Green Bay Packers: 5 Things to Watch for in Training Camp
Though NFL training camps typically begin in a little over a month, there remains to be a giant question mark on the status of the upcoming NFL season, let alone summer camps. While NFL teams are unsure about when a new deal will get done to end the lockout before training camps, the Green Packers are sure about one thing: They have enough returning talent to make another championship run.
Calling the 2010 season for the Packers "injury plagued" would be an understatement. Training camp would be our first preview of many key players returning from a season cut short by injuries. Many young players filled those roles and are poised to battle for a starting position. Here are some things to look at when the Pack kick off practice this July (hopefully).
Running Back Position
Running Back James Starks looks to win starting RB job after impressive rookie playoff performance.
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Though Aaron Rodgers leads a very pass heavy offense, a consistent run game can do wonders. Last season, veteran running back Ryan Grant went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the first game of the season. Grant was some what of a consistent back, posting two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Following Grant's injury, the Packers really couldn't depend on a single back to give a lot of carries to. Rookie James Starks spent a lot of the year on the sidelines with injuries. During the playoffs, Mike McCarthy turned to Starks to take a majority of the carries. Starks performed exceptionally well during the playoffs and proved to be a vital piece to the Packers success.
We also have to through recently drafted Alex Green from Hawaii into the mix, along with the veteran Brandon Jackson. Both Green and Jackson fit the third down back role better than the starting back.
There is sure to be a position battle at the running back position, mostly between Starks and Grant, and will be something that everyone should keep in eye on during camp.
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Last year in training camp, tight end Jermichael Finley was looking like an animal. There is really no other way to put it, the dude is a straight up beast. This is why it was so disappointing after his season was ended only five games into the season.
Finley was returning from a pretty solid rookie campaign and looked to be a huge threat for Aaron Rodgers. After posting two 100-yard receiving games, a knee injury suffered during Week 5 in Washington required surgery, sidelining him for the rest of the season.
Finley has been rehabbing ever since the surgery and has claimed that his knee as already at 100 percent. It is going to be interesting to see how responds when he gets back on the field during training camp. Can Finley return to last year's form, or will his knee injury prevent him from getting back to that form like it does to so many other athletes? This is a big question that will mostly likely be answered in training camp.
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The Packers secondary saw a lot of change in faces throughout the year. Injuries damaged the Packers secondary, but provided opportunities for players like Sam Shields to show what they can do. We also saw the emergence of a star in Tramon Williams and maybe the end of Atari Bigbi in Green Bay.
Pro Bowl Players like Charles Woodson and Nick Collins, as well as the snubbed Tramon Williams are sure locks for starting jobs. Sam Shields also looks like he has a good chance to start at the nickel back position.
However many questions remain at the strong safety position. Rookie Morgan Burnett's season was ended very early after tearing his ACL, and the position was filled by Charlie Peprah. We will have to wait and see how Burnett comes back in camp and if he will enter the season with the starting job.
A few other questions remain, such as Atari Bigby's future with the team. Bigby once was a solid starter with the team, but no longer looks like he is in the picture and could get cut this August. Finally, rookie Devon House and Pat Lee could prove to be some competition for undrafted breakout player Sam Shields at the nickel back position. These are just more questions that we will have to wait for the end of August to have answered.
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Though it really kills any real Packer fan to say this, time is ticking on the careers of Donald Driver and Charles Woodson. Both players finally got the championship rings that they deserved, which could really cap off their fantastic careers in green and gold.
Woodson really showed no signs of slowing down at all last season, having another brilliant year. Woodson is 34 years old and still considered to be among the league's best. However, we mustn't forget the collarbone injury that sidelined him in the second half of the Super Bowl. Though I feel that "C-Dub" has a good two or three years left, I am going to watch very closely this year in camp to see if a drop off is evident.
Driver on the other hand slowed down quite a bit this year. The fan favorite is more than likely going to take the role as a third or fourth receiver in the offense. Driver's catches and receiving yards suffered a huge drop off last season. Though Driver always shows up to camp in tip-top shape, I expect him to take on a smaller role in what may be his last year in the NFL.
The Linebacking Corps
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The biggest question in the linebacking corps is who will join Clay Matthews and AJ Hawk and play on the right side of the ball. Dom Capers plugged in a lot of guys in last year following many injuries. It seemed like almost every week a new no-name player was contributing. The Packers have a lot of solid options to go with.
The Packers have three players who are going to be competing for the starting RILB job. two of those players, Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar, were injured for most of last year. The other player, Desmond Bishop, played exceptionally well through the season and playoffs, and should really provide tough competition for veterans Chillar and Barnett. There will be a lot of eyes on this position battle through the duration of camp.
The ROLB position is where it gets very interesting. The Packers were expected to find a OLB in the NFL draft, but failed to do so until the very late rounds. The team has many options, yet most of those options would be rather weak and limited. Watch for competition between Frank Zombo and Brady Poppinga, with a possibility of Erik Walden thrown in the mix as well.