ensure the best play call and allow the offense to slow down and gain composure. That is, unless, the offense is in a two-minute drill.
  • Re-huddle after clock stoppages (penalties, out of bounds, incomplete passes, change of possession, instant replay review, etc).

Three-Down 11 Personnel 

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14

July

Keep Building the Hall of Fame Movement for Packers Guard Jerry Kramer: We Cannot be Ignored

Jerry Kramer was a key member of Vince Lombardi's dominant teams of the 1960s. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Jerry Kramer was a key member of Vince Lombardi’s dominant teams of the 1960s. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Packers guard Jerry Kramer last played a down of professional football in 1968. He became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1974 and he immediately became a finalist.

Kramer has been a Hall of Fame finalist ten times, with his most recent near-induction coming in 1997. Unfortunately, that’s as close as he’s ever come. That is travesty. He needs to be enshrined.

Packers fans everywhere know his story. We know his credentials and share in his frustration of being shunned by the Hall of Fame. But, Packers fans aren’t ones to sit idle and stew over it. We take up action.

Support for Kramer’s bid to the Hall of Fame arises every now and then. However, we are in the building stages of another movement, and it’s one that could be great. It could be the one that finally turns the tide and gets Kramer the award he overwhelmingly deserves.

Previous campaigns for Kramer were conducted before the explosion of the internet and social media. This current movement in 2014 has the potential to go viral. If it does, his case can no longer be swept under the carpet of time.

I’m not sure why, but this campaign feels different. It feels like it has more growing momentum and the ability to really generate some noise. What’s most impressive is that this most recent one an organic, grassroots movement and is starting to get noticed. It’s catching on and gaining more steam.

But, now is not the time to relax and hope the noise has been made. It’s time to ramp up the efforts even more. People are starting to notice, and you could say that we’re just getting started.

Behind much of the movement is Jerry’s daughter Alicia, who has invested an incredible amount of energy bringing attention to her father’s accomplishments and highlighting his case for the Hall of Fame.

 

 

This summer, our own Jersey Al, with the help of Jerry Kramer and our sponsor Waukesha Sports Cards, promoted awareness by encouraging fans to write to Hall of Fame voters on behalf of Kramer’s behalf. Every time someone contacted a voter, they were entered in a drawing to win an autographed football by Kramer.

7

July

Open Letter to NFL Hall of Fame Seniors Committee: Vote in Packers Guard Jerry Kramer

Jerry Kramer was a key member of Vince Lombardi's dominant teams of the 1960s. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Jerry Kramer was a key member of Vince Lombardi’s dominant teams of the 1960s. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Dear NFL Hall of Fame Seniors Committee:

As custodians of the NFL of yesteryear, you are charged with recognizing the remarkable players of a different era. I commend the job you have done as the Pro Football Hall of Fame is well represented with many deserving players from decades long ago. It is a highly subjective and difficult task that you have gotten right so many times.

However, there is one glaring omission in the hallowed hall. Guard Jerry Kramer, a cornerstone of the Packers dynasty of the 1960s, has not been selected.

His resume speaks for itself and is definitely worthy of enshrinement. Over the years, I have read possible reasons and excuses for why he has not yet been selected.

I will address these criticisms in hopes of garnering your attention and consideration. Jerry Kramer is deserving of enshrinement, and his last chances rest in your hands.

Hall of Fame Credentials

Jerry Kramer played right guard for the Packers from 1958-1968. He was highly skilled in run blocking for Hall of Fame running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, as well as pass blocking for Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr. Kramer was integral to the legendary “Packers Sweep” that won an unprecedented five NFL championships in seven years.

His famous coach, Vince Lombardi, repeatedly said the sweep was the play they must make work, and must make work again and again. Kramer was a large reason this play swept the Packers into history. You can hardly find a diagram or picture of the sweep without seeing Kramer lead the way. Kramer has been described as the best pulling guard in the NFL during his time, and perhaps in the history of the league.

All those sentiments were validated when Kramer was named as the only guard to the NFL 50th Anniversary Team in 1969. However, he’s the only member of that honorary team not inducted into the Hall of Fame. That alone speaks volumes of an injustice.

Football is ultimately a team game. Without stellar blocking up front, there’s no way a team wins a single championship, let alone five in seven years, including a never-duplicated three in a row.

Career Honors:

30

June

The Returning Question: Who Will Be Kickoff and Punt Return Men for the Packers in 2014?

Will Packers rookie Jared Abbrederis be the featured return man in 2014? (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Will Packers rookie Jared Abbrederis be the featured return man in 2014? (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

When the Green Bay Packers drafted Randall Cobb in the second round of the 2011 draft, it appeared they had their kickoff and punt returner of the future. However, his recent emergence in the offense necessitated others to handle the return duties.

Rookie defensive back Micah Hyde filled in admirably last season, but with his apparent increased role in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ new look defense, and head coach Mike McCarthy’s traditional reluctance to use integral starters as returners, we might be looking at someone other than Hyde returning kicks this season.

So, here we are again asking a question we’ve asked several times before: who will be returning kickoffs and punts for the Packers in 2014?

Let’s take a look at the options.

Kickoffs

While no team will refuse a 100-yard kickoff return taken to the house, that is not the primary responsibility of returning a kickoff. The return man is responsible for securing good field position for the offense to begin a drive.

Over the years, in the interest of player safety, the NFL has revised kickoff rules several times. The kickoff line has been moved up, to encourage touchbacks, and the number of blockers allowed to form the wedge has been lowered to reduce violent player collisions. Essentially, by design, the kickoff itself no longer has the same potential to flip the field like a punt return or an interception return.

In other words, the need for a 4.3-second, 40-yard dash track athlete is no longer the most desirable trait in a potential kickoff returner. Simply making a man or two miss and breaking a tackle or two will suffice as long as he can advance the ball beyond the 25 yard line. Many coaches simply just want to get out of the kickoff without any injuries. Then, let the $100 million quarterback do his thing.

Going into training camp, I see the kickoff return competition being a three man race.

Likely Contenders

  • Micah Hyde. He was the featured returner for most of 2013. It has yet to be determined if Hyde will see an increased playing load in 2014, let alone crack the starting lineup at free safety. If Ha Ha Clinton-Dix secures the starting free safety position, it’s likely we’ll see Hyde returning kicks again this season. If not, and Hyde starts on defense, it’s unlikely he will be the featured returner.
23

June

The Anticipated Return of Tackle Bryan Bulaga

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Photo credit: Amy Anderson (Wikimedia Commons).

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Photo credit: Amy Anderson (Wikimedia Commons).

Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga last played a live down on November 4, 2012. Now, as we enter the 2014-15 season, his return is highly anticipated and immensely needed.

Bulaga’s career up to this point has been a bit of an enigma through a combination of unfortunate injuries, missed opportunities, and unfulfilled promises. When he’s on the field, he shows a lot of ability and tenacity. Keeping him on the field, however, has been a little bit of a problem over the last two seasons.

The Packers drafted Bulaga with their first-round selection in the 2010 draft with the idea that he’d be the left tackle successor to aging Chad Clifton. In a show of true professionalism, Clifton embraced the idea of mentoring his eventual replacement.

Perhaps as a sign of unexpected things to come, Bulaga was counted upon during his 2010 rookie season to solidify the right tackle position after Mark Tauscher suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Bulaga played admirably, and the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV.

Entering the 2011 season, the defending champion Packers appeared set with the bookend tackle combination of Clifton on the left and Bulaga on the right. They even drafted left tackle Derrick Sherrod as another option to succeed Clifton.

However, Clifton was hampered by injuries all season. In a somewhat curious move, the Packers elected to keep Bulaga on the right and try youngster Marshall Newhouse on the left. Sherrod proved to not be a viable option.

That 2011 offensive line was a bit of a motley crew en route to allowing 41 sacks and generating a measly 3.9 yards per rushing attempt.

Things got worse for the Packers in 2012. They still had a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry, but they yielded an astronomical 51 sacks of Aaron Rodgers.

To make matters worse, when the Packers needed their running game the most during the cold months, Bulaga’s season ended on November 4, 2012, when he suffered a hip injury against the Arizona Cardinals.

During the following off-season, head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t mince words. By announcing he was swapping the left and right sides of his offensive line, he was boldly proclaiming the Marshall Newhouse experiment at left tackle was over and Bryan Bulaga was finally going to get his shot at the money position of left tackle.

16

June

Don’t Forget About Safety Sean Richardson

Safety Sean Richardson. Photo credit: Royalbroil (Wikimedia Commons)

No one will argue that the safety position was a major deficiency for the Green Bay Packers during the 2013-14 season. They didn’t generate a single interception and they frequently looked lost in coverage. Now, as we enter the 2014-15 campaign, it’s poised to be a position of strength.

For starters, gone is M.D. Jennings, who is now competing for a roster spot in Chicago. Entering is first-round draft selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who, according to many, fell as a gift to the Packers at the 21st spot.

Also garnering headlines is versatile defensive back Micah Hyde. Last year, he played mainly in the nickel substitution packages or covering the slot receiver. However, during the most recent OTAs, he took first-team reps at safety alongside Morgan Burnett.

With the combination of Clinton-Dix and Hyde competing for playing time next to Burnett, it appears the Packers are set at the starting safety tandem.

Third-year player Sean Richardson would beg to differ. His career almost never got started when he sustained a serious neck injury during his 2012 rookie campaign, but now that he’s fully healed, he’s poised to make some noise in the defensive secondary as he enters another season in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ system.

It’s easy to forget about Richardson because he went undrafted in 2012 and then free missed extensive time during the most crucial first two years of a young player’s developmental window.

However, his measurables cannot be ignored. When compared to Clinton-Dix, he is bigger (6’2″ and 216 lbs. to 6’1″ and 208 lbs.), faster (4.52 secs to 4.58 secs in the 40-yard dash), stronger (22 reps to 11 reps at the bench press), more explosive (38.5″ to 33.0″ inches in the vertical jump and 128″ to 119″ in the broad jump), and more agile (7.01 secs to 7.16 secs) in the 3-cone drill).

These aren’t knocks against Clinton-Dix at all because he is considered a first-round talent and should make an immediate impact.

It simply means we can’t forget about Richardson because he is a rare combination of size, strength, and speed.

Richardson has elite measurables, but he simply needs time to develop his game. He went undrafted because scouts thought his coverage skills fell short of what his athleticism should dictate.

9

June

Xs and Os: The Three-Deep Zone Defense (Cover 3)

The cover 3 pass defense has the cornerbacks and free safety splitting the deep half into thirds.

The cover 3 pass defense has the cornerbacks and free safety splitting the deep half into thirds.

Continuing with our series of defensive coverage shells, this week we’ll take a closer look at the three-deep zone defense, which is more commonly known as the cover 3.

Previously, we looked at the cover 1 and cover 2 defenses.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers predominantly prefers the single-high safety look, but he has deployed the cover 2 shell frequently over the years.

However, the Packers don’t use the cover 3 all that often, but it’s a defense that every NFL team must have in their arsenal because what it brings to the table.

Of course, this article comes with my standard disclaimer that this is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only.

Cover 3 Defense Defined

When defending the field, the defense usually divides the area vertically into “halves.” The underneath half typically extends 7 yards from the line of scrimmage and the deep half usually extends 15-20 from the line of scrimmage.

In the three-deep zone defense (cover 3), the free safety and both cornerbacks play zone defense and each guard a third of the deep half. They must cover any receiver entering their respective third of the field and drive towards to the ball once it is in the air. Additionally, they must carry the receivers vertically all the way to the goal line.

The GIF below highlights the assignments.

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Strengths of Cover 3

There is no perfect defense in football. If the defense sells out to stop the run, they are extremely vulnerable to the pass. Likewise, setting up a strong back end to guard the pass makes them susceptible to the pass.

The cover 3 is a compromise defense of sorts. Because the deep third is covered by the free safety and both cornerbacks, the strong safety is free to align in the box.

This means the defense can play eight in the box to stop the run. The front seven (defensive line and linebackers) are in the box in addition to the strong safety.

In a nutshell, the cover 3 allows the defense the flexibility. It can be considered a “jack of all trades” defense. It is a very popular run defense, with pass flex, in the NFL because it allows the defense to pack eight in the box and still drop seven into zone pass coverage.