Training Camp Report: Offensive Line 'Miles Ahead' Of Last Year


Last year at this time, the Green Bay Packers had a veteran, established running back and a new blocking scheme that took some getting used to.

This year, the Packers are trying to establish a backfield, and that quest took a bit of a hit on Monday when the team found out Vernand Morency's knee injury from the opening training camp practice is more serious than originally thought.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn't go into specifics about Morency's injury but said he'd be out a couple of weeks, which will leave rookie second-round pick Brandon Jackson as the No. 1 back, and lead to more extended looks in practice for P.J. Pope, Noah Herron and combo back Corey White.

But while the Packers continue exploring possibilities in their young backfield, it's important to remember that the other half of last year's equation has changed as well.

The zone-blocking scheme is no longer new to Green Bay's five entrenched starters up front, and they're already noticing a difference in their feel for the ground game compared to last July.

"I think we're miles ahead of where we were last year at the beginning of training camp," center Scott Wells said. "We're able to install faster and not really focus as much on who has who but how we do it, really correct a lot of the mistakes and technical errors we had last year. I think being able to improve on that rather than just assignments is going to help us be a whole lot better."

Having so much to learn last year with the zone scheme, combined with having three rookies among the top six linemen, made the ground game a work in progress the entire year. Training camp was all about the basics for rookies Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll as well as veterans Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher and Wells.

Now, with a year in the system under their belts, the offensive linemen can continue to become more cohesive, which should make who the ballcarrier is less relevant and the running game productive with a committee of backs if necessary.

"Last year we were focused on making sure everybody was (blocking) the right people, so we didn't have guys coming free and guys going the wrong way," Wells said. "This year we're able to focus more on making sure our combo blocks are good, making sure we can take that offense to the next level and execute better."

That execution is vital, whether it's a rookie like Jackson taking the bulk of the handoffs this week or Morency again in the near future.

"It's a blow anytime you lose a guy who has played for a year and is comfortable in this system," Wells said. "But at the same time for it to happen now is kind of a blessing as well, so that other guys can step in there and get more comfortable, and we can get more comfortable with them. It gives them an opportunity to shine."

Nose for the ball

Rookie safety Aaron Rouse felt as though all the off-the-field preparation for training camp started to pay off on Monday.

Lining up with the second and third defenses, Rouse made at least three impact plays during the workout, beginning with an early team (11-on-11) period when good penetration on a screen pass to Herron put him right in the running back's face as he made the catch.

Later in a seven-on-seven sequence, he cut in front of tight end Zac Alcorn on a short pass in the flat and made an interception that would have gone for a long return. Then in a red zone team period, he stepped up to make a solid hit on Pope on a running play up the middle.

"It felt great," Rouse said of his first series of impact plays. "I've studied my playbook very hard, I've been studying the offensive routes, and once I get in there, instincts take over. I felt like I've been doing other things well, but when you get the opportunity you have to step up and make the play."

McCarthy wouldn't say whether Rouse, who's an imposing 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, would start getting any snaps with the No. 1 defense anytime soon. He noted how difficult it is to get all the defensive backs adequate reps, but he did notice Rouse's play on Monday as well.

"I thought he made a very nice play on the interception," McCarthy said. "You can see his athletic ability, especially for his size."

{sportsad300}Tight end production

Both GM Ted Thompson and McCarthy have emphasized that the offense needs more production from its tight ends this season, and during red-zone and goal-line team periods on Monday, the tight ends were certainly showing up.

On a red zone snap with the ball just inside the 20, Donald Lee caught a bullet from Aaron Rodgers for a touchdown. Moments later, Alcorn took a pass in the flat from Ingle Martin and scored.

Later, with the ball on the 3-yard line, Rodgers ran play-action and hit Bubba Franks in the end zone for another TD.

There could be more of that to come as training camp and the preseason progress.

"For us to sit here and say we need to get more production out of them, we need to start first increasing their opportunities," McCarthy said.

Getting his picks

With help from a blitz by linebacker Nick Barnett, Charles Woodson intercepted a short dump-off pass from Aaron Rodgers intended for Robert Ferguson, giving the veteran cornerback three interceptions in the last two practices.

Backup safety Atari Bigby also had an interception during team drills.

Injury, participation report

Rookie offensive lineman Allen Barbre missed practice with a hamstring injury that has been bothering him for a couple of days. Defensive tackle Daniel Muir dropped out of practice late with an ankle injury.

Rookie running back DeShawn Wynn, who has been suffering from a stomach virus, tried to return to practice but was battling dehydration in the 90-degree heat and dropped out.

Linebacker Abdul Hodge (knee) returned to practice but likely will only practice once on the days with two workouts.

Defensive tackles Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly passed their running test inside the Don Hutson Center on Monday and should be returning to practice soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

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