Justin McCray closing in on Packers right guard job

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Packers coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t declare Justin McCray the winner of the training camp competition at right guard, but he got pretty close.

What was supposed to be one of the bigger competitions of training camp never materialized.

While McCray’s would-be challenger, Lucas Patrick, has spent a big chunk of camp at left guard as starter Lane Taylor has dealt with ankle and quad issues, McCray has taken every first-team rep.

“I hope so,” McCarthy said Tuesday when asked if McCray was the starter. “You want to keep the competition open but, yeah, I think he’s done a heck of a job at this point.”

McCray wasn’t taking anything for granted.

“I’m not trying to call it out right now,” McCray said. “I think it’s still a competition. I still need to keep working hard, still need to keep getting better every day, but I realize I’m not getting taken out (of the lineup) a lot. I definitely have realized that.”

At this time last year, McCray was making an unlikely run toward a roster spot. An undrafted free agent out of Central Florida in 2014, McCray spent his rookie season on Tennessee’s practice squad. He failed to make the Titans’ roster in 2015 and spent the year out of football.

In 2017, he worked out at Central Florida’s pro day, where he caught the eye of the Packers, who signed him to a one-year contract. In between, he played for the Arena Football League’s Orlando Predators and worked as a hotel bellman.

McCray spent training camp last year playing guard and center. He played a utility role last year with injuries up and down Green Bay’s line, starting five games at right tackle, two at left guard and one at right guard.

The starting job at right guard came open after the Packers didn’t retain Jahri Evans in free agency.

“You’ve got to love the guy,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “He’s very detailed. He’s a tough guy. He just finds a way to be productive. It may not be textbook all the time. It may not always be a clinic tape and the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen but, often times, he’s blocking his guy.”

McCray said winning the starting job won’t change his mentality.

“I think I came in with the same mindset as last year,” he said. “I’m trying to make a team, trying to earn a spot, and just working hard to get better. I know if I keep getting better every day, those are my best chances of doing that.”

Notes: McCarthy confirmed that QB Aaron Rodgers will start on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. How much he’ll play will depend in part on the availability of left tackle David Bakhtiari, who has returned from an ankle injury that held him out for more than a week. “At the forefront of your decision is being smart with Aaron, but the combination of who he plays with, too, is part of that,” McCarthy said. … McCarthy said he also hopes to play QBs Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle. … Starting outside linebacker Nick Perry remains on the physically unable to perform list following offseason ankle surgery, but has been working extensively with a trainer during practices. “I feel great,” he said. “No setbacks is the main thing. Right now, we’re being smart about it.”