While it’s far too early to draw conclusions about the Packers’ draft choices, it’s a notable that first-round pick Nick Perry is off to a quiet start to training camp and tackle Andrew Datko has also had his struggles.
It’s equally notable that a trio of draft choices––Jerel Worthy, Casey Hayward and Mike Daniels––have made a positive initial impression to kick off the first training camp of their professional careers.
What’s interesting is the approach the Packers coaching staff has taken in regards the method of development between those who have struggled thus far (Perry and Datko) compared to those who have excelled (Worthy, Hayward and Daniels).
With Perry and Datko, the argument can be made that they’ve been thrown to the wolves, forced to sink or swim during the early stages of training camp. Meanwhile, the other three rookie standouts have been brought along slowly, their training in piecemeal, one bit at a time.
No judgement is being made if this is right or wrong. It’s just an observation, but one worthy of examination as the rookies get ready to see the first real action of their young careers in a game-like atmosphere.
The Quiet Ones, Perry and Datko
From the moment Perry was drafted, it’s been assumed he’d be the starter at left outside linebacker.
The Packers experimented with several players opposite the ultra-productive Clay Matthews last season with little success. Players like Erik Walden, Brad Jones and Frank Zombo were average at best.
With Perry, the Packers hope the rookie can take some pressure off Matthews while––at the same time––providing some pass rush of his own.
Perry might be the only player expected to be on the field for first down, second down and third down from Day 1. It’s certainly possible players like Worthy and Hayward will become full-time starters as well, but it may not be until midseason or maybe after their rookie years.
Thus far, Perry has worked with the starters for the majority of training camp but his impact has been negligible, which probably disappoints Packers fans.
In Perry’s defense, he’s frequently had to line up across from up-and-coming right tackle Bryan Bulaga in both individual and team drills. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Perry would find difficulty facing Bulaga; many rookies would.
While Datko isn’t expected to be a starter after being a seventh-round draft choice, it would would still appear that he’s overwhelmed if you’re to believe Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“A week into camp last summer, it was pretty obvious that OLB Ricky Elmore, a sixth-round draft choice, couldn’t play,” writes McGinn. “Now it’s looking as if the same holds true for RT Andrew Datko, a seventh-round draft choice from Florida State. The Packers tried Datko at LT last week, but when that didn’t look like a good idea he was back on the right side.”
That’s a pretty scathing analysis of the rookie from Florida State. It is, however, important to note that Datko has had shoulder issues dating back to high school and missed most of his senior season in college because of the same issue.
It’s also impossible to train offensive linemen like defensive players who might participate only in certain subpackages. Linemen are typically out on the field from first through third down with very few instances otherwise.
Maybe everyone will be changing their tune about Perry and Datko when they don pads and start hitting for real, but for the moment being, they’re stuck in neutral after one week of training camp.
Making Noise, Worthy, Hayward and Daniels
Like Perry, the Packers didn’t waste any time preparing Worthy for a large role in 2012 in order to provide an immediate impact.
Once Cullen Jenkins left in free agency, Green Bay had trouble finding an adequate replacement, and the selection of Worthy was an attempt to immediately rejuvenate the production from the defensive line.
In contrast to Perry, however, the Packers have limited Worthy’s role with the first-string defense during the offseason program and the beginning of training camp to the nickel and dime subpackages as a pass-rushing defensive tackle.
While Worthy’s duties appear to be increasing with every practice, the Packers have kept C.J. Wilson as the starter in the base 3-4 defense, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they continue to do so. At some point, whether it’s midseason or later, Worthy might play in the base defense, but the coaches are looking to make sure he makes an impact in the base defense first.
The same can be said about Daniels whose size––at 6-0 and 291 lbs.––pretty much will limit his participation to the subpackage defenses. It won’t bother the Packers one bit, however, if Daniels only plays in the nickel and dime. He’ll be asked to get after the quarterback and stopping the run will be secondary.
Hayward, meanwhile, is being developed in a similar fashion. He’s not being counted out of the competitive cornerback battle that also includes Sam Shields, Davon House and Jarrett Bush, but so far it’s his veteran counterparts that are getting first crack at joining the starters.
In another article at the Journal Sentinel, McGinn describes how Hayward was being utilized early in training camp:
When the Packers debuted their 4-1 dime defense Saturday, it was Williams and either Shields or House outside, Charles Woodson and Bush in the slot and Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings at safety.
About an hour later, the coaches gave Hayward his first promotion, inserting him as the slot and moving Bush outside with Williams.
From the looks of things, the Packers have not only regulated Hayward’s contributions to the dime defense, he also appears to be getting more reps as a slot cornerback than on the perimeter.
It could be a case where the Packers are hoping Hayward will be the heir apparent to Woodson when the veteran finally decides to hang up the cleats.
Whether or not that’s what the coaches have in mind, it looks like Hayward’s development is coming along nicely as he’s not being overwhelmed and the expectations are modest.
It’s not fair to make inferences about whether or not any of these rookies will pan out. The Packers have yet to play their annual scrimmage, let alone a game.
There’s plenty of time for them to prove themselves and make a bigger and better impact. In the long run, it might even turn out to be a wise choice to throw Perry and Datko “to the wolves.”
In the meantime, we can only wait and see how they look when the lights go on.