Predicting Two-Deep Green Bay Packers Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp

Brian CarriveauContributor IJune 10, 2012

Predicting Two-Deep Green Bay Packers Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp

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    The offseason portion of the NFL calendar is almost over. All that remains for the Green Bay Packers is the three-day mini-camp from Tuesday, June 12, through Thursday, June 14.

    By the end of mini-camp, the rookies and other newcomers will have made their first impressions, leaving the coaches with a good idea of what to expect.

    There's still time to make an impact, however. That's what training camp, when the pads go on, is for.

    Until then, here's how the Packers' two-deep roster is shaping up.

Quarterbacks

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    Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell

    There's no quarterback controversy here. Aaron Rodgers has as solid a grip on a starting job as any player in the NFL.

    Rodgers is a smart, savvy, athletic leader and winner. In other words, he's just about everything a team wants its trigger-puller to be.

    After being named Super Bowl MVP in 2010, Rodgers was the regular-season MVP in 2011.

    His only remaining quest is to win multiple Super Bowls.

    But beyond Rodgers, there's uncertainty. The No. 2 job is up for grabs.

    Matt Flynn left for the Seattle Seahawks in free agency, allowing Graham Harrell––the Packers' third-string quarterback the past two seasons––to ascend a spot in the pecking order.

    Harrell will receive competition from rookie B.J. Coleman during training camp. But at least for the time being, Harrell is the primary backup.

    Entering his third consecutive year in Green Bay, Harrell has a command of the Packers offense and has committed himself to gaining weight and arm strength during the offseason.

    He's the backup until proven otherwise.

Running Backs

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    Running Back: James Starks, Brandon Saine

    Fullback: John Kuhn, Nic Cooper

    With Ryan Grant out of the picture, James Starks will go from sharing the load in 2011 to becoming the backfield's workhorse in 2012.

    The talent Starks possesses is obvious. Fans were able to see it first-hand when he shouldered the load on the Packers' run to the Super Bowl in 2010.

    Starks also played well in spurts in 2011, but various knee and ankle injuries kept him from playing on a regular basis, limiting him to 13 carries over the final six weeks of the season.

    As the team's third-round draft choice in 2010, Alex Green has a good chance to win more playing time in 2012, but he may have been surpassed by Brandon Saine.

    Green's torn ACL ended his season prematurely last year, allowing Saine to impress.

    Head coach Mike McCarthy said during this past Tuesday's press conference, "Brandon is so consistent, probably the most consistent guy we have back there."

    If Green can come back recovered from injury during training camp, he'll factor into the Packers' plans at running back, but he'll have to earn his playing time.

    At fullback, John Kuhn also ended last season with an injured knee, leaving his status questionable for training camp.

    If he's healthy, Kuhn is the unquestioned starter. He was recently named to the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2012 largely on the strength of what he does when the ball is in his hands.

    Undrafted free agent Nic Cooper will pick up the slack if Kuhn can't go. Jon Hoese is also in the mix at fullback, but hasn't practiced much during the offseason due to an injury.

Wide Receivers

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    Wide Receiver X: Greg Jennings, James Jones

    Wide Receiver Y: Donald Driver, Randall Cobb

    Wide Receiver Z: Jordy Nelson, Tori Gurley

    The Packers run so many formations and utilize so many wide receivers in their offense that putting any stock into a depth chart should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Even though Jordy Nelson has far surpassed Donald Driver in terms of production, the Packers still technically tabbed Driver as the starter in 15 of 16 games last season, an honorary distinction since the term "start" only means a player was on the field for the first play of the game.

    The Packers use so many three, four and even five wide-receiver sets that everyone sees the field plenty.

    Although, in terms of the number of snaps played, Jennings and Nelson figure to receive the most playing time in 2012.

    Driver, in spite of his advancing age, still figures to get lots of action as well.

    Perhaps one surprise could be Randall Cobb surpassing James Jones in the wide receiver pecking order.

    After a rookie season in which Cobb impressed with his kick- and punt-return abilities, it would be a disservice to Cobb and the team to keep his talent on the sidelines.

    It would be nearly impossible for the Packers to keep Tori Gurley on the practice squad for another season. Expect him to stick around as the Packers keep six wide receivers.

    If anyone gets injured, Diondre Burel is there to step in.

Tight Ends

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    Tight end: Jermichael Finley, Ryan Taylor

    After signing a two-year, $14 million contract during the offseason, Jermichael Finley remains a big part of the Packers offense.

    His 55 receptions for 767 yards and eight touchdowns last season rank among the most productive tight ends in the NFL, but his impact could have been even bigger had it not been for a case of the drops in the second half of the 2011 season.

    Drops had not been an issue for Finley the first three-and-a-half years of his professional career, so there's a good chance he'll turn things around. Because of his size, he's a matchup problem for opposing safeties and linebackers.

    Had it not been for last season's devastating knee injury, Andrew Quarless would be next in line for the No. 2 tight-end job, but he's still a long way from being recovered.

    Tom Crabtree is the incumbent No. 2, but he might get surpassed by second-year player Ryan Taylor.

    Already valued highly because of his special teams play, Taylor has the size and athletic ability to add offense to his repertoire as well.

    D.J. Williams will factor into the tight end rotation, too.

Offensive Line

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    Left Tackle: Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod

    Left Guard: T.J. Lang, Evan Dietrich-Smith

    Center: Jeff Saturday, Tommie Draheim

    Right Guard: Josh Sitton, Ray Dominguez

    Right Tackle: Bryan Bulaga, Andrew Datko

    Offensive line is another position grouping where it's difficult to put much stock in a strict depth chart just because most of the players have to be able to play more than one position.

    But as far as the starting lineup goes, Marshall Newhouse takes over for long-time veteran Chad Clifton, who was released this offseason.

    Newhouse displayed potential replacing Clifton in a relief role last season, but he also gave up too many sacks. He has to become more consistent.

    The bookend tackle on the right side will be Bryan Bulaga. Coach Mike McCarthy thinks he's on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl player.

    Backing up each of the tackle positions are 2011 first-round draft choice Derek Sherrod and rookie Andrew Datko.

    Assuming Sherrod recovers from the broken leg he suffered late last season, he can be a swing tackle on both the right and left sides. And if he isn't fully healed, Datko can do the same thing.

    T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton will be the starting guards, and both are in the prime of their careers.

    Neither Lang nor Sitton is in danger of losing his job, but the second-string guard spots are up for grabs.

    Evan Dietrich-Smith has an opportunity to back up not only at guard but center as well. The experience he gained last season will only help him.

    Meanwhile, Ray Dominguez doesn't play center and couldn't cut it as a tackle in training camp last year. So if he's going to stick as a guard, he's going to have to border on being dominant.

    At center, free-agent signee Jeff Saturday takes over for Scott Wells. There's a worry that Saturday is too old, but the Packers are just looking to squeeze one good year out of him, maybe two.

    Competing with Dietrich-Smith to become Saturday's backup is Tommie Draheim. The Packers showed how much they like Draheim by giving him an $8,500 signing bonus, most among all their undrafted rookies this season.

Defensive Line

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    End: Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson

    Nose: B.J. Raji, Daniel Muir

    End: Jerel Worthy, Anthony Hargrove

    It's nearly impossible to project the depth of the Packers' defensive line because of suspensions (pending appeal) to Anthony Hargrove and Mike Neal.

    The Packers also use their nickel defense with only two defensive linemen so often it's practically become their base defense.

    But in an attempt to make some sense of the position, at least B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett can be viewed as starters. Raji is the most versatile defensive lineman on the team, a guy who's big enough to stuff the run and still give some semblance of a pass rush.

    Pickett, meanwhile, will never be a threat to rush the passer, but his experience and ability to occupy opposing blockers is a valuable commodity.

    Rookie Jerel Worthy has been practicing with the first-team defense in the Packers' nickel package during OTAs, and his role will only grow as time goes on.

    C.J. Wilson, now entering his third year in the NFL, has been practicing with the first string in the base defense but could be surpassed in that role by Worthy if the rookie impresses.

    Based upon prior performance, Hargrove could be a major contributor to the Packers' defensive line, but his suspension only muddles the situation.

    Daniel Muir has been practicing at nose tackle, but he's a long shot to make the roster because both Raji and Pickett can play the nose equally well.

    Because of the suspensions and each defensive lineman's own personal skill set, guys like Mike Daniels, Jarius Wynn and Phillip Merling all have a chance to contribute.

Outside Linebackers

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    Left Outside Linebacker: Nick Perry, Vic So'oto

    Right Outside Linebacker: Clay Matthews, Erik Walden

    Since being drafted in the first round, Nick Perry has been practicing with the starters from Day 1 in Green Bay.

    Given the lack of production from the position opposite Clay Matthews last season, making Perry a starter was a no-brainer.

    Even though Matthews had the lowest sack total of his three-year career last season, he had no one to take any pressure off him.

    With the help of Perry, the Packers hope their starting duo will be able to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. The hope it that each approaches double digits in sacks.

    The player with the most starts opposite Matthews last season, Erik Walden, is back under a one-year contract, but it's not a given he'll have a spot on the 53-man roster.

    He'll be pushed for playing time by fan-favorite Vic So'oto, who impressed during the preseason last year.

    Frank Zombo and undrafted rookie Dezman Moses will also compete for roster spots and will have to prove their worth during training camp.

Inside Linebackers

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    Mack Linebacker: Desmond Bishop, Terrell Manning

    Buck Linebacker: A.J. Hawk, D.J. Smith

    Desmond Bishop is coming off the best season of his professional career and has a solid grip on a starting job.

    By leading the team in tackles and notching five sacks in 2011, he was productive and still has room to grow.

    The future of A.J. Hawk, meanwhile, is starting to become an annual debate. Hawk always seems to do just enough to hang on to his starting job, but not enough to think he's not above replacement.

    One player that will give Hawk a run for his money is second-year linebacker D.J. Smith.

    Smith played well in relief of an injured Bishop and Hawk last season, albeit in limited action. If he can continue to improve, he has the ability to threaten Hawk's starting status.

    The Packers also showed how highly they think of rookie Terrell Manning by trading up in the fifth round of the NFL draft to grab him.

    Because none of the veterans on the team has been particularly good in pass coverage, Manning has an opportunity to earn playing time in obvious passing situations if he can use his athleticism to his advantage.

    Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Robert Francois all have played outside linebacker at some point and may be able to fill a swing role.

Cornerbacks

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    Cornerback: Tramon Williams, Davon House

    Slot: Charles Woodson, Jarrett Bush

    Cornerback: Casey Hayward, Sam Shields

    Because the Packers spend a majority of time in their nickel package, they have three cornerbacks on the field more often than they have two.

    As such, there's an opportunity for a lot of playing time among the cornerbacks, and the competition among them will be fierce.

    Despite speculation that Charles Woodson may move to safety, it's difficult to see him moving away from his slot cornerback position, where he's been so effective in Dom Capers' defense.

    Tramon Williams is the other cornerback who's assured of being on the field 100 percent of the time, though he needs to rebound from a disappointing 2011 due in part to an injured shoulder.

    Sam Shields is the incumbent starter when the Packers are in their nickel defense, but he was maddeningly inconsistent last season. While he's good in coverage, Shields shied away from contact.

    The up-and-down play from Shields will open a door for rookie Casey Hayward, who the Packers traded up to get in the second round of the draft.

    Davon House will have to show significant improvement from his rookie year if he's going to see any action.

    Re-signed in free agency, Jarrett Bush is part of the Packers' plans, but it will primarily be on special teams.

Safeties

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    Free safety: Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings

    Strong safety: Charlie Peprah, Jerron McMillian

    Following Nick Collins' release, Morgan Burnett will likely be asked to play more of the center-field role that Collins previously held.

    Barring injury, Burnett might be the only safety assured of regular playing time. He has to display more consistency, but at least he's trending in the right direction.

    Even though M.D. Jennings has been practicing with the first-string defense during the offseason, at 187 pounds, he's better suited as Burnett's backup in more of a free safety role.

    Assuming he's recovered from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery, Charlie Peprah will resume his job as the other starting safety who's asked to play in the box slightly more often.

    Rookie Jerron McMillian will give Peprah a run for his money once he learns the ins and outs of the NFL.

    Charles Woodson can't be counted out of a potential move to safety, and Jarrett Bush can play the position in a pinch.