Green Bay Packers: What Packers Fans Should Watch for in Training Camp
Only the month of August separates 32 NFL teams from their first regular-season game. But this month also means the start of NFL training camps, where roster spots are up for grabs, from the rebuilding Colts to the World Champion New York Giants.
And the Packers, who boasted the league's best regular season record at 15-1, are no different.
This year, the Packers had some questionable impending free agents but managed to re-sign everyone, with the exception of running back Ryan Grant, and were forced to release free safety Nick Collins due to the severity of his neck injury. The Packers will head into training camp hoping to fix the league's worst defense with some young, raw talent thanks to the 2012 NFL Draft.
But there is more to look for than the re-tooling of the defense. What else could there be to watch for from the Packers in 2012 training camp?
With the unfortunate departure of Nick Collins at free safety, the Packers will be looking for a replacement at the position. And the position was not solved in OTAs or mini-camps.
Morgan Burnett has one of the safety spots locked down. As of right now, Charlie Peprah, still in his second stint with the Packers after being re-signed in 2011, is the favorite to win the other spot due to his experience and continuity in the system, and his decent play at the position the past two years.
But he will have to fend off M.D. Jennings, an undrafted safety who surprised by making the 53-man roster, and possibly rookie Jerron McMillian out of Maine. These two will also be battling for backup spots along with Anthony Levine, who has been a mainstay on the practice squad his first two years.
A unit that took a step back was the defensive line, where the loss of Cullen Jenkins hurt, as did the injuries to Mike Neal, who was expected to replace him as a starter along the line. The Jarius Wynn-CJ Wilson combination did not provide enough of a pass rush or run support to make much of a difference.
Now, there is a crowd along the line. While B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett remains the best defensive linemen at this moment, the Packers have re-tooled and signed several players that make the end result of this bunch pretty unclear.
They drafted Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, while they signed Anthony Hargrove in free agency. But, due to the Saints' punishments, he received an eight-game suspension.
The Packers would then sign former Dolphins lineman Philip Merling. Jarius Wynn and Cj Wilson are still factors to provide depth and act as rotation linemen.
With other names like Daniel Muir and Lawrence Guy on the list, it will be interesting to see how this group turns out in September.
Tight Competition at Tight End
The Packers have a big corps of tight ends. In fact, they thought so much of this group last year that they kept five tight ends.
Can they do the same thing again? After all, Ted Thompson kept three fullbacks on the team from 2009-2010, so it's not out of the question. But his hand may be forced to deal one, maybe two of them.
But which? Jermichael Finley just re-signed, and his role and abilities in the offense as the Packers' nightmare matchup tight end are invaluable, especially if Finley is able to improve his hands and consistency.
Behind him, the Packers kept core special teamer and run blocker/pass protector Tom Crabtree, who did well in his roles despite not being the best of the group at pass catching.
The remaining tight ends include Ryan Taylor, another special teamer; Andrew Quarless, a tight end with potential but struggles off the line; and former John Mackey Award Winner D.J. Williams.
All three have been in the league for two years or fewer. With the injury problems that plagued both lines last season, the Packers may cut this group down to four or even three, considering their needs on defense.
Is Newhouse Prepared to Become the Blind Side?
For the first time in about a decade, Chad Clifton will not be lining up to protect the Packers' franchise along the offensive line.
Enter Marshall Newhouse.
Newhouse stepped in to relive Clifton when he went down for 10 games with a hamstring injury, and he stepped in again when Clifton did poorly against the Giants' pass rush. Granted, he had his ups and downs, though the Packers thought enough to make him the top backup at left tackle over 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod.
Now, the job is Newhouse's to lose. The Packers released the more injury-prone Clifton and will move forward with Sherrod and Newhouse as the main tackles behind Bryan Bulaga. The question now becomes this: How will Newhouse fare over a full 16 games?
Only time will tell.
The 2011 second-round pick Randall Cobb is quickly becoming a Packer favorite, having sparked a long-forgotten special teams unit looking for a boost.
Now, the coaches want to give him more offensive snaps and get him on the field longer. And this is in an offense where the Packers have to distribute between the likes of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, fan favorite Donald Driver and James Jones.
How can they possibly fit him into the schedule—I mean, rotation?
The Packers have a loaded receiving corps, with the likes of other young players in Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel. The Packers raised salaries for to keep them on the practice squad, possibly making a run at the roster.
While the Pack did in fact re-sign James Jones, it does not mean that he is in the clear, especially with the young receivers behind him.
It is not out of the question for the Packers to keep six receivers, but they are looking into getting Cobb on the field. His ability and speed make him an asset too valuable to keep on the sidelines.
It seems like Packers fans have been at this point every year since Clay Matthews made himself known as a dominating pass-rusher. Since teams found out that the Packers did not have a decent bookend on the other side, all attention was on Matthews.
Now, a Brady Poppinga, several Brad Joneses and Erik Waldens later, the Packers invested a first-rounder in Nick Perry, who will make the transition from a defensive end to an outside linebacker and has seen first-team action thus far in offseason work.
Perry was drafted to help take some heat off of Matthews, who had a down season in terms of sacks, registering six sacks due to the constant double teams and lack of isolation and pass rush he was unable to produce. A decent partner opposite him to at least turn one eye was needed, and that bookend was unable to be found.
The coaching staff hopes they found that in Nick Perry.
Outside of Perry, the question becomes who will provide the depth and special teams play. Vic So'to is a possibility, as he showed some potential last year and during the season, and Erik Walden and Frank Zombo will be fighting for spots, as both have gone cold after having their "hot" moments. Undrafted rookie Dezmon Moses is a name to keep an eye on.