Nearly a week into NFL training camps here are 6 things I’m watching at Packers camp in Green Bay.
How will Julius Peppers fit in?
For Julius Peppers’ entire 13-year NFL career he has played defensive end in a 4-3 system. After signing a 3-year, $30 million deal as a free agent this off-season, he will make the switch to OLB in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. Some have predicted Peppers’ presence will free up Clay Mathews from double-teams and create a nightmare scenario for opposing offenses. However, Peppers is 34 years old and at the tail end of his career. His 7 sacks in 2013 were his lowest since 2007 and tied for his 2nd lowest single-season total of his career. Peppers still possesses the size to be intimidating but will he be agile enough to make plays in coverage or will he be relegated to 3rd down pass-rushing situations only?
Will the offensive line that starts together stay together?
Obviously the Packers are set at quarterback, but keeping Aaron Rodgers upright and healthy is, and has been, the key ingredient to Green Bay’s success. GB won the NFC North last season at 8-7-1, but easily could have been 11-5 or better had Rodgers not gotten hurt. JC Tretter is taking over at center. Having a 2nd-year player, one who didn’t play a snap in 2013, making calls at the line could be a scary situation for Packer fans. However, the rest of the offensive line is in tact, with some depth at both tackle positions behind G Lang and Tackles Bakhtiari and Bulaga. I can’t remember the last time the Packers went a season without some injuries on the line. To their credit, they’ve been able to weather those injuries and still win games. Staying healthy and being consistent could set the stage for a huge offensive year from the Pack.
Can the secondary be healthy & productive?
Expectations are high for the Packers secondary, even from within the team. But health and production will dictate their success. Casey Hayward looks to have a bounce-back season after hamstring problems hampered his 2013 campaign. Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix comes in highly touted, but has yet to play a snap in the NFL. Micah Hyde will push Clinton-Dix for the starting spot. But again, the depth here is great as Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett solidify a group looking to replace Seattle as the best secondary in the NFL. Watch the safety position specifically. Corner is the strength of this team, but any injuries or poor performances from the safeties could spell problems against high-powered offensive teams like Chicago and Detroit.
How does Lacy build on his rookie season?
Second-year RB and 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy is looking to follow his sensational rookie season with an even bigger year in 2014. Lacy rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 TDs in 2013 giving Green Bay it’s most potent running game since Ahman Green. When Rodgers is behind center it all but guarantees less than 8 in the box and plenty of running lanes for Lacy. Teams are unable to deal with the Packers passing attack and therefore leave them susceptible to Lacy’s punishing running style. Look for another big season from Lacy, perhaps not in yards, but in TDs and Yards per Carry.
Who fills TE spot with Jermichael Finley’s departure?
The easy answer to replace Finely, still recovering from a neck injury and unsigned as of today, is free agent Andrew Quarless. The former Detroit Lion only had 2 TDs and just over 300 yards in 10 games during the 2013 season. The team says it has depth and hopes to have a starter earn the spot. That is coach-speak for “we don’t have anyone we feel great about and hope someone steps up.” Another option is 3rd-round pick Richard Rodgers, who has shined in mini-camp, OTAs and training camp. How does the saying go, “If you have 7 TEs, you really have none”? Even this guy has a chance to make the team! This is the one position on GB’s offense that lacks star power and stability. But the Packers weapons on offense are plentiful and if they get adequate play from this position they’ll score plenty of points.
Cobb, Nelson and who else?
It’s been proven Rodgers can make WRs look really good. (Picking up on a theme? I REALLY like Aaron Rodgers.) So maybe it doesn’t matter who the other WRs are, but the battle for the 3rd and 4th spots should be exciting to watch. Local favorite Jarred Abbrederis is in the mix and is getting lots of cheers at training camp. The former Badger has lots of company though. Fresno State rookie Davante Adams has also impressed. Jarrett Boykin proved in 2013 that he’s more than capable of making plays and being a top target in the Packers system. The battle between these 3 should be exciting for fans. Regardless, all will likely see the field and be complementary pieces to Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. This group will be tough to handle for opposing secondaries.
Stay tuned for my “6 Things to Watch at Vikings Training Camp” coming up next week. After the 3rd week of preseason games I’ll post my 2014 predictions for both teams.