After a loss in the playoffs, the Packers added talent in the offseason both through free agency and the NFL Draft. Those new additions have created training camp battles for starting roles. Justin Twell looks at three 2016 Green Bay training camp battles that he’s watching.
The Green Bay Packers – to some of their fans and other observers – had a slightly disappointing 2015 season despite, once again, making the playoffs. Losing wide receiver Jordy Nelson in a preseason game to a season-ending torn ACL was a big blow for their offensive aspirations.
It is easy to forget that the Packers actually started 6-0 in 2015 before becoming inconsistent in the latter half of the season, losing the NFC North crown to the Minnesota Vikings. Heading into 2016, the Packers have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any interesting training camp battles to watch; indeed, quite the opposite. So without further ado, here are three worth watching.
Tight End position
Rodgers, perhaps surprisingly to some, had a solid seas on last year as he was second on the team in receptions with 58 and tied for first in touchdowns with eight, including the’ Hail Mary catch in the Week 13 win against the Detroit Lions. Cook, on the other hand, had one of his worst years statistically as he failed to register a single touchdown. However, he now enters a far better offensive scheme with a superior quarterback at the helm, and the former Ram can benefit from head coach Mike McCarthy calling plays in 2016.
Who wins the battle?
Rodgers enters this battle as the favorite. He is more familiar with the offense, knows how to find the end zone, and has sure hands. The return of Nelson likely takes targets away from him, but QB Aaron Rodgers can trust him when needed.
As for Cook, playing time will come his way, but whether he can fit in the offense and quickly build a rapport with Aaron Rodgers remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to watch him in training camp and he can certainly make this battle an interesting one.
Wide Receiver three
The Packers have one of the best wide receiver corps in the NFL and competition will be fierce to be anointed the number three wide receiver behind Nelson and Randall Cobb. Last offseason, Davante Adams was being billed as the next “star” by Aaron Rodgers and, according to McCarthy, was their offseason MVP. But he failed to live up to those lofty expectations and never truly stepped up to the plate in Nelson’s absence.
The other receivers in this battle will be second-year man Ty Montgomery, a 2015 third-round pick out of Stanford, whose rookie year was ended by an ankle injury in a Week 6 game against the San Diego Chargers. Also competing with Adams will be third-year wide receiver Jeff Janis, who had a monster outing against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC divisional round, Trevor Davis, a rookie fifth-round pick in 2016, and Jared Abbrederis, a 2014 fifth-rounder.
Who wins the battle?
Expect Adams to come out on top here as he’ll be hungry to prove that the praise heaped upon him this time last year was warranted. He also has experience as a starter, although nagging injuries from last year may slow his progression if they should rear their ugly head during camp.
Montgomery will also be one to watch to see how he has recovered from his ankle injury. He is another Packers receiver who has generated some buzz since being drafted and will have something to prove, if his ankle allows. Janis, Davis, and Abbrederis at this point will be vying for the wide receiver four spot along with potential punt/kick returner duties – an interesting battle in itself.
This is a position where the Packers lost tackle B.J. Raji to retirement earlier this offseason and third-year defensive end Mike Pennel will miss the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The Packers will now have five players battling it out in training camp for three starting positions along their 3-4 defensive front.
Defensive end Mike Daniels had a solid season last year and I fully expect him to lock up his defensive end spot and continue his stellar play into 2016. At nose tackle there will be a battle between Letroy Guion and rookie first-round pick Kenny Clark out of UCLA. Finally, the other defensive end spot will be contested between Datone Jones, entering his fourth season, and rookie fourth-round draft pick Dean Lowry from Northwestern.
Who wins the battle?
I fully expect Daniels and Jones to win their respective battles at the defensive end spots, Daniels in particular. The nose tackle position is an interesting one as Guion only started four games out of the 13 he played last season, registering 20 tackles and no sacks. He’ll battle hard for that nose tackle position and he’s shown flashes in his career, particularly against the run.
However the Packers invested their 2016 first-round pick in Clark and they will be keen to see him in action early in his rookie year. I can see Guion getting the starting gig as we enter the season, but Clark will be featured heavily in the rotation at the position and, if he impresses early, then he will likely see increased playing time as the season progresses.
Note: The Green Bay Packers are scheduled to report to training camp on July 25 at St. Norbert College, De Pere, WI.