Spriggs positioned to help Packers at guard

Ryan Wood
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GREEN BAY – He never played guard in his life. Not in college. Not high school. Not even youth league.

Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Jason Spriggs (78) is shown during their game against the Cleveland Browns Friday, August 12, 2016 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

For Jason Spriggs, this plot of land between tackle and center was foreign. The Green Bay Packers' towering rookie was a four-year starting left tackle at Indiana. He’s built like a power forward more than anything, long and lean.

Spriggs is 6-foot-6. He is barely scraping 300 pounds.

A guard, he is not.

“It’s a totally different world,” he said.

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So Spriggs was surprised when offensive line coach James Campen tapped him on the shoulder two weeks ago with an idea. Split your practice reps at guard, Campen told him. See what you can do.

It was rough in the beginning, Spriggs admitted. At guard, everything was different: footwork, blocking angles, game speed, body types. A totally different world, indeed.

Then Spriggs found himself Sunday night in the middle of FedEx Field, playing 26 snaps at guard in the second half of the Packers' loss at Washington. Nothing like doing something for the first time on national television.

“It was definitely different,” Spriggs said. “It’s not something that even going into the game I would have expected, even though the week before and the week before that, they’d been telling me I needed to get ready just in case I needed to go in at guard. It’s always surprising to go in for a different position. It’s always a little bit fun, a little bit different, a little bit daunting.”

Unintentionally, perhaps, it was also a little bit smart.

The Packers certainly aren’t expecting Spriggs to play much guard during his career. Against interior defensive linemen, Spriggs gives up 20, even 30 pounds. His height makes leverage difficult.

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Spriggs isn’t a mauler. You won’t ask him to knock back Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan three yards past the line of scrimmage, opening run lanes. In an offense capable of achieving balance, Spriggs has no business at guard.

But this Packers offense is different.

This Packers offense has shown its best version is imbalance. Drop Aaron Rodgers back to pass 45, maybe 50 times each week … and let it rip. When the Packers ditch the run game, they move the football.

In an offense like this? Yes, an offensive tackle can make sense at guard. Even if coach Mike McCarthy was hesitant to go along.

“Athletic ability definitely is a strength of his,” McCarthy said. “As far as fit just to throw the football, there’s a lot more to it than that. Especially playing on the road, playing a defense that’s structured and built the way they are.”

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McCarthy didn’t sound too keen on Spriggs continuing to play guard. If he thought it was a good idea, Spriggs would’ve started Sunday night. Instead, McCarthy called on backup Don Barclay, even after Barclay injured his shoulder during pregame warmups.

Spriggs didn’t get his chance until Barclay could no longer play through injury. By then, Barclay had been called for two holding penalties.

The Packers' run game will get reinforcements this week with tailback Christine Michael, acquired from Seattle. Michael has impressed teammates and coaches in practice, but there’s a reason the Seahawks released him. The Packers’ best chance likely will remain airing it out.

Barclay isn’t as athletic as Spriggs, nor the same pass protector. An offense that needs to throw the football as much as the Packers could use all the pass protection it can get.

“Jason Spriggs did some good things,” McCarthy said. “I wasn’t really concerned about him in pass blocking.”

Pass blocking was part of Spriggs’ “daunting” transition to the line’s interior.

Guards and tackles approach pass protection differently. Spriggs compares the difference to power versus finesse. On the outside, Spriggs said, patience serves a tackle well. He has time to sit back, react.

Everything happens quicker at guard. A defensive tackle lines up nose to nose. “Close quarters,” Spriggs calls it. Instead of raw athleticism, battles are more often won on brute strength.

“The pass rush is still power,” Spriggs said. “You start getting that 6-foot-5, 330-pound guy versus a 6-foot-6, 250. They’re not as fast, but they’re a lot stronger. That’s where you see the power side of it come out. I think the pass game helps loosen some of that up. At the same time, it’s still a power game inside.

“It’s less dancing around, and more you getting your feet in the ground and get ahold of the guy and blocking down and holding your ground.”

Spriggs held his own against Washington defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins and Chris Baker. He didn’t allow a sack or hit while at guard, not bad for his first time.

McCarthy said his rookie had to clean up some of the position’s details, which isn’t a surprise. Three weeks ago, he’d never played guard in his life. Given more snaps, he should only improve.

“This is my first or second week playing,” Spriggs said. “So I played tackle for 20 years, or something like that. Then I played guard for two weeks. Everything needs to get better. We kind of have to pick out a few things here and there, and focus on those. You can’t really go for a broad picture, or else you can’t really get better.

“I feel more comfortable now than I did a week ago, and I’ll feel more comfortable in three weeks than I do now. It’s a relative scale of comfort when you think about it. I do really feel comfortable enough to go in and play and do my job.” and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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