Hiring of Solari already paying big dividends

Pete Dougherty
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Because of coach Mike McCarthy’s decision last winter to give up play-calling and juggle responsibilities among his offensive assistants, another of his offseason assistant coaching moves came in under the radar: the hiring of Mike Solari as assistant offensive line coach to James Campen. The move looks like a good one. Solari, 60, is a 27-year NFL assistant who has been the top offensive line coach for four NFL teams, most recently San Francisco from 2010-14. He provides another experienced set of coaching eyes plus some alternate blocking techniques, even if players resisted initially.

“I’m not going to lie,” guard T.J. Lang said, “I’ve played a lot of football, and when somebody’s telling you what to do, you get to a point where you’re like, ‘Yeah I’ve got it figured out.’ But I had to put my ego aside and listen to what (Solari) is saying. I’d be stupid not to. Even the first couple of weeks in camp in pads, he’s a guy who’s very detailed in his work, and he’s helped me out tremendously with footwork and making sure I’m taking the proper sets and using my hands effectively. I can already tell that he’s helped me out a lot.”

On Saturday, reporters got a close-up view of a training device that Solari recommended and the Packers have been using in camp, though up to now it had been difficult to see because it had been stationed across Ray Nitschke Field: The Zone Chute. The Chute teaches players to keep their pads low and is especially good for training offensive linemen coming off the snap. And anyone who’s listened to McCarthy’s news conferences knows how important pad level is to him. With the Chute, linemen line up under an adjustable metal grate, and if they raise up much coming off the snap, they’ll hit their helmet on it. It’s not a drill the linemen particularly like — they get the occasional scuffed helmet and do the drill early in practice, when staying low is tougher because they’re not fully loosened up. But it emphasizes one of the offensive line’s key fundamentals: stay low.

“I just know from watching the (New England preseason) game on the film or the iPad, it looked like everybody was playing with pretty good pad level up front,” Lang said. “So it’s definitely something that I think will help us out.”

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Quinten Rollins was the star of the Packers’ preseason opener at New England with four pass breakups. The second-round draft pick already has shown he’s a keeper and has a good chance to open the regular season as their dime cornerback. But he got a dose of life as an NFL cornerback in practice Saturday when in a 2-minute drill he gave up back-to-back passes that covered 55 yards and included the game-winning touchdown.

“I don’t want balls to be caught on me,” Rollins said after practice. “I definitely was not pleased with giving up those, especially not in 2-minute. If we get the ball back, the game is over.” On the first play, Rollins had to mirror Larry Pinkard with “plaster” coverage, which is standard once a quarterback breaks the pocket. But Pinkard got well behind Rollins, and scrambling rookie quarterback Brett Hundley hit him with a 47-yard completion. “I’ve just got to stick to my man,” Rollins said. “That’s it. I turned around. As soon as I turned around to look (at Hundley), (Pinkard) was gone. I turned back, he was gone. It happens. Obviously (getting beaten) is not something you want to get comfortable with, but I know better. It won’t happen again.”

On the next play, Pinkard beat Rollins on a slant for an 8-yard touchdown. In his senior year Miami (Ohio) — and lone year playing football in college — Rollins gave up only two touchdowns, which he recalled instantly when asked: a slant against Michigan, and a crossing pattern against Central Michigan. In the NFL, he’s going to have more days like Saturday, and part of playing cornerback at this level is not allowing failure to erode self-confidence. Rollins said his college basketball background helps in that regard. “I was a point guard,” he said. “You can’t dwell on one play. You have to have a next-play mentality. So that’s just kind of my nature.”

Did you notice?

■With starter David Bakhtiari not practicing Saturday because of a knee injury, Don Barclay worked at left tackle with the No. 1 offense. If Bakhtiari has to miss time in the regular season, the Packers instead might move Bryan Bulaga from right tackle to left, and play Barclay at right tackle.

■Hundley’s two-play touchdown drive in the live 2-minute drill against the No. 3 defense was his second 2-minute touchdown drive in a week. Last Monday, he led a game-winning 65-yard drive.

■The Packers had a relatively short (1 1/2-hour) practice in shells Saturday, are scheduled to be off Sunday and practice again Monday. They then will work on a regular-season schedule this week because their preseason game at Pittsburgh is on Sunday. The players will be off Tuesday, practice Wednesday and Thursday, not practice Friday (regeneration day), and have a short, brisk practice Saturday. “Nothing better than a noon game at Lambeau (Field),” McCarthy said. “And I guess the second best is a 1 o’clock game in Pittsburgh.” Pittsburgh is McCarthy’s hometown.

■You’ll rarely see a running back make the kind of catch backup Raijon Neal had in practice Saturday. Neal, who occasionally played receiver early in his college career at Tennessee, beat safety Sean Richardson on a deep pattern down the middle of the field and at full stride made an extended, over-the-shoulder catch on a throw from quarterback Matt Blanchard that traveled probably 40 yards in the air. A large majority of running backs can’t track and catch that kind of long throw, but Neal looked like a wide receiver on the play.

— and follow him on Twitte @PeteDougherty.

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