Final Training Camp and Roster Observations
It’s the last day of training camp for the Green Bay Packers with no pads and only helmets, so it was basically a glorified walkthrough. There were no real headlines to touch on but here are some looks.
- [intlink id="25" type="category"]Aaron Rodgers[/intlink] returned to practice and showed no sign the foot injury that kept him out yesterday. He had a couple great throws with a rainbow of a pass to [intlink id="138" type="category"]Greg Jennings[/intlink] in the corner of the end zone and a couple deep passes to [intlink id="1036" type="category"]Andrew Quarless[/intlink].
- The Packers spent a majority of the shortened practice working on special teams. In addition, they practiced onside kicks and two-point plays.
- Two notable on-the-bubble players on No. 1 team units for special teams — [intlink id="157" type="category"]Pat Lee[/intlink] and Jamari Lattimore.
- [intlink id="64" type="category"]Ryan Grant[/intlink] was still with the No. 1 offense, with [intlink id="1038" type="category"]James Starks[/intlink] eventually rotating in.
- [intlink id="1061" type="category"]Sam Shields[/intlink] knocked away a touchdown pass from [intlink id="84" type="category"]Matt Flynn[/intlink] to Kerry Taylor.
- Speaking of Kerry Taylor, he made a great adjustment to an underthrown deep pass from Flynn and would have scored.
- Special teams coach [intlink id="621" type="category"]Shawn Slocum[/intlink] to [intlink id="1627" type="category"]Ricky Elmore[/intlink] over the loudspeaker: “Pay attention to what we are doing!” Elmore was slow to join in a punting drill.
- With a brisk wind at his back, [intlink id="791" type="category"]Tim Masthay[/intlink] had some of the most ridiculous punts I’ve ever seen in practice. The distance was between 70 yards and just over 80. I don’t know if I can recall somebody kicking a ball from the 10-yard line past the other 10. The wind definitely helped, but it was damn impressive.
- [intlink id="152" type="category"]Mason Crosby[/intlink] banked a kick off of the video tower behind the goal posts.
It’s my final post for training camp, so here’s how I see the roster breakdown.
Quaterbacks: It would be shocking if the Packers didn’t keep all three players. Flynn is in the last year of his contract and will likely depart for starter’s money in free agency next year. In my opinion, [intlink id="1102" type="category"]Graham Harrell[/intlink] looks further along in his progression than Flynn did at this point in his career.
Running Backs: The Packers look to have two starters in Grant and Starks. I have stated through my training camp observations that I feel Starks will be the guy this season. Since all of Grant’s money is guaranteed, he should be a lock to make the team. [intlink id="1618" type="category"]Alex Green[/intlink] was drafted to replace the void left by [intlink id="77" type="category"]Brandon Jackson[/intlink] and has flashed ability in camp. The other two backs, [intlink id="1280" type="category"]Dimitri Nance[/intlink] and Brandon Saine, should be considered long shots to make the team. Saine should be a safe bet to find a spot on the practice squad since he has been productive throughout camp when he has gotten the chance.
Fullbacks: [intlink id="251" type="category"]John Kuhn[/intlink] will be on the team and Jon Hoese will not. The big question comes with [intlink id="438" type="category"]Quinn Johnson[/intlink]. Johnson is a niche player in today’s NFL as a pure blocking fullback with limited value beyond that. My belief is the Packers will keep Johnson and there are a few reasons why. He was highly drafted for a fullback, going in the fifth round, and there was nothing in his days at LSU to suggest he would be more than a sledgehammer as a blocker. Also, in recent years the Packers have had the most trouble in 3rd-and-short situations and 260 pounds of muscle certainly helps. Finally, there was one rushing touchdown by the Packers this preseason and who did Alex Green follow into the end zone? Quinn Johnson.
Offensive Line: Nine is the number of players Packers will keep on the offensive line. Beyond the five starters, [intlink id="1613" type="category"]Derek Sherrod[/intlink], [intlink id="1071" type="category"]Nick McDonald[/intlink], [intlink id="1037" type="category"]Marshall Newhouse[/intlink], and [intlink id="1625" type="category"]Caleb Schlauderaff[/intlink] should be those guys. Chris Campbell has been somewhat productive, but I don’t see how he makes the team. I think the potential and versatility of Ray Dominguez finds him a spot on the practice squad.
Tight Ends: The Packers have five NFL-caliber tight ends and I think they’ll keep them all. [intlink id="209" type="category"]Jermichael Finley[/intlink] along with rookies [intlink id="1624" type="category"]D.J. Williams[/intlink] and [intlink id="1629" type="category"]Ryan Taylor[/intlink] look to be locks. If the Packers only keep four, then it should come down to [intlink id="1236" type="category"]Tom Crabtree[/intlink] and [intlink id="1036" type="category"]Andrew Quarless[/intlink]. I think Crabtree is a good enough blocker and special teams player to earn a spot. Quarless is a surprisingly good blocker and although he is a body-catcher on passes, he tends to make a decent amount of big plays. [intlink id="67" type="category"]Mike McCarthy[/intlink] loves using tight ends on special teams and all of them not named Finley will have to contribute there. I’m not sure I’d bet money, but I feel fairly confident the Packers will keep all five guys.
Wide Receivers: Talk about a wealth of talent. [intlink id="1616" type="category"]Randall Cobb[/intlink] is explosive and has been anointed as the fifth receiver while the top four are the same from last year. I know we discussed the possibility of releasing [intlink id="76" type="category"]Donald Driver[/intlink], but I don’t see it happening. Driver makes more big catches over the middle than anybody in the league, while providing leadership and a positive role model for the team. Could you imagine the PR nightmare the Packers would have if they dumped Driver when he’s only 42 yards away from being the franchise’s all-time leading receiver? As for Chastin West and Tori Gurley, I think the Packers would love to keep them, but ultimately don’t. West’s play should land him on another team’s 53-man roster, but I think the hope is Gurley will land on the practice squad. Both West and Gurley provide some help for special teams — Gurley’s punt blocks being the most notable, but I doubt either player can do as much as the tight ends to do for returns and coverage. If the Packers cannot get Gurley to the practice squad, expect Kerry Taylor to get an opportunity. Diondre Borel had a fast start to camp, but has lost ground to Taylor, while Shaky Smithson missed important time with his injury.
Defensive Line: It looks like six players should make the team with the [intlink id="1033" type="category"]Mike Neal[/intlink] injury requiring a healthy [intlink id="1042" type="category"]C.J. Wilson[/intlink] and an improving Jarius Wynn. Big guys [intlink id="473" type="category"]B.J. Raji[/intlink], [intlink id="252" type="category"]Ryan Pickett[/intlink], and [intlink id="1337" type="category"]Howard Green [/intlink] should all be considered locks. Jay Ross could find a spot on the practice squad. [intlink id="1628" type="category"]Lawrence Guy[/intlink] showed flashes but has been sidelined with injury.
Inside Linebacker: I feel confident the Packers will keep four players, those being [intlink id="80" type="category"]A.J. Hawk[/intlink], [intlink id="492" type="category"]Desmond Bishop[/intlink], Robert Francois, and [intlink id="1626" type="category"]D.J. Smith[/intlink].
Outside Linebacker: This is probably the most intriguing position battle and I think four players stay. The starters are [intlink id="454" type="category"]Clay Matthews[/intlink] and [intlink id="1335" type="category"]Erik Walden[/intlink], but things become really interesting after that. Frank Zombo’s scapula injury will play a major part in shaping the last two spots. With the uncertainty surrounding Zombo and the serious impact this particular injury can have (see [intlink id="392" type="category"]LeRoy Butler[/intlink]), it wouldn’t surprise me if he goes to IR. Vic So’oto has definitely earned his spot on the team with his improved play and fantastic combination of size, speed, and strength. [intlink id="443" type="category"]Brad Jones[/intlink] hasn’t shown up on the practice field or on game day. Jamari Lattimore flashes pass rushing skills and some ability in coverage, but he needs to bulk up. A telling sign to me in yesterday’s practice had Lattimore working with No. 1 punt return unit, while Jones was with the No. 2 unit. “Potential” can be a scary word, but I think the Packers may value the potential of Lattimore and make Jones the surprise cut of camp. If Zombo can get healthy relatively soon, then the Packers will look to land Lattimore on the practice squad. Sixth-round pick [intlink id="1627" type="category"]Ricky Elmore[/intlink] hasn’t done anything of note.
Cornerbacks: I see five locks to make the team in [intlink id="143" type="category"]Charles Woodson[/intlink], [intlink id="82" type="category"]Tramon Williams[/intlink], [intlink id="1061" type="category"]Sam Shields[/intlink], [intlink id="88" type="category"]Jarrett Bush[/intlink], and [intlink id="1622" type="category"]Davon House[/intlink]. If there is a sixth corner on the roster I believe it will be Pat Lee because of his contributions on special teams. Lee has shown that he can stay on the hip pocket of wide receivers even though he hasn’t made many plays on the ball. Josh Gordy made a late push, but he’s still raw. Gordy does not have the impact Lee has on special teams, so I’d look for the Packers to sign him to the practice squad.
Safties: The Packers have three locks at safety in [intlink id="162" type="category"]Nick Collins[/intlink], [intlink id="1034" type="category"]Morgan Burnett[/intlink], and [intlink id="525" type="category"]Charlie Peprah[/intlink]. Anthony Levine looked decent, but has been battling a concussion. M.D. Jennings flashed potential, but is raw. [intlink id="442" type="category"]Brandon Underwood[/intlink] has been injured for most of training camp. I don’t see any of them making the final roster. Levine could make the practice squad for the second year in a row.
Specialists: Three spots, three guys, no competition. It’s [intlink id="152" type="category"]Mason Crosby[/intlink], [intlink id="791" type="category"]Tim Masthay[/intlink], and Brett Goode.
I really like a lot of the Packers players this year and even though I don’t have some of those guys making the team it doesn’t mean I think they’re garbage. I’d love for the Packers to find a way to keep Chastin West, but how can a sixth receiver even see the field when he won’t be the return guy? I think Brad Jones is a decent dude, but he hasn’t shown nearly as much as a pair of undrafted free agents. The only thing that could save him is if the coaches don’t feel comfortable with two rookies on the second team defense at outside linebacker. My numbers for the final roster lean towards the offense with 27 players compared to 23 on defense, due in large part to the number of tight ends.
Like it? Hate it? Let me know.
It’s been a pleasure hearing from all of you throughout training camp and I look forward to grinding again next year. If any of you come to town and are looking for a decent pint and some good conversation, swing on by Titletown Brewing Company where we usually have at least a dozen craft beers on tap, some of which won medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). It’s the place they show on almost every Packers game with the statue of the Packer player that used to be in front of the Packers Hall of Fame.
Can’t wait for that 14th championship to come to town!!