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They are eight of the greatest words of the football lexicon:
"The Green Bay Packers are on the clock."
Sometime around 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, the Packers will be on the clock. General manager Ted Thompson will scan his draft board and select the time-honored "best available player" with the 23rd selection of the first round.
He will have done his homework. Thompson and the Packers' scouts are renowned for being anywhere and everywhere. They're one of the few teams to keep their whole scouting departments in Mobile, Ala., for the entire week of the Senior Bowl. If there's a Pro Day workout, a Packers scout is there with his stopwatch.
Funny thing is, all of the offseason stuff doesn't mean a whole lot most of the time.
"Here's what normally happens to our board," Thompson said at the Scouting Combine. "Our board gets set based on what we saw them play in the games. Then we come to this thing, then I go back home, then me and (director of college scouting) John Dorsey get together and move a bunch of names around, and then by the time you get to the draft, those names go back to the original place they were before we came to the combine. I swear, it happens.
"You go back and watch them play football again, and you go, ‘You know what? We're nuts.' But it's a hard job to predict – what a young man who's 21 years old, you've watched him play in college, what he's going to be like when he's 23. That's some of the biggest growing you're going to do in your life, especially from an emotional stability standpoint. So it's crapshoot. As much as we can, we try to lean on the football stuff and say, ‘Is he a good player? Does he like to play the game?' If he can do those two things, he's got a chance to be a Packer."
Who's got a chance to be a Packer? And who will be the best available player at No. 23?
Big names to remember: Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Maryland's Bruce Campbell, USC's Charles Brown. Wild cards: Hillsdale's Jared Veldheer, Indiana's Rodger Saffold. Later, gater: West Virginia's Selvish Capers, Miami's Jason Fox. Going deep: Stanford's Matt Kopa, Abilene Christian's Tony Washington.
With Chad Clifton turning 34 in June, the Packers are in dire need of finding his eventual replacement. When finally consistently healthy in the second half of the season, Clifton did a fine job of protecting Aaron Rodgers' blind side. Unfortunately, he missed four games and exited four games early with ankle and hamstring injuries.
At least one from the group of Bulaga, Campbell and Brown should be available at No. 23.
Of the three, Bulaga is the least likely to be available, though scouts are worried that he might not have the ideal arm length to shackle elite pass rushers. The Big Ten's top offensive lineman, Bulaga has the all-around skills the Packers desire. He's been a superb pass blocker, and the Hawkeyes run a zone blocking scheme.
"The way we run our offense at Iowa is something a lot of NFL teams like to see," Bulaga said. "We're in a three-point stance a lot. We're getting after guys a lot. That's kind of just our mentality and our style. It can be third-and-medium and we'll probably run the ball, rather than throw it. I like that style of football. I like getting after it. I like putting my hand on the ground and going after a guy."
The stud of the Combine was Campbell, with his incredible strength and a 40-time that almost broke Allen Barbre's Combine record for offensive tackles. If some team loves his workout numbers, he'll be gone before No. 23. If teams study the film, however, they'll see a raw lineman who couldn't even win all-conference accolades and started only 17 games. Like Bulaga, he entered the draft following his junior season.
"Everybody in here, we're all starting basically from freshman," Campbell said at the Combine. "We're all rookies again. So I mean, one person might not be able to tell how raw another person is, but when they get up here, this person is just like that person on the NFL level. I don't see it as anything. They can say what they want to say. They can be raw, but at the same time, we're all starting from the same position. Everyone has a chance to improve themselves."
While plenty can (and most likely will) change before the draft, USC's Brown appears to be a good bet to be on the board at No. 23.
Brown (6-5, 303) was recruited as a tight end before being moved to left tackle during the middle of his redshirt freshman season. He protected the blind side for two seasons and as a senior won the Morris Trophy, which is awarded to the Pac-10's best offensive lineman and is voted on by the league's starting defensive linemen.
The move to left tackle came "pretty natural," Brown told reporters at the Combine. "I had a lot of work to do, though. (USC offensive line) Coach (Pat) Ruel helped me out with that."
Ruel, who was an assistant offensive line coach for the Packers during their 2001 and 2002 playoff seasons, did fine work. Brown said he didn't allow a sack since the fourth game of the 2008 season. Brown isn't the best run blocker but he did play in the Trojans' zone blocking scheme.
"They will get a real good pass-protector," he said.
Veldheer and Saffold have soared up draft boards with big-time offseasons, propelling themselves from second- or third-round picks into first-round consideration.
The 6-foot-8, 315-pound Veldheer played at Chester Marcol's alma mater — Division II Hillsdale — and starred at the Scouting Combine with his combination of strength and exceptional athleticism. Veldheer arrived at Hillsdale as a 250-pound center and departed as an All-American.
"Pretty big and pretty athletic," Hillsdale coach Keith Otterbein told Packer Report. "The one thing that they're all nervous about is his level of competition. My gut tells me they're all going to be willing to take that risk. He'll learn that. He'll learn the speed of the game."
Saffold (6-4, 316) answered questions about his ability to play left tackle during the East-West all-star game and at the Scouting Combine. Saffold allowed just one sack as a senior — to Big Ten sacks king O'Brien Schofield of Wisconsin — and started 41 games at left tackle during four seasons at Indiana.
With potential top-10 picks Russell Okung, Trent Williams and Anthony Davis, this is considered an outstanding group of offensive tackles. If the Packers don't get their man in Round 1, keep an eye out for Capers in the second round and Fox in the third round. Both are athletic and experienced. Later, Kopa lost his senior season at Stanford. Washington was a Division II All-American who impressed scouts at the Combine but landed at a junior college and then Division II because of poor grades.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.