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Position Battles Abound for Packers Heading Into Training Camp

With the Packers set to wrap up their offseason program next week with three minicamp practices, it’s time to shift focus to training camp and how the 2017 edition of the team could take shape. While the roster is full of veterans who won’t have to worry about securing a roster spot, training camp in Green Bay will still see position battles abound. Let’s take a look at some of the most intriguing ones.

Defensive Backfield

Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, barring injury, will be the starting tandem at safety. Where the position gets interesting is when the Packers opt to use Burnett in the hybrid linebacker role he filled so well last season. Kentrell Brice and rookie Josh Jones seem the likeliest candidates to fill Burnett’s safety spot when that occurs, though Jones could certainly be considered for that hybrid linebacker spot as well. Don’t count out Marwin Evans as a dark horse contender to earn reps either.

Cornerback has been the singular focus of many pundits and fans this offseason as it relates to the Packers. The team used its top draft pick on the position and will more than likely enter training camp with 11 or 12 men in the room. We can reasonably assume five to six veterans at the position will be safe, but I don’t think anyone has a real solid idea of how the pecking order will shake out. If there is to be a surprise candidate in the mix, he’ll have to show himself early in camp when reps are still evenly distributed.

Outside Linebacker

Another area of concern this offseason, and not one many feel particularly better about heading into training camp. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry will serve as the leaders in the group, but it gets hazy after that. Until rookie Vince Biegel is healthy enough to play, Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott look like the next men up. After that, it’s a host of rookies and second-year guys with not much experience to speak of.

The biggest concern at the position is where the production will come from outside of Perry and Matthews. And with the injury history in the group, the Packers are going to need someone to flash if they’re going to feel comfortable with the depth here.

Running Back

Mike McCarthy has stated Ty Montgomery is the starting running back—that much we know to be true. But if the Packers are going to run the ball as successfully as they want to, it will probably be a collaborative effort. Green Bay spent three draft picks on running backs and is clearly committed to the idea of a multifaceted running attack based on the diverse skill sets they now have on the roster.

Even with Montgomery as the leader to take the majority of the reps, it’s still a slight stretch to declare him a lock as the starter. Until we see what the new guys can do once the pads come on, running back is an open audition for all.

While these will likely be the most prominent position battles, it will certainly be worth keeping an eye on the offensive line and the receiving corps as well. The uncertainty in the offensive trenches is something the Packers have not had to deal with in quite some time. How they fill out the open slots will be a very intriguing storyline in training camp.

As for the receivers, most of the battling will be done at the bottom of the group. The team's shift to more two-tight end sets is going to mean less reps to go around, and with three veterans essentially locked into the roster, what reps are left are going to be golden. Special teams proficiency is going to earn someone a spot on the roster, but who that will be remains to be seen. 

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

OLB "Another area of concern this offseason, and not one many feel particularly better about heading into training camp."

I worry this is going to be quite a topic for the rest of the season. Odd how things have flipped. Safety and ILB used to be huge concerns and CB and OLB where very strong. I just hope Matthews and Perry stay healthy.

The TKstinator's picture

If one out of the group of Biegel, Fackrell, and Elliott steps up, I think GB will be fine.

lebowski's picture

gonna take more than one methinks, I'm pulling for Jonathan Calvin

Nerd's picture

Calvin and Gilbert can both play. Calvin is one of Dom's beloved 'tweeners who can put his hand in the dirt when required.

The TKstinator's picture

I really like the Evans signing. Experienced vet to hold the fort while one of the youngsters ripens enough to eventually take over.

Packer Fan's picture

Regarding the running backs. No one notices that Ripowski can provide a change of pace, do an OK job running and catching the ball and providing good pass protection. I expect him to see a lot of action until the three rookies can get better.

The TKstinator's picture

Oh, we notice!

Nerd's picture

I don't really view Ty as the starter either. Jamal Williams will be the man as soon as he proves he can pass pro. Which won't be long.

Turophile's picture

If the Packers go with 5 guys in the RBs + FBs group, then Devante Mays is in play as a hybrid RB/FB, so a group of (for example) Montgomery, Williams, Jones, Mays, Ripkowski is very possible. Even RBs Phillips and Stanback have a real shot at sticking on a team, whether on the final 53 or at least on the PS.

A possible configuration for this years final 53 is this:
QB x 2
OL x 9
RB x 4
FB x 1
WR x 6
TE x 3

DL x 5
OLB x 6
ILB x 4
CB x 6
S x 4

P + K + LS = 3
25 on offense, 25 on defense, +3 others. There are several other ways the Pack could go, for example 3 x QBs, in anticipation of losing Hundley next year.

Nick Perry's picture

The biggest battle will be in the secondary. Most feel House and King will be the starters outside but they'll obviously still have to earn it. Randall and Rollins will both be out to prove last season's play was because of the injuries and just the injuries.

OLB is just thin, scary thin. Biegel has already had surgery so how effective is he even going to be this season and when? They hope TC but who knows. That's a tough injury to come back from as a rookie and then contribute. I like Frackrell and to a lesser degree Elliott but after them??

The competition at RB will be who the #2 and #3 RB's will be. Montgomery is the starter and will be the entire season unless he's injured IMO. I just think Montgomery is going to change many of the doubters minds after this year.

Oppy's picture

Something to keep in mind-

when you say, " I like Frackrell and to a lesser degree Elliott but after them??" - just remember what you are saying is, " I like our #1, #2, #3, and #4 OLB's, but who's going to be our #5 OLB??"

To put it in a yet different light, once we start talking about the #5 OLB and beyond, we're essentially talking about the position's 3rd string talent and beyond

If we're comfortable with the all starters and 2nd stringers at a given position, that's really good depth.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Yes, Oppy, but I don't think Nick meant he liked Fackrell as the starting OLB or the main rotational player. I think he meant that he likes Fackrell as a prospect who has a pretty good chance to develop into a nice OLB.

For me, I like our #1, think our #2 is mediocre, and while I like our #3 as a prospect, and I like one aspect of #4's game, the drop off from the mediocre #2 to #3 is pronounced, and the drop off from #3 to #4 is significant.

dschwalm's picture

Again this year, The defence will be the Pack's Achilles heal. Hmmm... hasn't that been the case for years?

nostradanus's picture

Regarding the Defense; when we look at the individual stars in that group, Mike Daniels, Clay Mathews, Nick Perry, Ha Ha Clinton Dix, Morgan Burnett and the young players who are coming on Kenny Clark, Dean Lowery, Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, add in a few Vet's Davon House & R.J. Francois. If the young Corners can step it up this year (which I think they will) I do believe the Packers have the makings of a fine Defense barring injuries. I for one have faith the Defense will exceed expectations this upcoming season. Because of course I am NostraDANus the optimistic Packers Mystic..........keep the faith lads...

DesertPackFan's picture

Good comment NostraDANus... Must be something w/ the name. I too am pretty optimistic about the D. Between 10-15 is easily enough for the Packers to be SB bound. As is usually the case, injuries will be a big factor. They should be ok, as long as they don't lose multiple players at the same position (ex. CB last year).

I'm not as worried as most about OLB, Elliot and Fackrell are good backups and should be ready to replace Peppers and Datone Jones.

Between King, House and Randall they should be able to field a good CB unit. Look out for Josh Jones. He should see alot of snaps in nickel/dime and covering TE.

Oppy's picture

once he got over his early season health issues, I was very, very impressed by Jake Ryan's play last season.

Ryan was a guy who after his rookie season I admittedly thought was.. just a guy.

I was extremely pleased to be proven so wrong by his strong sophomore play. Excited to see what he does this season.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Some possible surprises:

1. Richard Rodgers cut.
2. Jahri Evans benched by the bye week.
3. Mays emerging at RB.
4. Gunter cut.
5. Randall starting.
6. Martinez or Ryan losing major snaps to Jones at ILB.
7. Matthews on a Peppers-like snap count.
8. This year's surprise injury being Mike Daniels, with Dean Lowry stepping up.
9. Increased use of 3-4 defensive looks.
10. Trevor Davis supplanting Allison as #4 receiver, then rising to #2 or #3 due to injury.

Some would be very surprising, others not so much.

dobber's picture

I don't know if many of those would be all that surprising...

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

It's a mix. I'm higher on Lowry than most people, and Ted could maintain some misguided loyalty to R. Rodgers. Mays is mostly a matter of health, though he's certainly a depth-chart bottom dweller to begin. Gunter going from #1 to cut in his 3rd season would be considered surprising by many.

Do you foresee any surpises?

DesertPackFan's picture

"Gunter going from #1 to cut in his 3rd season would be considered surprising by many."

It might be by many, but I actually think there's a good chance that happens. His limitations are just too glaring. All it will take is for one or 2 CB to show some talent and athletic ability. Either way he's still in danger. He's a fringe roster player IMO.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

I agree.

Colin_C's picture

I can tell you right now there's very little to no chance that Gunter is cut. One of the coaches (maybe Whitt), said that with the exception of Gunter and Hyde, everybody else needs to significantly improve from last year. That means they think Gunter did as well as could be reasonably expected. While not amazing, I think he provides great depth, and will be happy to see him on the team again.

DesertPackFan's picture

Everyone else has the ability to improve significantly, Gunter not so much, he is what he is. He has too many limitations athletically to get better. Find and UDFA or 2 w/ real athletic ability and Gunter will be on the outside looking in.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

You can indeed tell me that there is little to no chance of Gunter being cut, but can you make me believe it?

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Gunter is the slowest CB on the team by far. At some point, as faster guys improve their technique, Gunter simply becomes unkeepable.

The TKstinator's picture

"Unkeepable"...I like it!

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Yeah, I know, not a word. I just couldn't think of anything that sounded right.

pooch's picture

Marwin Evans what kins of tobacca you smoking

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Evans is a very good young athlete who came in green as grass. If he keeps developing his skills, he could easily make the roster.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I think Evans is very likely to make the 53. 6 footer with 4.47 speed, 42" vertical at 211 pounds. Played 216 ST snaps last year. Candidate for gunner should Janis not make the team and/or Brice is becomes too valuable.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Any way you slice it, Reynoldo, guys like Jones, Brice, and Evans make the odds of this being Burnett's last year with the team very high.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Agreed. It is one (though fairly minor) reason I have for keeping Marwin Evans. I would like to avoid paying Burnett big money. If he is the only one who really is able to play the hybrid ILB though, I'd probably be willing to fork over a substantial contract. Have to see how guys play.

Oppy's picture

The intangible with Burnett is that his name continually comes up as the leader of the entire defense when players are interviewed, be it DL, LB or DB.

He is looked upon as a lynch pin by his contemporaries, and that is something that I do think the Packers value.

It certainly seems the Packers have been loading the S position with young talent to eventually turn over, but I could see the Packers rewarding Burnett with a final 3 year contract that he may, or may not, see to fruition.

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