Ten Things I Want To See at Packers Training Camp

Posted July 21st, 2014 @ 04:07pm

Greetings everyone, I've come out of my offseason stupor ready for football and ready to (hopefully) keep you coming back every few days to read my latest thoughts on the '14 Packers. First, a bit of news, "Packer Preview" will return to its one hour length in this, our 19th season on the home of the Vikings, KFAN. We're on early: 7am-8am, but feel free to podcast it whenever is convenient on Sunday mornings at either kfan.com or iTunes.

With camp opening this weekend, here are the 10 things I'm hoping to see emerge as we creep closer and closer to the opener in Seattle.

1. No significant injuries: Ooh, that's insightful. Most fans are dying to see a few injuries shake up the roster during the summer. But seriously, nothing derails optimism like early injuries such as the one we saw Bryan Bulaga suffer before preseason games even started. Seeing the Bills' emerging star Kiko Alonso go down with a torn ACL in private workouts reminds us that training camp is a daily minefield and all position and roster battles are less important than making sure everyone stays healthy.

2. The tight end battle: While some Packer fans continue to hold out hope that Jermichael Finley will be resigned, I'd still be shocked to see it--despite Finley's cryptic tweets. The job is wide open as we enter camp, with Andrew Quarless the likely guy initially sitting atop the depth chart. While he had a nice stretch right after Finley's injury, he screams backup to me and I'd like to see either rookie Richard Rodgers or Brandon Bostick jump up and grab the job during camp and in preseason games. A Rodgers-to-Rodgers connection rolls the best off the tongue, but Bostick, if recovered from injury, may be more ready to step right in and take advantage of the situation. He flashed nicely last season and has a ton of uspide. Of course, the wildcard here is Colt Lyerla, who could end up the offensive weapon that everyone is talking about in December, or could end up crashing and burning in August with an off the field dustup.

3. Ha Ha flashes: Wouldn't it be great to see Micah Hyde start with the ones and then Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks so good in practice that the coaches decide they can't keep him off the field? With the Packers getting virtually nothing from their last three #1 picks, here's hoping the former 'Bama safety ends that run. The defense is dying for a big-hitting, playmaking safety to fortify the back end and the rookie seems to have all the intangibles to become that guy, beginning with a solid work ethic and willingness to learn.

4. Rodgers finds a center he loves: He made no secret that he hated to see Evan Dietrich-Smith walk via free agency, but Rodgers gets new centers about as often as he changes girlfriends. Maybe Olivia Munn will be the one. And maybe JC Tretter will grab the center spot and man it for the next five years. The former Ivy Leaguer is coming off a lost rookie season, but finds himself in a position to grab a starting spot on one of the league's most dynamic offenses. Yes, I am aware the pack drafted a center in the fifth round, but there's a reason Corey Linsley was the sixth center drafted. I think it's a long shot he unseats Tretter. It would be great to see some instant chemistry between Rodgers and Tretter and finally get some stability at a position the team has undervalued in recent years.

5. Peppers proves valuable off the field: At 34, the Pack's marquee free agent doesn't figure to get a ton of action in the preseason. But Julius Peppers appears to already have made quite an impression on the other guys on the defense. The way he carries himself and goes about his business has caught his teammates' eye. The departure of Charles Woodson last year removed a respected veteran voice from that unit. Peppers appears ready to fill that void. If joining the Pack has re-energized him, giving him a shot at a Super Bowl ring, he could be just as valuable off the field as he is on. I see him as a situational pass rusher whom Capers will move all over the front seven. If he's vertical in January he could make a play or two when it matters most.

6. Clay plays the role of observer till mid-August: No one figures to gain more from the addition of Peppers than Matthews, who hopes to see less double teams, when the veteran is on the field. Look for the Pack to be extra careful with Clay this summer, making sure his thumb is 100% healed. The defense cannot afford another season where he misses five or six games. I'll be happy to see very little of #52 this summer.

7. Rodgers' understudy: A big question mark we all have is whether the Packers will carry two or three QBs this season. They're already eons ahead of last year's depth chart with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien on board. The presumed result is that Flynn will be Rodgers' backup and Ted Thompson will have to decide whether he feels he can afford to carry three QBs, at the expense of another position. But don't be surprised if Tolzien outplays Flynn in the preseason and wins the job. I know, Flynn kept the team's playoff hopes afloat last year, while Tolzien was underwhelming. But McCarthy really likes Tolzien and having him learn in his offseason program will likely cause him to look a lot more polished and confident this season.

8. The #3 wide receiver: Jarrett Boykin starts the year here, but with three rookies he's going to look like he's always shaking his head as he constantly looks over his shoulder. This is a position that notoriously takes most rookies longer to master and feel comfortable, but Davante Adams has a chance to replace James Jones from day one. He should be a solid red zone target, something the Packers need desperately with the losses of Jones and Finley--an area the team really struggled in last season. He struggled in minicamp, but he'll likely look a lot different with pads on and with a few weeks of getting comfortable. Former Badger Jared Abbrederis also has a shot to play in multiple receiver sets, but will most likely earn his chops as a returner. He'll be given every opportunity to win that job.

9. Bulaga regains his form: OK, he hasn't been a world beater, but the former #1 pick could really help stabilize the line this season. With David Bakhtiari performing better than we could have hoped when he stepped in at left tackle last season, the team can feel good about moving Bulaga back to the right side. Don Barclay was okay last year, particularly as a run blocker, but it would be nice to have him as a utility guy, with Bakhtiari and Bulaga serving as solid bookends on the offensive line.

10. Young D-line shows some nastiness: You gotta love Mike Daniels speaking up and promising that this unit will be meaner and tougher. We know it will be younger, with the losses of Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly. Dom Capers' 3-4 will go as far as the defensive line goes. The team simply must be better up front. BJ Raji's return to the nose and playing for a big contract should provide more results in the middle and Daniels is emerging as a very good player. Now the team needs last year's #1 pick Datone to take a jump and hope that rookie Kyhri Thornton and someone within the group of Guion, Worthy and Boyd steps up.

 

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Thompson Re-Stocks Roster; Boykin Tosses and Turns

Posted May 11th, 2014 @ 02:05pm

Imagine for a moment that you are Jarret Boykin. You're coming off a season where you stepped up and earned the #4 spot on the Packers' wide receiver depth chart. With the free agency exodus of James Jones, you were primed to be the #3 receiver in '14, a virtual starter, with a chance to post big numbers and earn a nice contract in a year or two.

Then, the 2014 draft happened. You slept fine on Thursday night, tossed and turned a bit on Friday night when the Pack spent a second round pick on WR Davante Adams, then spent the night on Saturday night, numbingly clicking the remote, trying to make rounds four through seven disappear as if they'd never happened.

When Ted Thompson spent two more precious draft picks on wide receivers in the later rounds it was a clear statement that he was serious about upgrading Aaron Rodgers' targets, not to mention protecting himself, should new deals for Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson hit a snag.

Boyking awoke on Sunday (if he ever fell asleep) knowing he'd have his work cut out making the team, a far cry from where he stood on Thursday. Competition is a good thing and giving Rodgers some exciting young talent is, too.

Ted's first round pick was so easy all of us could have made it. Few mock drafts had Ha Ha Clinton Dix, the top free safety in the draft, available at #21. But when teams like the Cowboys, Ravens and Bears passed, he fell neatly into Thompson's lap. Barring injury, he will be an opening day starter and will be counted on to give the defense a much needed shot in the arm.

On Friday night, Thompson grabbed the insanely productive Davante Adams, who benefited from Fresno State's wide open pass happy offense--not to mention the talents of QB Derek Carr--to catch 131 passes for 1700 yards, 24 for touchdowns. Adams draws comparisons to Anquan Boldin, a thick, physical receiver with great hands and so-so speed. He has a great vertical, which will allow Rodgers to throw it his way and let him do his thing to come up with the ball. Call him James Jones 2.o, with maybe a little more upside.

With two more picks on Friday and five more on Saturday, you figured Ted's checklist included a tight end, center, inside linebacker and maybe another defensive lineman. He found guys to fill all those spots except at inside linebacker--a surprise, considering the lack of speed and athleticism possessed by the incumbents. Sometimes a draft doesn't fall the way you want as far as a certain position is concerned. When Mosely and Shazier fell off the board in the first round, Thompson addressed safety instead--and obviously had other guys rated higher at other positions when it was his time to pick.

The third round selections, defensive tackle Khiry Thornton and tight end Richard Rodgers were both drafted a bit higher than projected. Thornton looks like a guy who will have a chance to step right in and earn snaps, probably also signaling the end of the road for Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett in Green Bay. With the addition of street free agent Letroy Guion, the team no doubt likes its stable of young defensive linemen.

Many believe the Rodgers pick means the Pack will move on from Jermichael Finley. If he's cleared by the team's medical staff I think they'd bring him back. But I don't think that will happen. Rodgers will come in and compete with Quarless and Bostick. If those three comprise the tight end depth chart, there's a good chance the team will look for a more dynamic tight end in the next year or two. I'm not sure any of them will provide the playmaking potential Finley displayed. Of the three, I give Bostick the best chance--of course I've never seen Rodgers play. I mean, could the Pack really strike gold twice drafting a Rodgers out of Cal?

I like the Pack's fourth round pick, linebacker Carl Bradford. He seems to have high motor and a lot of toughness. The coaches have come out and said he's a pass rushing outside linebacker, but with the depth at that position (CMIII, Peppers, Perry, Neal, Mulombo, etc), they might take a look at him as an inside linebacker. He has the right measurables and could become a nice project there.

Ted's first fifth round pick was a center to compete with JC Tretter, Corey Linsley out of Ohio State. A strong, smart former team captain, Linsley earned instant fans when he announced that he grew up a huge Packer fan, dressed as Brett Favre for Halloween when he was six and owned a cheesehead. His weaknesses: short arms and slow, but he's tough and will provide some competition at a position of need.

With his second pick in the round Ted delighted Badger fans everywhere with the selection of Jared Abbrederis. The underdog receiver who came in as a walk-on and emerged as a playmaker who excelled against some of the Big Ten's best corners. He'll give the team a chance at a solid return guy and is being compared by the national guys to Brandon Stokely and Wes Welker. If his career falls somewhere in between, Bucky believers will rejoice.

Ted closed things out with a cornerback, Demetri Goodson, who for three years was a point guard at Gonzaga. He feels a lot like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, guys who don't have a ton of experience at corner, but are great athletes with a ton of upside. The final pick, yet another receiver, was Jeff Janus, a Division II star who reminds many of Jordy Nelson and like Adams, was ridiculously productive at Saginaw Valley State. He'll have a chance to make the team, or the practice squad. Lots of upside there.

All in all, a pretty good haul. Four defensive guys and five on offense. And unbelievably, no trades along the way. The takeaway: the Pack may finally have the playmaking safety they've lacked since Nick Collins was forced to retire. And Aaron Rodgers has three new toys and a suddenly very deep wide receiving corps.

What you should remember about Mike McCarthy's post draft comments: he promised the defense would be much improved. "Put that in big letters," he said. Dom Capers, were you listening? If it doesn't happen, the D could be in for a major overhaul next season, beginning at the top.

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Let's All Do The Safety Dance

Posted May 9th, 2014 @ 03:05am

You know the mantra: you don't draft for need in the first round; you draft the best player on the board. The reality is, need figures into it and for the Packers those two converged when they picked at #21.

The Packers' defense has not been the same since Nick Collins' career-ending injury and after a few years of trying small school guys and undrafted guys, Ted Thompson saw a big time talent from a big time program fall into his lap at #21. You have to believe the Browns called the Packabout trading up to grab Manziell, but when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was still on the board, Ted no doubt politely hung up.

In Clinton-Dix, the Packers get an opening day starter, a sure tackler and a guy with good enough coverage skills to match up with the big time tight ends the Pack will face this season like Gronk, Graham and the Lions' rookie Ebron.

He has a couple of red flags: he missed two games via a suspension last season, after allegedly accepting a loan from an assistant coach. His numbers were stronger in '12 than they were in '13, which is surprising and a bit concerning. Not to mention that a number of 'Bama defenders have disappointed in recent years.

But Clinton-Dix is stepping into an ideal situation and will no doubt be comfortable hanging with former teammate Eddie Lacy. Hopefully he'll have a similar impact that Kenny Vaccaro had with the Saints last season. Gotta believe most draft graders will give the Pack an 'A' on this pick, as silly as that is before he even takes the field.

Seems like a natural to wear #36, don't you think? Check that, word is out that he'll wear #21. That works too.

As for Friday's gameplan, I'd be surprised if the Pack doesn't end up with a WR and a TE among the three picks Thompson currently has.

 

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