Today marks the first day players report for training camp, effectively kicking off the football season in Green Bay. The team will hold 16 open practices from now until the final preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on September 1st. On September 3rd, the initial 90-man roster at the start of camp will be reduced to a 53-man roster that Green Bay will start the season with. The arrival of training camp brings intense position battles as players vie for limited roster spots. Here are five things to watch heading into training camp:
1. Wide receivers
Everyone is familiar with the struggles Green Bay had with their wide receivers last year. Injuries to Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery disrupted an otherwise solid receiving corps forcing players like Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, and Davante Adams into much larger roles than they were ready for. In addition to the aforementioned names, Randall Cobb and rookie fifth-round pick Trevor Davis round off the seven receivers Green Bay will start training camp with. Using seven spots for just wide receivers is not a typical move for the Packers – last year they started the season with just five – but don’t be surprised if they end up holding onto everyone at the end of the training camp. There are plenty of storylines to follow, as well.
All eyes will be on Nelson as he continues recovering from his torn ACL. His activity and involvement will likely be limited as a precaution leading up to the start of the season but every move he makes will be looked at very closely. Cobb is coming off a lung injury sustained in the playoff game against Arizona. Cobb has his role set in place and hopes to have a bounce back year with some of the attention being moved to other players on the offense. Janis and Abbrederis displayed potential later in the season as they were given more playing time. The Janis bandwagon has been gaining traction all offseason and Abbrederis showed he can be a contributor when he’s healthy.
Adams took a lot of heat for his poor play but he thrived as the second option on the outside when Nelson was healthy in 2014. Montgomery will be an extremely important piece in the offseason this season due to his versatility and the mismatches he can create. Davis will have a hard time working his way up the depth chart with so many returning players but his speed (4.42 40-yard dash) sets himself apart from the others.
Outside of Nelson and Cobb as one and two, the order of spots three through seven are up for grabs. Competition between the receivers will be the most talked about position battle in Titletown.
2. Offensive line depth
After a stellar 2014, the offensive line had difficulty keeping Aaron Rodgers on his feet. Much of that came from lack of depth along the line when starters went down with injuries. That became a focal point in the offseason with the re-signing of Lane Taylor and using two of their draft picks to nab tackles Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy in the second and sixth rounds, respectively.
Three of the five players – Sitton, Lang, and Bahktiari – starting along the offensive line will be free agents at the end of the season. The Packers will have to make big decisions regarding who they keep and for how much money they keep them for. A big determining factor of their decisions will depend on the confidence they have in the second unit. JC Tretter has shown his flexibility along the offensive line making him a frontrunner for replacing Sitton or Lang at guard, if needed. Spriggs and Murphy are young and inexperienced but they give the Packers options and leverage at tackle. A strong showing from backups on the line lets Ted Thompson breathe a little easier heading into contract years for Sitton, Lang, and Bakhtiari.
3. Eddie Lacy
Eddie Lacy has been the talk of the offseason. Many expected Lacy to continue his push into the upper echelon of running backs last year but took a step back due to his weight gain. Expectations are now even higher with Lacy looking the part. His training and lifestyle changes since the season ended have been well documented and should be coming into camp in the best shape of his playing career. Lacy scored only five total touchdowns in 2015 after scoring 13 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. The Packers offense cannot afford Lacy to have another down season. First looks of Lacy at training camp will be telling of how effective his offseason program truly was.
4. Clay Matthews
In a move many how been longing for, Clay Matthews is finally returning to the outside. Fans are excited; quarterbacks are not. The unselfishness of Matthews over the last year and a half to move inside while Green Bay struggled finding any consistency there was one of the main reasons Dom Capers’ defense stayed in tact. Now, Matthews is back in his natural habitat. As Julius Peppers enters what could be his last season and Mike Neal is no longer with the team, productivity on the edge should receive a nice pick-me-up from the former defensive player of the year. His experience on the inside also gives Capers the flexibility and confidence of having Matthews play in coverage a little more than usual. Training camp will provide insight into how they plan to use him back on the outside.
5. The rookies
A few of them have been mentioned already but this will be the first time fans will get to see the young guns take the field. Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, and Blake Martinez are specific rookies of interest due to the expectations of larger roles than the other draft picks. Clark will be asked to step in and be ready to play from day one, especially considering the loss of depth along the defensive line with Mike Pennel suspended for the first four games. Lowry is already fit to play in the NFL strictly based off his size (6’6″, 296) and is another player who has the ability to play all along the line.
Martinez is inheriting the inside linebacker pressure that has been haunting Green Bay for a while now. Coaches have been raving about his football IQ and the way he plays the game providing more ammunition to boost his expectations. Kyler Fackrell comes into camp with a great chance of earning significant playing time as well since Nick Perry has had his health concerns in the past and Jayrone Elliott does not have a placeholder on any place in the outside linebacker rotation.
The best part about training camp is the chance for the underestimated and inexperienced to earn their place on the roster. This year’s rookie class for the Packers has a bright future ahead of them and many have a chance to make an immediate impact in their first year.