Category Archives: Team Units

29

July

DuJuan Harris could bring some nasty to Packers kickoff return unit

DuJuan Harris bike

This picture of Packers RB DuJuan Harris carrying a little girls’ pink bike to practice on Monday is making the rounds online. I thought it would be funny to pair this sweet picture with my post about how violent and nasty of a runner Harris could be on kickoffs.

After three days of Packers training camp practices, it appears DuJuan Harris will be given an opportunity to win the kick returner job.

It’s way too early for anybody to get a sense of who has the advantage in contested position battles, but the thought of Harris returning kicks intrigues me in an old-school football sort of way.

Harris packs 200-plus pounds onto his 5-foot-8 frame and runs like a burning man sprinting for a nearby lake. A “rolling ball of butcher knives” was the phrase an NFL scout used to describe Harris in a Bob McGinn game review story a few years back.

I want to see Harris take a kick five yards deep in the end zone, build up a head of steam, and plow straight into the first guy who tries to tackle him. If Harris hits a pile of tacklers forming a wall to bring him down, my money is on the wall moving backward before Harris hits the turf.

The NFL has tried to make kick returns safer in recent years. To me, trying to tackle Harris after he’s been charging ahead for 15 yards seems anything but safe.

Harris is the type of player who will bring some violence to the Packers kick return unit and make people who remember what kickoffs were like 10, 15 or 20 years ago smile and nod their heads.

Of course, Harris is coming back after missing last season with a knee injury and various other ailments. Perhaps the promise he showed at the end of 2012 will be long gone.

The former used car salesman deserves a chance, though. With Eddie Lacy and James Starks slotted as the top two running backs, kick returns might be Harris’s best shot at carving out a significant role on this team.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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28

July

Packers Xs and Os: What We Might See From McCarthy’s Up-Tempo Offense (Part 2)

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).

Last week, we started to discuss some offensive concepts we might see rolled out this year if Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is true to his word about going up-tempo with three-down personnel.

This week, we’ll look at some basic passing route combinations I expect to see the Packers to use in an up-tempo, and possibly no huddle, game plan.

Of course, there is a huge combination of formations and routes an NFL offense can roll out to attack complex defenses. So, for this article, I’m making some very basic assumptions and this carries my standard disclaimer that this is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes only. Also, we’ll only look at some of the most common route combinations found in the west coast offense playbook.

Assumptions

  • The offense is in the 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers).
  • The offense is in a 2×2 alignment.
  • Even if a play is called in the huddle, sight adjustments at the line of scrimmage during the pre-snap read trump the huddle. The quarterback and receivers will adjust their routes to attack the coverage the defense is showing. This may be from a quarterback audible or automatic sight adjustments.
  • The defenses discussed here will only include man-to-man, man-to-man/blitz, cover 2, and cover 3.
  • Most of the route combinations will spread and attack the defense using the high/low principle to stress the cornerbacks.

Attack Keys

The quarterback and receivers must see the same thing in terms of how the defense is covering the field. Of utmost importance is reading the backpedal of the safeties. For simplicity sake, I’m assuming here that the quarterback and receivers have properly read that. Therefore, the keys of the routes will be reading and stressing the cornerbacks.

The route combinations described below are designed to attack the cornerbacks and make them make a decision and force them into a bad angle or coverage.

All-Purpose Route Combinations

It’s important that the offense has route packages that can attack any coverage the defense rolls out. Not only is the defense really good at disguising their coverage pre-snap, but sometimes the offense also wants to run a play before the defense can even align and get into a coverage. So, it’s good strategy to have route concepts that can attack either man-to-man coverage or zone coverage equally as effective.

27

July

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers football

Packers training camp opened Friday and we now have plenty of Packers storylines to analyze and break down. That means today’s “Surviving Sunday” will be the last until the Packers 2014 season comes to an end, hopefully after Feb. 1 and a victory in Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.

Now that training camp has started, what Packers storyline would you like to see go the way of “Surviving Sunday ” and disappear for the rest of the season?

I’m sick of talking about the defense. I mean really sick of it.

I’m sick of hearing about how bad Packers’ safeties were last season. I’m sick of being worried about having to watch A.J. Hawk for another season. I’m sick of speculation about B.J. Raji ever being a useful player again. I’m sick of wondering if Nick Perry will ever stay healthy. I’m sick of Clay Matthews’ thumb (and his damn hamstring) and I’m sick of trying to figure out if Dom Capers is a good defensive coordinator or not.

The sooner the Packers defense improves, the happier my life will be. I’m not asking for the Packers D to morph into the second coming of the Purple People Eaters or the Steel Curtain, but show enough promise that fans can have reasonable hope that the defense could catch fire late in the season and ignite a Super Bowl run.

That seems to be the formula for success in today’s NFL: Have a good to great quarterback who goes on a run late in the season and back that up with a good defense that heats up as the weather turns cold.

If I have to put up with #FireCapers hashtags and another season of bumbling play from the middle of the defense, it’s going to be a trying season.

Packers News, Notes and Links

  • Now that I’m done ranting, we can get to some happier news, like the Packers signing Jordy Nelson to a 4-year, $39 million contract extension. I see Nelson as a Cris Carter type of receiver. He has very good physical ability, but stretches those physical tools even further by catching anything he can reach and always thinking a step or two ahead of the defense.
23

July

Is Jarrett Boykin A Replacement Player?

Jarrett Boykin will be slotted into the coveted No. 3 wide receiver next season. He's ready because of one person.

Jarrett Boykin

Wide receivers are known as the “shiny hood ornament” of the NFL because largely their production is tied to their quarterbacks; even a wide receiver like Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson have had abysmal seasons with ineffectual quarterbacks behind center.  Furthermore, great/good wide receivers have left for greener pastures in free agency only to be met with an icy reception; Greg Jennings became the latest ex-Packer to move to Minneapolis and needless to say his production suffered when it was Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman throwing him the ball as opposed to Aaron Rodgers.

On the flip side, it almost seems like you can throw just about anybody into a jersey and make them a productive wide receiver if they are being fed the ball by Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Tom Brady; wide receivers without enormous physical talent Wes Welker, Pierre Garcon and again Jennings have all had great careers even if they don’t look like Calvin Johnson.  Of course, it’s not like a wide receiver is nothing without his quarterback, the question is how much.

The receiver I was most interested in was Jarrett Boykin; an unheralded, undrafted wide receiver out of Virigina Tech who initially signed on with the Jacksonville Jaguars only to be cut after a couple weeks.  After being picked up by the Packers, he was one of the surprise rookies to make the squad in 2012 with the likes of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings all on the roster.

I’ll be the first to say I didn’t notice his name on the transaction wire nor did I predict him to make the roster in 2012 (this was the year of the Torey Gurley vs. Diondre Borel debate) nor did I think he would he do much on the field, and needless to say I, along with just about everyone else was in for a pleasant surprise.  Now with two years under his belt, people are legitimately thinking of him as a viable #2/#3 receiver; he’s definitely not a #1 who can take the top off of a defense nor is he the shifty guy catches everything, but he’s a great role player who does everything good enough to contribute on a consistent basis.  Considering his rise from unknown prospect to perhaps one of the up and coming wide receivers, is this a product of good talent or a good quarterback?

22

July

Cory’s Corner: Packers’ 2014 D Begins and Ends with Raji

With the signing of Julius Peppers, B.J. Raji could have a snice year.

With the signing of Julius Peppers, B.J. Raji could have a nice year.

I gave B.J. Raji a lot of grief last year.

After setting career lows in total tackles (12) and tallying no sacks for the second straight season, it was completely warranted.

Raji’s argument was that he barely played his true position as a bona fide nose tackle. He dabbled in playing end and also spent time as a three-technique lineman that is more prevalent in a 4-3 scheme.

True position or not, his production nose-dived to the point that many — including myself — were surprised that the Packers didn’t let him walk in free agency.

But then Julius Peppers signed.

Which of course means that Raji will be going back to his usual perch at the middle of the defensive line as the team’s nose tackle. The fifth-year pro should be ecstatic about getting help on the outside to assist him bull-rushing up the gut.

And there’s another twist that makes it even better for the Packers: Raji signed a team-friendly deal this past offseason. Of course, there’s no way Green Bay can lose when Raji turns down $8 million a season. Now the 28-year-old is operating under a 1-year $4,000,000 deal.

Will Peppers have a big year? He may surprise a lot of people, but even if he plays like an average 34-year-old, the Packers will be OK.

And the reason is because Green Bay will be playing to the strengths of the guy that was one of the best run-stoppers in the game in 2010.

Is it a gamble? Sure. First of all, Clay Matthews cannot get hurt again. A consistent pass rush must be executed from each side in order to give Raji space up the middle.

In more ways than one this is Raji’s year. He needs a big year for a big payday, but he also wants a solid year to end the criticism he took all of last year for giving up on plays early. Obviously, there is no excuse for loafing and there’s no reason to do that no matter what position you play.

Raji cannot be satisfied with how he played last year. I mean he was tied for 540th in the league in combined tackles. He will need to be more of a ball hawk this year because the Packers take on eight teams with a dominant running back.

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 

20

July

2014 Packers ILB Position – Last Year’s Safety?

Brad Jones and AJ Hawk

Brad Jones and AJ Hawk

Won’t be long now! We can stop speculating on all things Packers in a few long days from now.  This offseason has been very good, talent has been added in Peppers and Guion for Defensive line.

There is a ton of talent heading into their second year. Baktiari, Boyd, Lacy, Jones, Hyde, Barrington, Palmer, Mulumba and White all earned playing time last year.  Every NFL coach and GM will tell you the biggest jump is going into that second year.

You add the players returning from injury in Bulaga, Sherrod, Matthews, Tretter, Worthy and getting players that were just banged up for most of the year like the Jones, both Datone and Brad were hampered with injuries, Perry played on a broken foot. These returning players account for five first round picks a second and a 4th. Not having those players on the field hurt the Packers in 2013 and will add a big boost for 2014.

You add another draft class to increase competition and this camp will be fun to watch.

I have heard more about the Packers not drafting an Inside Linebacker then about getting the best all around safety in the draft. From a lot of comments through out the Packer world, many think the defense is doomed because of not getting an ILB.  I am not one of those.

Safety was a bigger need, Changing the lineup of the Defensive line was a bigger need, Wide Receiver was a bigger need. When you are one injury away from Miles White being your #3 WR, it is a big need.

The situation at ILB is far from bad or will even be a hindrance to the 2014 defense. I have never understood the crap piled on Hawk for his eight years with the team. In 2013 Hawk became the Packers All Time Leading Tackler. When you look at the history of the Packers that is no small feat. That record stood for 24 years and that player took 11 years to do it.  He again lead the team in tackles last year, had 5 sacks and one Int with 5 passes defensed. He has missed 2 games in 8 years and yet so many just plain hate him.