I want to start off by wishing everyone a happy 4th of July! I was supposed to be born on the bicentennial and decided to arrive early so I’m forever reminded of my need for patience on this glorious day in American history!
Heading into training camp in just under a month, the Green Bay Packers and their coaching staff are likely already discussing possible scenarios that the team can emerge with when they head into the 2014 regular season. However, it’s way too early to make any hard and fast decisions on who will and won’t be on the final 53-man roster, save for the obvious guys.
One part of that discussion that has already started some buzz is which positions the Packers may consider carrying an extra player. There is no real requirement for how many players a team has to carry at a certain position, but there are some historical averages that most teams operate under. Below are the usual number of players seen on a roster that employs a base 3-4 defense. Again, these are averages and many teams have used different combinations in the past, based on need and talent level.
Running Back/Fullback (4)
Wide Receiver (5)
Tight End (4)
Offensive Line (9)
Defensive Line (8)
Long snapper (1)
Keep in mind that while teams carry 53 men on their roster, only 45 are dressed on game day. Teams need to be sure that they’re giving themselves enough depth at each position based on who is most likely to suit up on a regular basis.
One example of why is last season when the Packers were faced with the harsh reality that they didn’t have what they needed at the quarterback position behind Aaron Rodgers. Heading into the regular season, they carried only one backup, Seneca Wallace, and had Scott Tolzien on the practice squad. By the time Rodgers returned in week 17, Wallace was on injured reserve, Tolzien was promoted to the active roster and Matt Flynn was signed mid-season. The Packers ended the season with three quarterbacks on the active roster and I fully expect the same this season.
Both the offensive and defensive lines tend to carry the most number of players because of how many guys are on each line to begin with. If you consider that you want at least one backup for each position, you would theoretically have at least six defensive linemen and 10 offensive linemen. The Packers aren’t carrying 10 offensive linemen this season and depending on whether you consider guys like Julius Peppers and Mike Neal to be defensive linemen or linebackers, that could easily skew the number of players those positions carry as well. For that reason, I’m keeping offensive & defensive line as well as linebacker out of this discussion.
Cornerback has potential to be overloaded this season, but with Micah Hyde having taken most of his reps with the first team defense at the safety position, he could easily be classified there and then the Packers would probably have just six true corners left on the roster. So cornerback is out as well.
The three positions at which the Packers most likely carry an extra player would be wide receiver, tight end and running back. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m lumping fullback in with the running back position. Say it with me one time: Kuuuuuuuuuuuuhn!
Starting at wide receiver and barring injury, we know that Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and rookie Davante Adams are locks to make the final roster. That leaves Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, Kevin Dorsey, Chris Harper, Myles White and Alex Gillett in a competition for one or two final spots.
Both Harper and White were on the active roster and saw the field for at least one snap at receiver last season. White filled in quite a bit when Cobb and James Jones were both injured last season. He was serviceable but was nothing special. He has his work cut out for him this preseason and will need to shine at every opportunity he gets.
Harper barely played, save for special teams but his size has the Packers looking very closely at his prospects on this year’s team. He, much like White, also needs a very strong showing this preseason to elevate himself enough to be the fifth receiver or warrant consideration for a sixth spot.
Dorsey was a seventh round selection of the Packers in 2013. A hamstring injury ended his rookie season before it even began and he was placed on season-ending injured reserve just before the regular season. We haven’t been hearing Dorsey’s name much during organized team activities and mini camps so the assumption is that he faces one of the toughest battles to crack the roster.
Gillett was added to the team’s practice squad last season when Tolzien was promoted in early November. The Packers like him enough to give him a spot on their practice squad, but he, like Dorsey, has the toughest road ahead of him and is a definite underdog to elevate to the active roster.
Abbrederis and Janis are this year’s draftees at the receiver position and both have seen extensive work during OTA’s and mini camp. Both have seen time at receiver and as a kick returner. While a fifth round investment is no guarantee that a player will make it through to the regular season, all indications are that Abbrederis will. Strength is a question mark for Abby and he has admitted as much himself. What the Packers likely saw that they liked in him were his football intelligence, mechanics and speed. That combination have me pegging Abbrederis as the team’s fifth receiver this season and to be used mostly on kick return.
Janis is a wild card. He certainly has the speed and athletic ability. The question is how many opportunities he will get during camp and in preseason games to make enough plays to get on the team’s radar. He seems ripe as a practice squad guy but let’s remember that it’s still late June and a lot can happen between now and the end of August.
Even with Jermichael Finley out of the picture, the tight end position could get interesting for the Packers. If Finley somehow and miraculously returns to Green Bay, this position group immediately becomes crowded and the competition heats up.
Assuming Finley is gone for good, that leaves Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Richard Rodgers, Ryan Taylor, Jake Stoneburner, Colt Lyerla and Justin Perillo.
Quarless, Bostick and Rodgers are locks and will be on the final roster. Exactly who starts is still up for grabs. Rodgers has received quite a bit of attention as a potential starter heading into week one of the regular season.
Taylor has been a valuable special teams contributor but has struggled at the tight end spot when given the opportunity. He dropped a pass early last season against the Detroit Lions that would have likely been a long touchdown. With Rodgers and Lyerla in the mix now, Taylor may be feeling some pressure to elevate himself and become a bigger part of the offense.
Stoneburner was an undrafted free agent signing last season and was elevated to the active roster in mid-October. His contributions were mostly on special teams and while he did contribute in live action last season, he didn’t do enough to get on the field as a pass catcher. The Packers are surely going to give the nod to a guy who can offer as much versatility as he can. If they keep Taylor for his special teams play, Stoneburner’s chances of being on this year’s roster are greatly diminished. He’s a long shot but could end up back on the practice squad if he is not kept beyond preseason.
Perillo is camp fodder, to me. The Packers are likely eyeing him for a practice squad spot or just to see what he may offer during camp. We didn’t hear his name at all during OTA’s and mini camp. His chances of sticking with the team this season are slim to none, barring a few injuries.
Lyerla needs no introduction. Much has been said, written, discussed and argued about this undrafted free agent. He brings a lot of potential to the table, but has spent no time in pads and so we have to temper our expectations. While many like what he could be, he has to actually be it in order for those hopes to be realized. That’s no given and therefore, Lyerla is facing an uphill battle to crack the team’s final roster. He needs every single opportunity he can during camp and also needs to stay out of any type of trouble. Lyerla is the x-factor that has the tight end position on this list. If he sticks, he would theoretically become the team’s fifth tight end and that would constitute an overload at the position.
The discussion about running back being and overloaded position got a lot shorter the week before last when we learned that Johnathan Franklin would not be with the Packers this season due to a career-threatening neck injury. With Franklin out of the mix, Eddie Lacy, James Starks and John Kuhn should all be on the final roster. There has been some debate about Kuhn, but the team re-signed him for a reason and I see his value as worthy of a roster spot.
That leaves DuJuan Harris, Michael Hill, LaDarius Perkins and Rajion Neal competing for a fourth or fifth spot. A fifth spot? Yes. Why else would running back be on this list?
Harris would seemingly have a good chance to be the team’s fourth back and they will carry at least four. Having started several games in 2012, including two playoff games, Harris brings with him a known element and experience within the offense. He had a decent offseason and seems to be past the knee injury that forced him out last season. He also had a tumor removed from his lung nearly a year go, but that has not seemed to hamper him either. If he continues to be what he was with the team two seasons ago, Harris has a clear edge as the fourth guy.
Hill spent some time with the team last season and was even elevated to the active roster at the end of the season. He was recently re-signed and will compete for the fourth spot in camp. The Packers like him enough to bring him in for another look, but I am not hearing enough buzz to think that he has a good chance of elevating himself this season. Another year on the practice squad could be waiting in the wings for Hill.
I heard very little about either Perkins or Neal during the offseason. For two undrafted free agents, that may not be unusual but in Green Bay, it’s worth noting. Several undrafted free agents have found their way onto the team’s active roster and have forged very successful careers for themselves in the past. Both of these runners have their work cut out for them but will one of them be this year’s training camp All-Pro? There seems to be one every year and if either of these backs catches the coaching staff’s eye, it could mean stiff competition for Harris or the team possibly carrying a fifth back. With the University of Tennessee last season, Neal had over 1,000 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Tennessee resides in the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference (SEC) conference and the level of competition is some of the best that college football has to offer.
I see wide receiver as most likely to be an overloaded position this upcoming season. It’s possible that multiple positions see an extra player, but given these scenarios and the talent level, receiver gets the nod.
I don’t see any way Abbrederis isn’t on the final roster which puts them at five. Harper and Janis with Dorsey as a dark horse strike me as the best chance to overload their position group. The pads come on in a month and we’ll then see how much truth there is to any of this.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: