There are a plethora of interesting training camp battles for the Packers this year. However, there are two offensive and two defensive camp battles that are pivotal to the success of the 2009 Green Bay Packers.
Right tackle and fullback seem to have the most intrigue on the offensive side, where defensively the defensive end and strong side outside linebacker positions are most certainly up for grabs.
Tony Moll, Breno Giacomini, T.J. Lang, Alan Barbre
Mike McCarthy has stated that he wants to solidify positions on the offensive line so there is not a shuffle of players between positions during the game. That mentality will affect this battle.
Alan Barbre will stay at left guard to back up Darryn Colledge, despite being one of the most athletic players on the offensive line. He was a gunner on special teams in college as a left tackle.
Tony Moll has shown flashes of brilliance being part of a line that did not give up a sack at Chicago of last year. He may be better suited as an interior lineman, although those positions are solidified at least two deep on the Packers roster.
Breno Giacomini is a mountain of a man, standing a towering 6’7” but has yet to prove he has what it takes to crack the starting line-up. With Mark Tauscher apparently on his way out, Giacomini has the athleticism and size to change that this year.
T.J. Lang is the unknown for this position battle. Mike McCarthy is no stranger to starting rookies on the offensive line and Lang has the tools to make push Giacomini for the starting job. He has a great motor but his short arms may prove to be his downfall when taking on NFL caliber defensive ends.
Giacomini wins this battle because of his size and athleticism. Lang beats out Moll for the backup spot and Barbre remains at left guard.
John Kuhn, Korey Hall, Quinn Johnson
Not since William Henderson have the Packers had a dominant fullback for the West-Coast offense. Packer fans remember the glory of the Hendu-Hop; any time a guy that weighs 250 lbs. leaps over a defender instead of lowering his shoulder it brings a tear of joy to a football fans eye. This group may not have that flair but it will shape up to be an interesting camp battle.
Korey Hall has been the starting fullback since he was drafted two years ago. Having never played fullback, or offense for that matter, Hall showed he was adaptable and trainable.
The third year is normally the breakout year for NFL players as much of the first year is spent becoming acclimated to the NFL and the second is spent learning the playbook in full detail.
By the third year a player is comfortable with both the speed of the professional game and the breadth of the playbook allowing him to focus on the nuances of the game.
John Kuhn was claimed off waivers from the Steelers in 2007 to provide competition for Hall and has shown the ability to provide depth at the fullback position. However, Kuhn is no more than a backup and special teams player. He has sure hands out of the backfield but has been unable to oust Hall from the roster since being brought over from Pittsburgh.
Quinn Johnson was the best of a somewhat weak fullback draft class. He has shown the ability to take on college-sized defenders and has good blocking technique. He catches well out of the backfield and has decent field vision. Whether he will supplant Hall remains to be seen.
Hall wins the starting job with Johnson close behind. Kuhn will most likely make the roster but not much more.
Justin Harrell, Johnny Jolly, B.J. Raji
With Cullen Jenkins more than penciled in as the starter at one defensive end position, the other side of the defensive line is a mystery.
There is the apparent bust, the over-achiever and the stud rookie in the mix, all with the size and athletic ability to play end in the 3-4. However, all three are originally 4-3 defensive tackles and none has played end in the 3-4.
Justin Harrell has been called a bust almost from the instant he was drafted in the first round of 2007. His career has been plagued with injuries and many feel he does not have the desire to play at the pro-level.
However, in six games in 2008 Harrell multiple tackles and quarterback pressures three times. He showed a tremendous push at the point of attack, the ability to occupy blockers and could consistently beat double-teams.
Johnny Jolly, Jr., aside from having an alliterated name, proved himself an effective defensive lineman, posting 82 tackles as a starting defensive tackle in 2008. There is a lot to like about Jolly. He is stout against the run and, while not often getting to the quarterback, he puts his hands up to consistently disrupt passing lanes.
B.J. Raji is the heir apparent to Ryan Pickett at nose tackle, but during OTAs he has taken snaps at defensive end. As Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson have said, a team can never have too many big men, and Raji is definitely a big man.
Raji showed tremendous push at the point of attack, ability to take on a double-team and play recognition in college. He was head and shoulders above any other defensive tackle in the 2009 class and is more likely to push Ryan Pickett for the starting nose tackle position than play a significant role at defensive end.
Justin Harrell surprises almost everyone by taking this job. Johnny Jolly will still see significant playing time as big men tire quickly. Raji will rotate at nose tackle with Ryan Pickett.
Clay Matthews III, Brady Poppinga
Much has been made about the starting outside linebacker position opposite Aaron Kampman. A vast majority of experts, fans and former NFL players with the last name Matthews see this competition as a no-brainer.
Clay’s flowing mane is reminiscent of another Packers linebacker in A.J. Hawk and his pedigree is second to one (Eli Manning). That having been said, this camp battle looks to be the most interesting of the Packers’ off-season.
Clay Matthews III is the son and nephew and grandson of former NFL greats. He walked on at the best program in college football, cracking the blue-chip line-up in his senior season. He has experience in the 3-4 as a rush outside linebacker and has the fluid hips to drop into coverage.
Brady Poppinga was drafted in the fourth round out of Brigham Young University in 2005. After his rookie season was cut short by an ACL injury the Packers started looking for a replacement: Tracy White in 2006, Brandon Chillar in 2008 and Clay Matthews III in 2009.
Criticisms of Poppinga have centered around his pass coverage ability, but with the base defense being on the field less than half the time, his run-stopping ability has allowed him to beat out all previous competitors.
The focus of the switch in defensive philosophy suits Poppinga better than many imagine as the base 3-4 is designed primarily to stop the run.
The Stormin’ Mormon wins the starting outside linebacker job, not because of talent but because he outworks any and all usurpers. Matthews will eventually win the job, but not in 2009.