With the Green Bay Packers opening their 2014 training camp in less than a week, I took to Twitter to find out what our followers’ and readers’ top questions were about this year’s team. Thank you to those who submitted theirs and I’ll certainly be doing this again throughout camp and the regular season.
1. What does Micah Hyde bring to the table that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix doesn’t and vice versa?
There has already been a lot of discussion about the safety position in Green Bay this offseason. For the first time in over 60 years, Packers safeties recorded zero interceptions in a full season in 2013.
Perhaps the fans in Green Bay have become spoiled after seeing the likes of Leroy Butler, Darren Sharper and Nick Collins grace the gridiron in green and gold. Still, it’s hard to argue that the production at safety since Collins was forced to retire in 2011 has been subpar.
Heading into this season and before the draft, the team let incumbent starter M.D. Jennings depart in free agency and there was much talk that they would give Hyde a look at safety along side Morgan Burnett. Sure enough, Hyde took most of the first team reps during OTA’s and mini camp.
The Packers drafted Clinton-Dix with their first pick in this year’s draft and more questions swirled about whether he would become the immediate starter or if he would have to compete for his role.
Clinton-Dix worked almost exclusively with the second team during the spring sessions but the Packers will give him every chance to earn a starting position throughout the preseason. Not all first rounders start right away, but the Packers were addressing a need with the first rounder and likely can’t afford to have him sitting on the bench this season.
When Casey Hayward was injured last season, Hyde emerged as a serviceable fill-in at slot corner. With as much nickel as the Packers tend to deploy, that will certainly be a position of great need and importance in 2014. Hayward expects to be back, but we won’t know where the Packers stand at slot corner until camp gets underway.
During the offseason, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said he envisions Hyde as an every-down player in 2014. He also said he wants to see more guys making plays this year. Hyde had a sack and logged 55 tackles last season however the play he’s most known for is the one he didn’t make. Late in the fourth quarter of the wild card matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, Hyde dropped a potential interception that would have given the Packers the ball and a chance to take the lead late in the game. Too bad, “close” doesn’t count in the NFL.
Still, Hyde flashed some play-making ability and certainly will see plenty of time in the secondary. He actually ran .02 faster during his 40-yard dash than Clinton-Dix did, so we’ll call their speed even. Hyde has a full year’s worth of experience under his belt in a number of roles, including punt returner. He has good football intelligence and I see no reason why he can’t learn the safety position. But learning and producing are not always synonymous.
Clinton-Dix is slightly taller and about 20 pounds heavier. While his speed is the same as Hyde’s, he has more agility and plays quicker. What that essentially means is that Clinton-Dix uses his speed and athletic ability to make plays that many others with the same raw speed cannot make.
Clinton-Dix changes direction well and in a deep cover-2 shell, should be in position to improve the Packers pass coverage at safety. This is something that was lacking last season and is one of the biggest reasons I can see HHCD beside Burnett in the base 3-4 defense this season. While Hyde would likely be mentally sound and know where to be, his deep coverage skills would likely be tested with double moves. Yes, some of that burden falls on the pass rush to prevent double moves, but in a pure safety sense, I’d give Clinton-Dix the edge here.
Both play physically and are able run supporters but Clinton-Dix appears to be a slightly better tackler. Hyde has a tendency to lower his head in the open field, at times, which can lead to missed tackles and long yardage for the opposition.
It sounds more and more like I’m taking Clinton-Dix to win the safety spot over Hyde, right? Not exactly. I expect to see a lot of both on the field together this season. In a slot role similar to what we saw Charles Woodson playing in 2012, Hyde has proven his ability to be around the football and get to the quarterback.
Hyde’s versatility and experience in the system gives him the edge right now. Clinton-Dix will need to show steady progress throughout camp and come up big during his preseason game reps in order to leap into the conversation as a true starter.
2. Which WRs make the final 53 after Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin?
Another great question and one that has also received a lot of discussion around NFL circles. Some have debated whether Boykin will enter this season as the team’s third-best wide receiver, which would change the complexion of the conversation altogether.
I have never really cared much whether a receiver was a #1, #2 guy, and so on. But assuming Boykin is the team’s “third” wide receiver, and I expect him to be, the Packers have to decide how many receivers to carry. Most often during McCarthy’s tenure, they have carried five. In 2012, they carried six after deciding to hang onto veteran Donald Driver for one more season. That decision paid off somewhat, as the Packers lost Greg Jennings for a good portion of the year to injury.
Second round pick Davante Adams will be on this year’s roster, barring injury. I’ll safely put him at the fourth receiver spot and if anyone is going to push Boykin for more playing time, it’s Adams. He has yet to compete in live action, but the team used a second round pick on him and he is going to get every opportunity to develop and contribute this season.
After that, the picture is a bit more fuzzy. Rookies Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis will most likely be competing for a spot along with Kevin Dorsey, who was a seventh round selection last season, Myles White and Chris Harper.
Dorsey was lost to injured reserve at the end of training camp and has yet to take a single snap. White filled in last season when both James Jones and Cobb were injured, but was not impactful. Some of the reason was who was throwing him the ball with Aaron Rodgers having been out for much of the season.
Harper was a fourth round pick for the Seattle Seahawks before joining the Packers early last season. He didn’t see much action in the offense but according to the chatter, he seems to have the best chance of last year’s holdovers to crack the roster.
Still, it’s going to take a major showing for one of them to warrant a roster spot.
Abbrederis and Janis both took some reps at kick returner during OTA’s and mini camp. Abby flashed some potential, but none of it was with pads on or during a live period. Janis has great speed, but I heard nothing that has me optimistic that he enters training camp with high hopes just yet.
The fifth receiver is not likely to see a lot of action on offense so the key here is going to be ability to contribute on special teams. Right now, I’d give the edge to Harper and Abbrederis. Both need to flash during camp and the preseason, especially Abby. His size and strength are not at an ideal level for the NFL. Speed alone and sound mechanics can only take him so far, but the Packers like him and he will seemingly get many chances to stick. That chance will hedge largely on his ability to win the job of kick returner. If he can’t, Abbrederis could be looking at a stint on the practice squad.
As it stands, I don’t see enough happening that the Packers will carry a sixth receiver this year. Time will tell and stranger things have happened, but this isn’t yet a stacked position group at present level of ability.
3. What will the defensive line look like after the departure of Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and C.J. Wilson?
Another good question heading into camp. For the first time since 2006, Pickett won’t be starting on the Packers’ line. Wilson was not re-signed and Jolly is still recovering from his neck injury suffered late last season and hasn’t been cleared by any NFL team doctor. With that, the face of the Packers defensive line will look quite a bit different in 2014 and beyond.
The team was able to re-sign B.J. Raji to a cap-friendly one-year deal and he will line up at nose tackle this season. Raji had spent much of his time at defensive end over the past few seasons, but was most effective during the 2010 season when spending most of his time at the nose. With this year being a “prove it” type scenario for Raji, Packers fans have to hope he comes into the season motivated and with some added vinegar to his game. Raji will be 28 years old after this season and right in the wheel house to score himself a nice veteran contract, if his performance this season warrants it.
One of the early favorites to land a defensive end spot is Mike Daniels. Daniels took a giant step forward during his sophomore season and racked up 6.5 sacks last season, second-most on the team behind linebacker Clay Matthews. Recently, Daniels went off about how he is tired of seeing his teammates getting pushed around on the field and after plays. He’s looking to become more of a vocal leader and bring more “nasty” to the demeanor of the defense this season.
The other end spot would seemingly belong to Datone Jones, who enters his second year. Jones suffered an ankle injury early in training camp last season and was said to have been bothered by it all season. Jones didn’t make anywhere near the type of impact most teams would want to see from a first round selection, but the Packers have unfortunately become all too familiar with that scenario. Jones has been training hard on his own during the offseason, even spending time with former MMA fighter Chuck Liddell. Mentally, Jones is ready to make a jump in year two but it’s all about the on-field product. The Packers hope Jones has the same second year that Daniels did last year.
Let’s also not forget the biggest (no pun intended) newcomer to the Packers roster this season, Julius Peppers. Peppers lists as a defensive end and linebacker but is slated for the elephant end spot. From there, he can put his hand on the ground and rush the passer in a more traditional 4-3 end would. Peppers won’t play every down and will be used in a number of ways throughout the season, but he is expected to be the presence that the Packers have sorely needed opposite Matthews that can create pressure on the passer.
Jerel Worthy did not take a single snap during OTA’s and mini camp and has a lot to show during camp in order to keep his spot on the Packers roster. A knee injury forced Worthy to miss most of last season and he was ineffective in very limited snaps upon his return. Worthy will be competing with Josh Boyd for one of the defensive end spots and it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that both will be on the roster when final cutdowns are made. Worthy is on the bubble right now.
Boyd will have his work cut out for him during camp and will be pushed by Worthy and rookie Khyri Thornton. Boyd was adequate in limited playing time in 2013 but didn’t make an impact. He has the potential to improve and elevate in season two so many eyes will be on him this summer. Right now, I’d give him the edge over Worthy simply from a health and most recent production standpoint.
Thornton was a third round pick this past May and as I have said many times, the Packers will give their early picks every opportunity to crack the roster and make an impact. I’m interested to watch Thornton at the NFL level. When I wrote up his draft profile, I had to do a bit more digging than usual to find good information and video on him. I don’t see many ways that he’s not on this year’s team, and that’s another reason why Worthy’s spot is so iffy.
Lastly, free agent defensive tackle Letroy Guion was signed as a free agent and could provide some depth in the middle, if he earns a roster spot. He was previously with the Minnesota Vikings but was obviously not able to lock in his place within their future plans. Guion has a decent chance to make the final 53-man roster, but will need to show some flash during camp and preseason games.
Of all of the names mentioned, that is eight roster spots if all are kept. I haven’t mentioned Mike Neal because Neal was mostly a linebacker last season and will likely split some time between the line and linebacker again this year. With Neal included, that would be nine total and the Packers aren’t carrying that many, at least not early on this season. If they decide to lump Peppers and/or Neal in with the linebackers, there’s an outside chance that all true defensive linemen may stick.
My thanks again to those who submitted questions for today’s column. I’ll do this again so have your questions ready as training camp moves along!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: