Eric Baranczyk column: Datko most promising of young linemen

Aug. 17, 2012

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Tackle Andrew Datko during Aug. 12 training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field in Ashwaubenon. Megan McCormick/Press-Gazette


Left tackle Andrew Datko made the kind of big jump you sometimes see in rookies from their first preseason game to their second.

Against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, you could see why the Green Bay Packers spent a seventh-round draft pick on Datko. He played with his hands inside the defenderís frame, and though his footwork wasnít textbook for a left tackle, it was OK.

Youíd like to see him be more physical in the run game, and he still was a little susceptible to the inside pass rush. But I think the Packers can fix that, get him to sit down a little more and get him another year in the weight room to develop upper-body strength.

Iím still not sure whether Datko should make the 53-man roster or the practice squad, because heís not someone the Packers would want to throw in there tomorrow. But you can see there might be something there.

Also, though the Packersí offensive line is painfully thin, their signing last week of 10-year pro Reggie Wells added badly needed depth at guard and maybe tackle. Iím not sure Wells is a starter, but heís head and shoulders above some of the young interior linemen currently in backup roles. After guard-center Evan Dietrich-Smith and Wells, itís kind of a tossup with those undrafted rookies such as Tommie Draheim and Don Barclay.

For the first time in a long time, someone who will be on the Packersí regular-season roster might be in somebody elseís camp right now. The Packersí young linemen just arenít ready, you donít see the physical play you need. I could see them hanging on to Datko, especially if Derek Sherrod isnít back from his broken leg by the start of the season. But if someone cuts a serviceable swing tackle, the Packers might grab him.

McMillian makes move

Fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian also played much better in his second preseason game than the first, and at this point I like him over M.D. Jennings at that open safety position in the nickel and dime defenses when Charles Woodson moves to inside cornerback.

McMillian missed some tackles in the preseason opener against San Diego, put his head down when he tackled, maybe he was too excited. But then Thursday night against the Browns he came to balance and reacted and made tackles. He made plays in the running game, one in the backfield for a two-yard loss in the second quarter, another four plays later for a one-yard gain. Thatís what the Packers were looking for when they drafted McMillian, a safety whoís stout and makes plays.

McMillian has to be pushing for playing time. The Packers play so much nickel they need defensive backs that can tackle. I like McMillian there better than Jennings. Itís nice to have a thumper at safety. Nick Collins was that kind of guy, heíd come up and fill in the alley against the run. The Packers miss that. Letís not anoint McMillian as having Collins-like ability just yet, but McMillian shows heís not afraid to tackle and enjoys it. The Packers might have something there.

In fact, it looks like the Packers have hit on a couple recent draft picks in the secondary. Second-year cornerback Davon House unfortunately is in the tub a lot ó heís out for at least another week or two because of a shoulder injury. But he, McMillian and rookie cornerback Casey Hayward look like they can play in the NFL.

Theyíre passing guys such as Sam Shields, whoís missed two weeks because of an elbow injury, and Jarrett Bush.

Extra points

• I wondered about second-year halfback Alex Greenís reconstructed knee, but he showed a little burst in that third offensive series, squirted one run off tackle for five yards. You wondered coming off major surgery if he could drop into another gear to get around that corner, and he did. Then he jumped up and looked excited like, ĎI can do this.í I still donít think heís the same guy as last year, but itís really important for running backs to block, and in pass protection he did a nice job overall even though he fanned on a blitz pickup on Aaron Rodgersí last series.

I still like James Starks better at halfback, he has a bigger frame and seems to run harder ó Green isnít going to run through people, heíll run around them. Theyíre a good tandem, Starks is a power guy and Green is a speed guy as a third-down back. Maybe next week weíll see what the Packers have in recently signed Cedric Benson.

• Out of all the young defensive linemen, fourth-round pick Mike Daniels plays best with his hands. He missed a couple of weeks earlier in camp because of knee and groin injuries, so with some good practices and a couple more games, it will be interesting to see what he has.

Second-round pick Jerel Worthy is not very good against the run, his pad level is way too high, and his feet too close together. He has to take on a run block at some point. A great example was on Cleveland halfback Montario Hardestyís one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. B.J. Raji got penetration, drove his guy back and got in on the tackle. Worthy was stalemated at the line of scrimmage. You didnít see explosiveness and lower-body strength out of Worthy. Not saying it wonít ever come, and heís got a motor, but heís not very good against the run.

• I donít think Graham Harrell is the answer at No. 2 quarterback. I know the Packers coaches like their guys, but Harrell doesnít have quite enough arm strength and accuracy, and his frame is a little small. Rookie B.J. Coleman is a giant compared to him. Iíd take Cleveland backup Colt McCoy over Harrell. McCoy isnít ultra accurate but he has more zip on the ball and is sturdier and more athletic.

ó Green Bay Press-Gazette correspondent Eric Baranczyk played football at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and later served as an assistant coach. He provides period evaluations of the Packers.

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