Updating Green Bay Packers' Key Position Battles in Training Camp

Bob FoxContributor IAugust 16, 2012

Updating Green Bay Packers' Key Position Battles in Training Camp

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    Roster spots will be tough to come by as the Green Bay Packers get down to their final 53-man roster. A number of position battles are ongoing as the Pack get ready for the second preseason game tonight vs. the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.

    The players have had three weeks so far in training camp to show their talent and ability. Now they will have three more weeks and three more preseason games to convince the front office and the coaches that they deserve a roster spot on the 2012 Green Bay Packers.

    Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy will have some very tough decisions to make, as this is definitely the deepest and most talented team that both have experienced since McCarthy took over as head coach in 2006.

    Key position battles will help determine what decisions both Thompson and McCarthy make regarding the makeup of the final roster.

No. 6 Wide Receiver

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    Assuming the Packers keep six WRs on their roster, it looks as though the final spot is between Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel.

    There is some speculation that veteran Donald Driver is not a lock to make the team, but Driver has shown nothing to disprove that he won't be part of the final 53. The other four WRs who are locks include Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb.

    There are a few ways that both Gurley and Borel can make the final roster. The first is if one of the other WRs are traded. The most logical candidate would be Jones. The second possibility is if Driver is released. Finally, both can make the squad if the Packers keep seven WRs.

    Borel had the edge for the No. 6 WR spot early in camp as he turned heads with his ability. Plus, Gurley was hurt because of a groin injury and only started practicing again this week.

    Borel didn't help himself with a fumble on a kick return in the San Diego game though, and he also injured his groin and will not play in tonight's game.

    Meanwhile, Gurley caught two TD passes in Tuesday's practice and hopes to gain an edge starting tonight.

    This might come down to the last man standing. Or practicing.

Base Right Defensive End

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    Right now, when the Packers run their 3-4 base defense out there, C.J. Wilson is the starting RDE. When the Packers go to the nickel, rookie Jerel Worthy slides into that position. I don't see that changing.

    Wilson is stout against the run and has looked good in camp. Worthy has looked very good at times in the nickel due to his explosiveness at the snap. Worthy has also jumped offsides more than a few times, much to the displeasure of defensive line coach Mike Trgovac.

    So who might challenge Wilson for the RDE spot in the base besides Worthy, if the coaches thought he could handle the load? Mike Neal has had a solid camp and would definitely be a factor if not for his four-game suspension which starts at the beginning of the season.

    Lawrence Guy would be another player who would fill the RDE position, but thus far in camp has been relatively quiet. Jarius Wynn has also had a quiet camp.

    Free-agent Phillip Merling could definitely be a possibility, as he has shown signs recently of looking like the player the Miami Dolphins drafted early in the second round in 2008.

Running Back

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    The Packers are the walking wounded at RB right now, as James Starks (turf toe) and Brandon Saine (hamstring) are out with injuries.

    Starks didn't distinguish himself anyway last week vs. the San Diego Chargers when he dropped an easy pass from Aaron Rogers and then fumbled a few plays later.

    The injury situation and the lack of production at RB caused the Packers to sign free-agent Cedric Benson. The signing was a bit of a surprise, based on Benson's checkered history with the law and his penchant for fumbling once in awhile. 

    Benson has practiced for two days with the Packers, but will likely not play tonight vs. the Browns. Ted Thompson told the Green Bay Press Gazette that he was comfortable signing Benson.

    Because of the injuries and Benson probably not playing, second-year RB Alex Green should have plenty of opportunity tonight to show how much he has been able to come back from an ACL injury last season.

    So how will this all shake out? I don't see the Packers keeping more than three RBs on their roster, along with FB John Kuhn, who just sprained an ankle the other night.

    Benson will get plenty of chances to show if he is still a 1,000-yard RB in the last two preseason games, while Green has a real opportunity to show the coaches what he can do.

    Starks and Saine are not helping their causes because of being hurt. The Packers want Starks to take hold of the No. 1 RB position, but injuries and not being sure of assignments have hurt his development. Dropping passes and fumbling doesn't help either.

    Saine is a complete RB when healthy. He can play on all three downs if needed, plus can help out on special teams.

    Undrafted rookie Marc Tyler looked good against the Chargers with his tough running style, but a late fumble didn't help his cause.

    All I can say is the next three weeks should be real interesting as to which RBs make the team.

Backup Offensive Tackle

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    Thankfully for Aaron Rodgers' sake, the Packers will once again have starting LT Marshall Newhouse back in the lineup tonight. Rodgers was hit hard by LB Melvin Ingram of the Chargers last week as the rookie abused LT Herb Taylor rushing the passer.

    The Packers know that Taylor is probably not the answer in being the key backup at OT, either from the left side or the right side.

    The team was hoping the second-year OT Derek Sherrod, who is also a former first-round draft choice would be the player to be the backup at both OT positions. But Sherrod hasn't even been cleared to practice yet and it looks like he will open the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list.

    The Packers did sign OL Reggie Wells last week to help out at both guard and tackle, so Wells could be definitely be a factor at backup, as he has started 91 games as an offensive linemen in the NFL in his career.

    The Packers also like the way rookie Andrew Datko has bounced back with his play after a very tough start to training camp. Datko has to continue that progress in the preseason games if he expects to be a key backup at OT.

    Right now the money is on Wells, depending on well he holds up in camp and in the preseason games.

Nickel/Dime Strong Safety

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    Charles Woodson plays SS in the 3-4 base defense that the Packers employ, but when the Packers go to their nickel and dime alignments, Woodson slides to the slot and M.D. Jennings has come in to play SS.

    Jennings did not get off to a good start in the first preseason game against the Chargers. First he bit on a pattern run by TE Antonio Gates which ended up being a 23-yard TD catch by Gates, and then he missed a tackle on Vincent Brown’s 27-yard touchdown.

    Jennings is being pushed by both rookie Jerron McMillian and also Anthony Levine, who was given some snaps this week as the starter in the nickel and dime. Keep an eye on undrafted rookie Sean Richardson, who is having a strong camp.

    “The guys know that’s a position that’s somewhat open, and whoever performs best in training camp is probably going to be that guy,” said Darren Perry, the Packers’ safeties coach talking to the Green Bay Press Gazette.

    Defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes what he has seen out of McMillian, as hehas not only practiced at the nickel and dime SS position, but also as a dime CB. “His value is going to be because he can play in either place,” Capers said, “and he’s going to have to be schooled well enough to play both.”

    Jennings, McMillian and Levine will have three weeks to prove who is best suited to be the man at SS in the nickel and dime.

Right Cornerback

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    The Packers know that they have a very solid LCB in Tramon Williams, if he is completely healthy, unlike the 2011 season when Williams injured a shoulder the first week of the season.

    With RCB Charles Woodson moving to SS in the 3-4 base defense, that opens an opportunity for someone to win the RCB job.

    It sure looked like that someone was second-year CB Davon House, who looked very good against the Chargers last week until he injured his shoulder on a special teams play. House looks to be out at least a couple of weeks.

    Jarrett Bush started out training camp as the starter at RCB, but the Packers did that to send a message to the others, as Bush is usually a very solid tackler, although he has clear pass coverage liabilities.

    Sam Shields, who looked so good as a rookie in 2010 before stumbling last season with both coverage and tackling issues, started out camp in bad fashion. Shields just started to look good again when he hurt his elbow, which still has him out of action.

    This has opened the door for rookie Casey Hayward to take the RCB job...at least for now. Hayward has had a very good camp, and if he isn't the RCB starter in the base, he will most likely be a key factor in the dime scheme. 

    If House can come back fairly quickly from his shoulder injury, then he will most likely be the RCB in the base, while Hayward will be probably be another slot CB in the dime.

    The Packers expect to play the dime defense quite a bit this year, after using the nickel on most occasions last season.