With a vengeance, football is back. Rightfully, it's a thrilling time to be following the Green Bay Packers. Sure, the Packers are the defending XLV Champs, but the kings of the football world are also well stocked for another magical run. While the likes of the Eagles, Saints and Lions pillage through the Free Agency period in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage in the NFC, the Packers will return with the majority of last years core, key veterans who are coming back from injury and a number of promising rookies who are capable of making an impact. Sure, we are all thirsting to see who wins the starting LG spot, but here's 5 things I'll be paying attention to in Training Camp:
1.) As we initiate training camp, my biggest concern is the depth of the front 7 on defense. While I'm extremely confident with our starting rotation and the depth at OLB is comforting, we need someone to step up at ILB and we could use another reliable DE. Raji, Pickett & Howard Green assure that the Packers have solid run stuffers on the DL. CJ Wilson also had a quality rookie season. It'll be entertaining to watch his development. Mike Neal showed brute force, high octane effort and good quickness in limited action last year. His health is imperative to a run at the repeat. As the roster currently sits, there will be a depth chart battle between Lawrence Guy and Jarius Wynn for the last DL roster spot. Though Wynn has shown glimpses of talent, I expect Guy to earn a roster spot unless the Packers only keep 6 DL.
Meanwhile at ILB, things need to get figured out. From a starter's perspective, Ted Thompson covered himself from the losses of Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar. But, those departures left us alarming thin at ILB. It's possible Brad Jones could be versatile enough to slide inside to provide more options, but at this point we're left with DJ Smith, Robert Francois, Elijah Joseph and Cardia Jackson. One of these prospects must elevate!
2.) It can't be overstated, Ted Thompson wanted to improve the special teams portion of the team. It was an emphasis of the offseason. Other than the selection of Sherrod, improving the special teams facet of the game was the top priority. With that, hopefully the likes of Nintendo Nick will no longer be on kickoff coverage units as Ryan Taylor, DJ Smith, Davon House, Brandian Ross, and Anthony Bratton all appear to have both a pension to become core special teams players. With the added focus on special teams, hopefully, T-Mon is no longer the punt returner. Randall Cobb brings quickness that the Packers did not have last year. He'll be given the chance to win the return job. Shaky Smithson will also have the opportunity to provide a Desmond Howard style bolt to the return game. Thompson also invested in Mason Crosby. Tim Masthay was stellar in the 2nd half of last year. The question: During training camp, who will rise up as a gunner to assist Masthay?
3.) How many TE's can the Packers keep? While it's early, my initial projections have the Packers keeping all 5. J-Mike and DJ Williams are locks. AQ81 and Tom Crabtree showed enough last year to show they're worthy of repeat roster spots. Then Thompson spent a 7th round pick on a potential core special teams player in Ryan Taylor. One thing is for certain, DJ Williams has the ability and maturity to make an immediate impact on this roster. Call it the DJ Williams effect. While the Packers are loaded with receiving options, Williams brings a dynamic dimension. He is a unique talent who is capable of creating mismatches. In college, he was well schooled by Bobby Petrino. Williams can play on the outside, he can play as a traditional TE with his hand in the dirt or he can play as an H-Back. It'll be interesting to see how Mike McCarthy utilizes DJ's versatility. Be excited, G-Force!
4.) Ryan Grant is the "starter." John Kuhn will be the 3rd down back and FB. Quinn Johnson will be the lead blocker in power running formations. Last years run-game savior, James Starks, has the running style to be an ideal "closer." So, how does Alex Grenn fit into the fold? On video, he looks like a Dorsey Levens type from the mid-90's. 2nd & long. Spread 'em out. Come with the draw. He hits the hole. Makes one guy miss and he finds chunks of yardage. Via Green, will the screen, once again, play a prominent role in the offense?
5.) The Packers are loaded with depth at WR. As of now, you'd have to predict that the toughest cuts will come at WR - especially if Shaky earns himself a roster spot as a KR. At WR, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones and Randall Cobb are locks to make the team. Brett Swain has spent 3 years on the roster and won't leave without a fight. Chastin West showed moments of goodness last year in the preseason. Tori Gurley, Kerry Taylor and Diondre Borel each have unique skill sets that should provide for a competitive training camp. Could this be an area where we're able to pull a trade for a future pick at the end of Training Camp? Further, I'll be curious to see Mike McCarthy's plan for Cobb. Will it be in the slot as a future Donald Driver? Will he be running underneath crossing routes like James Jones did in 2007. Will the bubble screen make an appearance? The wild cat? Time will tell and I'm anxious to witness.
Are you ready to rumble? Family Night is less than a week away. I'm pumped.
Go Pack Go!