Category Archives: Offensive Line

4

July

Where To Overload The Green Bay Packers Roster

Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis

With a strong preseason, Abbrederis and Janis could force the Packer to carry six wide receivers

I want to start off by wishing everyone a happy 4th of July!  I was supposed to be born on the bicentennial and decided to arrive early so I’m forever reminded of my need for patience on this glorious day in American history!

Heading into training camp in just under a month, the Green Bay Packers and their coaching staff are likely already discussing possible scenarios that the team can emerge with when they head into the 2014 regular season.  However, it’s way too early to make any hard and fast decisions on who will and won’t be on the final 53-man roster, save for the obvious guys.

One part of that discussion that has already started some buzz is which positions the Packers may consider carrying an extra player.  There is no real requirement for how many players a team has to carry at a certain position, but there are some historical averages that most teams operate under.  Below are the usual number of players seen on a roster that employs a base 3-4 defense.  Again, these are averages and many teams have used different combinations in the past, based on need and talent level.

——————–

Quarterback (2)

Running Back/Fullback (4)

Wide Receiver (5)

Tight End (4)

Offensive Line (9)

Defensive Line (8)

Linebacker (8)

Cornerback (6)

Safety (4)

Kicker (1)

Punter (1)

Long snapper (1)

——————–

Keep in mind that while teams carry 53 men on their roster, only 45 are dressed on game day.  Teams need to be sure that they’re giving themselves enough depth at each position based on who is most likely to suit up on a regular basis.

One example of why is last season when the Packers were faced with the harsh reality that they didn’t have what they needed at the quarterback position behind Aaron Rodgers.  Heading into the regular season, they carried only one backup, Seneca Wallace, and had Scott Tolzien on the practice squad.  By the time Rodgers returned in week 17, Wallace was on injured reserve, Tolzien was promoted to the active roster and Matt Flynn was signed mid-season.  The Packers ended the season with three quarterbacks on the active roster and I fully expect the same this season.

---- Get AddToAny
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.

11

June

Offensive Linemen Musical Chairs, 2014 Edition: who stays, who goes?

Outside of special teams, nothing is more confusing, more obfuscated or more esoteric than offensive line play; We all know that Joe Thomas is supposed to be one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL right now, but do you or I really know that?  I’ve never watched a game specifically focused on Thomas (which would of course require me to watch a Browns game…..so no thanks), and I suspect that even Browns fans probably haven’t really paid all that much attention to him.  The only real reason I know of Joe Thomas at all is 1) he went to Wisconsin and 2) I’ve been told he’s one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL today.  At least with other positions, there are splash plays or statistics we can fall back on whether it be sacks, yards after the catch, Dwight Freeney’s spin move, the back shoulder catch etc.  But for offensive linemen, none of that really exists; the “pancake” has never really gotten off the ground as a established metric of offensive linemen success nor does a great block ever make the Sportscenter highlight reel.  Add on top of that there are actually 5 positions on the offensive line, and we get a confusing mess of contradictory statements; offensive linemen must all work together, but each have different jobs.  Tackles are tackles and guards are guards, except some are left tackles but not right tackles and some are right guards but not left guards.  Center is a unique position, unless it isn’t and you put a guard in there.  There is a distinct difference between “interior” linemen and “bookend” offensive linemen, unless of course you kick your tackle to play guard.

In all of that, the Packers are faced with a conundrum; there are 5 positions and traditionally 2 backup positions, making 7 offensive linemen total.  What I’ve done is made a mental excercise of some combinations of offensive linemen that are likely to happen when the Packers roster is reduced to 53.  A couple rules: I’d highly doubt the Packers carry any more since offensive linemen aren’t all that useful on special teams meaning they’d almost always be on the inactive list.  Of course the Packers have had more than 7 offensive linemen in the middle of the season due to injuries and what not, but its obviously not their first choice.  Also there needs to be a backup for both tackle and guard; supposedly there is a significance between the two but Ted Thompson probably disagrees since the vast majority of offensive linemen that have been on the Packer’s roster were college left tackles.

11

April

Packers Like Odd Pairing At A Key Position

Packers Center J.C. Tretter

Despite never having played a snap at center or in a NFL game, Tretter seems like a front runner for the Packers center position in 2014

During this week’s No Huddle Radio podcast, we had the pleasure of chatting with Dan Shonka of Ourlads Scouting Services about everything draft related.

Of course, there were deep ties to the Green Bay Packers and what we might see from them in next month’s draft.  One interesting comment that Dan made about drafting players to play certain positions in the NFL.

Shonka’s example couldn’t have been more perfect for the Packers’ current situation at offensive center.  He said that if a team needs a center, they should draft a center.  He has never been a big proponent of drafting a guard or a tackle to convert to another position due to the risk of that conversion not being a success.

Sure, there are occasions where a player can develop multiple skill sets.  Guard T.J. Lang is an example there.  Lang was a left tackle in college and was immediately tried at guard in Green Bay.  Lang did also work at tackle and has even played tackle in live game action, but he’s now entrenched at guard and has proven to be very suitable there.  Still, examples such as Lang seem to be more the exception and not the rule.

During head coach Mike McCarthy’s time in Green Bay, we have seen many examples of players who were offensive tackles in college and tried at guard and/or center with the Packers.  A few that come to mind besides Lang:  Derek Sherrod, David Bakhtiari, and Bryan Bulaga to name a few.  Heading into this season, Bulaga and Bakhtiari are presumed to be the starting tackle tandem.  Sherrod is once again back at tackle as a backup.

Beyond the versatility that it can offer, it begs the question as to why McCarthy continues to try and turn tackles into interior linemen.

We know McCarthy likes players that can do multiple things.  He likes his linebackers and tight ends on special teams.  He obviously likes his linemen to be able to step in at any spot on the line and in a pinch.  But is that the best way to build that continuity that he also talks about having on the line?

7

April

Ted Thompson Must Not Care Much About the Center Position

Packers Center J.C. Tretter

Packers Center J.C. Tretter

It seemed to me to be a no-brainer. The Packers have no one on their roster with more than minimal NFL experience as  a center.  Before yesterday, there were 19 players on the NFL Free Agent Tracker listed at the center position. Surely Ted would be looking to bring in an inexpensive player with real experience at center in case the JC Tretter conversion doesn’t work out.

Well, Ted has done nothing yet and now there are 18 centers on the market, with arguably the best of the bunch now off the board.

The NFC  North Division rival Bears signed former Saints starting center Brian De La Puente on Sunday. De La Puente was a guy I had on my radar as the best target for Ted Thompson to bring in as cheap veteran insurance. Only I had no idea how cheap.

The Bears signed De La Puente for a veteran minimum contract ($735K for a player with 4 years experience) with a $65,000 signing bonus and only $100,00 in guaranteed money. That’s quite a bargain for a player ranked as the fifth best center in the NFL over the last three seasons, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Still young at only 28yrs old, De La Puente turned down the Lions and the Saints to join the Bears and his old offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. While that makes sense, it is odd that he joins a team where he is expected to be a backup, not a starter. Certainly a team like the Packers could have offered him a better opportunity to win a starting job.  But apparently, that offer never came.

With how inexpensively De La Puente came, one can’t say the Packers (Ted) were being cheap, a common refrain heard from many critics. So that leaves several other possibilities:

1) The Packers are dead-on convinced Tretter is their center of the present and the future.

2) The Packers are planning to draft a starting center.

2) Ted Thompson just doesn’t value the center position that highly.

Let’s take a look at the first option. I recently wrote about the state of the center position for WTMJonline.  Here’s an excerpt from that article:

29

March

Cory’s Corner: Packers are undervaluing the center position

Frank Winters was Brett Favre's starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Frank Winters was Brett Favre’s starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Just how important is the quarterback-center battery in the NFL?

Apparently, it’s not that overly important to the Packers because Aaron Rodgers is about to embark on his fourth different starting center to begin the season.

Think about that for a second.

Rodgers is the best quarterback on the planet. Amazingly, he has been able to average 31 touchdowns a season with a 58-29 record in six seasons. And he’s done it despite playing with a revolving door at the leadership position of the offensive line.

In 16 years with the Packers, Brett Favre had five different centers start the majority of games. But that counts James Campen for one season in 1992 and the person nobody remembers — Grey Ruegamer in 2004.

Favre’s mainstay was Frank Winters. “Bag of Doughnuts” and Favre were teammates for 11 seasons and were able to grow up together and make each other better.

Rodgers hasn’t had that yet. Right when Rodgers and Scott Wells were beginning to form a cohesive bond, the Packers didn’t bring him back after four years of working as the quarterback-center battery and thus, the process started all over again.

The next person to come on down is JC Tretter. Last year’s fourth round draft pick hasn’t started a game in the NFL but the Packers are handing him a shot to ignite one of the most dynamic offenses in the league with each snap.

Centers aren’t exactly a glory position. No kid gazes into the mirror and dreams of one day making a perfect shotgun snap to his quarterback before quickly reasserting himself as a pass blocker. Heck, Tretter was a quarterback, running back and wideout in high school.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

But that doesn’t mean the job of a center should be understated. While left tackles get the money for protecting the quarterback’s blind side, it’s the center that makes the coverage adjustments. A center is the quarterback of the offensive line.

So when Rodgers comes back to camp not knowing much about his next center, he needs to spend time getting to know how things will work. If you’re Rodgers, you don’t want to learn in Week 3 that your center has a problem with a quick snap count or a pronounced loud bark in order to draw a defense offsides.

14

March

Evan Dietrich-Smith Signs With The Buccaneers

Packers C Evan Dietrich-Smith

Packers C Evan Dietrich-Smith

Tom Silverstein has been a busy guy, first reporting on the resigning of defensive end/nose tackle BJ Raji and now reporting that center Evan Dietrich-Smith has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

 

With that, the Packers now have a big question to answer this offseason, much like they did when they let Scott Wells sign with the St. Louis Rams.   JC Tretter becomes perhaps the de facto starter, which is a little scary considering he was a left tackle in college and broke his foot during rookie orientation last year, essentially giving him a redshirt rookie season.  Other options might include Don Barclay, who practiced at center during training camp last year with somewhat disastrous results or TJ Lang, who is rumored to be the emergency center (or at least Josh Sitton jokes that he is). Luckily, the Packers have some other options on the offensive line, with both Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod likely being in the mix at tackle, either Don Barclay and/or David Bakhtiari could slide into the interior.

In terms of the draft, the Packers have never thought very highly of centers (Wells was a 6th round draft choice while EDS was a undrafted free agent), so it’s unlikely that they would draft a center high, rather they like to draft tackles who likely wouldn’t make it in the NFL and convert them to interior linemen.

The top free agent center is Alex Mack, who was designated the transition franchise tag for the Browns, likely meaning that the Packers will not try to pry Mack away from the Browns.  Again going back to Thompson’s history drafting and retaining centers, it appears as if the Packers front office views centers as largely fungible, meaning the Packers backup likely will be another low round draft pick or an undrafted free agent.  Another option might be to run the “Jeff Saturday” play, where the Packers sign a veteran center while they hope JC Tretter or Don Barclay gain enough experience at center to play next there next season.