Just because it’s May, who says it isn't football season? The Green Bay Packers have three weeks of organized team activities followed by a mandatory minicamp before a month-and-half-long lull until training camp. With the team assembled, FOX Sports Wisconsin presents a few things to keep an eye on during OTAs, which run from May 20-21, May 23, May 28-29, May 31 and June 3-6.
USA TODAY SportsJim Matthews
First OTAs under Matt LaFleur
This will be the first gathering under the new Green Bay head coach. Will we learn a lot about LaFleur under these circumstances? Well, probably not. But, we’ll get a chance to see how he runs things, and how differently he does so compared to Mike McCarthy, not only with the day-to-day drills but also perhaps with how he uses personnel. A lot of eyes will be on LaFleur in his first head coaching gig at any level and it all starts now.
Learn your Smiths
The Packers biggest splashes in the free-agent market this offseason were the additions of linebacker Preston Smith and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. This will be the first opportunity to check the pair out, see where they line up – will Za’Darius be at OLB or DE? -- and presumably hear them talk about how happy they are to be in Green Bay and in this defense. Preston Smith wears No. 91 and Za’Darius Smith No. 55. You’re welcome.
USA TODAY SportsGeoff Burke
A wealth of wideouts
The Packers enter OTAs with a dozen wide receivers on the roster, only one of whom has more than 1,000 career receiving yards. Davante Adams has assumed Jordy Nelson's former role as Aaron Rodgers' go-to target, but beyond Adams, the Packers' roster features a whole lot of uncertainty. With Randall Cobb gone in free agency, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown are the only receivers on the roster with significant experience working with Rodgers. Trevor Davis is still around but could be challenged by Jawill Davis, recently picked up off waivers from the Giants and who has return ability. And don’t forget about J'Mon Moore, drafted last year, and UW-Whitewater product Jake Kumerow, both of whom got offensive snaps in 2018. Will any of them break through as a trusted option for Rodgers?
Backs of the future
The Packers finally unleashed Aaron Jones near midseason, and he produced, scoring seven touchdowns in five games down the stretch and averaging 5.5 yards per attempt on the season. Jones shined, but the Packers still finished the season 22nd in rushing yards per game. Perhaps that's why they spent a sixth-round pick on Dexter Williams, the former Notre Dame workhorse who averaged 110.5 rushing yards per game for the Fighting Irish last season. How long will it take for Williams to work his way into the rotation? Jamaal Williams, drafted alongside Jones in 2017, has been effective in a featured role, but has gotten limited reps when Jones is healthy. Could we learn which backs LaFleur prefers as early as OTAs? For what it’s worth, as offensive coordinator for Tennessee in 2018, LaFleur only used two running backs – Derrick Henry (215 carries) and Dion Lewis (517) – and quarterback Marcus Mariota (64) was the only other player to have more than six rushes. In 2017 as OC of the Rams, Todd Gurley had 279 carries, Malcolm Brown 63 and Lance Dunbar 11. Wide receiver Tavon Austin had 59. Three could well be a crowd in Green Bay as well.
USA TODAY SportsHarrison Barden
Green Bay signed Billy Turner in the offseason, for all intents and purposes to be the team’s right guard. But then the Packers drafted Elgton Jenkins in the second round. Green Bay lists Jenkins as a guard (he also played center in college). The main thing to keep an eye on here is how the Packers intend to proceed with Jenkins. One would think it will be slowly in the beginning. But should left guard Lane Taylor be looking over his shoulder? And what about oft-injured Bryan Bulaga? Turner can also play tackle and could slide over there to fit in Jenkins. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on this spring and summer.
Rashan Gary’s health and Mike Daniels’ status
Gary and Daniels go hand-in-hand. It’s been suggested that Daniels is no longer a good fit for the Packers. Under Mike Pettine, who took over as defensive coordinator last season, Daniels had but 17 tackles and two sacks in 10 games. There could be a trade market for a player who made the Pro Bowl two seasons ago, but he team could save over $8 million in their salary cap by cutting him. Gary, in theory, was taken at No. 12 overall in this year’s draft to supplant Daniels. But there’s questions about the health of his shoulder. Gary wore a brace during rookie minicamp and it’s been reported that he might need surgery, either before, during or after the season. How much can Gary participate in OTAs and how is his shoulder hindering him, if at all?
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How Darnell Savage fits into the secondary
Taken with Green Bay’s second first-round pick, Savage likely wasn’t selected that high to sit and watch. Adrian Amos, signed as a free agent in the offseason, will man one of the safety slots. Josh Jones, a second-round pick in 2017, is penciled in for the other. Savage might be the eraser. Jones has had trouble staying on the field and was a pick from another regime – different general manager, head coach and defensive coordinator. That might not bode well for him. However, another option could be to use Savage as a nickel back, or in more of a linebacker role in passing situations, as has become a trend in the NFL.
USA TODAY SportsChristopher Hanewinckel
The situation at tight end
In his two stops as offensive coordinator, LaFleur has shown he likes to use tight ends, both as receivers and blockers. The latter is why Marcedes Lewis was brought back. The former is why Jimmy Graham stands a good chance of remaining on the roster. But there’s also third-round pick Jace Sternberger, who could replace Graham. The Packers also have Robert Tonyan (and a host of undrafted free agents) on the roster. It’s unlikely that Green Bay, or any team for that matter, will keep four tight ends. Eventually someone will be the odd man out.
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Yes, Virginia, we have a kicking competition. For the first time since 2013, Mason Crosby will have a counterpart in the kicking game. The Packers claimed Sam Ficken off waivers in mid-April, giving reporters an opportunity to recount field-goal attempt makes and misses for the next few months (providing neither is cut any time soon). Ficken has bounced around since leaving Penn State in 2016 and has had a modicum success in his limited on-field opportunities (3 of 6 on field-goal attempts and 14 of 15 on extra-point attempts). However, it often takes time with kickers to get a foothold in the NFL (Crosby didn’t make 80% of his field-goal attempts in a season until his fifth year), and perhaps this is the year the light clicks on for Ficken. Crosby, by the way, made 81.1% of his field-goal tries in 2018, including 5 of 7 from 50+ yards. At the very least, it offers an interesting storyline.