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Gray Off To Promising Start

Guard Geoff Gray has been a very pleasant surprise so far this summer. The undrafted free agent from Canada capped off an impressive first week of training camp on Thursday night by going undefeated in one-on-one pass rush drills, including getting the best of six-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews.

Assuming the 22-year-old Gray doesn’t fall flat on his face in the upcoming preseason games, it’s difficult to imagine Ted Thompson not keeping him around  – either on the 53-man final roster or more likely the practice squad. Smart general managers simply don’t get rid of rookie offensive linemen with the kind of size (6’5, 315), brute strength and intriguing raw potential Gray has exhibited in the past seven days.

But before getting too excited about Gray, there are some concerns that make me question whether he’ll be nearly as impressive away from Ray Nitschke Field. It’s one thing to block a talented player like Matthews in a one-on-one drill in the controlled environment of a practice; it’s quite another thing to block a talented player like Matthews in the craziness of a game – especially without the benefit of particularly quick feet.

While Gray is built like former Packer star Mike Wahle, he’s not close to being as athletic. Based on the three practices I watched, he has some tightness in his lower body and is a bit mechanical in his lateral movement. And while that could also describe Lane Taylor, who proved to be a dependable player last season, the team’s current starter at left guard came into the NFL with a stronger and more compatible background.

Taylor played for Oklahoma State in the Big 12. Gray played for Manitoba in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association. And believe it or not, the level of competition isn’t even the biggest difference. There’s a one-yard neutral zone in Canada, which makes for quite an adjustment. It’s going to take Gray time to learn how to use his hands against a defensive player who could be lined up only a few inches away from his nose.

Based on his early success and the need for beat reporters to find interesting things to write about in August, I expect Gray to be the subject of quite a few flattering stories in the coming days. And he’ll deserve every one of them. The young man from North of the Border is far more than just a camp body, that’s for sure. But whether he has what it takes to actually play effectively at this level is far less of a certainty.

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About Robert Tahan