The Green Bay Packers begin reporting for this year’s training camp today to take physicals and get settled in. Practices begin tomorrow and hence the team’s quest for a successful 2014 season.
Last week’s “questions” piece was a success so I thought I’d give it another try. As always, thank you to those of you who submitted your questions and I chose that were most recurring.
1. Which one player has to have the best training camp for either himself or the team?
Always a good question and one that sparks some good debate. Many could argue that quarterback Aaron Rodgers needs to get in sync with his receivers and is the key. Others may cite a wide receiver, as that position group has some undecided spots open. Some would cite most any rookie, since they haven’t taken a single snap during live action yet.
To me, the theme here is on defense and the linebacker position.
From an individual perspective, it’s linebacker Brad Jones. Head coach Mike McCarthy has said he wants more playmakers on the field and he wants to see more plays made on defense, specifically. Jones has drawn the ire of some fans and media for his mediocre play since signing a contract extension following the 2012 season. He is set to make $2.5 million this season and $3.25 million in 2015.
Jones battled some injuries last year and was replaced by Jamari Lattimore during that time. Jones regained his starting position when he returned, but there was some debate as to whether the Packers would benefit more from having the feisty Lattimore next to A.J. Hawk. Lattimore will certainly come into training camp ready to fight hard for a bigger role this season.
While I described Jones’ play as mediocre, some of the same could be said for Hawk and the inside linebacker position, as a whole. Hawk seemed to ratchet up his play a bit last season and, if nothing else, has been very healthy during his career in Green Bay. He’s not the flashy linebacker that many thought they were getting when he was chosen fifth overall in the 2006 draft, but Hawk has proved valuable in a more subtle way. Hawk will be a starter this year, without a doubt.
Who lines up next to Hawk is another story. Besides Lattimore is Sam Barrington, who was starting to contribute well on special teams before he was injured early in 2013. Barrington is another who has been mentioned as competition for Jones in the middle.
Rookie Carl Bradford was drafted to play outside linebacker and the Packers maintain that is where he will see most of his reps. Even if Bradford has a good showing early during camp, it’s hard not to imagine the Packers harnessing that ability to the middle of the defense. Bradford’s size (6’1″, 250 lbs) is ideal for a middle linebacker in a 3-4. The big question is whether the team has what they need at outside linebacker before looking more seriously into this angle.
Speaking of outside linebackers, Nick Perry is my choice for the player the team most needs to have a good camp. Perry missed all of the preseason recovering from a foot injury suffered during the earlier part of last season. Perry has missed 15 games during his two seasons, which essentially means he’s missed an entire year’s worth of football. For a first round pick two years ago, Perry is a guy that the Packers need to turn the corner both from a health perspective and in terms of production.
Perry had just four sacks last season and caused a fumble against Baltimore that led to a key turnover in that game. We all remember the hit on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in 2012. The ability is there. Perry just needs to be in full uniform and ready to go.
Some are throwing around the bust label on Perry already, as it typically the case when a high draftee isn’t paying more immediate dividends. One thing is certain, the Packers are not close to giving up on Perry at this point. Linebackers coach Winston Moss has said that he is disappointed that Perry hasn’t been available to practice with the team and that it’s hurting his preparation for the upcoming season. Still, a healthy Perry will line up with the first team and be a starter this season.
Although the team signed Julius Peppers to help provide a boost to the pass rush opposite Clay Matthews, Peppers isn’t expected to be an every-down player. The Packers still need a true outside backer that opposing offenses have to scheme for. Perry has proven that he can be that player but with his inability to stay healthy, the consistency has never been proven.
Health is somewhat of an uncontrollable, but Perry’s time is now to receive a stroke of good luck and play a full season. He’ll need it for when we start this same discussion next year.
Some others that I considered for this space were safety Morgan Burnett, cornerback Davon House and kicker Mason Crosby. Burnett and House both need a shot of confidence after coming off of subpar seasons in 2013. Burnett led a group that was as unproductive as any. With the possible addition of Micah Hyde and the drafting of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the position group should get better and the Packers are looking to Burnett to be the leader of that effort. I chose Crosby because he regressed horribly in 2012 after having a solid 2011 season. Hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself and Crosby doesn’t become too complacent after a much-improved 2013.
2. I’m hearing that running back DuJuan Harris may not make the final roster, even after Johnathan Franklin’s injury. Who do the Packers see as another viable option, if that is the case?
A valid point in response to the scuttle that Harris may not be so secure in gaining a final roster spot. With Franklin in the mix, I can see how this may have been a bigger discussion. With Franklin removed, Harris’s stock immediately jumped. Heading into 2013 and before the Packers drafted Eddie Lacy, Harris was the team’s starting running back. Even after Lacy was drafted, Harris took the reps with the first team to open training camp.
Early on, Harris suffered a knee injury in addition to having a mass removed from one of his lungs and just like that, his 2013 season was over with.
Still, the Packer and McCarthy like Harris quite a bit and will be giving him a long look during the preseason. Lacy has taken a firm hold on the starting spot and the Packers re-signed James Starks. Both Lacy and Starks missed at least one game last season so durability and depth are important with this group. Lacy’s style almost certainly means he will miss some time and Starks has never made it through an entire season fully healthy.
That would seem to pave the way for Harris to stick, given his experience in the system and in-game action. Outside of Harris are Michael Hill and undrafted rookies Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins. Never say never when it comes to UDFA’s in Green Bay so from that standpoint, Harris should prepare for a battle in camp, but he should enter as a solid favorite.
Injuries can change anything in the NFL, but if healthy and barring any major change to his game, I expect Harris to be part of the running back group in 2014.
3. Which one player who was on last year’s roster is most likely to not make this year’s?
That’s a tough one and way to put me on the spot! The Packers don’t have a history of giving up on their players easily although general manager Ted Thompson has cut loose a few higher round picks in recent years (Terrell Manning, Jerron McMillian).
There are two guys from last year’s team that I could see being casualties before the regular season begins.
The first is safety Chris Banjo. That may not shock many. With the addition of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and a healthy Sean Richardson along with incumbent Morgan Burnett, Banjo will have to fight a bit for his roster spot. If the Packers intend to classify Hyde as more of a safety this season, they could carry an additional cornerback and that would make Banjo even more expendable. His contributions on special teams may be his saving grace, however. Right now, Banjo is the fourth-best safety on the roster and if the season began today, he’d probably be on the roster.
The next is defensive lineman Jerel Worthy. In last week’s Q&A, I said that Worthy was on the bubble. I still believe his roster spot is up for grabs. He didn’t participate in any offseason work and apparently has another knee injury unrelated to the ACL injury that cost him most of last season. Worthy was a second-round pick in 2012 so the Packers don’t likely want to be faced with letting him go. If rookie Khyri Thornton and second-year man Josh Boyd have solid training camps, Worthy could be on the chopping block. Consider that Julius Peppers can also be considered a defensive end and that position group has quite a bit of depth.
Linebacker Nate Palmer was another consideration, but he contributed so little in 2013 that his release wouldn’t likely stir things up as would Banjo’s or Worthy’s.
4. Can Richard Rodgers really be the opening day starter at tight end and what happens with Colt Lyerla?
We haven’t seen any of Rodgers in pads yet so I’m not on the hype bandwagon yet. Thompson has found some gems during his time in Green Bay but he’s also missed on some high picks as well. The good news is that Rodgers did well during OTA’s and that likely means he picked up the mental aspects of the position in addition to making plays on the field. Still, that means little to nothing at this point. Training camp is a whole new ballgame once the pads go on.
Andrew Quarless or Brandon Bostick will line up with the first team offense when camp breaks. It’s how McCarthy runs his team. Rookies are not handed anything. Rodgers can leapfrog one or both, but he will need to stand out early and often and sustain a high level of play throughout camp and the preseason games.
As far as Lyerla goes and similarly to Rodgers, he has yet to don pads. It’s hard enough to have to come in and prove yourself with limited reps in practice as a draftee. For an undrafted free agent that no other team wanted anything to do with and who has the history that Lyerla does makes his quest for a roster spot one that Vegas probably wants in on.
Long story short here because there has been so much discussion about Colt, he has to shine, shine, shine every day all day. Either that or there have to be a few injuries with no other options on the street before he becomes a part of the conversation as a contributor on the team during the regular season. If he has a good enough camp, he may force the Packers to keep him or risk trying to stash him on the practice squad and hope no one else signs him. Either way, the Packers are in control with this situation and it won’t cost them anything if they move on without Lyerla.
5. What’s your prediction for this year’s record and playoffs?
Last time I tried to play Nostradamus, I missed on quite a few so I’ll disclaimer this with: I’m no Nostradamus!
With a healthy Aaron Rodgers, we know what the Packers can accomplish. Unfortunately, we also saw what they can’t accomplish without him. If healthy all season long, the Packers should win at least 10 games, and that’s my conservative number.
They have their work cut out for them with matchups such as the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints on the road and the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots at home. They play five of their last eight games at home and have their bye week nicely placed in week eight, smack dab in the middle of the season. Their toughest stretch comes with two games before the bye against the Saints and Panthers followed by two after the bye against the Chicago Bears and Eagles at home.
The key for the Packers, as it is every year, is health. Health has been a problem in Green Bay, but it hasn’t kept the Packers out of the playoffs every season either. If luck is on their side this year, the Packers stand to make an impressive showing during the regular season and could win as many as 12 games.
I’m going with 11-5 with all things considered. That should be good enough for a division title and at least one home game in January.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: