Packers linemen get down to business
They’ve been transitioning since May 3, when head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen broke the news to them.
But while the Green Bay Packers offensive linemen have been adjusting to their new roles through an alphabet soup of offseason work – from their individual position work (IPWs) to their organized team activity (OTA) practice to the mandatory minicamp to one more week of OTAs – they were unanimous about this much: Now, everything changes, now that they’re in pads.
“Pads tell you a lot,” said left tackle-turned-right tackle Marshall Newhouse. “All this stuff before and OTAs, you can only do so much, especially as an offensive lineman. Pads are a big deal for us.”
That’s not to say that all the offseason work wasn’t important. With Newhouse and guard T.J. Lang moving from the left side to the right side, and tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard Josh Sitton moving from the right side to the left, all their techniques had been flipped, as if in a mirror. That left-footed kick-step is now a right-footed one, that right-arm punch is now a left jab. Working on those techniques in individual settings, small groups and non-padded 11-on-11 sessions was valuable, without a doubt. But not until you’ve got Clay Matthews trying to beat you to the edge or B.J. Raji and Datone Jones trying to knock you on your keister do you truly get to gauge your progress.
“Definitely. It was great having the offseason, working through our footwork and the right stances and all that stuff, but you put the pads on and you simulate what you’re going to do in a game. That’s the most important training that we get,” Lang explained. “You’ve got to take advantage of that fundamental period, those team periods, every rep you get, just to make sure you’re focusing on all that work that we put in the last couple months. These are the days you want to make all those practice reps count.”
Although the players enjoyed a collective bargaining agreement-mandated day off on Monday, they did have their first padded practice on Sunday and will be in pads the next five days, including Saturday’s Family Night Scrimmage. There will be three more padded practices on Aug. 6, 7 and 8 in advance of the preseason opener against Arizona on Aug. 9.
Among the periods that are most valuable in practice for the offensive linemen are the fundamental periods, where they work on the finer aspects of their techniques; the 1-on-1 pass-blocking drills against the defensive linemen and outside linebackers, when their pass protection is put to the test; what’s called a “combo period,” where the line is essentially split in half and running backs run behind their combination blocks against a defensive front; and 11-on-11 competitive periods.
For McCarthy, the tape of Sunday’s practice was the most valuable to date in evaluating the progress of his displaced linemen, whether it was watching how Sitton and Lang work in concert with center Evan Dietrich-Smith from opposite sides, or whether Newhouse has improved the finer points of his techniques, or if Bulaga, who was lost for the season to a hip injury last November, looks like his old self.
“The fundamental tape, the half-line drill really for the first day was pretty good,” McCarthy said. “We were able to get a lot of reps and that’s really an extension of the run-blocking period, the team run period. So you actually have two team run periods. Just getting the fits and the footwork, the proper leverage points, hands and target – you can’t do it enough.
“The film is very valuable. We’ll watch it all (after practice), we’ll correct it all afternoon and I’ll make some corrections in the team meeting (at night) and we’ll move on to the next install.”
According to Lang, the combo period was especially important. Even though he and Newhouse – and Sitton and Bulaga – are still basically paired up, there’s still an adjustment in doing it from the opposite side.
“It’s against live action, it’s what we see in games, working in small groups like that, working on our combo blocks and going against the defense like that -- live, with pads on – you’re going to feel like a game situation,” Lang explained. “For us, every rep we do in pads is definitely important.”
While the best summer evaluation will come from the preseason games – particularly the third one against Seattle on Aug. 23, which should be the starting five’s dress rehearsal for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener at San Francisco – the next 10 days are critical. By the time they play host to the Cardinals at Lambeau Field, the Packers will have had more padded practices completed (nine) than they’ll have scheduled for the rest of training camp (six).
“I don’t know, but I would think a couple weeks of being in pads and stuff, and then we’ll probably be where we need to be,” Sitton replied when asked how long he thinks it’ll take to get comfortable. “There’s still adjustments. I don’t feel 100 percent over there yet. It’s going to take time. There’s a lot of different things that you have to work on. It’s not just, ‘Oh, just being over there for a month and getting a feel for it.’ There’s a lot of different things that we do with footwork, handwork, hand placement, different plays, and you’re just not trying to think of one thing for the day and try to work on that until I can get comfortable with that one thing and keep on moving down the list.
“We get a lot of work in the offseason, the OTAs and in practice, but it’s really about the pads and the live bullets flying at you is when you see how you’re going to really do. That’s what we do, we play games in pads. I think that’ll really be the start of it. And I think it’ll take maybe a week or two into training camp to be feeling close to 100 percent over there.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.