GREEN BAY — Cole Madison isn’t concerned about where the Green Bay Packers will want him to play. Guard, tackle – whatever. He’s got bigger things to worry about.
Like actually having a playbook to learn.
“Coming from Washington State,” Madison said during the post-draft rookie orientation camp, “we didn’t have a playbook.”
That’s right, playing in Cougars coach Mike Leach’s famed “Air Raid” offense, the rookie fifth-round pick didn’t have to worry about learning a thick playbook in college. Rookies received abridged versions of the Packers’ playbook – in three-ring binders instead of the iPad playbooks they’ll have going forward – during the rookie camp, and even that limited playbook was more than what Madison had back in Pullman, Wash.
“For offensive line, it’s simple. We’ve got a couple pass protections, a couple run plays, a couple screens and call it a day. Real simple,” Madison explained. “Run plays, it (was) either ‘Run Right’ or ‘Run Left.’
“So that was the big thing (during rookie camp) – actually going over more than four plays. I feel like I’m picking it up pretty fast.”
During the rookie camp, Madison worked at right tackle – his position in college – as well as at right and left guard. How he’ll line up when the team kicks off organized team activity practices on Monday remains to be seen, but Madison would hardly be the first college tackle to become a guard in the Packers system.
From Daryn Colledge (a 2006 second-round pick from Boise State) and Tony Moll (a 2006 fifth-round pick from Nevada) to Pro Bowl guards Josh Sitton (a 2008 fourth-round pick from Central Florida) and T.J. Lang (a 2009 fourth-round pick from Eastern Michigan), the Packers have often converted college tackles into guards. Madison said most NFL teams told him they projected him as a guard.
“I think he’s versatile enough,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said of the 6-foot-5, 308-pound Madison moving inside. “He played tackle in college this past season, but we see him as a versatile inside guard/tackle swing type of guy.”
Added coach Mike McCarthy: “I think his versatility is definitely something – guard, tackle – (that) we looked at. Obviously his attitude, the way he plays the game, I think he’s an excellent fit for our O-line room.”
Longtime west coast scout Sam Seale, who scouted Colledge and Moll, said not every college tackle has what it takes to shift to guard. In watching Madison, he said, he saw not only the versatility but also the attitude – as McCarthy mentioned – to move inside.
“I look for the length and I look for the strength, (and) if a kid has versatility and if a kid is competitive,” Seale said when asked what qualities he looks for in a potential guard convert. “Because at guard you need a mean person. I think he’s a mean guy. I think he has the ability to hunker down and open the hole on the inside.
“But I don’t know where he’s playing. I just liked his versatility and the coaches will decide what to do with him.”
Madison has actually changed positions twice already, having arrived on Washington State’s campus as a tight end – after playing receiver in high school – and then moved to the offensive line during his redshirt freshman year. He wound up starting 47 games at right tackle for the Cougars, including 39 straight to end his college career.
He said he actually felt most comfortable during the rookie camp at guard, even though it’s not his natural position, because the Packers use a different pass-blocking technique than the throw-it-all-over-the-place Cougars do.
“Honestly, right guard and left guard I felt really comfortable in there. Right tackle, I still have to get used to the different sets,” Madison explained. “Washington State we’re more of a backpedal/vertical set instead of the kick/slide. So I just have to get used to the true kick/slide and I’ll be good.”
As for having an attitude, Madison said that won’t be a problem.
“Oh yeah, I like getting physical, I like getting down and dirty in there,” Madison said. “It’s just one of those things, you’ve got to flip that switch on game-day or at practice. You can’t be a pushover. You’ve got to be able to lead the guys. You can’t be mean all the time, but you’ve got to be able to flip that switch when it comes down to it. You’ve got to be able to take care of business.
“I think I’m a nice guy when it comes to it, but ultimately I’m not afraid to get my hands a little dirty. Playing this position, you’ve got a screw a little loose at least.”
Meanwhile, Madison said he wasn’t focusing on starting as a rookie – something he could do at right guard, where the Packers are looking for a replacement for veteran Jahri Evans, or at right tackle, where Bryan Bulaga is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and would-be replacements Jason Spriggs (dislocated kneecap) and Kyle Murphy (broken foot) are also coming off season-ending injuries.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari started as a rookie fourth-round pick in 2013, and center Corey Linsley started as a rookie fifth-round pick in 2014, so it’d hardly be unprecedented in the McCarthy era.
“Right now I’m thinking about day-by-day, compete for that job day by day, get that opportunity day by day, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. And at the end of the day, whatever happens, happens,” Madison said. “I plan on being that universal soldier for the line. Just being able to bump around wherever they tell me.”