Green Bay Packers: Early Look at 2013 Training Camp Battles
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick's 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns were no small part of the 49ers' victory. The Packers went back to the drawing board in the draft, drafting defensive linemen UCLA's Datone Jones 26th overall, while hoping to boost their subpar running game by drafting Eddy Lacy and Jonathan Franklin in the second and fourth rounds, respectively.
But running back isn't the only position to watch during the Packers' training camp. In fact, just about every position outside of starting quarterback and receiver will be under scrutiny. Here's a look at how the position battles are shaping up heading into training camp.
Aaron Rodgers is arguably the NFL's best quarterback, and he is also the NFL's highest paid quarterback after signing a five-year extension at the end of April. His new deal exceeds the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady and puts him atop NFL history as the league's highest-paid signal-caller.
But who will be holding the clipboard behind the face of the Packers franchise?
Graham Harrell held it for all of 2012, but he has not had the opportunity to demonstrate that he can effectively direct Green Bay's offense should Rodgers go down. He will have to hold off B.J. Coleman, who the Packers selected in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL draft, whose arm and raw ability have had a year to develop in McCarthy's quarterback school. Coleman hopes his improved command of the offense earns him a roster spot this time around.
Needed a featured back to improve upon last year's 20th-ranked rushing attack, the Packers drafted Alabama's Eddy Lacy in order to help take some of the pressure off Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers also pulled a fast one by also drafting Jonathan Franklin in the fourth round. Both rookie running backs are expecting a "spirited competition" come training camp.
A late second-round pick out of Alabama, Lacy is a plodding running back coming in at 230 pounds who has the ability to be the workhorse back the Packers haven't had since Ahman Green.
Lacy also has good hands and could be a weapon coming out of the backfield, a must in this passing offense. His ability to grind it out between the tackles late in the game could be an asset the Packers have not had for several seasons.
Franklin, at 205 pounds, is the shiftier of the two. With his receiving and open-field running talents, he could become a great complementary, change-of-pace running back. Franklin is viewed as more of a home-run threat than Lacy.
Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and James Starks comprised what was a revolving door at the running back position for Green Bay in 2012. Green was last season's leading rusher at 464 yards, but his average per carry (3.4 yds per carry) left plenty to be desired. Harris, despite his 5'9" stature, became the most viable option near near the end of the regular season. Starks has struggled with injuries his first three seasons and has been a non-factor in the Packs' running game.
This season, the Packers will be without former receivers Donald Driver (retirement) and Greg Jennings (Minnesota Vikings via free agency).
However, the returning trio of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones thrived last season when both of them were on the sidelines. The emergence of the third-year Cobb has given the Packers a fresh new look at receiver, and increased roles for both Nelson and Jones proved fruitful for the Pack.
Now, training camp will focus on providing depth behind them. The Packers also bring back undrafted Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross, who provided another option in the return game as Cobb's role in the offense increased.
The Packers have since drafted two late-round prospects in the NFL draft in Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson. It's also still likely the Packers will do what they did last season and hold six receivers.
The Packers faced uncertainty at tight end due to the questionable status of Jermichael Finley, who has been up and down during his career in Green Bay.
Coming into his contract year, Finley has perhaps the most to prove at the position.
Outside of Finley, the Packers are rolling with special-teamer Ryan Taylor and D.J. Williams, who have yet to become a bigger part of the offense. Brandon Bostick stuck around on the practice squad last year, and the converted receiver could become a part of the passing game.
Andrew Quarless was one of the Packers' better blockers, but he has not been on the field since 2011, after suffering a severe knee injury. His recovery could be a huge impact on how many tight ends the Packers decide to keep, having in years past dressed anywhere from four to five tight ends.
Seems like the Packers always end up coming back to their offensive line, where major shakeups by Mike McCarthy put this unit under an even bigger spotlight heading in to training camp.
It starts with flipping Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga, who played right guard and right tackle, respectively, to Rodgers' blindside on the left. The move is especially big for Bulaga, who was originally drafted to play left tackle but has seen all of his starting time on the right side.
This also means that Marshall Newhouse, who manned left tackle all of last season, will be moved over to the right. But he's not guaranteed the position. He will have to compete with the likes of Don Barclay, who started there when Bulaga went down last season and showed potential as a long-term starter.
2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod has been unable to get back onto the field due to a severe leg injury he suffered at the end of the 2011, and his health status remains up in the air.
T.J. Lang also flips to the right side, and Evan Dietrich-Smith appears to be the heir apparent at center after supplanting Jeff Saturday last season.
The Packers defensive line will be getting some new blood in the form of 2013 first-rounder Datone Jones out of UCLA, who many see as a great fit in the Packers defense for his ability to play all along the line. Jones could also be part of the answer of taking pressure off of Clay Matthews and reviving Green Bay's pass rush.
Jerel Worthy's ACL injury in 2012 will sideline him for part of the season, so the Packers will be looking towards Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Mike Daniels, and even 2013 sixth-rounder Josh Boyd to hold down the defensive line rotation.
B.J. Raji is the focal point at nose tackle, but the lack of depth at the position often leaves him burnt out as the games wear on. With Ryan Pickett not getting any younger (but not getting any worse either), Jordan Miller could have an opportunity to make the 53-man roster.
Also, Johnny Jolly was released from prison and has officially been a part of the roster, but his status remains very unclear.
Clay Matthews has been Green Bay's hot commodity on defense since being drafted in the first round back in 2009, when General Manager Ted Thompson traded up to get this high-motor player out of USC. Matthews has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the league and has been made an All-Pro twice.
But the linebacker spot opposite Clay Matthews has been a revolving door of inconsistency. Frank Zombo and Erik Walden held down the job for a while, but both have now moved on to other teams.
The Packers attempt to draw double-teams away from Matthews began anew when they drafted USC defensive end Nick Perry, hoping that his athletic tools and intangibles would translate as a 3-4 outside linebacker. After his rookie season ended prematurely due to an injured wrist, Perry will need to produce in year two.
Outside of Perry and Matthews, the Packers have only 2013 seventh-rounder Nate Palmer and Dezman Moses, a second-year player who made the roster as an undrafted rookie and showed potential as a pass-rusher.
Last season, the Packers' inside linebacker corps took a major blow when Desmond Bishop suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season, depriving the Packers of arguably their second best linebacker.
Now, the Packers have numbers and flexibility at the position.
A.J. Hawk remains a mainstay at the position, while Brad Jones filled in well in Bishop's absence and earned a three-year extension as a result. Jones' play could have him push Hawk for playing time at one of the inside linebacker positions, especially on passing downs, where Jones excels in coverage.
Robert Francois sees most of his time on special teams, and is able to play on both the inside and the outside, as is Jamari Lattimore, who is coming into his third year with the Pack after making the team as an undrafted free agent back in 2011.
There was also buzz about Terrell Manning's athletic ability when he was drafted in 2012, but an illness limited his production and he saw the field only on special teams.
The Packers added competition in the form of 2013 seventh-round pick Sam Barrington, who will likely compete with Lattimore for what could be the last linebacker spot.
For the first time in seven seasons, the Packers will start training camp without Charles Woodson, who was released back in February prior to the contract extensions given to Clay Matthews and Aaron Rodgers.
But Woodson's release was not without its reasons. The emergence of second-year man Casey Hayward, a second-round pick, and the reemergence of Sam Shields at corner only made Woodson more expendable.
Add younger veteran Tramon Williams and third-year man Davon House to the mix, and the Packers have good numbers to work with at corner. The Packers drafted Micah Hyde in the fifth round this April's draft, and he could provide some competition for both House and special-teamer Jarrett Bush.
At safety, fourth-year man Morgan Burnett has been a solid performer since being drafted back in 2010. The bigger story has been the other safety position, which has been in flux since the early retirement of former Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins due to a neck injury. In 2012, the Packers stuck it out with M.D. Jennings and 2012 fourth-rounder Jerron McMillian. Both have shown flashes, but have yet to create any kind of separation from one another.
The Packers neglected to address the strong safety position in the 2013 NFL draft, and look to be rolling with Jennings and McMillian into training camp. Both of them will in all likelihood battle it out for the starting safety spot beside Burnett.
The Packers have been set with fifth-year vet Tim Mathsay at punter, who has shown plenty of consistency since making the roster in 2010. Long snapper Brett Goode continues to go unnoticed—which is great for a long snapper. The only time you hear a long snapper's name is when he has bad snaps.
At kicker, Mason Crosby has been able to keep the faith and trust of head coach Mike McCarthy. But McCarthy never ruled out bringing in some competition for Crosby in training camp this season. This eventually came in the form of Giorgio Tavecchio.
For the first time since 2009, eyes will be on special teams to see how Crosby responds to the pressure of having another kicker in training camp. Crosby struggled for much of 20112, and this has definitely become a make-or-break camp for the seven-year veteran.