One-on-one pass rushing is one of the best spectator drills in an NFL practice. It’s not the be-all of player evaluation and not the most important part of practice for linemen. But it’s still instructive for getting a sense of a player’s athleticism, technical skill and overall ability. Last year, for instance, in the first one-on-one drills of the first padded practice of camp, it was evident that Corey Linsley was an NFL player.
That was unknown going into camp, and the fifth-round pick ended up as the starting center and likely long-term answer at that position. This year, Linsley has been among the best offensive linemen in one-on-ones, based on subjective grading, with a winner and loser given on each rep.
Linsley has lost only once in 12 reps, though that’s only second best for the offensive line; right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who’s 11-0, is first. T.J. Lang is right behind Linsley at 10-1. Records in one-on-ones don’t tell the whole story because sometimes players use reps to work on a move or technique. “It’s a great situation to work on fundamentals,” Linsley said.
But they’re still trying to win. “I’m sure it runs through the guys’ minds,” Linsley said. “But the (coaching staff) is most concerned about making sure when you go out at team period you know what’s going on. That’s obviously of the highest premium. (But) you always want to win all your one-on-ones, and you always want to compete in everything.”
Jayrone Elliott is a major player on the special teams — he’s on the No. 1 unit for all four core groups (punt cover and return, kickoff cover and return). He’s close to a lock to make the final roster. So there’s a degree of nit-picking here.
But the second-year pro is also a backup outside linebacker, and while he’s shown some pass-rush ability dating to his rookie season last year, he’s still raw in pass coverage. That was evident in practice Wednesday during a team drill when the defense was working against the scout-team offense.
On one play, rookie tight end Harold Spears badly beat Elliott’s jam at the line of scrimmage and was more than 5 yards behind the linebacker when he caught a corner route from quarterback Matt Blanchard for a big gain. “I made it harder than it should have been,” Elliott said. “I should have played my technique. I was thinking it was going to be something else and kind of guessed and it wasn’t. We’ll look at the film and correct. I should have moved my feet first instead of lunge. I shot my hands first. I thought it was a run. That’s why you practice.”
Did you notice?
■ In his pre-practice news conference Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy said linebacker Clay Matthews wasn’t going to participate because of a sore elbow. But Matthews was in pads when practice opened and did individual drills, though he sat out 11-on-11 work. Matthews also has been slowed in camp by a sore knee.
■ With safety Morgan Burnett not practicing (excused absence), Micah Hyde and Sean Richardson split time working with the starting defense in his place. Hyde is the top backup at that spot, and when he was at safety in the No. 1 defense, rookie Quinten Rollins came in as the No. 3 cornerback in nickel personnel. Rollins, though, played outside cornerback, and starter Casey Hayward bumped into the slot position.
■ Josh Walker worked extensively at right tackle with the No. 2 offensive line instead of his more common position, right guard. That position was open because Don Barclay, the usual No. 2 right tackle, was playing left tackle with the starters in place of David Bakhtiari (knee). Walker appears to be a near shoo-in to make the roster, and if he can play right tackle well enough over the next three weeks, that plus his ability to fill in at guard might give him a chance to be one of the two backup offensive linemen active on game days in the regular season. Garth Gerhart replaced Walker at right guard with the No. 2 line.
■ Outside linebacker Nick Perry returned Wednesday after missing two weeks because of a groin injury. He did all drills and took a couple of snaps in 11 on 11. Mike Neal, though, worked as the starting outside linebacker opposite Julius Peppers.
— pdougher@pressgazettemedia and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.