Versatility Helps Barclay Beat Odds
by Mike Conklin
September 1, 2012
Green Bay is heaven for undrafted rookie free agents, and by now their agents know it. After the events of the past few days, the Packers have now kept at least three undrafted free agents on their opening day roster for three years in a row, and that fact is not lost in the frenzied moments right after the NFL draft.
After Don Barclay went undrafted, he had a long talk with his agent about his options. There were several teams that wanted him, but one team stood out above the rest.
"My agent and I talked and we just felt like it was the best situation," said Barclay of the Packers offer. "They called early and they seemed like they were really interested and after we looked over it, it seemed like the best fit for me so we went with it."
Barclay received interest from several teams, but Green Bay was a fairly easy choice in the end. The Packers had a relative need, they employ a zone blocking system similar to what he played in college, and they have a history of giving long shots a fair shake.
Interestingly enough, this wasn't the first time Barclay had his choice of teams seeking his services and one clearly stood out above the rest. By the spring of his junior year in high school, he was pursued by several schools. A host of major programs expressed interest, including Notre Dame, Michigan State, North Carolina State, and the school closest to home...the University of Pittsburgh. His family had ties to West Virginia...his uncle played defensive tackle for them in the 1970's...and they were also interested. All it took was one trip down to Morgantown to watch a spring practice, and Barclay knew where he wanted to go.
"He turned to me and goes, 'Mom this is football,'" recalled his mother, Dana Barclay. "'If they offer me, I'm going here.'"
Sure enough, West Virginia made an offer. Barclay never looked back.
In his time with the Mountaineers, he went through three different coaches. While it may have been frustrating at the time to learn a new system practically every year, little did he know at the time that experience may help him land a roster spot in the NFL in the future.
During his redshirt freshman year he learned under Rich Rodriguez, who is considered a pioneer of the no-huddle run-oriented spread option offense. While Rodriguez wasn't the first to come up with the spread offense in general, his system was unique in that it was a run-first spread offense that had not been seen before. In Barclay's first season with the team, the Mountaineers ran 70% of the time. After Rodriguez left to coach Michigan the next year, West Virginia continued a similar style of play under their next coach, Bill Stewart. Although there were some subtle differences and Barclay learned under a different line coach during that period, West Virginia still remained primarily a running team. But by his senior year, things changed dramatically under Dana Holgorsen, who took over the reins at West Virginia.
Holgorsen had come up in the coaching ranks working with pioneers of pass-happy offenses, such as Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. Holgorsen brought a brand of football he learned while working at Texas Tech and Houston, two of the most prolific offensive schools in college football history. In Barclay's senior season, the Mountaineers put their run-first philosophy behind them and embraced a passing offense. They finished sixth in the nation in passing, and threw the ball 57% of the time. It was a big change from Barclay's first years on campus, and for a player who had aspirations to play in the NFL it would only help his cause.
“As a senior, we passed the ball a lot, so I’d say the strength to my game is pass protection,” Barclay told Packer Report earlier this spring. “I feel like I made big strides in pass protection this past season under Coach (Bill) Bedenbaugh.”
Being comfortable protecting the passer is of utmost importance for the Packers as well, and Barclay was fully aware of that when it came to choosing which team to join after the draft.
"I think it'd definitely be a great fit just from the offense and what we ran," he said shortly after he signed with the Packers. "They're in shotgun a lot and obviously we did that at WVU."
The Packers weren't sure Barclay was going to be able to pass protect at an NFL level early in camp, however. Barclay looked horrible in the one-on-one pass rush drill, which is one of the better indicators of pass protection ability for linemen. As documented by Bob McGinn, he started out with 6 wins against 11 losses in that drill, to go along with 7 ties. For a drill that tends to favor the offensive player, it was an awful start. After getting his bearings, Barclay finally seemed to settle in and was able to turn things around. Over the last two weeks of camp, he finished 15-5.
In addition to the fact that he was now playing against bigger and stronger linemen than ever before, part of Barclay's problem was that he was trying to adjust to playing a new position. The Packers started out playing him at guard, which he hadn't played for several years. While he showed grit and finished his blocks well, there was definitely a learning curve.
"My feet were kind of out of place just from playing tackle the last two, three years," said Barclay last week. "Some other guys have been giving me pointers, especially Reggie (Wells). I feel like my sets have gotten a lot better."
Barclay continued to improve over the second half of camp, and the Packers couldn't ignore the fact that he brought a toughness that is always coveted in offensive linemen.
"I think he's tough as heck, I really do," said veteran Brian Bulaga. "Tough guy. Plays the game hard. You never see a snap where you don't think he's giving 110% effort. If he gets beat, he's going 110% doing it."
Despite the fact that Barclay spent his final year in college playing as more of a finesse pass protector, he was able to draw on his experience with a heavy run-first offense earlier in his career when he had to rely more on toughness and downhill blocking.
“We did a lot of zone blocking (last) season,” said Barclay. “Before that, we did a lot of downhill, power. I like to get after people.”
"If you like football, you're going to have to love what you do. If you're a receiver, you're obviously going to try to be the best, and have the best hands of anybody. Offensive line...you've got to be nasty. You've got to have good feet and good technique. I just try to strive to do that all the time."
The fact that the Packers have moved him around between guard and tackle and he has embraced the challenge helped him make the team, but his versatility may not end there. For a team that likes to have young players waiting in the wings to take over if necessary, the Packers do not have an obvious heir-apparent on the roster for 37-year old center Jeff Saturday. While Barclay has little if any game experience at center, he doesn't shy away from the idea.
At his pro day before the draft this year, Barclay spent quite a bit of time doing center drills. Scouts looked on as he snapped the ball to a quarterback, both under center and in shotgun. Barclay knew one of his calling cards was going to be versatility, and he wanted to show that he could play every position on the line if called upon.
Bob McGinn has contacts who are scouts, and one was asked recently what he thought of Barclay now after watching his performance this summer.
"I have watched him," said McGinn's source. "For a guy I thought would be a good camp guy, he has played himself into a...51-to-53 player. His lack of strength and power are limitations at the moment but he plays with good awareness, positioning and angles. He just seems to know how to play. He has the athleticism and tool set to maybe have a chance at center."
Whether or not the Packers have any plans for him to play center in the future is unknown, but the fact that it is even a consideration speaks once again to Barclay's versatility. He has shown that he is willing to learn whatever skills are necessary for him to help the team.
"I think that is a plus about me that I've played left tackle, I've played left guard, right guard and I can move around to different positions, which should help me out in the long run," Barclay said.
"At the end of the day you have all those tools in your toolbox."Tweet
Photo Credit: US Presswire