By: Matt Bove
Packers training camp is finally here! The Packers will hold their first practice today at Ray Nitschke Field today as their pursuit for their fifth Lombardi Trophy begins. Here is a position by position preview of the 2013 Packers and what to look for in camp this summer.
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman
The Packers will enter training camp with only three quarterbacks in camp after the release of Matt Brown. Obviously, there is not much intrigue with the starter as Rodgers has established himself as perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL. You know you are great when you complete throw for 4,295 yards and 39 touchdowns while completing 68.1% of your passes and people are calling it a "down" year.
The real intrigue is with Harrell and Coleman. Harrell has not proven in preseason games that he can be a capable starter if Rodgers were to get injured. He looked incapable of making some of the throws that you have to make in the NFL due to limitations in arm strength. In his defense, Harrell was playing behind a brutal second string offensive line most of the time and he was outstanding in the preseason finale against the Browns. It will be another big training camp for Harrell to show that he has made improvements.
Coleman probably has more pure talent than Harrell, but he is extremely raw and looked like it last training camp. He will have to show a lot to overtake Harrell as the backup quarterback, as Harrell is not eligible for the practice squad and Coleman is. The Packers usually like to keep two quarterbacks on the active roster and put a third one on the practice squad.
Running/Full Backs: John Kuhn, Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris, Alex Green, James Starks, Angelo Pease
The running back position is the most interesting position on the Packers to watch this camp in my view. The Packers usually keep four running backs and full backs, although with the depth they have this year they could keep five. Kuhn's roster spot could be in jeopardy due to his age, decline last season and salary. Franklin was an excellent pass protector at UCLA and could take Kuhn's job as the third down back.
Franklin and Lacy are both guaranteed to be on the roster if healthy and they should battle DuJuan Harris for the starting role. I would bet on Lacy becoming the starter on opening day, as the Packers have maybe never had a running back with his kind of skills.He is a bull running through tackles and some defenders may be reluctant to want to take him on in the frigid temperatures at Lambeau Field late in the season. Lacy should be able to solve many of the 3rd-and-short woes that plagued the Packers last season. He ran for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns for Alabama last year.
Franklin could spell Lacy and be the third down back. He should be very dangerous catching balls out of the backfield and turning up the sidelines. That is another element that the Packers offense has been missing recently.
Harris will be out to prove that last year was not a fluke when he ran for 157 yards over the last four regular season games. He looked great in those games, but the Packers kind of revealed what they thought of him when they drafted Lacy and Franklin.
Green and Starks will just be battling to stay on the roster. Green will be out to prove that it was his knee that made him so unproductive last year and that he is now fully healthy. Starks is unlikely to make the roster, as he has just not been able to stay on the field. Pease impressed Mike McCarthy in mini camp practices, so he will be another player to watch as well.
Wide Receivers: Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross Charles Johnson, Kevin Dorsey, Alex Gillett, Terrell Sinkfield, Tyrone Walker, Myles White
The Packers lack their normal depth that they had at wide receiver in recent years, so that will give an opportunity to some unproven guys this camp. Cobb, Nelson and Jones are the clear top three, but after them it is wide open for anybody.
Cobb, Nelson and Jones still form one of the best wide receiver trios in the NFL. Cobb is one his way to being one of the best receivers in the NFL, and that started last year when he caught 80 passes for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. He is such an electric player, and the Packers can use him in so many different ways. Cobb's speed and agility are off the charts.
Nelson struggled with injuries last year, but still had some very productive games when healthy. He will be looking to return to his 2011 form when he caught 15 touchdowns and had 1,263 yards. Jones had a stellar year last year catching 14 touchdowns. While he is unlikely to catch that many again, he is still a great red zone threat, great at using his body to shield off defenders with the ball in the air, and has solved his drop issues.
Boykin is the favorite to win the number four wide receiver job after impressing last training camp and making the roster. Despite his huge fumbled punt in the NFC Divisional Round playoff game at San Francisco, Ross showed some electric ability at returning kicks and will rely on that to make the roster.
The other two interesting guys in this group are the seventh-round picks this year Johnson and Dorsey. Johnson was considered by many NFL Draft experts as a guy who has the physical tools to make an impact in the NFL and could be a steal. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds at his pro-day at Grand Valley State and jumped 39 1/2 inches in the vertical leap. Dorsey had awful quarterback play in college at Maryland so he never really got an opportunity to show what he can do.
Tight Ends: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Matthew Mulligan, D.J. Williams Ryan Taylor, Jake Stoneburner, Brandon Bostick
Mike McCarthy has always loved tight ends and this year he is stocked with a deep group yet again.
Finley will be the unquestioned starter going into the final year of his contract. This very well could be his final year in Green Bay, as he may either price himself out, or he could under perform again, and the Packers could just be tired of him.
Despite breaking the Packers record for catches in a season with 61, Finley still had a very up and down 2012. However, he gained momentum at the end of the year, as he caught 29 passes for 330 yards over the final six regular season games. With Jennings gone, Finley will have every opportunity to finally live up to his potential over a full season and he still has the size, speed and strength to do it.
Quarless is back with the Packers after missing all of last season due to a knee injury he suffered against the Giants in 2011. McCarthy recently called Quarless his most versatile tight end, and said that he can play every tight end position in the playbook. If Finley departs next year Quarless may have to fill his role, so it will be interesting to watch his development this year.
Mulligan was brought in via free agency to replace Tom Crabtree's blocking. Williams and Taylor have both never been huge parts of their offense so far in their careers. However, Taylor has been great on special teams, which will help his chances of making the team. Stoneburner is one of most highly thought of undrafted free agents that the Packers signed this year.
Offensive Line: Bryan Bulaga, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay, Derrick Sherrod Greg Van Rotten David Bakhtiari, Andrew Datko, Garth Gerhart, Kevin Hughes, Patrick Lewis, Lane Taylor
The major stories with the offensive line is the battle for the starting right tackle job and the reshuffling of almost the entire offensive line. Bulaga and Sitton will go from the right side of the line to the left and Lang and Newhouse (if he starts) will go from the left side to the right. Training camp will be very important to these guys to get used to their new positions, and they may have to play longer than usual in preseason games to get more reps.
Newhouse and Barclay will battle it out for the starting right tackle position. Newhouse had a very up and down season last year at left tackle. He was inconsistent in his pass blocking, with some really good and some really bad games. Newhouse's run blocking was consistently bad and that will need to improve at right tackle. Barclay's strength last year was run blocking when he filled in at right tackle out of necessity. He did not kill them in pass protection either, despite his short arms. Barclay did a nice job for an undrafted rookie free agent last year and it will be interesting to see how he develops this camp.
Van Rotten, Bakhatiari, Datko and Sherrod are other guys to watch at camp. Van Rotten will have to step up because the Packers are weak in depth at guard. Bakhtrari was a fourth round pick this year, so it will be interesting to watch his development, and he can play inside or outside. Datko spent a year on the practice squad last year, but if he is completely over his shoulder injury he may be ready to improve, as he has always had solid talent. Nobody quite knows what to expect out of Sherrod coming off his broken leg, but as a former first round pick the Packers would obviously love to get something out of him.
Defensive Line: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Datone Jones, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly, Jerel Worthy, Josh Boyd, Gilbert Pena
The defensive line has been a point of emphasis lately for the Packers, as they have drafted Jones, Boyd, Worthy and Daniels in their last two drafts.
They have been looking for players to improve their inside pass rush and they hope Jones can be the answer. He will be asked to contribute right away, as he is likely to be rush inside in Nickel and maybe play end in base. Jones is a physical freak, who will only help in pass rush, but will be able to use his speed to help defend the read option that gave the Packers so much trouble last year.
Raji is entering a contract year and the Packers are going to make him earn his deal, as they will not be giving him an extension during the season. Raji had a solid season last year and improved from his down 2011 season, but he was still not the dominant player that we saw in 2010. As the anchor of the defense at nose tackle, Raji is one of the most important players on the defense and must continue to take on double teams.
His effort comes and goes, which is probably a big reason why the Packers have been unwilling to give him a big contract yet, but the talent is certainly still there for him I think a highly motivated Raji will have a huge year for the Packers this season.
Pickett is still a very important and productive player at age 33. He is a very important player against the run, as his massive body eats up blockers. This will likely be his final year in Green Bay. Neal was solid in rushing the passer last year, as he recorded 4.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and 17 hurries in only 10 games last year according to Pro Football Focus. The Packers would love to get that kind of production out of him over a full season.
Wilson is a solid player against the run but really is nothing special. Jolly is one of the most interesting stories in camp, as he is making his return to the Packers after his codeine suspension. Jolly has not played since 2009, so it will be an uphill battle for him to make the team, although he was a very good player for the Packers back in 2009. Daniels showed a few flashes last year, but is still very undersized for the position and Worthy is likely to start the year on the PUP after tearing his ACL in Week 17.
Linebackers: Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk, Nick Perry, Dezman Moses, Jamari Lattimore, Terrell Manning, Sam Barrington, Nate Palmer, Robert Francois, Andy Mulumba, Jarvis Reed, Donte Savage
Matthews is the leader of this group and is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, as he had a stellar season yet again last year with 13 sacks. The most amazing about Matthews is how he does it without a big pass rushing threat on the other side of him.
With that being said, having Perry turn into a force opposite Matthews would change the entire Packers defense. Even though he only played in six games last year hopefully having a year in the 3-4 system will help Perry be more comfortable in the defense this year. Perry is a little big for the position and needs to develop more speed and counter pass rushing moves.
Inside linebacker is one of the biggest concerns for the Packers. Jones is great in coverage, but struggles with his size against the run. Hawk is what he is at this point and just does not make enough impact plays.
Depth at linebacker is also a concern because all the backups are unproven. Mozes showed some good pass rushing potential as a rookie last year, but he is really the only backup who saw the field last year. An illness suffered in training camp last year ruined Manning's rookie year but the Packers still believe in his talent. Lattimore and Francois have been mostly special teams players. Barrington and Palmer are intriguing players as rookies.
Cornerbacks: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Heyward, Davon House, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Loyce Means, James Nixon, Brandon Smith
The Packers are extremely deep at cornerback and it is one of their strongest positions on the team.
While Williams has not been an elite corner since 2010, his demise has been a little bit overstated and he is still solid. Shields really came on int he second half of last season, including a huge interception of Colin Kaepernick in the Divisional Playoff game on the first series of the game. He has all the tools to be a great corner and will be playing for a new contract.
Heyward had an outstanding rookie year with six interceptions. His instincts and ball skills in the slot were terrific and he should replace Charles Woodson seemingly. House was projected to be a starter last year until a shoulder injury in the preseason opener at San Diego derailed his season. He will be looking to come backs strong.
Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian, M.D. Jennings, Sean Richardson, David Fulton, Ryan McMahon, Chaz Powell
Every safety is a question mark other than Burnett. Burnett, who received a new contract extension with the Packers this offseason, will try to make a big leap into a Pro Bowl safety in his fourth year just like Nick Collins did.
In my opinion, McMillian has more potential than Jennings, so I would like to see him win the other starting safety job. Jennings never did much to impress me last year and McMillian at least showed he is not afraid to get physical.
Specialists: Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode, Giorgio Travecchio
The Packers finally brought in some competition for Crosby in Travecchio and they will compete in camp. Crosby made only 63.2% of his kicks last year so he needs to be better. Masthay is still one of the better punters in the NFL.