There is a big hole in the offensive line, ripe to rush.
Kyler Fackrell can see it when he watches film. He knows it’s there. Slower offensive tackles, protecting against the Green Bay Packers rookie’s quick first step, are cheating to the outside.
It’s the same way offensive tackles tried to block him in college. At Utah State, Fackrell was too quick. Blockers could cheat outside, and he’d beat them anyway.
In the NFL, he’s still one of the fastest edge rushers on the field. But these are professional blockers. Offensive tackles are faster now, more athletic. They use their hands better.
A little lean outside is all they need to thwart Fackrell’s rush.
“We’re trying to find an identity for him,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said, “in the sense that he’s a very athletic person. So when teams and opponents see him, that’s the first thing that they’re going to play. They’re going to make sure that they don’t get beat with athleticism from him.
“So what we’re trying to create is moves that protect his skillset.”
The move is inside. Through that hole in the offensive line.
When offensive tackles lean outside, they leave their inside, B gap exposed. Fackrell has been trying to adjust since he arrived in Green Bay. Pure speed is no longer enough.
Fackrell knows he has to add variety to his pass-rushing arsenal.
“Keeping the tackle honest,” Fackrell said. “Most of the time, I would always start out with a speed rush in college. But the tackles, especially the guys I go against every day (in practice), they know that’s what I’m doing. So they’re setting for it.
“I have to learn to kind of mix up the rush, do an inside move a pretty high percentage of the time. Just because they’re always going to be soft setting, trying to absorb me rather than hard set and try to use my athleticism.”
It didn’t take Fackrell long after arriving in Green Bay to realize he had to make some changes. He struggled early in camp, especially after the Packers started practicing in pads.
Fackrell stumbled immediately in one-on-one rushing drills, the lifeblood of Packers training camp. He is 0-11 overall, with four losses against second-round rookie tackle Jason Spriggs.
Even if he’s undefeated, Spriggs said he’s been impressed with Fackrell’s natural pass-rush ability. The Packers believe Fackrell has raw talent that simply needs nurturing.
“I think Kyler’s a great pass rusher,” Spriggs said. “He’s shifty, he’s slippery, he’s got the athleticism to get the edge. I think he sees what you’re goal is in doing (to him) very well. Much like Clay (Matthews) and Julius (Peppers), they see where you’re missing your fundamentals, and they attack that right away. I think he’s doing a good job of that. ”
The one-on-one drills have been a classroom for Fackrell. Up close, he studies pass rushers and blockers, noticing how each reacts to the other.
He has some expert teachers in Matthews and Peppers. Fackrell said he hasn’t pulled either veteran to the side and asked them to teach him specific moves, but both offered suggestions on general concepts. Most important, Fackrell said, is to avoid rushing between an offensive tackle’s shoulder pads.
“You always want to work on the edges of the (offensive) tackles,” Fackrell said, “not down the middle. Because they’re bigger and stronger than me.”
Rushing the edges makes it difficult for offensive tackles to get their hands on Fackrell. That’s the key to his pass rush. Fackrell, listed 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, was drafted for his speed. The Packers knew he would have to gain weight.
Fackrell is light enough to be easily moved if a blocker gets both hands on him.
“I think I do have pretty good length,” Fackrell said, referencing his adequate 33 1/4-inch arm length. “So in that way, if I can kind of shock the tackle, I can use it that way. Even for those guys that are big, it’s really about you don’t want a stalemate with an offensive lineman. You want to work on the edges and kind of still try to use your athleticism to get around.”
It’s how Fackrell registered his first sack with the Packers in their preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.
The speed rush isn’t going anywhere, but it can’t be Fackrell’s only move. After mixing his rushes throughout the second half, Browns backup left tackle Ladson Erie protected the B gap. On the snap, Erie shifted inside.
Fackrell was so fast, he looked unblocked before sacking Browns quarterback Cody Kessler. Erie tried to recover, but couldn’t.
“As you see the game develop last week,” Moss said, “you saw him start to progress from one thing, along with the edge. They started to tighten things up. They started to give different looks, and if you go back and look at that tape, you can see how Fackrell started to stress that tackle out. And then all of a sudden, that tackle makes a mistake and then, boom, you get the play that you’re looking for. That was good to see.
“So as long as we continue to take steps like that, find out and get really, really good at what he does really, really well, and then have those moves and counters to be able to protect that, it’s going to go a long way in helping him be the best that he can be.”
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