Updating the Packers' Key Position Battles Early in Training Camp
The Green Bay Packers have had only three practices so far this training camp, but the one on Monday was the most interesting.
For one, the team was in pads. Players can actually hit each other. It's a good time to try to impress the coaching staff.
The Packers will have a number of positional battles as the 2014 training camp wears on, but I want to focus on five of those battles.
Safety: Micah Hyde vs. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
All through the OTAs, the minicamp and the first three days of training camp, Micah Hyde was starting at safety along with Morgan Burnett.
That was even with the Packers drafting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
But it looks like Clinton-Dix will get ample opportunity to win the position. On Monday, he got some first-team reps at safety with Burnett.
Also, when the defense went into the dime look, Clinton-Dix, Hyde and Burnett were all on the field. I expect that to be the case in the regular season as well, no matter who the starting safeties are.
Burnett should not feel real comfortable as a starter either, based on the year he had in 2013. No. 42 led the team in missed tackles with 17, plus allowed a number of big passing plays, mostly due to communication breakdowns.
Bottom line, competition is good. The safety position was the No. 1 weakness on the defense last year. This year it could be a strength if Clinton-Dix, Hyde and Burnett play up to their abilities.
Backup Quarterback: Matt Flynn vs. Scott Tolzien
This might be one of those years where head coach Mike McCarthy keeps three quarterbacks on the roster. The 2013 season has to be a reminder to McCarthy about how important it is to have quality backups when your starting quarterback goes down.
That happened last year when Aaron Rodgers fractured his clavicle and missed seven games. Matt Flynn ended up coming back to Green Bay and No. 10 basically saved the season for the Packers in relief of Rodgers.
Former Wisconsin Badger Scott Tolzien showed a lot of promise last year as well.
Flynn knows the offense of the Packers as well as Rodgers does. Tolzien has the better arm and is still learning the offense.
No matter who wins the backup quarterback job, McCarthy still might end up keeping three quarterbacks on the roster. If the signal-callers play well enough, that could definitely be the case.
McCarthy talked about that a few days ago when addressing that issue via Packers.com: "The opportunity for three quarterbacks comes down to how the third potential quarterback performs. And what goes on with the rest of your football team."
Tight End: Andrew Quarless vs. Everyone Else
When discussing the situation at tight end a few days ago, offensive coordinator Tom Clements talked about all of the competition at the position, via Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"I think we'll have good depth," Clements said. "It's a good, solid group. Hopefully, they'll get better and we'll get a starter in there."
Currently, the Packers have seven tight ends on the roster. That does not include Jermichael Finley, who suffered a serious neck injury last year and has yet to sign with an NFL team in 2014.
Of the seven players competing at the position, three of the players are rookies. One is Richard Rodgers, who was selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft and who has shined thus far in the OTAs, the minicamp and the beginning of training camp.
The Packers also signed two undrafted rookie tight ends, Colt Lyerla and Justin Perillo. As of right now, Perillo has looked better.
The front-runner for the veterans is Andrew Quarless, who started 10 games in 2013, plus had career highs with 32 receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns.
The Packers also like the potential of Brandon Bostick, who has similar down-the-field qualities that Finley possessed, but who also has gotten much better as a blocker.
Ryan Taylor is used more as a blocking tight end and is stalwart on special teams, while Jake Stoneburner is more of a receiving tight end who also can get down the field.
It's early, but my guess is that the starter of this group will be either Quarless and Rodgers. If Rodgers can prove that he can block as well as he has caught the ball recently, he will be tough to beat out as a starter.
Inside Linebacker: Brad Jones vs. Sam Barrington
The Packers need to improve defensively up the middle in 2014. In all phases of their defense. The defensive line at nose tackle and the inside tackle positions. The safety position. And also the inside linebacker position.
That's what happens when your defense finishes 25th in the NFL in total defense. That includes finishing 25th against the run and 24th against the pass.
The defense started to rupture during the ninth game of the season last year vs. the Bears. That was the game in which Aaron Rodgers fractured his clavicle and was to miss seven games, plus the defense showed that they just couldn't stop the run very effectively.
Going into that Week 9 game, the Packers were ranked 11th in the NFL in total defense and were ranked fourth in the NFL in stopping the run. All that started to change the night Rodgers was injured.
Part of that was because the offense struggled for awhile in the absence of No. 12, but it was also due to lack of fundamentals by the defense. There were too many missed assignments. There were also way too many missed tackles.
The safeties had a terrible year for the team overall, but the inside linebacker position had issues too. A.J. Hawk had one of the better seasons of his career at one spot last season, but the other inside linebacker position did not play up to par, either with Brad Jones or Jamari Lattimore.
Injuries played a part in the issues at the position for Jones and Lattimore, but missed assignments and shabby tackling didn't help either.
That is why I expect to see the Packers give Sam Barrington every opportunity to win a starting job this summer during camp. Barrington has the ability to play fast and hit hard and that is something that is sorely needed at the inside linebacker position.
Center: JC Tretter vs. Corey Linsley
This is what Landry said regarding the competition between JC Tretter and rookie Corey Linsley:
I like Linsley. I think he's got maybe a little bit more natural ability than JC. What you would love to have, in my eyes, is to see Linsley develop into that guy, and then Tretter can be your third interior offensive lineman with quality enough to start at center or either guard spot. And maybe one of your best three interior offensive linemen who may earn a starting spot.
The Packers love what each player brings to the table.
Even though Tretter missed almost all of the 2013 season due to a broken ankle suffered in an early OTA, the coaching staff loved the work the then-rookie did behind the scenes at center.
The Packers have been impressed about how quick the 6'4", 307-pound Tretter has picked up the offense, plus they love his quickness.
The 6'3", 301-pound Linsley isn't as quick as Tretter, but he's as strong as an ox. No. 63 showed that at the NFL Scouting Combine when he had 36 reps in the bench press. Linsley has also lifted over 500 pounds.
This will be one of the battles that I will continue to watch as training camp continues.
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