Which Areas Have the Packers Strengthened Most This Offseason?
Between the 2014 NFL draft and the use of free agency, the Green Bay Packers have been able to either keep the depth they had at certain positions at the end of last season or add to that depth this offseason.
As a matter of fact, the 2014 Packers may be the deepest and most talented team that Packer Nation has ever seen in the nine-year tenure of general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy.
In this slideshow, I'm going to talk about five of those position areas.
One thing is certain about the wide receiver position for the Packers: The team is going to have to waive numerous talented players by the end of training camp. A couple of those players may come back to the team via the practice squad, but figuring out who to keep will be very difficult.
First, how many wideouts to you keep on the final roster? Based on the talent and depth I see, my guess is the Packers will keep six.
Ted Thompson really added to the depth at the position via the draft, adding Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis, all of who had great careers in college.
The team already boasted some talent at the position with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin, who combined for 165 catches for 2,428 yards and 15 touchdowns. Those stats would be even more inflated had Cobb not missed 10 games due to a leg injury.
The Packers also still have talented receivers in Chris Harper, Myles White, Kevin Dorsey and Alex Gillett.
Basically, they have 10 talented receivers vying for six spots on the roster.
That's a good problem to have.
Oh, what a difference a year makes.
This time last season, the Packers had Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman backing up starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That situation soon became a disaster, as both Harrell and Coleman were released in training camp, as was veteran Vince Young.
The Packers basically started from scratch at the backup quarterback position at the end of training camp when they signed veteran Seneca Wallace and former Wisconsin Badger Scott Tolzien.
Even with those two signings, the Packers almost saw their season go to waste when Rodgers suffered a fractured clavicle in Week 9.
Wallace only made one start before he was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. The Packers then turned to Tolzien and brought back Matt Flynn.
Still, the team floundered. It had lost three games in a row and was on its way to a fourth when Flynn took over. He relieved Tolzien in the third quarter of a Week 12 matchup against the Vikings, trailing 23-7, then basically saved the Packers' season by leading them to a tie against the Vikings and going 2-2 in four other starts, including two come-from-behind victories against the Falcons and Cowboys.
When Rodgers returned in Week 17, the opportunity to win the NFC North was still there. And that is exactly what Rodgers and the Packers did that week as they beat the Bears 33-28, in Chicago, with a thrilling last-minute touchdown.
The Packers definitely remembered Flynn's performance last year during the free agency period as they signed No. 10 to a new deal this season. The Packers also still have Tolzien on the team as well, and he will be helped immensely by the quarterbacks school the Packers use to train their passers during the offseason.
Rookie Chase Rettig will be the fourth arm in camp and will be trying to impress the coaches enough to make the practice squad.
The Packers saw starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith leave the team via free agency this offseason when he signed with the Bucs. The team also lost backup offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse to free agency, as he signed with the Bengals.
While the loss of Dietrich-Smith was somewhat surprising, the loss of Newhouse was not. The Packers have seen the play of Newhouse decline over the past few seasons, both at tackle and guard.
Even with those losses, the Packers should be in pretty good shape depth-wise on the offensive line—if everyone remains healthy.
The big improvement will be the return of starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga. When he is healthy, Bulaga is among the best offensive linemen on the Packers. The problem is that No. 75 has missed a season and a half of consecutive games now due to hip and knee injuries.
With the former Iowa Hawkeye star back, the Packers will have a starting offensive line of Bulaga at right tackle, T.J. Lang at right guard, JC Tretter at center, Josh Sitton at left guard and David Bakhtiari at left tackle.
The only question mark on that line would be Tretter, who missed almost all of his rookie season last year due to a broken ankle suffered at an early OTA. But the coaching staff loves his smarts and quickness and believes he will be very solid snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers.
Bakhtiari had a very nice rookie campaign at left tackle last season. Yes, he had some ups and downs, but overall his play was very solid.
Sitton is one of the best guards in the NFC, and Lang took his level of play up a notch last season as well.
The backups will be key in 2014. If healthy, former first-round pick Derek Sherrod would be a great swing tackle for the Packers to use in case of injury. Sherrod is finally looking like he is back to form after suffering a severe leg injury late in the 2011 season which broke two bones and needed two procedures to repair.
If Sherrod can hold down the backup tackle position, the Packers can then slide Don Barclay inside to become the swing guard behind Sitton and Lang. Barclay is an exceptional run-blocker, but he has trouble with edge-rushers. That's why the Packers like him better inside. Barclay also played some center last year in training camp before injuries forced him back to right tackle.
Speaking of center, the Packers drafted Corey Linsley in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, and he looks like he will give Tretter everything he can handle in competing for the starting center job.
No. 63 started 26 games for Ohio State at center and was first-team All-Big Ten in 2013. Linsley is also very strong at the point of attack. Linsley can bench press over 500 pounds—and he showed that strength at the NFL Scouting Combine with 36 reps in the bench press.
Last season, the Packers had a number of players man the outside linebacker position. That group included Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.
The big problem the Packers had at the position was injuries, as Matthews and Perry missed five games apiece in the regular season. In the playoff game against the 49ers, Matthews was missing and Mike Neal was forced out of the game early with a knee injury.
On the surface, Matthews, Perry and Neal certainly have some talent in rushing the passer. The three combined for 16.5 sacks and and seven forced fumbles. Imagine what those numbers would be if Matthews and Perry had played a full season.
The Packers added to the depth chart this offseason by signing free agent Julius Peppers and drafting Carl Bradford in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft.
The Packers are going to utilize a number of their pass-rushers at both outside linebacker and at the "Elephant" defensive end position. Peppers, Perry, Neal and Bradford could all see time at both positions.
Peppers brings a solid track record in getting after the quarterback. No. 56 has 119 career sacks, including 7.5 in 2013 for the Bears. Peppers has also forced a whopping 40 fumbles in his career, including two last season.
Peppers also brings imposing size, as he checks in at 6'6" and 283 pounds.
In adding Bradford, the Packers bring on another guy who can cause mayhem rushing the quarterback. In his last two years at Arizona State, No. 91 had 142 tackles, 39.5 tackles for a loss, 20 sacks, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), one fumble recovery and six forced fumbles.
Like a lot of positions for the Packers, the key to success for this group will be staying healthy. If they do, this is an outstanding assortment of players.
The Packers had a rough season overall in their defensive backfield in 2013. For one, they had key injuries, like the hamstring injury that limited slot cornerback Casey Hayward to three games.
Then there was the fact that not one of the safeties on the team had an interception the entire season.
In addition, the team finished 24th in pass defense last year. The team allowed 30 touchdown passes compared to just 11 picks, and the overall quarterback rating of opposing passers was 95.9.
The Packers have improved the depth of the defensive backfield this offseason. Their first move was allowing restricted free-agent safety M.D. Jennings to move on to the Bears. That subtraction will be an addition overall for the Packers.
The team then selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama in the first round of the draft. No. 21 plays the deep pass exceptionally well and had a very solid career for the Crimson Tide.
The Packers have also bolstered the safety position by moving over Micah Hyde. Hyde mostly played the slot corner position last year as a rookie while Hayward was out.
Starting alongside Jennings last year was Morgan Burnett. Burnett needs to play like he did in 2011 and 2012 and not like he did last season, otherwise he might be on the sideline with Clinton-Dix and Hyde on the field instead.
The Packers have a number of other players vying for backup roles at safety, including Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo and rookie Tanner Miller.
The Packers also added to the depth at cornerback when they selected Demetri Goodson in the sixth round.
The key to the position is the return of Hayward to the slot corner spot, where he played exceptionally well as a rookie in 2012 when he had six picks.
The Packers also re-signed free agent starter Sam Shields to a four-year, $39 million deal this offseason. Shields is the fastest player on the team and has a knack for getting timely interceptions. In his career, No. 37 has 13 interceptions in the regular season and four more in the postseason.
The other starting cornerback is Tramon Williams, who played very well in the second half of last season. In fact, it was the best ball he had played since the 2010 season.
The other backups at cornerback are Davon House and Jarrett Bush, plus Hyde can slide over there too.
All in all, again with good health, the defensive backfield should be much improved in 2014.
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