Packers training camp opens, today, August 1st in Green Bay, WI at the newly renovated Ray Nitschke Field across the street from legendary Lambeau Field. The Packers have 25 practices scheduled between today and September 1 that will shake down the Packers roster to the 53 men needed to lead the Packers to a winning season. Nitschke Field was renovated during the summer to provide Packers fans with an enhanced experience of viewing the practices. As someone who has attended training camp in the past, I’d have to say that Packers training camp is one of the most unique experiences in the NFL.
But enough introduction, time to get down to the offensive battles to take place on the field:
The Packers have a three-way battle for the fullback spot in Mike McCarthy‘s West Coast offense between Korey Hall and John Kuhn, who have been in Green Bay for the past two years, and Quinn Johnson, a draft pick out of LSU. Both Hall and Kuhn are special teamers who could make the team that way, while the blocking abilities of Johnson will be tested by the coaches at every opportunity. Ryan Grant‘s yards-per-carry average dropped from 5.1 in 2007 to 3.9 in 2008, so the Packers are looking for the best blocker they can get. The Packers have kept multiple fullbacks on the roster in the past few years. My picks: Hall and Johnson, with Kuhn the odd man out. Hall will be the starter. Hall has been solid in his conversion from a linebacker at Boise State and continues to progress, while Johnson provides some athleticism as a blocker.
With long time mainstay Mark Tauscher gone, the Packers have a wide-open competition for that spot. During OTAs and mini-camps, third-year man Allen Barbre worked with the first unit and many expect him to open camp with the first team. Rookie T.J. Lang wants to play immediated and will be no slouch for Barbre to compete with, with while second-year man Breno Giacomini is coming off ankle surgery and could steal the job if Lang and Barbre aren’t careful. My pick: Barbre, on experience. This battle will be interesting, as Lang, who went to Eastern Michigan, is intriguing, but Barbre’s good performance in OTAs and mini-camps will translate into a good training camp and a starting job for him.
In the past two years, Scott Wells and Jason Spitz have started all the games for the Packers at center, with Wells starting 26 and Spitz filling in on the other 6. Wells ran into injury problems in 2008, causing the offensive line to be shuffled around as Spitz filled in at center. This race will go down to the wire and has potential ramifications for the rest of the offensive line, as Spitz can also play either guard position, meaning that if he loses this race, he could jump in one of the guard racers and steal that spot. My pick: I’m going to have to give it to Wells by a nose.
No. 5 Wide Receiver
The Packers already have their Top 4 lined up, but the Packers want a fifth wide receiver to make their “Big 5″ formaton work. Ruvell Martin has held down the spot the last three years, but has seen his production decline. One of the Packers seventh-round picks from 2008, Brett Swain spent 2008 on the practice squad but has been impressive in camps. Also in the race are Jake Allen, who had a good preseason in 2008 and Kole Heckendorf who “flashed some ability during OTAs” according to the Packers website. My picks: The Packers carry six receivers, allowing them to go big within the Big 5 with Martin, or smaller with Swain, creating more matchup problems.
No. 2 Quarterback
We were all shocked last year when seventh-round pick Matt Flynn came into training camp and beat out second-round pick Brian Brohm for the No. 2 spot. However, Flynn’s brief appearances relieving Aaron Rodgers and his subsequent offseason workouts and OTAs have done nothing to secure his spot as the No. 2 QB, allowing Brohm another crack at the job. Both players have had a year in the system and will be working against a difficult 3-4 defense so they will be tested and able to show much improvement. Plus, they will see more time in preseason games, as Rodgers no longer needs that starting experience as much as he did last year. My pick: Brohm leapfrogs Flynn to take the job.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers Allen Barbre Breno Giacomini Brett Swain Brian Brohm Jake Allen Jason Spitz John Kuhn Kole Heckendorf Korey Hall Mark Tauscher Matt Flynn Mike McCarthy Quinn Johnson Ray Nitschke Ruvell Martin Ryan Grant Scott Wells T.J. Lang