Every offseason the Green Bay Packers lose key players to free agency or retirement (Driver, Jennings, Woodson, Walden, etc.). Green Bay has done a good job this offseason replenishing their roster through the draft and signing undrafted free agents. At this point, maybe Ted Thompson will even sign a few veteran free agents at a bargain price to add to the young and competitive roster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Thompson just rolls with the players he currently has on the roster (in fact, today’s news about the shifting of the offensive line emphasizes that point).
With the new player acquisitions after draft weekend, the competition on the roster should be fun to watch this summer. With the offseason losses there are plenty of positions on the roster that need a young emerging player to step up and fill. Let’s take a look at some of the positions on the roster where the Packers need a player to emerge during the upcoming season.
Starting Running Back
Green Bay desperately needs to find a featured running back who can be a legitimate threat. The assumption here is that Lacy will be that guy next season because he was drafted in the second round. Lacy certainly has the ability and physical running style to be an every-down back, but I doubt anyone will just hand him the job. Lacy will have to earn a starting spot in training camp, and I expect there will be plenty of competition.
Fourth round selection Johnathan Franklin also has the skills and potential to be the starting back in the Packers’ offense. And don’t forget about last season late-comer, DuJuan Harris, who looked like the most explosive back on Green Bay’s roster at that point. Harris could give Lacy and Franklin a run for their money for the starting running back spot. At the very least, Harris will rotate in with Lacy and Franklin and provide a good change of pace.
There’s still Green and Starks, but I don’t see either of them being realistic options for the starting role at this point. Both have dealt with injuries in their short careers and haven’t proven to be consistent on the field. I expect the starter to emerge from Lacy, Franklin, and Harris, and a rotation between these three backs during games could be a real possibility.
Starting Strong Safety
After Woodson was released this offseason, the safety position suddenly looked awfully thin. The free safety position is set with Morgan Burnett, but strong safety is wide open. Like most, I thought Green Bay would find their safety in the draft, but Thompson focused on other positions and reiterated that he believes in the young players at strong safety. At this point, strong safety looks like a two-horse race between McMillian and Jennings. They both rotated in and out last season when Woodson missed time with a broken collarbone.
Being a smaller safety, Jennings struggled against the run, but held up well in coverage. McMillian showed the speed and athleticism to come up in the box and play against the run. He also played decent man coverage against tight ends and slot receivers, but he looked out of place at times when he dropped back in zone coverage.
McMillian seems to have the most growing to do on the field, but also seems to have more upside than Jennings. I think his playmaking potential and his fearlessness to create contact makes McMillian the favorite to start at strong safety. However, maybe Jennings shows more improvement this offseason or the unproven Richardson comes back from his neck injury and surprises us all.
Starting Left Tackle
Editor’s note: This was written before the news This morning that McCarthy plans to move Brian Bulaga to left tackle and switch Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang at the guards.
It’s hard to even guess what will happen at left tackle this season. Being the key position to protecting your franchise quarterback, you’d think it would be more settled at this point. Maybe Sherrod returns healthy and competes with Newhouse for the starting spot. Maybe Don Barclay lines up at right tackle and Green Bay moves Bulaga over to the left side. Maybe David Bakhtiari learns quicker than we expect and makes a real push to start at the position. Maybe all this increased competition gets the best out of Newhouse and he keeps his starting job. It’s too early to tell on this one. If I had to put money on it, I’d say Bulaga gets moved over to the left side, but that’s just a hunch. We’ll see how it develops in camp.
Backup Outside Linebacker
The starting outside linebackers are pretty much set with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. However, the Packers need another pass rusher to emerge from the second unit that can rotate into the game to provide fresh legs in the pass rush. Moses provided some good depth at the position last season, but Green Bay needs another guy to step up alongside Moses.
This is the most important position on the defense, and it’s essential to have at least two players that can step in if Perry or Matthews go down with an injury (like last season). Maybe the Packers bring in a veteran free agent here, but if not, it looks like it’s between sixth round pick Nate Palmer and undrafted free agent Andy Mulumba. Both of these guys were highly productive in college and have an affinity for rushing the passer. The Packers seem to be high on Palmer, so I’ll give him the edge at this point.
It’s clear Evan Dietrich-Smith will be starting at center when the season begins, but the Packers still seem to be missing a clear-cut backup at the position. Van Roten is an undrafted free agent returning from last season and could show improvement from year one to year two, but he may be better suited at guard. Tretter played left tackle in college, but was drafted to provide depth on the interior offensive line. Tretter doesn’t have any experience playing center, but he’s intelligent and tough. He could be groomed into being a center behind Dietrich-Smith. Lewis is an undrafted rookie who played center at Texas A&M and could be one of those surprise players who pushes for a roster spot. This position is anyone’s for the taking at this point.
Second Tight End
Green Bay needs to find another receiving threat at tight end. This player could even be groomed to eventually start if Finley doesn’t return after the 2013 season. If Quarless returns healthy, he could be that guy. He missed all last season with a knee injury, but when healthy, he was Green Bay’s best blocking tight end and has the size (6-4) and athleticism to be an asset in the passing game.
Mulligan was brought in to replace Crabtree‘s former blocking duties and will offer little in the passing game. I’m not sold on Williams. He had too many drops in his limited action last season and was ineffective as a run blocker. However, Bostick shows some promise as both a receiver and run blocker. He could be a surprise player this offseason. I’m not sure Taylor will ever emerge as anything more than just a special teams player. My guess is Quarless has a good year and emerges as the second tight end.
Fourth and fifth Wide Receiver
The top three wide receivers are set with Randall Cobb, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson; however, the remaining two wide receiver spots on the roster are wide open. Boykin has the most playing experience from the remaining receivers and is the favorite at this point for claiming the fourth wide receiver spot, but maybe another guy steps up and challenges him for the spot in camp. Ross could remain on the roster due to his kick and punt returning ability. We’ll see if he can offer something in the passing game as well.
Seventh round picks Johnson and Dorsey are intriguing prospects. They’re both big receivers with good speed. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them made the final 53-man roster. In the very least, they will both be retained on the practice squad. Every year in training camp it seems an undrafted free agent makes a splash at wide receiver, so don’t count out those players to fill the final roster spots as well
These positions will be settled during offseason workouts and in training camp, but for now, it’s fun to speculate what will happen come start of the 2013 season. Let me know what you think. Who do you believe will be holding down these positions when the season starts on Sept. 8 in San Francisco?