Believe it or not, football is just around the corner. Thanks to playing in this year’s Hall of Fame game, the Green Bay Packers report for training camp a little earlier in 2016, arriving July 25 with the first practice on July 26.
The Packers will play their first preseason game — the aforementioned Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio — on Aug. 7 against Indianapolis. Five days later, Green Bay makes its Lambeau Field debut with a game vs. Cleveland.
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Green Bay completes its preseason schedule at home against Oakland on Aug. 18 then on the road at San Francisco on Aug. 27 and Kansas City on Sept. 1, all leading up to the regular-season opener at Jacksonville on Sept. 12.
Barring injuries — which always occur, of course, as Packers fans know all too well from last year with Jordy Nelson — Green Bay’s roster is largely set. But there are some questions, as always, to answer, not only with who makes the roster, but who will start at certain positions and which rookies will make the team.
With training camp set to get underway, here’s our quick look at some of those questions.
The Packers kept six wideouts last year and have seven non-college free agents in camp: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery and fifth-round pick Trevor Davis. The first three are virtual locks to make the team. If Green Bay only keeps six again, who goes? Or do the Packers keep all seven and lose a running back and use Cobb back there on occasion? Green Bay hasn’t had seven wide receivers record a catch in a season since 2011.
Backup running back
Eddie Lacy should be the No. 1 back once again, at least to start out. Green Bay re-signed free agent James Starks, who was just OK season in 2015 (601 yards, 2 TD, 4.1 avg.) but still should be the No. 2. Will they keep three? The No. 3 back doesn’t get a lot of carries (under 20 carries each of the last three seasons) and the Packers could use Randall Cobb as a de facto third back. The options here are John Crockett (who had nine carries for 21 yards last season) and undrafted free agents Brandon Burks (Troy), Don Jackson (Nevada), and Brandon Ross (Maryland).
Starting inside linebacker
Jake Ryan, a fourth-round pick in 2015, has the upper hand, having played in 14 games last year with five starts. Ryan finished with 55 tackles, including a pair of 10-tackle games against Carolina in Week 9 and Detroit in Week 13. But Martinez, a fellow fourth-round pick but in this past year’s draft, comes in with a high pedigree. He was one of the top linebackers in the country last year at Stanford, where he led the team in tackles with 141 and was a third-team AP All-American selection. If Martinez can show something in training camp and the preseason, it wouldn’t surprise to see him make the leap. Either way, it should make for good competition all season.
Starting tight end
The Packers love to get the tight end involved in the passing game and have been looking for a field-extender since Jermichael Finley. Richard Rodgers had 58 catches last season — the most for a Green Bay tight end since Finley had 61 in 2012 — but averaged just 8.8 yards per reception. Of course, he did have eight touchdowns, including one on a noteworthy Hail Mary grab. Jared Cook was signed in the offseason and while his career high in catches is 52 in 2014 with the Rams, Cook has averaged at least 11.9 yards per reception in every season since 2010, with a career-high 15.5 average in 2011 with Tennessee. Cook had an off-year in 2015 with the Rams, partly due to poor quarterback play. There are only so many catches to go around, especially for tight ends, and it will be interesting to see who emerges among the duo, with Cook the early favorite.
NEW FACES REPLACING LONGTIME STAPLES
The shouts of "Kuuuhhnnn" might finally be over at Lambeau Field. John Kuhn remains an unsigned free agent, so, for those hopeful of a return, there remains a chance, but Aaron Ripkowski was drafted a couple of years ago with the thought he’d be Kuhn’s replacement at fullback. That time appears to be now. Kuhn was money on short-yardage runs. Ripkowski, a sixth-round pick in 2015, had no carries and one reception in his rookie year. Of course, a fullback also needs to block and the 6-foot-1, 246-pound Ripkowski certainly has the build. It is hard to replace a fan favorite, but perhaps soon the sound of "Riiiiip" will echo throughout Green Bay.
The long snapper is the guy you never want to hear or read about. It just means something bad happened. Brett Goode was Green Bay’s long snapper since 2008, when he filled-in after an injury in the preseason to J.J. Jansen. He played in every game from 2008-2015 until injuring his knee in Week 14. Now the Packers turn to Rick Lovato, who was working in a sandwich shop in New Jersey when he was signed by Green Bay to replace Goode at the tail end of last season. Lovato, who went to Old Dominion, played the last two games and apparently did a good enough job that the Packers didn’t bring in another long snapper for training camp. Goode is rehabbing his torn ACL, so there’s a chance he could eventually return. But for now, the job is Lovato’s/
Yeah, it seems pretty obvious to say Kenny Clark, Green Bay’s first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. But Clark is being expected to move right into heavy rotation along the defensive line. With B.J. Raji gone and Mike Pennell suspended for the first four games, the Packers won’t have as much depth in the middle. Yes, Mike Daniels and/or Letroy Guion could slide inside, but then that hurts the depth at end. Green Bay needs for Clark to pick up the system quickly and be productive right off the bat.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS TO WATCH
Brown was one of the players to receive the highest signing bonus ($5,000) given to an undrafted free agent. While he played outside linebacker at Mississippi State — finishing with 99 tackles last season — he is expected to play inside at the pro level. A team like the Packers, which played a 3-4 defense, could always use another thumper inside. Brown also could help on special teams. He blocked two kicks for the Bulldogs in 2015.
Another of the unrestricted free agents who received a $5,000 signing bonus, Jackson has a good opportunity, as we noted in the position battles above. Heading into camp, there is certainly no one who has a lock on the No. 3 running back position. In his senior year at Nevada, Jackson rushed for 1,029 yards (4.7 yards/carry) and caught seven passes for 77 yards.
Coming from a small school like Texas-San Antonio, Price might not seem like someone who could stick on the Packers’ active roster to start the season. However, as we’ve mentioned, Green Bay has some depth issues at defensive tackle and Price seems to be the best of the bunch of the undrafted free agents. We’re not saying he’d start, but a spot on the early 53 isn’t out of the question.