McDonald needs to get stronger in the upper body
People say you only have to watch the last two minutes of an NBA game. Well, that saying proved true for the NFL on Friday night in Indianapolis. The Packers, who couldn’t do a thing on offense for the first 28 minutes of the second half, scored 11 points in the final 35 seconds to beat the Colts 24-21. After re-watching the entire game (hey, what else is there to do with a hurricane bearing down on the Northeast?), here are three thoughts:
1] The depth on the offensive line could be a problem. Backup tackles Derek Sherrod and Marshall Newhouse have bright futures, but I’m not sure either is ready to take on some of the NFL’s best defensive ends. While Sherrod looks a lot more comfortable at tackle, he still had trouble keeping rushers away from the quarterback on Friday. And it wasn’t just one type of player that gave him problems. He was beaten by power and by speed. It looks like this year’s No. 1 pick could be spending his game days as one of the inactives – at least early on. Newhouse is the better player now, but he’s had his share of problems in protection as well. He needs to be more consistent with his footwork. He has a tendency to shuffle to cut off the rush instead of kick-sliding. The former TCU star might be OK if pressed into service, but can Green Bay take that chance?
The situation on the interior isn’t a whole lot better. While Nick McDonald played his finest game of the preseason on Friday, he hasn’t shown the strength in practice (or last week against the Cardinals) to consistently hold his own against powerful defensive tackles. The former Grand Valley State star relies more on technique than on natural ability, and that’s a tough way to make a living for a young player. Ray Dominguez often looks awful in those one-on-one drills in practice, but he does OK in the games. I think he’s a better long-term prospect than either McDonald or rookie Caleb Schlauderaff, but he’s not ready to step in and play either. Evan Dietrich-Smith is the team’s best current option to replace any of the interior starters. He doesn’t have much talent or upside (that’s why he was cut a year ago), but he usually finds a way to get the job done. The best option, however, might be to acquire a veteran after final cuts.
2] I know outside linebackers Jamari Lattimore and especially Vic So’oto played well against the Colts, but I wouldn’t be so quick to get rid of Brad Jones – especially with Frank Zombo expected to miss at least a few regular season games. While the former Colorado star hasn’t made very many plays this summer, there’s something to be said for experience. He’s started 12 games since joining Green Bay in 2009 and the team has won 9 of them. Jones doesn’t have the speed of Lattimore or the size of So’oto, but he knows the scheme and he’s seldom caught out of position. The same can’t be said for So’oto, who has struggled to diagnose running plays in practices and games. He also doesn’t move in space nearly as well as Jones. As for Lattimore, he simply can’t play outside linebacker at 230 pounds. He might be able to contribute on special teams and as a pass rush specialist this season, but that’s about it.
If Zombo were healthy, I’d consider releasing Jones to make room for one or maybe even both of the undrafted free agents. But as things stand now, the Packers need to have at least one experienced outside linebacker behind Clay Matthews and Erik Walden. I still think Lattimore has a higher ceiling than So’oto, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the former BYU star grabs the roster spot. He’s more equipped to play right away. Besides, the odds of another team claiming Lattimore on waivers are low. There’s not a huge need for 230-pounders who are still learning how to play with their hand off the ground.
3] If it comes down to it, I’d keep a fifth tight end over a fourth running back, a second fullback, a 10th offensive lineman or a sixth cornerback. That’s because either Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams or Tom Crabtree would have more value to the team this season than Dimitri Nance, Quinn Johnson, Dietrich-Smith, Schlauderaff, Pat Lee or Josh Gordy. Besides, which tight end would you get rid of? Quarless is the best option should something happen to Finley. Williams has cooled down after a hot start, but he’s too talented to give up on after only five weeks. And Crabtree is the best special teams player and the strongest blocker.
If the numbers don’t add up and the Packers absolutely positively have to get rid of a tight end, I’d very reluctantly dump Williams. As much as I like the former Arkansas star, the emergence of fellow rookie Ryan Taylor has made him less important to the team’s present and to its future. Speaking of Taylor, the more I see of him, the more he reminds me of Mark Chmura. Both players were drafted in the late rounds out of a current Atlantic Coast Conference school and they are similar in size. The Packers can only hope Taylor develops into a Chewy clone on the football field – and a much better human being off of it.