McGinn: Spriggs, Murphy had different outcomes
GREEN BAY – Just six days after Jason Spriggs looked every bit the part of an outstanding young tackle against Cleveland he wasn’t even the Green Bay Packers’ best rookie tackle Thursday night in their 20-12 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field.
Instead, that would be Kyle Murphy, who by subjective judgment had only two minus plays in 36 snaps at right tackle while Spriggs had 12 in 51 on the left side.
Spriggs’ performance level actually dipped markedly in the fourth quarter of the Browns game, which was surprising because almost all those defenders won’t be in the league.
Now, with the warts in his game that surfaced against Oakland, it’s clear Spriggs will need considerable development before the Packers can be confident he could be a reliable starter at either tackle this season.
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Murphy was making his exhibition debut after missing two weeks with a concussion. He returned Sunday and admittedly had a rough practice in pass protection Monday, but then against the Raiders demonstrated the skills that led Green Bay to draft him in the sixth round from Stanford.
Spriggs’ status as the club’s No. 3 tackle won’t change because of his brutal showing. Murphy, however, took a giant step toward becoming the eighth offensive lineman on the final 53-man roster.
Some of Spriggs’ problem was Khalil Mack, the fifth pick in the 2014 draft who is ranked third among defensive ends by Pro Football Weekly. Playing the second quarter only (12 snaps) when Mack was on the field, Spriggs yielded two of his four hurries, his one sack and his one knockdown to Mack.
Spriggs never quit competing but was overwhelmed and overpowered by the Raiders, and it wasn’t just Mack. Two rookie free agents, Branden Jackson and James Cowser, nicked him for pressures, and he got knocked around at the point of attack in the run game by deep reserves Derrick Lott and Lenny Jones.
Personnel people had few, if any, reservations about Spriggs’ athleticism and pass blocking. Many, however, questioned his strength, aggressiveness and finish.
On one running play, the 303-pound Spriggs did a good job initially against defensive tackle Stacy McGee, a 310-pound backup with nine starts in three seasons. After the initial stalemate, however, McGee almost body-slammed Spriggs to the turf.
The Raiders, with their big, physical defensive front, were no match for the Packers’ starting offensive line but Spriggs couldn’t cope with them.
It’s the law of the jungle. Upcoming opponents will see this tape and figure that the way to beat Spriggs is power; Spriggs, in turn, will have to adjust and improve.
Murphy, the 21st and last tackle drafted, spent most of the second quarter matched against Bruce Irvin, the former Seahawk (25 sacks in four seasons) who received $19 million guaranteed in March. On those same snaps that Mack was wreaking havoc against Spriggs, Irvin never got a sniff against Murphy.
He handled Irvin one-on-one several times. He held his water and stopped Irvin’s tricky spin move. When Irvin penetrated against Murphy on a running play, it was the only time he got the rookie.
For someone towering 6 feet 6½ inches, the 308-pound Murphy moves his body pretty well and his balance isn’t bad. He played in a top program that has produced a lot of offensive linemen. He didn’t seem the least bit intimidated by Irvin, a very promising sign for the Packers.
ELSEWHERE IN THE O-LINE
Just a few days ago it appeared as if Lane Taylor had the inside track to nail down the No. 8 berth. His significant improvement in 2015 warranted a two-year contract in March containing $600,000 in guarantees, a sure sign the front office was counting on him.
OK, Taylor got off to a bad start against the Browns. He’s a pro, and most good players bounce back from rough outings.
But Taylor didn’t. In 39 snaps he had five negative plays, which was too many and raised even more red flags.
Taylor did rebound with a solid second half. He combo-blocked well for the run and stayed square in protection.
However, when the Raiders’ starting defense was on the field, Taylor’s athletic limitations were only too evident in the game when he either couldn’t get to the linebackers or missed if he did.
Forget the money; that shouldn’t even be a consideration. The Packers need backups that can play.
Assuming Murphy doesn’t regress, it could be that the ninth and final berth will come down to Josh Walker, Don Barclay or Taylor.
The massive Walker, a hard-charging guard by trade, increased his value in Murphy’s absence by demonstrating he’s not a bad right tackle, either. Barclay hasn’t been great the first two games in 124 snaps at center, but other than a safety against the Browns and a holding penalty it’s hard to find another glaring miscue.
As a pure guard, Taylor can’t measure up in the critical category of versatility. Barclay is no world-beater but factors as a true five-position man, and Walker at least might be able to get you through a game at three or four positions.
Few players will be under more pressure to perform well in the last two games than Taylor.
AN INSIDE JOB
Six of the seven inside linebackers played, and the four that did receive substantial snaps probably all helped themselves.
Not only are the anticipated four or five roster berths unsettled, but so are the starting jobs and situational-substitute roles. Jake Ryan probably entered training camp as the top dog, but that might have changed because of the hamstring injury that has kept him out since Aug. 1.
Sam Barrington got taken on a 5-yard ride by a blocker in one of his nine snaps, but still it marked a positive return to contact after an 11-month foot injury.
After a ho-hum debut against Cleveland, Blake Martinez took a large move toward becoming a starter with an excellent 26-snap showing.
Probably Martinez’s best moment came on a third-and-4 swing pass when he bolted from the box to pull down fullback Jamize Olawale near the sideline after a gain of 2.
Perhaps even more important, at least from the Packers’ perspective, was seeing Martinez take on starting center Rodney Hudson and tackle Latavius Murray for a 2-yard gain. If Martinez really can hold up against the tackle-to-tackle run, it’ll be difficult to keep him off the field.
Adding 10 pounds from last year has helped Joe Thomas (27 snaps) immeasurably. But it’s more than weight that enabled him to make six good plays. He’s trusting his reads and his talent more than ever before and drilling people.
Maybe Carl Bradford (15) wasn’t quite as good as he was in the opener but that’s probably splitting hairs. He sifted through trash two or three times for tackles and didn’t seem to make any glaring mistakes.
ON THE OUTSIDE
With four of possibly six or seven jobs spoken for at outside linebacker, the order of substitution for the four contenders was Jayrone Elliott, Lerentee McCray, Kyler Fackrell and Reggie Gilbert.
It’d be hard to say any of them made inroads Thursday night. In fact, not one of the four registered even a single pressure.
Fackrell played the most snaps (30) but probably accomplished the least. The rookie goes hard and tries to attack, but with his angular build (6-5, 245) and modest strength he has a hard time making his presence felt. At this point, he’s basically a finesse guy.
Gilbert (20), the free-agent rookie from Arizona, didn’t make anything happen, either. However, he does show some power and quick twitch. He was getting a little closer to the quarterback than Fackrell.
The hard tackle Elliott (14) made in long pursuit on a screen pass was the best play made by any of the four. His pass rush, however, remained a monotonous wide surge with no hint of a counter.
McCray (12) flashes with his hustle and his toughness. He just didn’t make anything happen, either.