GREEN BAY – James Campen told reporters Thursday afternoon that this week hasn’t been tough for him or his players.
But judging by how animated – and at one point, combative – the Green Bay Packers normally amiable offensive line coach was during the 10-minute interview session, that isn’t quite accurate.
It was the first time Campen had spoken since his group was dominated by the New York Giants last Sunday night. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times and, according to ESPN Stats & Information, was “under duress” on 17 of 33 dropbacks in the Giants’ 38-10 victory.
That performance led to criticism from fans and media alike, but Campen initially claimed this week was like any other.
“You get back to work,” Campen replied when asked how he and his players get over a poor performance. “My week has been good. You can sit there and dwell on it and let it eat you up. We all – and the players too – we went through it together and moved on yesterday (Wednesday) morning, put it behind us and working toward the Vikings.”
When asked specifically about the mistakes and the rough night his guys endured, the intensity in Campen’s voice picked up.
“Absolutely not,” Campen said of putting last week’s performance in the rearview mirror. “You have to dissect it, look at it, analyze it, see what happened, why it happened and make the corrections. Players and myself have to be accountable and you move on from it. But you certainly don’t brush it underneath the rug and say, ‘Aw, heck, it’s a bad day.’ Or, ‘Gee, whiz,’ or one of those deals. That’s a loser’s mentality. You have to identify it and make the corrections and move on.
“Any time that quarterback gets hit – it’s not just sacks, it’s a hit or a pressure – it’s a big deal. The quarterback has to be protected. We all know at times he’s not going to be and there’s going to be times he gets hit, but the frequency is too great. Yeah, it’s a big deal.”
Campen’s distaste for the questioning peaked when it was mentioned that the linemen may have had their pride wounded.
“Absolutely not,” Campen said. “That’s a ridiculous question, to be honest with you. Those guys have more pride than you can imagine. Those guys are true pros and they’re accountable for their actions, as everybody in this locker room is. So, absolutely not, there’s no such thing as wounded pride. Those guys are prideful men and they will have worked and displayed that time and time again and they will come out of this.”
How they come out of it will likely play the biggest role in how far the Packers are able to go this year, starting with Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field against the Minnesota Vikings. It hasn’t been pretty to this point for the offensive line, or the team’s pass protection as a whole. The Packers have given up 37 sacks on the season, second only to the 46 the Arizona Cardinals have surrendered. And Green Bay is on pace to allow 54 sacks, which would be the second most in team history.
Making things more difficult: There are no reinforcements coming from within. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga is out for the year with a hip injury and the team’s first round pick in 2011, tackle Derek Sherrod, is not recovered enough from a broken leg to come off the physically unable to perform list and will not play this year. Unless general manager Ted Thompson decides to bring in a veteran, Campen and the Packers will have to work with what they’ve got.
And Campen appears ready to do that, starting by his refusal to make excuses for guys at new positions, like T.J. Lang, who has been up-and-down in his two starts as Bulaga’s replacement at right tackle after spending a majority of the past year and a half starting at left guard.
“No, it’s not an excuse whatsoever,” Campen said of Lang’s limited experience at tackle. “I believe in T.J. And everyone believes in T.J. And T.J. believes in himself. And he would be the first guy to say that’s not an excuse. Whatever player goes out there and puts a helmet on is expected to play and start a game for us. That’s the way it is. Our job is to win and if you don’t win things happen. That would not be an excuse, nor would T.J. even use that as an excuse.”
Campen also said he “absolutely” believes Lang will continue to get better the more he plays the position.
But that’s not Campen’s only problem. The other side of the line also struggled against New York. New left guard Evan Dietrich-Smith failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker that led to one sack in the first half, and left tackle Marshall Newhouse had a rough night as well. Pro Football Focus, a site that charts every play of every game, charged Newhouse with allowing one sack, two quarterback hits and five quarterback pressures.
“Fundamentals,” Campen said of what went wrong for Newhouse. “He just got out of his fundamentals. When you watch it, as we do, go over and over he blocks him just fine. And he does a great job and then got out of his fundamental toolbox and things snowballed. Another learning situation for him and that’s what happened. Have to be fundamentally sound.”
On addressing those issues all Campen would say was, “we’ve corrected the things that happened with him. We wouldn’t want to give that away now, would we?”
Campen, who played in 61 games along the offensive line for the Packers in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, also did something he doesn’t usually like to do. He tried to draw on his experience as a player to help his guys.
“I don’t ever really talk too much about what I did because, let’s face it, every one of those guys in the room could kick the crap out of me,” Campen said. “I’m not even close to their talent level. But, there are times when you can say, ‘Look, I had an experience like this and this happened’ and they can draw from that and use it in a positive way and a corrective way.”
Zach Heilprin covers the Packers for WBEV and WXRO radio in Beaver Dam, sister stations of ESPNWisconsin. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zachheilprin.