Category Archives: Joe Whitt

15

July

Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #10 – Who Starts at Cornerback?

Sam Shields is coming off a great 2012 season, but how will he fare in 2013?

Sam Shields is coming off a great 2012 season, but how will he fare in 2013?

Headed into training camp, the Packers’ depth at cornerback is not in question, but which players find the field is something to keep an eye on.

Returning from last season is Casey Hayward, who led the team with six interceptions. Hayward took over as the team’s nickelback when Charles Woodson suffered a broken collarbone, and the rookie went on to finish third in the voting for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. In May, we put Hayward’s rookie season under the microscope and looked ahead to what he has in store for his sophomore campaign.

The training camp competition at cornerback will feature Hayward battling it out against Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Davon House. But of all possible scenarios, it’s hard to imagine one in which Hayward is the odd-man out.

Last season, the Packers led the NFL in nickel and dime usage. ESPN Stats & Information, the team used five or more defensive backs on 66.8 percent of the plays.

This would suggest that three of the four players will emerge from the competition and become a part of the rotation. However, the team is four-deep at the position for the first time in recent memory, so it’s certainly possible that all four players will see the field, depending on the matchup.

Williams, the now-30-year-old elder statesman of the group, has started 66 games in the past five seasons. But after suffering a shoulder injury in 2011, Williams hasn’t played at 100 percent the past two seasons. According to JSOnline.com, he has worked his way back to being closer to full strength.

And without Charles Woodson in the fold, Williams, in some capacity, will take on a larger leadership role in the secondary.

Question: Which three players “start” at cornerback?

Shields signed his restricted free agent tender to remain with the team in 2013, but he and the Packers have yet to agree on a long-term extension, perhaps in part because they still have a largely unknown commodity in House.

Last summer, the position battle focused on the starting spot opposite Williams. Prior to suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason opener, House appeared to be in line to win the job. Shields capitalized on House being sidelined and, after a disappointing 2012, had a great rebound year.

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26

April

Top 20 Day Two Targets for the Green Bay Packers: 2013 NFL Draft

2013 NFL Draft

2013 NFL Draft

Johnathan Franklin, RB USC – My top choice, tough, hard worker, smart, good citizen

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State – Ryan Grant in his prime with some moves and the ability to block

JJ Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern – Nick Collins II?

Jonathan Cyprien, S Florida Int’l – Over hyped by fans, but still the #4-5 safety in the draft.

Philip Thomas, S Fresno State –  Instictual ball hawk, good tackler.

Kevin Minter, ILB LSU – Tough as nails, on-field leader.

Khaseem Greene, ILB, Rutgers – Plays with abandon ala CM3… But he’s not CM3.

Robert Woods, WR, USC – Good fit for the Packers

Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia – Even better fit for the Packers

Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech – Greg Jennings II?

Ryan Swope, WR Texas A&M – 4.34 at the Combine, but doesn’t look it on the field.

Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut – This year’s Casey Hayward

David Amerson, CB, N. C. State – Cornerback or Safety?

Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern – Boy can he move for a big guy…

Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Mississippi – Day two 3-4OLB most likely to have very good career.

Barret Jones, OL, Alabama – Solid, versatile, Packers’ type of guy.

Brian Schwenke, C, CAL – Looks like a perfect ZBS center…

David Quessenberry, OL, San Jose State – my favorite “all-purpose” OL. Can play any position on the line.

Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford – If he were to drop, would be tough to pass up.

Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State – Next Tony Gonzalez?

 

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He is a PFWA member who can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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27

March

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Rex Burkhead, RB Nebraska

Green Bay Packers NFL Draft prospect profile: RB Rex Burkhead

Player Information:

Rex Burkhead, RB Nebraska
5-10, 214 pounds
Hometown: Plano, TX

STATS

NFL Combine:

40 yard: 4.73

Bench: 21

Vert: 39″

Broad: 125″

3 cone: 6.85

20 yard shuttle: 4.09

60 yard shuttle: 11.51

News and Notes:

A lot of times draftniks and media types alike try to fit round pegs into square holes: one common example is calling for the Packers to draft a offensive tackle this year, only they have forgotten that Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod were both 1st round picks and drafting a 3rd OT in 4 years is getting close to Matt Millen levels of insanity.  Other examples include cornerback and inside linebacker, two positions where the Packers have the most depth.  Really, people should think of it the other way around; there are only a few exceptional players every year that are talented enough to change how a team operates (think RGIII or Russell Wilson), most other players have to learn to play in the system already set in place.  So really the question you have to ask is, what player fits best into the system that the Packers have in place?  One of those players I believe is Rex Burkhead.

 What they’re saying about him: 

  • CBSSports.com: “Burkhead is a compactly-built 210 pounds with excellent balance, running close to the ground and with a head of steam. Burkhead is hard-nosed and tough as nails, finishing every run and popping right back after a big hit while showing the downhill patience and vision to follow his blocks.”
  • NFL.com: “ Slasher who uses his foot quickness to find his way through traffic to move the chains. In one-back or two-back sets, can start with the flow then cut back into a running lane, spinning through trash on his way to consistent four or five-yard rushes. His lateral quickness comes into play when penetrating defenders look to corral him; somehow he finds a way to cut left or right to run away from their waiting arms. There’s no questioning his toughness, carries the mail 30 times a game and gives great effort trying to use his good lean to plow through arm tackles for extra yardage. Not used as a receiver very often, but his solid hands, quickness and agility will make him a valued weapon in the passing game.”
28

February

2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Cornerbacks

Packers 2012 Cornerbacks Sam Shields and Casey HaywardPackers Cornerbacks:  All eyes were on the cornerback group during Training Camp in 2012. This unit, above all others, had some serious competition going on for a starting job. And the result was that this competition continued throughout the season until we ended up with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and Casey Hayward as the clear leaders of the secondary.

For expanded coverage of this topic, listen to the podcast using the player below or download the podcast from the Packers Talk Radio Network on Itunes.

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects:

Tramon Williams (UDFA, 2006)
Jarrett Bush (UDFA, 2006)
Sam Shields (UDFA, 2010)
Davon House (4th Round, 2011)
Casey Hayward (2nd Round, 2012)
James Nixon (UDFA, 2012, Practice Squad)

How many teams can say that their top two cornerbacks went undrafted as rookies? The Packers can, though they can also say that their past two draft selections on cornerbacks are also beginning to make names for themselves.

  • Williams: After a horrible showing in 2011 thanks to an early shoulder injury, Tramon Williams was looking to get back to his championship form of 2010. Unfortunately, he only seemed to get about halfway there. He showed clear improvement but still came up short, especially in key moments. The big question is whether he’ll continue the upward trend or start falling again.
  • Bush: Can we be done with the Jarrett Bush experiment once and for all? He’s a key special teams player, but a starting cornerback he is not. His performance in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers had the coaches quickly backpedaling in their confidence, and in Week 2 Bush was no longer starting anymore.
  • Shields: The award for most improved player of the year could easily go to Sam Shields. He went from an abysmal 2011 season to legitimate shutdown corner status in 2012. Not only that, he found the will to tackle and play with more physicality. His size doesn’t help much, but at least the right attitude is finally there.
  • House: People seemed to forget about Davon House during the offseason until he started proving his worth in training camp. From almost nowhere, he became one of the favored starters next to Tramon Williams. A shoulder injury derailed those plans, but in a short amount of time, House has initiated a lot of hope for the future.
13

September

Packers vs. Bears: Key Matchups in NFL Week 2

Packers vs. Bears: Week 2 key Matchups

After a tough loss at home to open this season, the Packers gladly move on to week 2 to face their long-time rival Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Thursday. The good news is that they have a chance to get the bad taste of a week 1 loss to the 49ers out of their mouth. The not so good news is that they have only 4 days rest and prep time before that game. The Bears also will have just 4 days to prepare and travel to Green Bay to face the Pack. They are riding high after a 41-21 week 1 romp over the Indianapolis Colts at Soldier Field.

Both the Packers and Bears have made several changes to their roster during the offseason. The Pack added 6 defenders in addition to free agents Jeff Saturday and former Bear RB Cedric Benson. The Bears traded for standout WR Brandon Marshall, who was a teammate of Jay Cutler’s in Denver. They also added RB Michael Bush and recently acquired D lineman Amobi Okoye. Rookie draft picks Shea McClellin, Alshon Jeffery and Evan Rodriguez have cracked the starting roster and will likely see time against the Packers. Let’s take a look at some of the matchups to watch for in this week’s game.

Brandon Marshall vs. the Packers secondary

When the Bears traded for Marshall, it was clear they were looking to keep pace with their bitter rivals to the North. The Pack have won the last 4 straight contests vs the Bears including playoffs and largely behind the arm of Aaron Rodgers. During the last year, the pass-heavy Pack have put most of their opponents in a quick and deep hole with the potent offensive output and the Bears were sometimes no exception. With the NFC North featuring yet another good QB in Detroit’s Matt Stafford, the mantra is “pass till you die”. Marshall adds a dimension to the Bears’ passing game that has been absent for a while: a big and speedy receiver who can get up and snatch the ball away from defenders or run a solid route and get open downfield for a big play.

25

June

How to Tackle The Problem Of Tackling?

Imagine you’re a student and you have a practical exam coming up; in this test you’re asked to perform a specific skill and the instructors will not only be grading you for your ability to conceptualize what you are doing and why but to also that you can put it all together and actually get some results.  I’ve been tested this way dozens of times as a undergraduate and graduate student and I can safely say that just because you know what you are doing and why doesn’t always mean you can do it in real life.

The same is true for football players; as instructors to the game, coaches often will be assessing a player’s ability to conceptualize what they are doing and why, but also how well they perform that skill.  And just the same as any other student, just because you know what you are doing and why doesn’t always mean you can do it in real life.  There are countless examples of players who have the mental aspect of football down pat but lack the technique required to be successful in the league.

Now imagine a practical exam where you can study and figure out what you need to do and why, but weren’t actually given a chance to practice that skill before the exam, how well do you think you would do? Again from experience I can tell you you often don’t get the desired results because while your mind knows what to do your body doesn’t have the muscle memory to successfully perform that skill.

So where is this all going?  For football players, that practical exam where they’re given time to study but not to practice is tackling.

“We’re going to put our face in people. We will tackle,” Whitt said when asked if the Packers will actually practice the art of tackling each other in training camp. “We will get that solved. Guys who tackle will be out there. Guys who don’t won’t.” – cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.

The Packers had a pretty dismal season when it came to tackling (refer to: LeGarrett Blount) and mostly this has been rightly or wrongly been laid on the feet of the defensive secondary.  I’ve mostly attributed this to the defensive backs aiming for “big plays” like interceptions and strips rather than just tackling soundly but for whatever reason; the Packers defense missed a ton of tackles.

14

February

Green Bay Packers: Poor Tackling Among CBs Hurt Defense in 2011

Receivers often gained yards after the catch against the Packers because of poor tackling.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look back on the Green Bay Packers 2011 season and identify the obvious reasons for their defensive collapse.

Cullen Jenkins was sorely missed at right defensive end, little to no production was received from outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and Nick Collins’ season-ending neck injury handicapped the back end.

But one factor that gets overlooked is just how poor the tackling was for the Packers defense, especially in the secondary.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus effectively laid out just how bad it was for the Packers secondary in 2011.

According to the site, which reviews and grades every single play for every single player, the Packers trio of cornerbacks—Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields—was the worst tackling cornerback trio in the NFL.

And believe it not, the numbers weren’t even close.

Woodson missed 15 tackles on 87 attempts, Williams missed 16 on 80 attempts and Shields missed 10 on 40 attempts. Altogether, the three missed 41 tackles in 2011—a number that ranks them significantly above any other cornerback trio in the NFL.

The Philadelphia Eagles were the first team that came to mind in comparison, but their trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only missed 27 tackles last season.

All three of the Packers cornerbacks ranked in the bottom 20 of tackling efficiency, too.

Woodson has always been a player that missed his fair share of tackles, mostly because his fearlessness of playing near the line of scrimmage. Still, his 16 came at a higher rate than the 14 he had in 2010 in 20 games and the nine he missed during his Defensive Player of the Year season in 2009.

Williams allowed 68 catches in 2011, so his opportunities for missed tackles were obviously increased. During 2010, a year in which Williams established himself as a top-flight cover corner, he missed just nine. A shoulder injury suffered in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints certainly had an impact on how physical Williams was both in coverage and as a tackler.