The Green Bay Packers have three guys in the hunt to start at right outside linebacker, and after a week of practice, itís hard to predict how it will shake out.
Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Brad Jones all have question marks, and maybe it really will be some kind of platoon. Thatís not a bad thing. The Packers do it with their down linemen all the time. Howard Green comes waddling off the field whenever they go nickel. Itís probably good because youíll have fresher legs out there, especially in the fourth quarter, when you need fresh legs.
Zombo was solid on the run last year, good at holding the edge and making sure outside runs were turned back and that running backs didnít get the edge on him and turn up field too soon. As a rookie, he was mechanical in the pass rush. This year, he looks a little more fluid but thereís still something missing. Not sure whether itís technique or quickness. He needs to be a better pass rusher if heís going to be the guy there.
In pass coverage, Zombo isnít a liability, heís just fine. Last year, he was mechanical in some of those things. Now he understands the system. Heís getting to that point in his second year in defensive coordinator Dom Capersí scheme. He can be OK, but to take the next step I think he needs to take some chances and get better at pressuring the passer. You have to do your job but you also have to make plays.
Walden is much more physical on the edge against the run compared to last year. Same thing with him. He sometimes plays a little too conservatively. Several times in the Family Night scrimmage on Saturday, when the tackle stepped in the bucket on an obvious pass, Walden hesitated. When thereís a pass rush, itís time to go. Donít hesitate, donít juke. Itís time to go now.
Jones is the most fluid pass rusher of the three. He didnít have any sacks last year in six games, but that was tough. He had a shoulder injury going back to training camp. In 2009, he had four sacks as a rookie, and his forte is pass rush. Heís a little weak on the edge against the run, but he has the speed to be a good coverage linebacker. The questions with him are health and playing the run on the edge.
One of them probably will have to move to inside linebacker at some point and be a swing guy. Jones played all the positions in college, so heís the most likely to do so. Walden did it some last year, playing inside as a spy against the Bears in that last regular-season game and was NFC defensive player of the week. So maybe he can do both.
Another outside linebacker, sixth-round pick Ricky Elmore, played a lot Saturday night. Like Zombo, he was a defensive end in college and is learning to play linebacker. The hardest thing going from putting your hand on the ground to the two-point stance is the responsibilities. When youíre a down lineman, you have maybe one or two responsibilities. In college, maybe they had one sight adjustment. In the pros, youíre not just rushing the passer and occasionally worrying about the run, itís constant worrying about both. Plus, there can be three or four sight adjustments, based on formation or motion, that sort of thing.
Elmore looked decent in the passing game Saturday. Looks a little deliberate, but heís physical. Thereís a chance for him in the future. He must get comfortable with the scheme and techniques, then his talents can come out. In the scrimmage, the couple of times he had to cover a tight end, he looked decent, certainly got out of there and was fairly decent when he had to get back into his zone.
Not sure whether heíll make the team as a rookie. If he wasnít a draft pick, maybe not, but until we see some preseason games itís a little early to say.
Sherrod struggling at guard
The Packers are checking out rookie Derek Sherrod at left guard, though heís a natural tackle. You understand it. Itís the first week of camp, youíre going to put your first-round draft pick in there and see whether you can get him on the field. But my gut says third-year pro T.J. Lang or somebody else will be the starter.
In the scrimmage, Sherrod still struggled with pad level. His pads have to come down. The other thing, going from college to the pros, his hands have to stay higher. Against Walden one time, Sherrodís hands dropped to his hips, then he came up and made the strike. By that time, Walden was past.
When heís playing against guys like Clay Matthews, third- or fourth-year pros that are good and fast, those hands have to be high. Itís going to take some time to learn. If they want Sherrod to play now, he better start making some progress. At guard, he showed nice enough feet to get out to the linebackers, but I donít think he finished, and some of that is pad level. If heís going to finish blocks at tackle or guard, he has to get his pads down.
Bulaga, Newhouse off to good starts
Bryan Bulaga looks like heís really settled in at right tackle. No stupid stuff with him. He comes to work and does his job every play. I think heís going to be a nice player this year. Even in the one-on-one pass blocking, I donít remember seeing anybody beating him. Heís gone against Matthews three or four times and nullified him.
The right side of the line is in good shape with Bulaga and right guard Josh Sitton. The left side is a little shaky.
After watching the scrimmage, left tackle Chad Clifton is by far a better pass blocker than second-year pro Marshall Newhouse, but Newhouse is better in the running game. It makes a difference. That guy came to play this year. He's made a big step up in his game. He just has to get better in pass protection. Heís another one who must get his hands up and his butt down.
Green Bay Press-Gazette correspondent Eric Baranczyk played football at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and later was an assistant coach. He will provide periodic evaluations of the Packers during training camp.