The preseason has given Green Bay Packers fans a lot to talk about. There’s the wide receiver depth chart, the backup quarterback spot, the pecking order of the cornerbacks, the badly needed emergence of Oren Burks and Reggie Gilbert, Mike Pettine’s scheme on defense, the addition of Mo Wilkerson to an already stacked defensive line, and even the performance of rookie punter JK Scott. But one group that doesn’t get mentioned much is the offensive line. Typically, that’s a sign that everything’s OK with the big hogs up front. So far in this preseason, however, the poor play of backup tackles needs to be added to the discussion list as its becoming increasingly apparent that the current substitutes do not appear up to the task.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way; the backup offensive linemen are backups for a reason. The expectation is that they are inferior to their starting counterparts, and as such need to work on their craft in order to progress as a player. Additionally, continuity along the offensive line allows everyone to be on the same page with blocking schemes on any given play, and with the rotational style of preseason, that isn’t going to happen. With those caveats in mind, the backup offensive tackles have not been playing up to expectation at even a replacement so far this preseason, especially while protecting the quarterback. Let’s take a look at some pass protection issues.
Bell has started 74 games in his career but hasn’t had much success with any team. With Green Bay, he looks lost more often than he should. Brought in as a veteran swing tackle who also has experience at guard, Bell seemed like a savvy pickup to possibly spot-start for the questionable Brian Bulaga. For the sake of the Green Bay offense, let’s hope he doesn’t have to see the field much this year.
Bell, seemingly an imposing physical specimen standing at 6’5” and weighing 320 lbs, doesn’t play with much strength. At his pro day, he managed only 20 reps on the bench press, and it shows in his punch. In pass protection, rather than forcefully striking his defender, Bell often seems to simply lay a hand on them and absorb the contact.
That’s not necessarily a bad strategy; if you’re able to move your feet fast enough to handle the edge rush or have enough strength to absorb a bull rush, there’s hope. If you don’t use the traditional punch (any variation of inside, outside, or both hands), you use your patience and go with the outside hands once the defense has made their move. Bell also hasn’t been able to do that, at all. He forgets to keep moving his feet when he goes in for the punch, and when he doesn’t punch, he jumps the gun on the outside hands block.
For the uninitiated: the ‘punch’ technique is just as it sounds — a pass blocking technique that everyone is taught when they first learn the game, where the objective is for the offensive lineman to get his hands on the defender first and dictate their path of travel with an open handed punch. It works well to throw the defender of their planned route of attack giving the blocker more time to get their feet in good position, and you can do it out of any type of pass set. It’s prone to upper body over extension and counter attack by smarter defenders, but its a good basic setup. The ‘outside hands’ technique is a fairly new coaching technique where offensive linemen hold their hands back and out of the way of the defender until the defender puts his hands into the blocker, who then gets his hands on the outside of the defender’s hands and grabs on.
Here Bell is failing at a punch, and without the necessary foot speed to make up the difference.
For comparison’s sake, go back and watch the opposite tackle on each clip and spot the differences.
Here, Bell is using the outside hands move. His hands are placed well but he hesitated with his drop steps and can’t keep up with the speed rush. Having good upper body strength can help mitigate this lack of foot speed as with the outside hands technique you’re essentially holding your defender in place, but Bell hasn’t showcased the strength to do that either.
You probably noticed that these clips are from the Tennessee game; I will admit that Bell did play marginally better against Pittsburgh, but he was also quickly shuffled inside after one series as Justin McCray went out with an ankle injury. Bell seems better suited to take up space in the middle, where he doesn’t have to deal with speed rushers on the edge. At the very least, he will need a tight end or running back to chip/double team any competent pass rusher.
Bell hasn’t been the only tackle playing poorly. Murphy has looked better than Bell at times, but still doesn’t have the foot speed to make up for any mistakes in hand placement, or for that matter, the foot speed to simply stay in front of his guy no matter his hand work.
Time and time again, Murphy simply gets beat around the edge. He held up OK against power moves, as he was able to sink his base and reset his feet, but he just didn’t move well horizontally.
While the next clip is a pretty good move by Harold Landry (<3 you Harold), Murphy doesn’t get deep enough in his pass set as his upper body stays horizontal to the line of scrimmage. In order to keep your shoulders square while dropping deep enough in your pass set, the kick steps have to be exaggerated a bit, and Murphy doesn’t do it.
Thank goodness both backup quarterbacks can run, because so far this preseason they’ve been running for their lives with Bell and Murphy are in.
Notice a certain backup tackle who wasn’t mentioned above, someone who has drawn the ire of Packers fans? You guessed it: Jason Spriggs. Despite not starting in game one of the preseason as expected, Spriggs has played better than he’s shown in the past and — this is pure speculation here — he seems to be bigger and stronger. I’m looking forward to continued progress from Spriggs, as one of the backups will need to step up this season and Byron Bell and Kyle Murphy have some work to do.