Caution: Packers’ Marshall Newhouse needs some finishing touches
By Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Green Bay - The real issue with the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line isn’t identifying a third tackle or unearthing another backup on the inside.
It’s whether Marshall Newhouse can provide championship play in his first season as the full-fledged starter at left tackle.
The two exhibition games that Newhouse has played provide a sobering picture of a third-year man with physical gifts but without the aggressiveness that the best offensive linemen almost always possess.
After sitting out the opener in San Diego with a concussion, Newhouse played 17 snaps against Cleveland. His opponent, defensive end Emmanuel Stephens, entered the league as a free agent in 2010 and already has been cut.
Twice in that three-series stint, Newhouse made contact with the 255-pound Stephens only to fall off the block and allow Stephens to slide into the tackle and stop Alex Green after a modest gain.
Much the same thing happened Thursday night in Cincinnati when Newhouse played 40 snaps.
On the first play, Green was limited to a 3-yard gain largely because Newhouse didn’t sustain his block on the back side and his man, defensive end Michael Johnson, assisted on the tackle.
Johnson, a talented player with 15 starts and 11 ½ sacks in his first three seasons, gave Newhouse all he could handle. He beat Newhouse for a flush, he came off Newhouse to hold Green to a gain of 2 and he knocked Newhouse back and helped tackle Cedric Benson after a gain of 3.
Newhouse also drew a false-start penalty, was called for holding lightning-quick defensive tackle Geno Atkins on a stunt and cost Green a much larger gain than 2 with a poor back-side cut block against Atkins.
Excluding the false-start penalty, Newhouse had seven negative plays by subjective judgment, or 17.5%. That means he did his job 33 times in 40 snaps, which is OK but not what the Packers were looking for when they basically handed Newhouse the job that had been Chad Clifton’s for 11 years.
Personnel people around the same league see the same thing. “He’s got the feet, but he has to play physical,” said one after the Cleveland game. Added another: “He just needs to finish. He gives it up way too easy.”
Newhouse has looked improved in pass protection this summer, but you can’t really tell until the regular season. For all his ability, he still allowed 10 ½ sacks a year ago in just 77% playing time, the most allowed by a Green Bay player since Tony Mandarich was trashed for 12 ½ in 1990.
The numbers for Newhouse in pressures allowed and “bad” runs yielded weren’t pretty, either.
On opening day against San Francisco, Newhouse will have to deal on his side with defensive end Justin Smith and outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Last week, guard Josh Sitton said Justin Smith was the strongest player he has ever faced, and the long and speedy Aldon Smith posted 14 sacks as a rookie.
To become a top player, Newhouse will have to ear-hole a pass rusher if he gets the chance on a double team or screw some linebacker or strong safety into the ground on a running play.
When talent runs equal, as it often does among the upper echelons of players, the temperament to finish separates offensive linemen.
Newhouse appears to have the tools even though at 6 feet 4 inches he is at least an inch shorter than the prototypical number. Now it remains to be seen if he has it in him to cut loose and dominate someone.
As for the backups . . .
The release of tackle Herb Taylor on Friday can be related to the waiving of safety Charlie Peprah last month.
Peprah, to be sure, is a far more accomplished player than Taylor. But in each case, with no sure-fire replacement on the roster, the Packers simply forced themselves to find a better alternative.
After a brutal outing against front-line opposition in San Diego, Taylor certainly didn’t embarrass himself the last two games. He had three negative snaps out of 20 playing right tackle in the third quarter against the Bengals, which was the exact same ratio as Reggie Wells had playing left tackle.
Everything that Taylor did was just OK. He didn’t possess a distinguishing characteristic that might have endeared himself to either coaches or scouts.
So what does Green Bay do now?
T.J. Lang could always move outside if Bryan Bulaga or Newhouse went down. But Lang is a better guard than tackle just as the next man up inside, Evan Dietrich-Smith, is a better center than guard.
Don’t expect much from Derek Sherrod this year. Mike McCarthy basically ruled him out until at least mid-season because of his major leg injury, and just how effective he would be at that time is anyone’s guess.
At least Wells has started almost 100 games, and he’s more willing to go after people than Taylor.
Andrew Datko should be back practicing before long from his concussion. Still, the Florida State product hasn’t demonstrated that he can be counted on even in a year or two, let alone this season.
Unless the Packers acquire a player by trade, waiver or free-agent signing, the best bet on the roster might well be Don Barclay.
A rookie free agent from West Virginia, Barclay looked overmatched in the first two weeks of training camp, particularly in pass protection. At one point, he had a record of 8-14-7 in the one-on-one pass-blocking drill. Since then, he has gone 11-2.
Barclay made all 40 of his starts at left tackle in the Mountaineers’ spread offense. The Packers played him strictly at guard until earlier this week, when he took a few snaps outside.
Having played 14 series at left guard and six at right guard in the first 2 ½ exhibition games, Barclay played the last 21 snaps at right tackle in the fourth quarter Thursday night.
Granted, Barclay was rusty, but not so much that his potential at tackle wasn’t evident. He had a few bad plays, but the Packers might have looked at the Bengals tape and decided they’d rather work with a four-position rookie such as Barclay than a two-position journeyman such as Taylor.
The difference in toughness between Barclay and Taylor was glaring.
Barclay has tried to be aggressive all camp. On his second play at tackle, he got into defensive tackle Devon Still, the Bengals’ second-round draft choice from Penn State, on a running play and finished him off.
Just 30 seconds were left when Marc Tyler turned the right side for 5 yards on fourth and 5. Barclay actually pulled toward the sideline, locked onto cornerback T.J. Heath and kept driving and driving until Heath was pinned beneath him 5 yards out of bounds near the cheerleaders.
Barclay stands an even 6-4 but does have good arm length and enormous hands. He’s not a bad athlete, either.
Every team is looking for tough guys with ability. With a strong showing in the exhibition finale, Barclay might parlay his grittiness into a roster berth.
Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, the rookie defensive tackles from the Big Ten, showed more Thursday night than in previous outings.
Late in the second quarter, Worthy had his first preseason pressure. Lined up as the right end in a three-man line on third and 10, he cleanly beat left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals’ best offensive lineman, with an inside charge that sent Andy Dalton scrambling.
In his 20 snaps, Worthy also beat Whitworth inside on the first play of the third quarter and tackled the ball carrier for no gain.
Daniels also registered his first pressure of preseason in an 18-play stint. It came on an inside move against Canadian right tackle Matthew O’Donnell, a third-stringer who at 6-9 doesn’t seem to bend very well.
There’s no questioning Daniels’ high effort and rugged on-field demeanor. It’s just a matter if he has the physical attributes to beat starting O-linemen.
Nick Perry played 28 snaps on the left outside and gave as good as he got.
He used his long arms to stuff tight end Donald Lee and make a tackle for a 1-yard gain. He knocked tight end Colin Cochart right back into Dalton’s lap. He registered another hurry with a bull rush against right tackle Andre Smith.
Perry might have made a few other plays if his hustle and level of intensity approached that of fellow rookie Dezman Moses. At this point, Perry just doesn’t play with the all-out zeal of Moses.
Moses, a free agent from Tulane and Iowa, might have been the best player on the field.
He had three or four pressures. He dropped, then flew forward and tackled wide receiver A.J. Green on a third-and-4 crossing route a yard shy of the sticks. He blew up a lead block by fullback James Develin and made a tackle for loss. And he ran right over the top of right tackle Dennis Roland, a former starter, for a knockdown.
Together with Clay Matthews, Erik Walden and Perry, Moses gives Dom Capers perhaps the deepest corps of outside linebackers in his four years as coordinator.
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