Who will be the Packers Surprise Starter in 2015?

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.

Offense

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

Defense

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)

Special Teams

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.

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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 .

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  • Jeff

    No new starters on ST’s? This years draft was all about ST’s so there will be at least 5 new starters and most likely all but Hundley will have a roll in some way.

  • croatpackfan

    What about Ty or Jarred for PS. As kick and punt returners? Also, I will not exclude Dentzler in ILB mix. I think Packers expect from Hubbard and Elliot to push the competition for OLB positions, not for ILB… But you might be right and I might be wrong!

  • Ed Schoenfeld

    Are you talking about December or September?

    It would be a mistake to think of Ryan and Randall as starters in September. Hyde, not Clinton-Dix, was the starting safety at the beginning of the 2014 season.

    Ryan and Randall (or Rollins) should win their jobs during the season.

    The surprise will be that Ripkowski wins his starting job, too.

    • Ferrari Driver

      Certainly Rip is superior physically, but one missed blitz pickup could end the Packers season. I would think the Packers will stay with the assignment sure Kuhn for the start of the season and likely the entire year.

      • Ed Schoenfeld

        That’s why it will be a surprise 🙂
        Kuhn will start in September, and I expect Kuhn will keep his roster spot through the playoffs, and possibly remain the ‘protector’ in obvious passing situations. But it seems to me like Rip has the football smarts (as well as physicality) to be the preferred fullback by December.

        • Ferrari Driver

          Ed,

          Perhaps you didn’t understand my post or perhaps I could have been clearer.

          What I mean is Rip starting doesn’t qualify as a surprise because IMO I believe it won’t happen for the reason I stated.

  • Taryn Miller

    Looks like the ‘ RRRRs ‘ have it then. 🙂

  • TedTomsin

    The key word is surprise starter. I see a few. Ripkowski wins the fullback job and Kuhn gets released and goes straight into broadcasting which he took off to do last OTA’s. He knows somethings brewing.

    I see Carl Bradford as the starter at middle linebacker edging out Ryan based on knowledge of the defense and comfort.

    My biggest surprise starter? drum roll……………………. Mike Pennel starts at nose tackle over Raji after having a dominating preseason.
    Wow, that was fun. I like these type of articles.
    Ted

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Hubbard an OLB?

    • TedTomsin

      Hubbard is a football player.
      Ted

      • Well, that is the question about Hubbard. He plays football. Question is whether he likes it enough to work at it, be coachable, and whether he is a football player. Size and talent is not that much in question.

        • Nick Perry

          I’m sure you’ve read some of the articles out on Hubbard this spring, working out and training in Green Bay this winter. Hopefully he answers those questions about his work ethics and learns from two of the best in Matthews and Peppers. What a opportunity for him, what a waste not to take advantage because he could be really good.

          • Tundraboy

            One of the things I hope for and not necessarily unfounded optimism.

          • Yes, I’ve read those reports and hope that he takes advantage of his talent. I got a little side-tracked though in addressing Bearmeat’s comment. Hubbard was looked at as an OLB, but I think he can cover and could be an ILB. Instincts were an issue for some scouts. Some football players can play multiple positions and some can’t. I imagine we will see if Hubbard can play ILB this preseason. Gosh, he looks like the prototypical OLB though, so maybe he will have scheme versatility. I still look at the 1.61 10-yd time at 257 Lbs, and being 6’6″ with 34.5″ long arms. Guy is made to shed blockers and set an edge. He only had decent sack production in college, so maybe ILB is his home in the NFL.

  • GBPDAN

    I would love to see Randall win the starting CB job next to Shields. This would mean he was the best outside CB of the players trying to replace Williams . One of my concerns going into this season is trouble at CB. I really hope that one of the 2 rookies (or both)step up and fill House and Williams rolls.

    Even if Ryan shows that he can fill a ILB position for the Packers, I would then suspect that there would be a rotation between Barrington , Mathews and Ryan. It seams that Capers is set on playing Mathews some at ILB. I think the versatility and production that Clay showed has the coaches excited

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      The whole Clay at ILB thing was basically the result of Perry and Mike Neal being better at OLB than Hawk and Brad Jones were at ILB.
      The challenge for Ryan is not to win a vacant spot, but to be better for the team than both Perry and Neal in base defense and nickle sub packages.
      That’s a taller order than some would think. I think the expectation for Ryan would be to become a decent ‘relef’ player for Barrington, and eventually play the second ILB spot on some running downs.
      I like aaronqbs point about tracking snbap count rather than ‘starter’ status.

  • aaronqb

    “Starter” is not what it once was. On defense, the Packers base defense was only on the field something like 30% of the time last year. There are starters on base, nickel, and dime. And, is Matthews an OLB or ILB? There may not be that many snaps for a second ILB (beyond Barrington) if Matthews plays inside predominantly.

    On offense, the fullback often sits in favor of a third WR or second tight end. Who is the starter?

    I think the better way to look at this is who will surprise with a lot more snaps than expected. Training camp will be interesting – lots of roster spots up for grabs.

  • Gman

    When I first saw your headline, I immediately thought cornerback. Since there is one spot open due to Williams’ departure and since Hayward is once again battling injuries, the competition will be wide open. It will be interesting to see who will step up. It would be great if Randall or Rollins or Goodson or even Hayward just owned the position & was a reliable corner for years to come. I can’t wait for the competition to begin & to see who earns their jobs. It’s great to have so many promising young players.

  • Big T

    Marshall Newhouse at right tackle and Derrick Sherrod at left tackle

    • Tundraboy

      Feel so much better about team seeing those two names.

  • Oppy

    Mathsay at his best was a pretty darn good punter.

    Excellent directional punter and he really mastered that aussie style kick that just plays dead at the point of contact.

    • shavager

      I’m with you Oppy, I can’t figure what happened to him. Last season was hard to watch Masthay kick those shorties that looked like he forgot how to kick. Don’t know if this is a problem that competition will fix. Punter just doesn’t lose distance or “dead” kick ability like that. Dead leg? Never saw a mention he got hurt but he sure hurt Pack with some of those kicks. Was almost like McCarthy punting a couple of years back when Crosby was missing so much, maybe Aaron will need to brush up on the drop kick now.

  • Oppy

    While I don’t think it would be right out of the gates…. A potential, true, surprise starting line up switch could be Kennard Backman running away with the ‘starting’ TE position by mid to late season.

    Rare to see starting line up changes awarded early in the season with this team, especially with younger players, unless necessary due to injury, or at least, that’s how it seems. I think MM and DC favor “We know what we’re getting” over “Let’s see what happens” at the outset of each season. Seems like even when they’re pretty sure they have a more talented player in the wings, they like to slowly work them in, giving the vet the chance to prove he should keep his job and the ascending player plenty of time to prove he’s ready to take it.

    • You’re much kinder than I am. I think the coaches keep sending out players who have proved that they can’t play even when there is a young ascending player riding the pine.

      I’ll be surprised if Backman earns a roster spot – note that he may well be put on the roster due to draft status, but he won’t have earned it by his play. Hope I am wrong. He should have been a UDFA.

  • BubbaOne

    Last year, Ha Ha and Davante were worked in as starters during the season so it wouldn’t be a surprise if a rookie(s) do it again. “Surprise starter” to me means starting the season.
    My candidates:
    Rip-kooooww-ski. He’s a ST demon. Kuhn was in on only 18% of the O plays. Turning 33 his ST play is not what it used to be and his strength (blitz pickup) has been negated by Lacy and Starks becoming 3 down backs.
    Jayrone Elliott or Nate Palmer. If CM3 starts inside then Elliott is as good a choice as any of the other OLB’s starting outside. If CM3 starts outside, Palmer could be the starter alongside Barrington at ILB.
    Demetri Goodson. I have a feeling Hayward’s injury will linger.
    Kennard Backman. Not at TE but at LS. This will never happen and nothing against Goode but I’d love to pick up an extra roster spot.

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      Per Backman himself, the report about him being an LS was “somebody made a mistake.” (see his draft day interview on packers.com)

  • Tundraboy

    Someone mentioned Janis at TE the other day and it is not a crazy idea at all, given his size and speed. Not talking starter or even close but I could see TE as a position that like snaps definition is based in some cases on plays. Seems MM will expand the TE position that way in some of the WR formations.

    • shavager

      I think Abbrederis would fit at TE far better than Janis would. Janis and Myles White are two FASTEST WR’s on roster, surprisingly Ty Montgomery is one of the SLOWEST, he will fit KR position better than WR spot. He is NOT as fast or quick as Cobb as some would try to believe.

      • Abby only did 4 reps on the bench press and he’s 6’1″ tall and weighs just 195 lbs. Janis did 20 reps on the bench and is 6’3″ and weighs 219 lbs. But I don’t suppose you would have either of them blocking anybody. I suppose Janis might be able to block a LB, though.

        I’ve heard no explanation about reports that Montgomery ran a 4.38 forty at a pro day. Most sites list his speed as 4.55 at the combine and 4.51 at his pro day. For eg., the link below under the caption 3/22/15 indicates he ran a 4.38 forty. Guess IDK how fast Montgomery really is.

        http://www.nfldraftscout.com/ratings/dsprofile.php?pyid=119917&draftyear=2015&genpos=WR

        • shavager

          What I saw posted on a Bleacher report story was WR times and Montgomery’s was second slowest if I’m not mistaken. I know that Myles White and Janis had the FASTEST times with Jordy third. For all those who think Montgomery’s a clone of Cobb–he’s NOT as fast nor as quick on the field. Hate to see GB lose any of these guys, unless they prove something in camp or a WR gets injured, it looks like Adams, Montgomery and Janis will compete for playing time and Abbrederis or White or both could get cut. They’ve got another fast one in Coxson, so it’s gonna be every man for himself. Thought NFL was gonna expand the rosters by another player or two, you heard IF and when? Would sure help this team keep a couple of budding ‘stars’ that could be wearing other colors in the fall.

          • Nope, I haven’t read anything recent about roster expansions. I am pretty neutral on Montgomery’s selection, perhaps a bit negative. I think we had KR and PR prospects already. I watched Montgomery’s film and have to say that on KRs, his acceleration is very impressive and he sets up his blockers really well. That’s why I keep wondering how fast he actually is. He looked faster than a 4.55. My opinion of him as a WR is low.

            • shavager

              I’m with ya’ there–that was a knock on Montgomery last year in college–too many drops, we know what happens IF he drops Rodgers passes too many times. He was effective in return game, NOT WR production. I woulda’ thought with Janis’ speed, he woulda’ been a choice for return game and save the Montgomery pick for an ILB to complement Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington. First kick Montgomery runs in for TD we’ll forget about it unless he looks like Jeremy Ross in green and gold. P.S.–back to roster increase, NFL INCREASED practice squad numbers from 8 to TEN players now–that was the increase I had heard was coming. They should just go ahead and round out rosters at 55 players–I don’t think any team would object with as many injuries as happens now.

              • There was in fact some idea of increasing roster size from 53 to 55, and the competition committee was supposed to consider this idea. I think the committee declined to increase the roster size.

                BTW, I wrote a comment suggesting that Aaron Rodgers is getting too picky about throwing the ball to rookies like janis and Richard Rodgers. I even suggested that this reluctance hurt the team last year, and had a suggestion of being a diva. I thought I’d get blasted but no one commented on it. I agree that if Montgomery drops a couple it is all over for him for a while.

              • shavager

                Well, for all this hype about how great Jermichael Finley was supposed to be–he looked like he had hands of stone too many times. I can remember 3 specific times he dropped TD passes on goal line or in endzone without a defender getting hands on ball. THAT would cause hesitation about depending on a player down close if that player consistently disappoints–aka James Jones, before Jones really concentrated and focused and became an excellent hands receiver the last season in GB. Montgomery consistently dropped passes last year in college, if he’s gonna be running back kicks–he better be focused and ready cause I don’t think Zook will tolerate another Jeremy Ross back there like Slocum did. I think the league needs to address injury problems on rosters by some changes in PS eligibility even if a player has to be activated, time to give teams a few more players and allow them to retain longer eligibility. It’s a bigger, faster game than 60’s, 70’s, even 80’s version and players are getting injured in record numbers now.

    • BubbaOne

      As far as a player changing positions I like the idea of Sean Richardson at 6-2 216 playing ILB in passing situations. W/ the money they’re paying him I could see Capers expanding his role in the D.

      • Tundraboy

        Agree Thought it should have been last year. Guess they were concerned with his neck.