Revisiting My 10 Top Training Camp Topics for the Packers

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Eddie Lacy may not get the first carry of the season, but he's the "starter" in my eyes.
Eddie Lacy may not get the first carry of the season, but he’s the “starter” in my eyes.

About three weeks into camp and halfway through the NFL preseason, many of the Packers’ key question marks are starting to take shape.

Some of such unknowns have since seen new faces (Vince Young) enter the conversation, while other questions (Jermichael Finley) are still completely up in the air.

Prior to training camp, we put ten Packers training-camp topics under the microscope for further review. Now two games into the preseason, it’s time to revisit some of these questions and predictions.

1. Who will be the Packers’ opening-day starter at running back?

Answer: Eddie Lacy, and I feel the same. Kinda.

The Packers clearly didn’t want to (literally) hand the job to a rookie running back without some competition; the team routinely gave veterans Alex Green and James Starks run with the No. 1 offense early in the offseason.

But after the “fat” Eddie Lacy thing blew over, the rookie quickly separated himself from the pack at the position. Coach McCarthy has been effusive in his praise of DuJuan Harris, who returned to practice this week, but if “Fat” is healthy, he’s going to get at least a share of the workload.

Fat was exceptional in his preseason debut against the St. Louis Rams, racking up 51 total yards on nine touches. He broke tackle after tackle, picked up the blitz and caught the ball out of the backfield. It was certainly an impressive showing for the rookie.

But if Harris and Lacy are both available on opening day, I really think both players will get a share of the load. Harris played well against the 49ers in the playoffs, but the Packers abandoned the running game in the second half.

So, in this case, the “starter” label may be a bit subjective. It could be a “starter and closer” or “thunder and lightning”-kinda situation.

2. How many defensive linemen will the Packers keep?

Answer: Six. Now, I think they’ll keep seven, including Mike Neal.

I was cautiously optimistic and mildly skeptical about the Neal-at-outside linebacker thing, but it looks like it’s working so far. Injured second-year defensive end Jerel Worthy told me and Cheesehead TV’s Zach Kruse to “look out” for Neal in his new role, and halfway through the preseason, he certainly looks like one of the team’s best pass rushers.

Neal is obviously making the team. Just like Charles Woodson (in his prime) was a bigger cornerback who could play in the box, cover receivers on the perimeter and rush the quarterback, Neal is a big, athletic guy who can rush the passer. His position is just as much DE as Woodson’s was CB or S.

A few weeks ago, I thought the sixth (and final) roster spot would come down to rookie Josh Boyd, second-year player Mike Daniels or Johnny Jolly. Now, I still believe one of these guys will be cut, but Daniels has been (by far) the most impressive through camp. With size in mind, I sided with Boyd over Daniels, but Daniels has been clearly been the better player through camp.

Coming into camp, I didn’t think Jolly had much of a chance at making the team, but he’s done pretty well. The Packers could very well keep seven defensive linemen this year, but I think it’s more likely that Jolly and Boyd are competing for the final spot on the roster.

Midway through the preseason, I’ve flipped my stance on Jolly. After showing up to camp overweight and shaking off the rust, Jolly has been consistent all summer and was dominant Saturday night against the Rams. I now think Jolly will make this team, ahead of Boyd.

My Magnificent Seven: Raji, Pickett, Jones, Wilson, Neal, Daniels, Jolly

3. Will John Kuhn be on the team in 2013?

Answer: Yes.

There’s not too much to talk about here, as we all know the situation: John Kuhn is a pass-catching, pass-blocking and below-average short-yardage fullback on a team that just spent a second-round pick on a 230-or-something-pound running back named Eddie Lacy.

Bob McGinn suggested Kuhn and rookie Johnathan Franklin were in direct competition for the third-down role, and I completely agree. It looks like they’ll compete for playing time on passing downs, but I still think Franklin’s struggles in pass protection will lead the Packers to keep Kuhn for at least another season.

As some of you pointed out, the team could use an extra tight end (such as Ryan Taylor) as a fullback, and yes, I believe the team could cut ties with Kuhn and still be a highly effective offense, but when push comes to shove, I think he is still on the team in Week 1. Losing the quarterback’s blindside protector (Bryan Bulaga) may play a part in this decision.

4. Who will be the starter alongside Morgan Burnett? McMillian or Jennings?

Answer: McMillian, but it’s still up in the air.

This is still an open competition. Both players have shown flashes throughout their training-camp battle.

McMillian joined me, Jason Perone and Kris Burke on No-Huddle Radio earlier this month. We chatted with him about all sorts of stuff, so be sure to check that out.

McMillian didn’t play well in the preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, but he rebounded nicely against the Rams and showed his physical nature near the line of scrimmage in the run game. He hasn’t yet taken the giant leap forward in pass coverage, but he’s still a more physically talented player than Jennings.

This battle has yet to reach its conclusion, but I still think McMillian wins the job over Jennings. However, much like the running back situation with Fat and Harris, both McMillian and Jennings could find the field in some sort of platoon this season.

5. Will Nick Perry show considerable improvement this season?

Answer: Yes.

He hasn’t been overly explosive in training camp, but in the original post, I wrote, “Preseason? Maybe not. Regular season? I think so.”

He hasn’t put together a full, four-quarter game yet. A couple quarterback hurries and a sack can make all the difference for a pass rusher having a major impact on a game. I think he’ll flirt with double-digit sacks this year if he stays healthy.

6. Will this be Finley’s final training camp in Green Bay?

Answer: No.

This question isn’t even close to being answered, but hey, Finley has looked impressive this summer.

This is the year Finley breaks out and has his best personal statistical season. And yes, I have been saying that for a few years now. But really this time–it’s his year.

Finley’s four-catch, 78-yard performance against the St. Louis Rams was certainly exciting for Packers fans. The first-team tight end played just over one quarter, and those 78 receiving yards would have been his highest total for any game last season. Big year for Finley.

7. Who will be the Packers’ No. 4 wide receiver?

Answer: Jeremy Ross. Now–for various reasons–it’s even more wide open than it was before training camp.

Jeremy Ross, Jarrett Boykin and undrafted rookie Tyrone Walker have had their moments throughout the first few weeks of training camp. And with Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson nursing injuries, the team could very well carry six receivers on the roster on opening day.

Despite the team giving a number of players a look returning punts, I still think Ross will be the primary return man this season. He’s had some drops in practice of late, but he was pretty impressive as a receiver early on.

Boykin is probably the odds-on favorite to be the next-guy-up should Cobb, Nelson or James Jones be forced to miss time. At the same time, if Cobb were out of the lineup, Ross or Walker could step in and try to fill Cobb’s shoes in the slot.

Either way, depending on who’s available to play in Week 1, the No. 4 receiver thing is still very much in question. At least on opening day.

8. Will Graham Harrell back up Aaron Rodgers, or will B.J. Coleman?

Answer: Harrell. But post-Vince Young signing, I’ll take Young.

Growing up in Wisconsin, I’ve shared my college sports fandom between the home-state Badgers and the Texas Longhorns. Why? Because when I was like nine years old, Ricky Williams was basically Ron Dayne a couple years ahead of Ron Dayne. Then T.J. Ford came along, and he was the man. Next came Vince Young. And if T.J. Ford was the man, Vince was Zeus. Or something.

I’m admittedly biased when it comes to Vince Young. Fifteen-year-old Marques may have had a heart attack if he knew Vince Young would be a Green Bay Packers.

But strictly on the field, Young came into camp late and well behind Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman from a mental standpoint. Physically, Young is more gifted than either player. Both Harrell and Coleman have been largely unimpressive this summer, which has left the door wide open for Young to claim the backup job.

9. Who wins the starting right tackle job?

Answer: Don Barclay.

After the Packers lost Bryan Bulaga for the season with a torn ACL, they’ve been forced to rely on impressive rookie David Bakhtiari at left tackle. After a fast start to training camp, Bakhtiari was getting looks with the No.1 offense at right tackle.

But after Bulaga’s injury and Bakhtiari’s move to Aaron Rodgers’ blindside protector, the right tackle battle will (again) come down to Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay. Newhouse didn’t fare well at all against the Arizona Cardinals, and Barclay has gotten some time at tackle after beginning camp as a swing center-guard.

I’ve been up-and-down on Newhouse, just like his play on the field. Newhouse can’t run block and he’s an average pass blocker. Barclay isn’t much of a pass blocker, but he’s a pretty good run blocker.

After the preseason and starting Week 1 against the 49ers, I think Barclay gets the nod. Newhouse will serve as the top backup at both tackle spots while Derek Sherrod is still on the sideline.

10. Which three players “start” at cornerback?

Answer: Tramon Williams, Davon House and Casey Hayward. Now, Shields is way ahead of House.

After the 2012 season, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said (per ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde) the team would have a competition at the position.

“It’s going to be interesting who the guys are going to be that run out there Day 1. Because right now, I couldn’t tell you who’s going to do what because of the way that Sam and Casey have played,” Whitt said. “With Tramon and House there, there are four guys that are vying for two spots, maybe three with nickel. It’ll be interesting to see who gets them.”

The “competition” hasn’t been much of a battle this summer, as Williams and Hayward have missed the majority of camp. In their absence, Shields has remained with the No. 1 defense, while House was recently replaced by rookie Micah Hyde.

Hyde has been getting a lot of buzz this summer, but I haven’t seen too much to get excited about at practice. (NOTE: I said the same about Casey Hayward last summer before he led the team with six interceptions) But against the Rams in the second preseason game, Hyde lined up all over the defense and performed well.

I still believe House is a talented player who will shine if he can stay healthy in the regular season. But assuming everyone is healthy, House is clearly behind Shields, Williams and Hayward. At some point this season, the depth will be called into question.

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Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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  • Stroh

    On the DL dump Wilson and keep Boyd if they go w/ 7 (including Neal). Wilson hasn’t done much and has been passed by Jolly, Daniels is way ahead of Wilson, tho they are different players w/ different roles. And the Packers would keep Boyd being younger w/ more potential.

    At WR Boykin is head and shoulders ahead of anyone else for the #4 WR job. Its really not even close!

    So far I’ve been a little disappointed that McMillan hasn’t taken the starting safety job. Still time but as of right now its still mostly Jennings job to lose unfortunately.

    The CB group is now more or less 5 deep w/ Hyde forcing his way into the discussion. Shields is the clear #1 CB w/ Tramon being out. After that its up for grabs between House and Hyde. Tho House is probably better outside and Hyde better in the slot. Hayward will keep his role in nickel and Tramon will still be the starter. Same as last year w/ House and Hyde finding snaps where they can.

    • Dobber

      I don’t think Boyd would make it to the PS if they decide not to keep him. Jolly makes Wilson expendable if he continues to impress. It was suggested that Wilson could be trade bait, but I’m not sure they could get anything for him.

      • Stroh

        Truth is Boyd probably would make it to the PS. I haven’t seen him do anything that really stood out and other teams, just like the Packers, value the guys they have in camp a lot more than other teams low round picks. Its not a given he would make the PS, but more likely than not he would.

  • Ed Schoenfeld

    Agree with the last DL spot coming down to Wilson or Boyd. They want Jolly, he ‘s shown he is still explosive and DTs often play until 34 or 35, so they get enough ‘time’ out of him too. Potential for a trade with Wilson.

    At CB it seems like Hyde is winning the ‘Dime’ job with McMillian and Jennings splitting on pass vs, run downs. Hyde might eventually switch to Safety but not this year — they should give him a chance at corner first.

    The TE for run blocking is Mulligan. It’s between him and Kuhn, with Kuhn losing if Dejuan Harris and/or Franklin can, consistently pass block as the 3rd down back.

    JMO of course

    • Dobber

      I have to agree with Marques in that Bulaga’s injury might be a meaningful factor in determining whether or not Kuhn makes the team. Unless Bakhtiari plays at a veteran level over the last two preseason games, I think the Packers hedge their bets and keep Kuhn.

  • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

    Good write up Marques. My .02

    1. Lacy starts and Harris spells him.

    2. They’re going to keep 7 on the DL: Raji, Jones, Pickett, Neal, Wilson, Jolly and Daniels. They’ll have to hope that Boyd makes it to the practice team.

    3. Understand about keeping Kuhn because of the comfort factor. But IMO that roster spot can be used more effectively elsewhere.

    4. The SS battle has been disappointing. If one doesn’t step up soon, SS will be the achillies heel of the Defense. Still hoping McMillan can pick it up in pass coverage.

    5. I hope Perry takes a huge step, but we have yet to see it in all 3 phases of his job responsibility. He’s great at the run, pretty good a rushing the QB, and not so good in coverage. I’d be ecstatic with 8 sacks and never seeing him covering the likes of Michael Crabtree ever again.

    6. Finley = Beast this year. I’m guessing 80 catches for 950 yards and 8 TD’s. TT will resign him at a good price by mid October.

    7. 4th WR is going to be Boykin. Ross’ hands haven’t been reliable enough (on ST or O). He’ll be 5th. Tyrone Walker is either 6 or on the PS.

    8. I’d like to see none of the above. Start over with a new project. Maybe the loser of the Texans’ 2nd QB battle?

    9. Agreed completely. Bulaga, Sherrod and Tretter injured all in one season? ARGH!

    10. House is Tramon’s replacement. Next year. This year it’ll be Tramon and Shields on the outside. Hayward and Hyde on the inside in nickel/dime.

    • Dobber

      8. As someone who was complaining about the lack of a viable backup, I like VY as the backup, at least for a year or so, far better than MOST other options. His skill set and what he does on the field translates well into that role. Sure, I’d rather see a developmental prospect panning out, but they can find that guy in the draft next spring.

  • Barutan Seijin

    There’s also “Will the Packers get a new placekicker?”.

    Kickers better than Crosby & Tavecchio will become available as teams make their cuts. Carpenter & Rian Lindell are already out there.

    • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

      Man, I hope they do get a new one. I’m not a fan of either of the guys they have now.

    • Stroh

      If Lindell and Carpender are that good they would be in training camp right now, not in the street!

      • Barutan Seijin

        Y’know Stroh, that’s what you guys said all last year, too. “Who out there is better than Crosby?” Then Gould went out and the Bears signed Olindo Effin’ Mare — who proceeded to outkick Crosby at Soldier Field in a head to head matchup. So as it turns out, pretty much any journeyman kicker is better than Crosby.

        While we’re at it, compare Lindell & Carpenter’s records to Crosby’s. They usually kick at 80% or better. Crosby has hit over 80% once in his career. The guy just isn’t that good.

        • Stroh

          I didn’t say that, don’t put words in my mouth. A lot of kickers have better stats, stats don’t tell the story. Was Crosby bad last year? No doubt… When it comes to career kicking, Crosby has spent his career kicking in the most difficult environment in the NFL. Lambeau field! There’s a reason Thompson and McCarthy didn’t make a move last year. They realize how difficult it is to kick in Lambeau. Maybe you should trust that the GM and HC know something you don’t!

          I’ll give McCarthy, other coaches and Thompson the benefit of the doubt on this one.

          • Outis

            Wooses give them the benefit of the doubt on everything. You’ll be singing a different song after a 9-7 season (3 loses directly related to Crosby misses)and a failure to make the playoffs.

            • runningbare

              Barutan and Stroh, when you two know-it-alls start to manage or coach teams, then you will have the right to severly belittle people that have done this for years and have an extremely good record. Make your comments but don’t belittle people.

              • Stroh

                I’m not being a know it all. I’m saying McCarthy, the coaches and Thompson are. I’m deferring to their knowledge!

          • Outis

            Heinz Field in Pittsburg is generally thought to be the “most difficult” NFL stadium for kicking field goals. Next time, check your facts before you post a comment.

            • Batavia Greg

              I agree. Heinz Field may be the most difficult. Right up there, though, is Chicago’s Soldier Field but that hasn’t deterred Robbie Gould from being one of the most consistently reliable kickers in the NFL.

          • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

            Two years ago, I kind of disproved that myth of an excuse for Crosby, comparing his record to other cold-weather kickers. Most were much better.

            Full article:
            http://allgbp.com/2011/08/08/debunking-the-myths-about-green-bay-packers-kicker-mason-crosby/

            excerpt:

            1. Mason Crosby Has to Kick in Cold Weather
            Yes, he does. But so do other kickers. The argument goes that Crosby’s FG percentage would be higher if this weren’t the case. Well, of course, but is he the only kicker this applies to? Of course not. For a dose of reality, one would have to look at how he compares to other kickers that kick in cold weather. Well, allow me:

            I chose teams from 9 other cold weather cities with dome-less stadiums (PHIL, NYJ, NYG, CHI, CLE, BUF, CIN, PIT, NE). Where did Crosby’s FG % rank when compared to these kickers?

            2007: 9th out of 10
            2008: 9th out of 10
            2009: Tied for 9th/10th
            2010: 6th out of 10

            So, when compared to other kickers playing in cold weather, he still comes out near the bottom. We can now say, whatever the typical weather conditions, Crosby is ALWAYS near the bottom in FG %.

            Bonus Fact: Last season, 4 of these cold-weather kickers had as many or more attempts from 50+ yards as Mason Crosby.

            Another thing to consider: In how many games did Crosby really have to kick in cold weather? I went back and looked at the Packers schedule the last four years and games from mid-November on. Taking into account road games in domes and warm weather cities, Crosby did not have to kick in very many cold weather games at all:

            2007 – 1
            2008 – 2
            2009 – 2
            2010 – 3

            So lets just put the whole cold weather theory where it belongs – buried under a big snowdrift.

      • Saltyman

        TT and MM want Crosby to succeed: not only is he familiar with kicking in GB but he would also be a huge cap hit to the team if you cut him this year. Crosby makes the team no matter what IMHO, a 2nd kicker signed in a weeks after the season start would not be a surprise though with Crosby on IR

  • AaronqbRalindy

    Don’t discount the possibility of the Packers keeping 8 DL. Pickett, Neal, Raji, Wilson, and Jolly are all in contract years. They may bulk up at this position with 2014 in mind.

    If this happens a guy like Ross or Kuhn may lose a roster spot.

  • DuJuanaman

    Fat is not a good nickname. Give it up.

    • Saltyman

      I totally agree, Fat is a derrogative term for most people. I support any and all players on this team so dump the “Fat” nickname as respect to the team and its players. Although ironically I did support Davenport being called “The Closet Pooper” years back, haha

      • Marques Eversoll

        The “Fat” nickname is a joke, poking fun at the Twitter firestorm that erupted after that unflattering photo was released early in camp. Nothing more.

        He’s not fat, he’s a big back.

        Respect for the team and its players isn’t an issue. I work at 1265 Lombardi and witness the organization’s class on a daily basis.