Green Bay Packers' 5 Biggest Question Marks Ahead of Training Camp
The Green Bay Packers are coming off an offseason that saw an unprecedented 20 players facing free agency, as well as a draft where, for the first time in his tenure in Green Bay, general manager Ted Thompson did not trade a single one of the team's nine picks.
That means the Packers have a deep pool of talent and many roles to fill as the team heads into training camp. This year's camp will be an especially interesting one to watch, with battles for starting jobs expected at multiple positions.
Who will receive the starting nod at tight end? How many wide receivers will Green Bay keep on the 53-man roster? Competitions between potential starters will pit rookies against rookies and veterans against rookies—and in some instances, the rookies could receive the nod.
Read on to find out which position battles will be decided in training camp.
Who Will Win the Starting Center Job?
According to Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, second-year player J.C. Tretter is the frontrunner to replace Evan Dietrich-Smith for the Packers starting center position.
This present edge notwithstanding, Tretter is still to engage in a three-way battle for the job with fifth-round 2014 draft pick Corey Linsley and practice squad holdover Garth Gerhart.
A 2013 fourth-round pick, Tretter has the most experience in the Packers' system and has logged the most time with Rodgers. Those two factors have given him an edge over the stronger Linsley.
Concerns about Tretter have included both his lack of explosiveness and the core strength to anchor. But he is the largest center on the roster. Tretter has longer arms (33 3/8") than Linsley, though he matches Gerhart there, and the largest hands of the three. Tretter also appears to be lighter on his feet and move laterally better than his competition.
The rookie Linsley brings a toughness and physicality to the position that his competitors do not, traits especially important now that Green Bay's offense will feature more running than in recent seasons. Linsley benched 36 reps at the combine and has reportedly benched 500 pounds. Though his arms are shorter, he uses his strength and his leverage to his advantage in pass-blocking.
Dietrich-Smith was the seventh-best center in the league in 2013, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and the third best in pass-blocking. Whichever center emerges from training camp as the starter will have, quite literally, a large hole to fill on the line.
Will Eddie Lacy Truly Continue His Bruising Playing Style?
Eddie Lacy's bruising style is a throwback to an earlier era of NFL running backs. And while this physically punishing style can demoralize opposing defenses, it's not conducive to a long, healthy career in the NFL.
"Every opportunity means a lot and I'll run the ball as if it's my last play," Lacy said in June, per Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Whether it's 300 or 250, whatever the number is, I'm going to give every carry everything I have."
As Dunne notes, Lacy sprained his ankle three times in three weeks toward the end of the 2013 season, and sat out against the Washington Redskins with a concussion. As a rookie, Lacy was reckless, he was punishing (to defenders and to himself) and he was often spectacular.
But Lacy seems to show no interest in slowing down, whether that's in his best interests or not. And while the Packers certainly can't control how he runs on a given play, they can reduce the number of carries he gets on the field.
Lacy had 284 carries in the 2013 regular season, and another 21 in the postseason, putting his season total over 300. He was the only rookie among the 10 running backs who had 250 or more carries. Toward the end of the season, the Packers attempted to limit him to a more manageable 20 carries per game. Now, that goal should be easy with James Starks and DuJuan Harris behind him in the backfield.
Lacy, Starks and Harris all possess the abilities needed to be three-down backs, so rather than Starks or Harris spelling Lacy on certain downs, it's very possible the Packers choose to rotate them on drives. Sure, Lacy will see the most carries of the three, but knowing the style with which he chooses to play, the Packers have the personnel to keep him as fresh as possible in 2014.
Who Will Get the Starting Snaps at Tight End?
After observing OTAs and minicamp, beat writer Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that third-round selection Richard Rodgers has been the top tight end in practice.
Rodgers, undrafted free agent Colt Lyerla and Brandon Bostick will compete for starting snaps with recently re-signed tight end Andrew Quarless, and the Packers also have Ryan Taylor, Jake Stoneburner and Justin Perillo on the roster.
ESPN's Rob Demovksy noted that after OTAs and minicamp, Rodgers might have the "inside track" to the starting job, and that "at least once a practice, he made an eye-catching play in the passing game." At the conclusion of minicamp, coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers, "if there was one thing that jumped off for a rookie in the offseason program, I would say he was very productive."
But Lyerla could be an even bigger dark horse candidate. He has a legitimate chance to earn snaps as a starter next season if he can learn the system and manage his behavior.
Lyerla could have gone as high as Round 3 on talent alone, but his maturity, drug and legal issues caused his stock to plummet. He has elite physical talent and good size (6'4" and 242 pounds, with hands measuring 10 1/4"). He was a top performer in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump at the NFL combine.
Impressive both as a pass-catcher and blocker, the versatile Lyerla could be the one tight end on the Packers roster who would be the most natural long-term replacement for Jermichael Finley. He has also repeatedly been one of the last players to leave practice.
Quarless' new deal doesn't guarantee him the starting job. Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel noted that the two-year, $3 million deal was "very, very modest," and Quarless hasn't practiced at all this offseason, per Demovsky.
He's certainly in the running, but as far as training camp goes, this is one position that's wide open.
Are Micah Hyde and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Really Battling for Starting Safety Spot?
Could Micah Hyde—rather than this year's first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix—really start opposite Morgan Burnett at safety in 2014?
Hyde doesn't feel that he's competing for the starting safety position, per Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, despite the fact that he's been taking reps with the first-team defense all offseason.
More likely than not, the Packers are preparing Hyde to line up at any position on the field, be it at safety or slot corner and will start Clinton-Dix at free safety come September.
"We're still kind of kicking things around with him. Micah will have an opportunity for having a role on this team be it at safety, nickel, dime or whatever we may decide to stick him at," safety coach Darren Perry said, per Hodkiewicz.
"I think he's made a lot of progress and I think when you're learning a new position, you need to spend time there. That's what we're trying to do with him is give him a fair opportunity to make an impact."
Perry did, however, use the word "competition" when discussing both Hyde and Clinton-Dix's progress through OTAs and minicamp.
"He's done some good things. He's done some bad things," said Perry of Clinton-Dix, according to Hodkiewicz. "In this league, you're not going to get it all in four, five weeks. It'll be an ongoing process for him, but hopefully during that process we're going to continue to see growth and see him make some plays for us, and be a contributor for us."
Having both Hyde and Clinton-Dix ready to go at safety can only benefit the Packer defense. Its safety group failed to produce a single interception in 2013, and having Hyde, whose 4.56 40-yard time probably makes him more of a natural fit at safety than at corner, ready to go gives them options to be more explosive.
But so too does Clinton-Dix, who led the SEC in interceptions and has displayed the rangy playmaking ability the Packers have been missing since Nick Collins. Green Bay won't want to keep him off the field.
Will the Packers Keep 6 Wide Receivers on the Roster, and If So, Who?
With the roster depth at wide receiver, the Packers could easily carry six receivers into the regular season after training camp.
“It might not be the big names like we had in the past when we had the whole stable of guys, but I think you could definitely see us keeping six guys there in that position because we are pretty deep group,” Rodgers told Wilde.
The Packers currently have 10 receivers on the 90-man roster, including Nelson, Cobb, Boykin, rookies Davante Adams (Round 2), Jared Abbrederis (Round 5) and Jeff Janis (Round 7) and 2013 holdovers Kevin Dorsey, Alex Gillett, Chris Harper and Myles White.
Chances are good that Adams, Abbrederis and Janis slot into spots four through six, which Rodgers said are really "wide open." But they'll have to beat out players like Harper and White, who know what it takes to make the 53-man roster.
Those six players bring different skill sets that will allow for creative playcalling by Mike McCarthy and room for improvisation from Rodgers, as each has the ability to line up in multiple spots all over the field.