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No shortage of versatility in Packers' offensive line

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No shortage of versatility in Packers' offensive line

-- There's no shortage of versatility along the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, and that's a testament to position coach James Campen.

Multiple players -- starters and backups alike -- can play multiple positions. That's been the case for the last few years, evidenced more significantly when disaster strikes.

That's why the Packers held Don Barclay in such high regard during his six seasons with the team; he was capable of playing all five positions along the offensive line. That kind of firm grasping of understanding was deemed useful by the New Orleans Saints, as they just recently signed Barclay last month.

The Packers don't have someone of Barclay's stature who can play all five positions -- as far as they know -- but they have players they can cycle into specific spots, and have had success in doing so.

Last season, starting left guard Lane Taylor needed to swing himself out to left tackle in place of David Bakhtiari, and his performance was similar to that of a starting caliber tackle.

Starting right guard Justin McCray has not only played both guard and tackle throughout his career -- previously with the Tennesee Titans -- but he played both interior guard positions and starting right tackle last season in place of Bryan Bulaga.

Kofi Amichia -- drafted last year in the sixth round and placed on the Packers' practice squad for the entire regular season -- can play interior guard as well as center. He functioned as a center for the first two years of his collegiate career at South Florida.

Adam Pankey has almost reached Barclay's level of mastery, rotating through every spot along the offensive line sans center during OTAs and minicamp this past spring.

Pankey, an undrafted free agent, was promoted from the practice squad to the Packers' active roster after the season-opener and served as a backup tackle for a majority of the year.

Then there's Lucas Patrick, a tryout that spent his entire 2016 rookie season on the practice squad and who can not only serve as a backup center, but play both interior guard positions -- and do so well.

Patrick has been more of an underrated performer amongst the Packers' back-ups. He's shown the ability to step in and do his job on a variety of different occasions, more noticeably in the 12 games he played in last season.

"I think it’s good to have as much versatility as you can," Patrick said after Monday's final training camp practice of the summer. "It adds value through the season whether it’s now, whether it’s halfway through the season or in the playoffs."

The instant value added to any player who can step into different spots and play at a serviceable level is obvious.

For Patrick, who finished last season with a club on his hand and a pair of starts amidst the aforementioned 12 games he played in, it's a sure fire way for him to lock down a roster spot.

"I think that’s a position I do enjoy. I’ve learned to take it on full-steam ahead with both a mental and physical approach. It’s different than what I’ve played in previous years, college and even here. I’m really enjoying it. It’s been a challenge—but it’s been a fun challenge."

Having players like McCray, Amichia, Pankey and Patrick gives the Packers flexibility in times of need. In the disastrous event of Bakhtiari needing to miss any amount of time, the Packers could swing Taylor back out to left tackle and plug in either one of those names. If it were McCray, obviously, Patrick would be the likely candidate to replace him at right guard.

It's scenarios like that which, as morbid as it seems, always require strategy and proper preparation -- and the Packers have certainly conformed to that.

__________________________

Zachary Jacobson is a staff writer/reporter for Cheesehead TV and a contributor/analyst for the Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter via @ZachAJacobson or contacted through email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (34) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Campen has really become a good coach. He didn't start out all that great, but he's a real asset now.

Lare's picture

Although versatility is a good thing for OL, I think I'd like to see a little more more ability, consistency and production from the Packers backups.

Christopher Gennaro's picture

Thank you was thinking the same thing, like my boss said to me Great you're a jack of all trades, sadly you are master of nothing. Not saying the backups are a dumpster fire, but that last game was not a glowing endorsement.

Grandfathered's picture

Right on Lare. There's a difference between playing a few positions, and playing any one position well.

Monsmoy's picture

This is positive spin on a sub par reality. Yes, some of the second string OL can play G and tackle, or C and G, but not to the standard required to inspire any confidence. The reality is we need to bring in a specialist Tackle, ideally a swing player but certainly a RT. The next draft should see at least 2 OL in the first three picks, but with some luck we can pick up a credible tackle in the next couple of days to help our QB this season

Matt Gonzales's picture

The fact that our OL line for at least 1 game last year was pretty much all guards, and they held their own, says a lot about GBs coaching and the versatility of the OL. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that again this year.

Oppy's picture

This right here. People forget that just last season, our OL was a MASH unit and, while they weren’t “starter quality”, a number of these same players stepped In and battled at almost every position and did what needed to be done.

Turophile's picture

Barclay
"held in such high regard"...."they don't have someone of Barclay's stature"......."capable of playing all five positions on the line". Riiiight.

If Barclay is the poster boy for quality, Aaron Rodgers won't last to the bye week before being injured. Barclay couldn't play tackle as well as Spriggs.

At the moment I'm looking at the starters plus Spriggs, Pankey, Patrick (making 8), plus a decent chance there is a ninth. That isn't horrible, and it isn't ideal either, just somewhere in between. If the O line survives the season without cluster-injuries there, they should be ok.

dobber's picture

I think you and Lawe (below) hit the nail on the head: we can't conflate versatility with quality.

I'll also agree with others when we say that one of these guys, schemed appropriately, should be able to work with the starters and get the Packers through a week or maybe two. But we don't want more than one of these guys becoming a regular at any one time.

The TKstinator's picture

You had me at “conflate”!

Ron Russart's picture

Come on Barclay wasn't that good at all, why didn't the Lions keep him?

Ron Russart's picture

Come on Barclay wasn't that good at all, why didn't the Lions keep him?

J0hn Denver's Gavel's picture

Come on Barclay wasn't that good at all, why didn't the Lions keep him?

LayingTheLawe's picture

So all these backup line guys can play multiple positions equally as badly? Someone must have pointed a gun at your head to write something positive about the backup offensive line given what we have watched this summer.

Barnacle's picture

LTL

MM expects guys who were not good enough to be drafted for any position to be adequate at 5 positions?

TheAndyWright's picture

Positive article. I wish I could be so positive. From what I saw last year with injuries and what I’ve seen so far this preseason from the 2’s and 3’s I don’t have a lot of confidence in the OL if and when injuries occur to our starters. I know OL talent is scarce, especially Tackle, so I had really hoped some of these backups improved from this time a year ago. Haven’t seen that improvement. Never thought I would miss Barclay!

Tundraboy's picture

Likewise. Positive? From what we have seen so far, I'd say thats more like delusional. Campen has been a miracle worker, but if we lose more than a single starter for an extended time,the wheels can fall off quickky. Mediocre versatilty against the strong defenses we face this year is my biggest concern. Its also why I'm elated we have two real TEs this year.

White _tornado's picture

We all know, you get what you pay for. What did we expect when you spend all high draft picks on D only to see most of them flop.

Hindsight being 20/20 i wish TT would have been run out of town after his 4th draft.

Duneslick's picture

These versatile players can play several positions poorly. Tt's like a basketball coach saying they have a lot of players that can take the 3 point shot. Trouble is they can't make them

Barnacle's picture

Duneslik

Great analogy!

Spock's picture

I'm not as down about the OL as some here. Yeah, we would have issues if a starting tackle misses significant time, but that's true of virtually every NFL team out there and the Packers have two of the best tackle tandems of any team with Bahk and Bulaga. Although this article is more than a bit rosy, the truth is that the Packers DO have versatile players (starters and backups) on the OL. MM decided to put every backup OL man in the game last week against Oakland's starters and, predictably, they were over-matched. Does that mean they were all bad? I don't think so. I'm especially glad we picked up the TE Lewis as he could act as an almost additional lineman if (fingers crossed it's not needed) something should happen to a starter. As others have pointed out, in the regular season if one starter has to be replaced by a backup that backup would have better players next to him to help him out. The fact that most of this preseason has had articles where Packers' fans are worried about the play of BACKUPS at various positions says a lot about the team. :) I'm stoked for the real games to begin!
Go, Pack, Go!

Tarynfor12's picture

They are all eligible for the ' Participation Award ' that so many believe valuable.

PatrickGB's picture

Remember the term “Jack of all trades, master of none”? My own father was like that. As part of the Greatest Generation it was a common trait. Yet there were often times when he called on a specialist. Being flexible is nice until one gets bent out of shape. And in my humble opinion, the current Oline backups have been bent out of shape.

Since '61's picture

It is good to have versatile players but that versatility should be based upon the player being solid at their primary position before taking on other roles. For example, TJ Lang was an excellent Guard but he could move into the Center spot if necessary. Then he would be backed up by a player who was at least a decent guard.

Now we have backups who have not demonstrated that they can play one position and we're asking them to be versatile along the line. That may be too much for young players like Spriggs, Murphy, Pankey, Amichia and others to handle at this point. It may be a better approach to let them gain confidence at one position before moving them around.

For now, we'll need to rely on our starters remaining healthy (fingers crossed). Thanks, Since '61

Tundraboy's picture

Excellent points Since 61! Versatile can be two things. Equally solid at many things or equally bad at almost everything.

Barnacle's picture

Since’61

I wish MM and his brain trust would apply the gist of your
Idea. Expecting rookies and other young (many undrafted) players to be NFL competent at several positions is unreasonable.

Point Packer's picture

You could march me out there - all 6'1 240 pounds of beer - and I could fill in at any position on the offensive line. I'd be "versatile" and would perform as poorly as such versatility icons as the great Don Barclay, the "budding" Jason Spriggs and the tanking Kyle Murphy.

Give me a fucking break.

Packer Dave's picture

I'll get Gute on the line tomorrow.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I am mostly disappointed and a little surprised by our backup OL situation. Last year it appeared to me that Murphy, McCray, Patrick and to a lesser extent, Spriggs, could play guard, and some RT sort of adequately. I didn't see a backup LT though I had hopes for Spriggs. Still, even though I figured Bulaga would go on the PUP, I was not tremendously concerned. I looked for a RT in the draft but Jackson was an easy choice over say, Brian O'Neill (if he is an OT). In the 3rd round or so, Orlando Brown didn't make it to us. When we moved up I thought it might be for Noteboom, but we needed a player like Burks too.

I thought: Oh well, we can get by with what we have on the OL and Gute can't fix everything with one draft. I guess we are going to find out.

DD's picture

Gute has not fixed or addressed anything on the o line. Fact.

NMPF's picture

Though being fairly disappointed with the back-up Oline playing as an incohesive unit when asked to play as a starting 5 the gnashing and wringing is unwarranted IMO. Most of the time a random cog is needed to keep the gears in working order. No team in the NFL can field an effective Oline with 3 or 4 starters sidelined.

DD's picture

Versatility is fine. If only they could block. Hello!

NJMagic's picture

I am clearly in the minority opinion here, but I believe the coaches likely value versatility of their level replacement level players at a much higher level than us fans.

Just consider, its unlikely the whole line goes down at once, so having a player that can be plugged in at any spot goes down allows:

1) the other 4 spots to stay put at their best positions to maximize the line overall. No kicking Lane Taylor out to tackle so you have TWO players out of position, etc.
2) Single players can be game planned around. Heck, McCarthy did that with FIVE guards last year.
3) Frees up a roster spot at another position, allowing depth in other areas.

When you see a team take advantage of Turnstile Barclay, that should be on Coach for not adjusting.
Same with Spriggs- this year, he looks adequate. If he gets left on an island as if he was a pro bowl LT, particularly against a speed rusher, that's just bad coaching.

Versatility should not be undervalued. Ideally have at least one swing tackle (R v L) and one G-C-G.

Go Pack Go!

Point Packer's picture

if you get the "versatility" moniker in GB it means you are a below average O-lineman who happens to be have the ability to perform poorly at multiple positions.

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