Backup O-line­men have work to do

Packer Plus - - News - Zach Kruse Spe­cial to Packer Plus Email zachkruse2@gmail.com

The Green Bay Pack­ers rested quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers and 17 oth­ers for the team’s third pre­sea­son game last Fri­day against the Oak­land Raiders. Is­sues in pass pro­tec­tion cre­ated a sloppy, dis­jointed game even­tu­ally end­ing in the Raiders’ fa­vor, 13-6. Here are five things we learned dur­ing the Pack­ers’ pre­sea­son loss:

1. Of­fen­sive line has depth is­sues

An im­por­tant night for eval­u­at­ing the Pack­ers’ sec­ond-team of­fen­sive line snow­balled into an avalanche of dis­ap­point­ment. The group was re­spon­si­ble for five sacks, 65 yards worth of penal­ties and the lion’s share of the of­fense’s strug­gles.

Pack­ers coach Mike McCarthy said it was as poor a per­for­mance as he can re­mem­ber from the of­fen­sive line dur­ing the pre­sea­son. The in­ces­sant penal­ties and sacks cre­ated long down-and-dis­tances and un­even play­call­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for backup quar­ter­backs Brett Hund­ley and DeShone Kizer, who both strug­gled un­der con­stant pres­sure.

The Pack­ers re­main con­fi­dent in in­di­vid­ual mem­bers of the sec­ond group. McCarthy specif­i­cally com­pli­mented left tackle Ja­son Spriggs and guard Lu­cas Pa­trick, who took reps at cen­ter in Oak­land, and con­firmed right tackle Kyle Mur­phy hurt his an­kle and was forced to la­bor through a dif­fi­cult night in pass pro­tec­tion. The Pack­ers have also been en­cour­aged by the de­vel­op­ment and ver­sa­til­ity of Adam Pankey, and there’s a com­fort level in vet­eran By­ron Bell.

Col­lec­tively, the of­fen­sive line group failed. In­di­vid­u­ally, the Pack­ers might now have a bet­ter han­dle on who will earn spots be­hind the five starters.

2. Rookie WR can fin­ish

Quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers be­lieved rookie re­ceiver J’Mon Moore needed just one play to get back on track after weeks of dif­fi­culty catch­ing the foot­ball. Moore’s op­por­tu­nity against the Raiders ar­rived early. On the of­fense’s first drive, he beat cor­ner­back Daryl Wor­ley on a cross­ing route and caught a 9-yard pass from Brett Hund­ley, set­ting up his most pro­duc­tive and en­cour­ag­ing night in a Pack­ers uni­form.

“J’Mon made some big plays and just con­verted on the back end of it,” McCarthy said. “He has the abil­ity to sep­a­rate, has a lot of nat­u­ral abil­ity there. Mak­ing the first catch on the keep was nice to see. It was in traf­fic. He def­i­nitely took a step.”

Moore fin­ished with four catches for a game-high 62 yards, in­clud­ing a leap­ing 27-yard catch in the fourth quar­ter. It was the kind of big play down the field the rookie has strug­gled to fin­ish dur­ing the first two pre­sea­son games. Moore leaped, ex­tended both arms, made the catch and ab­sorbed a big hit from the safety, con­vert­ing the third-down op­por­tu­nity.

The Pack­ers have re­mained confi- dent in Moore’s phys­i­cal abil­ity. He’s big and quick and ca­pa­ble of get­ting open.

3. Young play­mak­ers at CB

Three pre­sea­son games aren’t usu­ally enough to make broad state­ments about rook­ies, es­pe­cially at cor­ner­back, but it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear the Pack­ers have two bud­ding play­mak­ers at the po­si­tion in top picks Jaire Alexan­der and Josh Jack­son.

Alexan­der re­bounded after giv­ing up a long com­ple­tion to Amari Cooper on the first play to grab his first NFL in­ter­cep­tion, while Jack­son had his sec­ond pick-six in as many games can­celed by a penalty away from the play. The two rook­ies con­tinue to get their hands on the foot­ball, which is ex­actly what the Pack­ers thought they’d do in the NFL.

Alexan­der ap­pears to have locked down a start­ing spot in the nickel de­fense, and Jack­son is push­ing harder and harder for early play­ing time, re- gard­less of who is ahead of him. It’ll be dif­fi­cult to keep the pair off the field.

The Pack­ers only re­ceived five in­ter­cep­tions from corner­backs last sea­son. Could the two rook­ies match that to­tal in 2018?

4. Hund­ley makes a state­ment

The backup quar­ter­back com­pe­ti­tion went off the rails as the of­fen­sive line crum­bled, but for at least one se­ries, the Pack­ers saw pos­i­tive signs from Brett Hund­ley, who started the game and played the en­tire first half. On the open­ing drive, Hund­ley com­pleted his first four passes and led the Pack­ers to a field goal. The march should have ended with a 17-yard touch­down pass from Hund­ley to Lance Ken­dricks, but the vet­eran tight end couldn’t fin­ish the spin­ning catch in the end zone. Hund­ley’s work – both in terms of buy­ing time and throw­ing on the run – de­served a score.

McCarthy said Hund­ley was ex­cel­lent on the drive. He hit Geron­imo Al­li­son twice for 40 yards. Had Ken­dricks made the catch, Hund­ley would have fin­ished the se­ries 5-of-5 pass­ing for 67 yards and a score.

5. In need of ILB depth, ex­pe­ri­ence

The Pack­ers knew they were short on ex­pe­ri­ence at in­side line­backer en­ter­ing train­ing camp. Two in­juries – one se­ri­ous, one mi­nor – pre­sented an im­me­di­ate need for vet­eran help. In­stead of hop­ing some com­bi­na­tion of un­drafted rook­ies could fill the shoes of Jake Ryan (torn ACL) and Oren Burks (dis­lo­cated shoul­der), GM Brian Gutekunst called up the In­di­anapo­lis Colts and swung a trade for An­to­nio Mor­ri­son, who made 109 tack­les as a 15-game starter last sea­son. Burks hurt his shoul­der in pregame warmups in Oak­land and missed the game. The Pack­ers don’t think it’s a long-term in­jury, but the op­tions be­hind Burks – con­verted safety Ahmad Thomas and un­drafted rookie Greer Mar­tini – have no mean­ing­ful NFL ex­pe­ri­ence. And both made mis­takes against the Raiders.

GETTY IMAGES

J'Mon Moore catches a pass in front of Oak­land’s An­twuan Davis on Fri­day. Moore fin­ished with four catches for a game-high 62 yards.

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