For the 2011 Green Bay Packers, the term “new faces” means more than just rookies. It also means veterans coming off the injured list or career bench players hoping to secure a starting job.
Lets take a look at how some of these key new faces have fared after a couple days of training camp. Some of the players examined below are not new to the team, but feel new since they missed most of 2010 with an injury or were stuck on the bench.
Fans attending Monday night’s first practice in pads took to Twitter to sing the praises of Cobb. The rookie made several acrobatic catches and appeared to have no problems picking up Mike McCarthy’s offense. I expected Cobb to contribute as a kick and punt returner, but if he also develops as receiver, that would be a bonus. It’s way too early to make any judgements, but the early returns on Cobb look good.
D.J. Williams, TE
Jermichael Finley is easing his way back to football after his knee injury and Williams is taking full advantage. According to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette, no rookie is seeing more time with the startersbesides Derek Sherrod. I envisioned Williams as more of a FB when he was drafted, but with Kuhn resigned, it looks like Williams has a shot to be the pass-catching tight end behind Finley. This leaves Tom Crabtree as the blocking tight end and occasional FB with Kuhn. It’s way to early to say anything with certainty, but right now second-year TE Andrew Quarless is the odd-man out.
T.J. Lang, G
Rookie Derek Sherrod has been getting time with the first team at LG, but T.J. Lang has reportedly looked goodwhen given a chance. I like that the Packers are giving Sherrod a look at LG, but I still think Lang is the opening-day starter.
Derek Sherrod, G/T
Even if Sherrod starts on the bench, initially putting him on the field with the first team was a smart move by McCarthy. It’s a message to the rookie that he’s expected to contribute this season and he better hit the ground running. I also don’t mind trying him at LG. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe that playing the offensive line is more about beating up the guy you’re lined up against instead of worrying too much about schemes.
Alex Green, RB
There has not been much discussion about how Green has looked in RB drills, but he is getting a chance to win the kick returner job. When asked about Cobb returning both kicks and punts, McCarthy went out of his way to praise Green as a KR. Based on the first padded practice, it looks like Cobb will be catching about 20 passes per game, so he would probably welcome Green giving him a breather on kick returns.
Mike Neal, DL
It will likely be a team effort filling in for the departed Cullen Jenkins, and Mike Neal needs to be a part of that team. Neal spent most of last season on the injured list and sat out the Packers first two practices. It’s not time to worry yet, but I’d like to see Neal back out there ASAP. McCarthy says Neal is easing back more slowly than other injured players.
Jermichael Finley, TE
Finley is the most buzzworthy of the Packers newcomers. And the most confident. I’m just as excited as anyone to have Finley back, but maybe he should finish a full 16-game season before talking about how he will “change the tight end position.”
Morgan Burnett, S
Burnett also sat out Monday’s contact practice as the team eases him back. Burnett vs. Charlie Peprah will be one of the most hotly contested position battles in camp. Coming back from an ACL tear is tough, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnett begins the season as a backup, then takes over as the starter as he gets stronger during the season. Of course, it’s still way too early to tell, and Burnett definitely had the talent before the injury to blow right by Peprah on the depth chart.
Brad Jones, LB
I kind of forgot about Brad Jones. Frank Zombo and Erik Walden filled in admirably when Jones was lost for the season, so don’t be surprised if Jones gets some snaps at ILB during camp. So far, it looks like Jones’ shoulder is healed and he’s looked strong in camp.
Ryan Grant, RB
Grant opened camp as the Packers starting RB, for whatever that is worth. Even if Grant starts all 16 games, it really doesn’t matter. The Packers will need to determine which back gives them the best chance to chew clock in the second half and keep Aaron Rodgers upright against blitzes.
Of all the new faces, I expect Finley, Burnett and either Sherrod or Lang to make the most impact. Once I’m convinced Neal is healthy, I’ll include him on that list.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if Cobb, Grant and Jones exceed expectations, but they are more wild cards than the others.——————