Defensive Line may function fine as-is : Packers Insider

Defensive Line may function fine as-is

August 21, 2011 by  
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By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – Some thoughts on the Green Bay Packers after their 28-20 exhibition victory over the Arizona Cardinals Friday night at Lambeau Field.

When general manager Ted Thompson said at halftime that he wasn’t thinking about adding a veteran defensive lineman, C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn undoubtedly were uppermost in his mind.

It was just another insignificant exhibition, but based on how well Wilson and Wynn played, there now is some tangible evidence that the Packers’ D-line might be fine as presently constituted.

As it stands now, the Packers probably enter the season with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Mike Neal starting and Wilson, Wynn and Howard Green backing up. That’s assuming Neal’s knee doesn’t get worse and the head injury that Wilson suffered late in the first quarter and led to concussion testing doesn’t sideline him for long.

Linebacker A.J. Hawk (second from right) calls the play in the defensive huddle during Friday’s exhibition game against the Cardinals. Big Grease, Ryan Pickett, centers the photo.

Rookie end Lawrence Guy, who sat out with a concussion, still has a chance, too.Wilson’s night ended after just 11 snaps, including seven at right end in the 3-4, three at left end in the 3-4 and one at left tackle in the 4-1. His three best plays came against the run.

On the Cardinals’ first play from scrimmage, former Packers left guard Daryn Colledge appeared to miss an assignment and didn’t even block Wilson. He shot through and tackled Beanie Wells.

A series later, Wilson trashed Colledge and hit Wells in the backfield for minus-1.

And on the first play of his final series, Wilson kept his pads low and withstood a double-team block by right tackle Brandon Keith and tight end Jeff King. As Wilson looked for the ball, Wells powered straight into him and Wilson made the tackle for a gain of 2.

Wilson stayed in the game for one more play, but it can be presumed that his head injury occurred on the collision with Wells.

You could ding Wilson for allowing Wells to run past him for 7 yards as he was engaged with a blocker. He also was stymied on four one-on-one pass rushes.

All in all, the game probably represented Wilson’s finest moment since the start of camp. He has had a rather spotty summer.

While Wilson started for Neal in base, Wynn started for him in nickel. Then, after Wilson went down, Wynn played a full three quarters.

Wynn was the club’s best rusher. His pair of knockdowns came against Rex Hadnot, the starting right guard, and Lyle Sendlein, the starting center. In the second half, he had two flushes, including one against veteran left tackle D’Anthony Baptiste.

His best play against the run came on the goal line when he played off a double-team by Batiste and tight end Jim Dray to stop the ball carrier for no gain.

The Packers’ only sack was recorded by Pickett after Kevin Kolb held the ball for an eternity. The reason Kolb fled the pocket was an inside charge by Howard Green, who beat Hadnot. Green looked good against the run, too.

Nobody’s saying the Packers won’t miss Cullen Jenkins. The Packers will have to run an abundance of stunts in an attempt to get Raji in gear and moving away from the nonstop double-teaming that he will encounter. For the sake of the pass rush, as well as Raji, it’s essential that Neal stay on the field and perform well.

It’s just that on Saturday afternoon, the Packers must have felt better about their D-line depth than they did on Friday afternoon.

Rookie Derek Sherrod played as poorly as any Packers’ offensive lineman has played in a long time.

In the first half, Sherrod played strictly as a left guard and was on the field for 14 snaps. In the second half, all of his nine snaps came at left tackle. That’s 23 plays in all, the equivalent of about one-third of a regular-season game.

The fact that Sherrod was almost twice as bad as he was a week ago in Cleveland should be of major concern. Against the Browns, eight of his 43 plays were negative, or 18.6%. Against the Cardinals, nine of his 23 plays were negative, or 39.1%.

As a guard, Sherrod had fits against Calais Campbell, a fourth-year defensive end with tremendous size. Sherrod didn’t get his hands anywhere near Campbell’s chest before he whipped outside him to sack Aaron Rodgers in just 2.8 seconds. Later, he was bulled backward by Campbell only to be saved by a double-team.

On a run by Ryan Grant for 1, Sherrod simply fell off Campbell and he made the tackle. On the goal line, Alex Green would have scored standing up if Sherrod had been able to sustain against Vonnie Holliday, who made the tackle.

When lined up at left tackle, his position at Mississippi State, Sherrod wasn’t any better.

On the first play of the third quarter, Sherrod missed Holliday on the back side and the veteran tackled Green for no gain. On Sherrod’s last three plays, he failed to reach the second level and his man tackled Green for minus-1; he was beat wide by O’Brien Schofield for a sack in 2.9 seconds; and then he was beat again by Schofield on a spin move inside.

That would have been another sack except Matt Flynn got the ball out in 2.0 seconds to Chastin West for a 97-yard TD.

We all know the mitigating factors: Sherrod is playing two positions, never played guard until a month ago, didn’t have an off-season and other high picks at tackle have struggled early, too.

That might all be true, but this is about protecting the quarterback and defending a championship. Performance is all that matters for a team of this caliber.

There’s no longer a question that T.J. Lang is the better choice at left guard than Sherrod. In 26 snaps against Arizona (21 left guard, five left tackle), Lang had three negative plays, or 11.5%.

Lang played stronger this week, looked more sure of himself and made two or three excellent run blocks at the linebacker level. He has to be more aware and handle stunts better.

If Chad Clifton went down, the real question is whether Sherrod or Marshall Newhouse would be the better alternative.

Newhouse isn’t there yet. He has a tendency to get lazy with his hands and feet, and in his six-series stint he had two or three poor plays.

But Newhouse improved considerably from Cleveland, where he was a liability at right tackle. Four of his six series against Arizona were on the right side, and I never thought twice about him being out of his comfort zone.

He learned how to overcome, or at least compensate for his deficiencies. Sherrod hasn’t.

Erik Walden was given the big chance in practice last week and in the game to secure the right outside linebacker job. He didn’t do it.

Meanwhile, Frank Zombo quietly put together a solid performance playing on the left outside for injured Clay Matthews.

When Zombo came to Green Bay last year he was primarily a bull rusher. Now, he has a much wider repertoire of moves.

Against Arizona, Zombo used a spin move for a knockdown, split a double-team for a hurry and posted another knockdown against Keith.

Zombo and Walden represent the best positional battle of training camp. They hail from football nowheresville, and their tough, resourceful, no-nonsense style of play reflects it.

Each will play from scrimmage this season but don’t expect either man to back off until Mike McCarthy declares a winner.

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