Training camp opens in a little over a month (July 26) for the Green Bay Packers. General manager Ted Thompson has assembled a very talented and deep roster, and the decisions about whom the team will keep on the roster will be very difficult in some cases for head coach Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff.
Certain positions are very deep, and that will make the competition there very intriguing. Don't be surprised if you see one or two "name" players released when it's all said and done.
The Packers have already made some very difficult decisions when they released defensive back Charles Woodson and most recently linebacker Desmond Bishop. Injuries played a key role in those cuts, however, as both players were exceptional for the most part when healthy.
Health is a paramount issue in determining a roster spot. I'm sure most of you have heard the phrase, "You can't make the club in the tub." That is very true. Especially on a roster which is as deep as the Packers are heading into the 2013 NFL season.
Let's take a look a five players who have to come up big in training camp to make the team in 2013.
Offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse is clearly on the bubble. That's what happens when you lose your starting job at the left tackle position.
That decision was based on Newhouse's inconsistent play over the last two seasons. You can't give up 24.5 sacks over the past two years and expect anything different. Add to that, Newhouse is also not a physical run-blocker.
That was the main reason the Packers decided to move both offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard Josh Sitton from the right to the left side of the line—that and to better protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side.
Granted, Newhouse was given the first opportunity to become the starter at right tackle at OTAs, but his competition will be very fierce. Newhouse is going to have to beat out Derek Sherrod (if healthy), Andrew Datko, rookie David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay not only for a chance to start, but also perhaps, a roster spot.
The biggest positive for Newhouse is that he has stayed healthy the past two years. Two of his biggest competitors at right tackle, Sherrod and Datko, both have to prove that they can stay healthy in training camp.
Either way, Newhouse was given a huge wake-up call by the Packers when they moved Bulaga to his former position at left tackle. We will find out in a little over a month how Newhouse reacts to that decision as he competes now at right tackle.
During the 2013 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers announced to the rest of the league that things would be very different at the running back position this year. That's what happens when you draft not one but two running backs in the first four rounds of the draft.
By drafting both Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, the Packers also gave quite a nudge to the running backs already on the roster, as the team will probably keep just three tailbacks—maybe four, depending on other factors.
So if you give Lacy and Franklin roster spots, and then also add DuJuan Harris, who was clearly the most effective running back for the Packers last year, that means there is very little wiggle room for the other running backs.
One of whom is James Starks.
In his first three years with the Packers, Starks has flashed some real ability. Like the time he was the leading rusher (315 yards) in the 2010 postseason, when the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV.
But for the most part, Starks, due to various ailments, has been in the training room and not on the field. So, if the Packers do indeed keep four running backs, it probably means that Starks and Alex Green will be fighting for one roster spot.
It looks as though the coaching staff will give them a shot to prove themselves too. At a recent practice, Starks was the starting running back, although Green has had that role most of the time at OTAs.
Bottom line, if Starks expects to be on the team in 2013, he has to stay healthy and on the field. Based on his recent track record, that does not appear likely.
Much like the situation with James Starks at running back, Alex Green has to prove himself on the field and stay out of the training room. With the additions of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin via the 2013 NFL draft, plus with the emergence of DuJuan Harris late last season, it's imperative that Green has a big training camp.
The Packers are giving Green that opportunity, at least during most of the work that was done at the OTAs, when Green was running with the starters at running back. But that was with shorts on. The key is staying in that role once the pads come and the hitting starts.
Head coach Mike McCarthy emphasized that at a recent press conference via Packers.com:
Expectations for the run game, (I) don’t have a number for you. To me, that will sort itself out in training camp. We have to get in pads to find out what’s real and what’s perception. We’ll be better, I promise you that. Big letters.
Green led the Packers in rushing last year with 462 yards last year, a year after he tore an ACL in his knee. But Green wore down as the season progressed due to scar tissue build-up in his surgically repaired knee.
Green's 2012 campaign basically ended with two games to go in the regular season, as he either didn't get a carry or was inactive after that. That also included the two postseason games.
It may come down to either Green or Starks for one job at running back.
The good news for Green is that he's younger than Starks, plus he catches the ball better. But none of that will matter if he can't show his abilities on the field.
C.J. Wilson started seven games for the Packers in 2012. Wilson shouldn't be worried about keeping a spot on the 2013 roster, right?
Wrong. Wilson will be competing against two factors.
One, the Packers have assembled some nice talent on their defensive line. Secondly, a roster spot may come down to a numbers game—as in how many defensive linemen will the Packers keep on the roster in 2013.
First, let's look at Wilson's competition at defensive end. The number-one draft choice of the Packers in 2013 was defensive end Datone Jones. Jones looks to be a starter for sure.
The Packers also saw Mike Neal develop last season into the player they envisioned when the team drafted him in the second round of the 2010 draft. Neal might also get some looks at outside linebacker.
The Packers also have B.J. Raji, who led the defensive line last year with 762 snaps. Raji is basically in a contract year this season, as he is looking for a long-term contract extension from the Packers, much like the ones both Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews received. (Raji's agent, David Dunn, also represents Rodgers and Matthews.)
Raji will play some defensive end and will fill in at nose tackle to give some relief to veteran Ryan Pickett, who still plays the run very well.
So, that's four roster spots right there on the defensive line. Plus, you also have second-year lineman Jerel Worthy, who probably won't be back in 2013 due to an ACL tear late in his rookie season. But another rookie from last year will be back, and that's Mike Daniels, who showed some decent ability to rush the quarterback on passing downs.
Besides Jones, the Packers drafted Josh Boyd this year to play defensive end. Finally, the Packers will be giving veteran Johnny Jolly a chance to come back after he missed the past three seasons due to off-field issues and a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
So, if you do the math, there will be four players competing for two spots on the roster, if the Packers only keep six defensive linemen.
The battles in the trenches (both on offense and defense) this year in training camp will be a lot of fun to watch.
Why would Packer folk hero John Kuhn be on the bubble in 2013?
Two reasons: One reason is his contract, which will see Kuhn getting close to $2.3 million this year.
The second reason is that No. 30 isn't on the field that often anymore. In fact, Kuhn was on the field for less than 40 percent of the Packers offensive snaps in 2012.
Plus, you also have seen the fullback position become the dodo bird of the NFL, something almost extinct in today's game. The Packers utilize their tight ends in various offensive sets quite often, and one of them could fill the role of Kuhn if need be.
Statistically, Kuhn rushed for 63 yards on 23 carries, which is just a 2.7 yard average, and he rushed for just one touchdown during the regular season. The Packers and Kuhn have really struggled recently in short-yardage rushing situations, and that was one of the key reasons that they drafted Eddie Lacy.
Kuhn also had just 15 receptions for 148 yards. However, in the postseason against the Minnesota Vikings, Kuhn had his best game of the year, as he had two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
Kuhn is also one of the better special teams players on the Packers.
Bottom line, Kuhn will probably stick with the team, but don't be surprised if he becomes a roster cut.