Training camp for the Green Bay Packers will open next month and there will be plenty of competition for roster spots. As is the case for most serious Super Bowl contenders, the number of new starters certainly will be small.
Barring injury the primary training camp battle for a starting position will primarily focus on the defensive side of the ball. But there are other starting positions in play as well.
Backfield: Rodgers, Lacy are set. Kuhn battles Ripkowski for FB. Kuhn wins.
Receivers: Nelson, Cobb, and Adams are locks. Rodgers or Quarless at TE? Rodgers gets the nod.
Line: Bakhtiari, Lang, Sitton, Bulaga and Linsley are all returning starters who will not be displaced.
New starters on offense: one, Rodgers at tight end
Line: Daniels is a lock at RDE. Raji would be favored at NT. Jones or “the field” at LDE? Jones is probable.
LB: Matthews and Peppers are locks. Barrington is the favorite for one of the inside positions. The last ILB position is a toss-up between Bradford, Thomas, Hubbard and Ryan. Bradford is making the conversion from the outside as is Hubbard. Thomas has the look of a role player. That leaves Ryan, the rookie who played the position in college and excelled there to earn All Big 10 honors, elected team captain as well as MVP.
DB: Shields is a lock at one corner and Clinton-Dix and Burnett are entrenched at safety. The leaves Hayward, Goodson, Rollins and Randall to compete for one spot – Micah Hyde may also receive consideration. Hayward may actually start out the season but Randall will emerge to be your number two corner.
New Starters on Defense: Three (Raji, Ryan and Randall)
Crosby and Goode do not have training camp competition and are locks.
Masthay had a dismal year in 2014. The first free agent signing after the conclusion of the season was former Alabama punter Cody Mandell. Mirroring the success the Packers had in bringing in competition for Crosby after his sub-par year, I believe that Masthay will beat back the competition to start the year. That however is far from a given
Even at his best, however, Masthay has never been an elite punter. He will be on a short leash and if he doesn’t produce early and often don’t be surprised by an in-season change.
New starters on Special Teams: None
The biggest surprise, albeit not shocking, might be Ryan in the middle, especially considering the returning veterans at the position.
Rarely does a Packers rookie earn the starting job right from the get-go. The ultra-aggressive Ryan can overcome any physical limitations with his aggressiveness. In addition he displays maturity and leadership qualities beyond his years. Toughness might be Ryan’s biggest asset, something that the Packers defense has been accused of coming-up short of in recent years. A four-down player, Ryan will not only start but become a mainstay in the middle for years to come.
Yet, Ryan will not be the biggest surprise.
I just don’t see Hayward competing with the larger more physical receivers of the NFC North. Hayward is built for the inside and has had the majority of his success there.
The biggest surprise starter will be Damarious Randall. As a first round pick earning a starting spot should not register as earth-shattering. However on a Packers team favored by many to win Super Bowl 50, it would have to rank as a minor upset especially at such a key position. Randall is a ball-hawk with explosive hips who prospered in the pass-happy Pac 10. He also plays bigger than his size. His athletic skill-set certainly translates better to cornerback more than safety, although he may get a shot at both during the pre-season.
The veteran Hayward may well enter training camp with the one’s, but following the template of Clinton-Dix last year it will be Damarious Randall who by week-five at the latest will be the starter and settle in at the position for years to come.——————
Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .