Green Bay Packers Players Climbing the Depth Chart This Offseason
Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said in a press conference Tuesday that "no jobs are won in June," per Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel—and while that may be true, some players have shined more than others in OTAs.
Even in mid-June, we can identify Packers who are climbing the depth chart and contending for an open starting job or even threatening to push a veteran out of the spot.
The players who have impressed their position coaches as well as McCarthy so far this offseason, especially during OTAs, include a center, a tight end, a safety, a wide receiver and a running back. None of them are the starters at their positions as of now, but if they keep on the upward trajectory, some could win a starting competition or land the No. 2 spot at their respective positions.
Center J.C. Tretter
In his Tuesday presser, McCarthy said he considers J.C. Tretter a second-year guy, despite the fact that he sat out his rookie year with a leg injury. "I really look for him to take a big jump," McCarthy said, per Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The depth chart at the center position currently consists of a three-way competition between Tretter, fifth-round 2014 draft pick Corey Linsley and practice-squad holdover Garth Gerhart. But Tretter is quickly rising to the top.
"I think really made an impression on everybody, most importantly his teammates," McCarthy said about Cornell alumnus Tretter in early June, per Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel. "He's a powerful young man, really strong hands, really intelligent. I know I said this last week, I don't know if there was a day that you did not see him here from the time the season ended. I think he's progressing very nicely."
He also has a familiarity with the system, and with Aaron Rodgers, that will serve him well in training camp, when competition for the starting job should really heat up.
Due to the impression he's left on his teammates and coaches, his football IQ and his measurables, Tretter is shooting up Green Bay's depth chart at the center position.
TE Richard Rodgers
Ted Thompson's decision to draft tight end Richard Rodgers out of California in Round 3 left more than a few people scratching their heads. Projected to go in Rounds 5-6, Rodgers didn't seem like he could make a legitimate bid for starting snaps at tight end.
While OTAs aren't necessarily indicative of how a player will perform in the regular season, Rodgers is impressing some key figures in Green Bay. On June 10, he had a huge catch from Scott Tolzien that came out poorly, but Rodgers managed to make the catch in stride behind him and pull it in without losing his momentum.
Mike McCarthy was impressed. "Big-time catch today," he said when asked about Rodgers' performance, according to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. "I just think he's a natural in space. I'm excited to see him when we get into the in-line work into training camp, but as far as all of the movement, playing in space, picking up the scheme, I think Richard's off to a very good start."
Rodgers' most likely competition for starting snaps has been quiet during OTAs. Recently re-signed Andrew Quarless has not participated in any organized team activities, and Brandon Bostick just practiced for the first time Tuesday after having foot surgery. Of course, both have a body of work in the pros to speak for them.
Colt Lyerla missed last week's workouts, but he returned to practice on June 10.
The Packers drafted Rodgers partly because of his great hands, which have been on display at OTAs. He's quickly proving he can compete for, if not the starting job, starting snaps during the regular season.
S Sean Richardson
Safety Sean Richardson returned from the PUP list to play seven games at the end of the 2013 season after a neck-fusion surgery and immediately made an impact. He was used primarily in the run game, and, in fact, Morgan Burnett played at free safety late in the season, so that Richardson could play near the line of scrimmage.
While Richardson won't be giving Ha Ha Clinton-Dix a run for his money for the starting free safety job, it was in that role, more than a strong safety role, that he managed to shine during OTAs. He intercepted a deep pass by Rodgers intended for Jarrett Boykin in a non-pads session.
Richardson also broke up a pass earlier in OTAs.
Per Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, McCarthy said:
Sean looks great. I think just Sean coming off the injury, kind of going through the way the season went, special teams, had a couple shots of playing in some packages, some reps there on defense. (He) had a nice play out there today, so I’m more comfortable Sean’s a guy that’s really going to show up in the pads, that’s his world, he’s a physical guy.
With Burnett and Clinton-Dix presumed to start at the safety position and Micah Hyde finding early success in his transition, Richardson could still see a few snaps a game next season. He's versatile and can be used as a linebacker role in the run game or, as he's showing during organized team activities, in open space.
WR Chris Harper
The remaining potential three could go to rookies Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis. But could Harper land a spot?
Harper didn't practice Tuesday due to what was apparently a tweaked hamstring, according to Rodgers, as told to ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde. (The Packers, as an organization, do not discuss injuries during organized team activities). But he impressed both Rodgers and McCarthy last Tuesday.
Rodgers told Wilde:
I don’t like to make a lot of predictions in helmets and shorts, but there's been a lot of plays made. Harper was making a lot of plays before he tweaked his hamstring. Davante's making some plays. All those guys are improving. I think really spots four through six, potentially, it's pretty wide open.
Harper, who was initially drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in Round 4 of the 2013 NFL draft, was claimed by the Packers off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in October 2013. He saw some time on the 53-man roster but was used primarily in a special teams role.
A Kansas State alumnus like his teammate Nelson, in 2012, Harper started all 13 games and totaled 58 catches for 857 yards and three touchdowns.
McCarthy has liked what he's seen so far in OTAs. "Chris has really improved," McCarthy said after practice on June 3, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. "I mean, I think you saw the first snap there in the team period, I mean, he runs a great post and Aaron hits him right in stride. I mean, that's the kind of explosiveness that he has."
This is a deep receivers group. It wouldn't be easy for Harper to earn a spot as one of six on the 53-man, but he's certainly climbing the ranks.
RB DuJuan Harris
The backfield at running back, behind Eddie Lacy, has gotten very deep. Though James Starks, who was re-signed this offseason, will probably earn what can be considered the No. 2 spot, DuJuan Harris will be right there alongside him and likely ahead of Johnathan Franklin.
Harris emerged in 2012, which led Mike McCarthy to designate him the starter for 2013. But Harris had a cyst removed near his lungs and then "damaged his patellar tendon" during OTAs, landing him on injured reserve for the year.
But he's now back at full health and has impressed both McCarthy and new running backs coach Sam Gash.
"DuJuan's shifty," Gash said during the first round of OTAs, per Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He's got real good balance, good explosion. He could be a good draw runner, an inside zone runner. He's got good control steps. He's a guy who's definitely doing well, and I'm still learning these guys, too."
Because Lacy, Starks and Harris all have the skills to be three-down backs, something Gash has stressed as important, rather than rotate on downs, the three will likely rotate on drives. Harris and Starks will likely not get as many drives as Lacy, but in wanting to keep Lacy fresh, the Packers will give Harris his share of snaps.
If he can continue to display the impressive burst he did in 2012, and has so far in OTAs, perhaps Harris can surpass Starks on the depth chart.