Green Bay Packers: Training Camp Competitions Fail to Inspire
This article is likely to be about as well received as a call from a telephone marketer on Christmas Day. However, as an objective sports writer who happens to be a longtime fan of the Green Bay Packers, I'm compelled to publish it anyway.
After the draft, and prior to the start of the 2013 Packers training camp, there was a lot of talk throughout Packer Nation of building a strong environment of "competition."
From the general manager, Ted Thompson, to the head coach, Mike McCarthy, the Packers' brain trusts all insisted that one of their top goals this summer was to create competition up and down the roster in order to improve upon last year.
A season that ended with the San Francisco 49ers running through holes in the Packers defense that looked like they could have comfortably accommodated an 18-wheeler.
Months later, the deadline to trim the Packers roster down to 53 is nearly upon us, and that fierce competition for roster spots has in many ways failed to materialize.
This assertion may get me pulled straight out of my deer stand come November, but it's difficult to see how the somewhat uneventful jockeying for positions this summer could be interpreted any other way.
In fact, it's hard to think of a position where a starter that was penciled in before training camp is now holding on for dear life because a newcomer is pushing them to their competitive limits.
The few places where new faces are making any kind of noticeable impact appear to be limited to spots that have opened up due to injury, backup positions, and places where the Packers already had question marks from the year prior.
Even worse is the fact that where the "battles" are taking place it seems to be a choice between lessor evils - instead of a clear-cut choice based on a player rising to the occasion and seizing the opportunity.
The one exception to this rule does appear to be Eddie Lacy, a player that has gotten excellent reviews throughout training camp.
Backup quarterback? Please. If Aaron Rodgers goes down the season is over. Period. The guys that are there have been largely pedestrian, although Vince Young may have started to differentiate himself against the Seahawks.
Backup running back? If you think it's an extremely difficult decision for the Packers to decide whether or not to keep two backs who have spent more time rehabbing injuries than driving the football toward the opponent's goal line, then you are likely mistaken.
Kicker? This is definitely a position where the Packers are facing a tough decision due to the lack of top-tier, consistent play from either player.
Right Tackle? Similar to kicker. Does it worry you that Don Barclay can't clearly separate himself from Marshall Newhouse this late in the game?
Have you been impressed with level of competition in training camp this year?
Ideally, a team that has successfully executed a "competitive" training camp will have to make some extremely difficult decisions when it comes time to trim the team down to the official 53-man roster.
As the Packers fast approach the date by which this needs to be completed, their most difficult decisions appear to be choosing between lessor evils as opposed to rewarding players who have fought tooth and nail for a roster spot.
The competition at the kicker position is a great example of this phenomenon.
The Packers invited kicker Giorgio Tavecchio to participate in camp this summer. While his presence seems to have had the desired effect in raising Mason Crosby's game, the team isn't exactly brimming with confidence regarding either player.
Tavecchio is unproven in fall and winter NFL football, a pressurized element within which he will unquestionably have to prove himself. On the other hand, there's still the very real possibility that Mason Crosby could revert to his 2012 form.
Sounds like a toss-up at best.
The safety position has been a similar, if not a more depressing, competition. Neither M.D. Jennings nor Jerron McMillian, the players competing to play alongside Morgan Burnett, have done anything extraordinary to indicate either one is ready for the big time.
Overall, there have, unfortunately, been some other negatives in training camp to go along with the somewhat lackluster competitive environment.
The team entered the summer with a reshuffled offensive line consisting of some very talented veterans. There were some questions about the ability of these holdovers to adapt to a new scheme, but at least the Packers had tried-and-true bodies to fill the holes.
Now, after the injury to tackle Bryan Bulaga, the unit has lost its best player—and arguably its leader too. The team is currently faced with the prospects of starting a rookie and an inexperienced second-year player at the all-important tackle positions.
Again, that's not exactly an ideal situation for a pass-heavy team that lives and dies on the protection afforded to Aaron Rodgers.
Similarly, a wide receiver corps that was once amongst the deepest in the league is now looking a little thin too. The team was able to absorb the departure of Greg Jennings, but the absence of Jordy Nelson due to knee surgery makes a former position of strength look a touch vulnerable.
Although the Packers added Nick Perry back into the fold at outside linebacker, the team (and its fans, for that matter) seem to be overlooking a starting inside linebacker situation that has haunted them over the past couple years. A.J. Hawk, often a target of heavy fan criticism, is back as a starter but he isn't getting any younger.
Hawk doesn't appear to be pushed out of the job by a hungry up-and-comer either.
Looking at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Rob Reischel's recent article about the decisions the Packers have to make to pare down to the 53-man roster, it's somewhat deflating to read through and see very little in terms of surprises amongst the starters.
One would think that the competition in camp would have revealed some new bodies that could provide the necessary energy, talent, and urgency to transform the Packers from one of the better teams in the league to the unquestionable Super Bowl favorite.
Without at least a smattering of new faces that have legitimately displaced existing starters with hard-nosed play, it's difficult to imagine how the team could have moved leaps and bounds closer to raising the Lombardi trophy in 2013.
The one bright spot, in terms of positions on the team, looks to be cornerback. Casey Hayward made an immediate impact in 2012 and the newest addition to that group, Micah Hyde, looks like an excellent find. It's possible the strength and depth of this position could effectively mask the fairly pedestrian personnel at safety.
It's also entirely possible that the lack of competition in training camp means the existing talent in Green Bay made enough strides in the offseason that rookies and free agents can't pressure the existing players. The starters certainly looked capable in staying even with Seattle at 3-3 while both sets of first-team players were competing.
Will the Packers improve or regress in 2013?
All in all one still has to wonder if the net balance of the additions and subtractions this preseason will be enough for the Packers to compete with San Francisco in the first game of 2013 in a way that they couldn't during the last game of 2012.
A lot of blood, sweat and tears will likely be shed before that answer is known—at around 6:30 p.m. central time on Sept. 8, 2013.
Every team breaks training camp with a couple of question marks at different positions. Here's hoping the Packers at least have fewer of those than their closest competitors.
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