The Green Bay Packers officially opened up their 2012 training camp Thursday morning. While I wasn't in attendance at Ray Nitschke Field, several others I respect—including my own colleague Brian Carriveau—were live from Green Bay.
From what the information gathered Thursday, here are five quick takes from Day 1:
Matt Flynn wasn't Mason Crosby's primary holder—punter Tim Masthay has been—but Flynn's departure in free agency opened up the backup job. And wouldn't you know it, the Packers filled that hole—at least for one day in training camp—with receiver Randall Cobb. A former quarterback at Kentucky, Cobb has experience holding at the collegiate level, but I'm more interested in the big picture meaning of this move.
The Packers need to find creative ways of getting Cobb the football this season. He's too explosive a player with the ball in his hands to limit him any longer, and hopefully this move as the secondary holder is a sign the Packers are willing to do just that.
Spin that record, D.J.
With starter Desmond Bishop (calf, NFI list) out to start camp, second-year linebacker D.J. Smith got a chance to go with the No. 1 defense Thursday. Like we've come to expect, all Smith did was make plays. He intercepted a pass during seven-on-seven drills and later deflected an Aaron Rodgers pass that Charles Woodson gathered in. Rodgers later commented after practice about how smart Smith is on the football field.
His performance today begs the question, again: How much longer can the Packers coaching staff keep a playmaker like Smith on the sidelines?
Most at 1265 Lombardi will talk about how consistent A.J. Hawk is, and his contract (five years, $33.75 million) ensures he's going to get every chance at being the starter in 2012. But at some point—and we also have to keep in mind, this was just one practice—Smith is going to make it very difficult to continue plugging Hawk in alongside Bishop every Sunday. Every time Smith has been given a chance, he stands out.
Just one play
Maybe James Jones' catch along the sidelines Thursday was just one play. But his grab on a back shoulder throw from Rodgers—which many called the catch of the day—is one of the reasons why I opined that trading Jones away would be a mistake. For every scream-at-the-TV drop he has, Jones makes one play that reminds you exactly why he's still on the roster.
Keep in mind, this is a guy who has 155 catches for for 2,238 yards and 21 scores over the last four years—not half bad numbers for a receiver who might see the fourth most snaps this next season. And when push comes to shove, there simply isn't going to much in terms of compensation (if any), even if the Packers did try to deal him. He's much more valuable as a member of the Packers in 2012. Plus, Rodgers loves him.
Shedding the weight
According to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Packers first-round pick Nick Perry has dropped nine pounds since the team's June minicamp. He's down from 275 pounds to a slim 264, but he's still thickly-built. Much of what he dropped was the weight he gained pre-draft, when Perry figured he'd be drafted to a club running a 4-3 defense.
The weight loss certainly doesn't mean Perry will make the transition to a 3-4 backer effortlessly, but it does show he's going to do everything asked of him to make it work. In the process of making such a difficult change, that's all you can ask for. Hopefully with the lost weight comes a more explosive player rushing the passer and a better athlete playing in space, two essentials for playing the position.
I'd be remiss not to talk about the happenings in the secondary, even though they've surely been bit into the ground by now. Charles Woodson played his snaps in the base defense at safety, while Jarrett Bush took over as the No. 3 cornerback over Sam Shields. More telling about the Woodson-at-safety news is the fact that he joined in on the safety meetings Wednesday for the first time, which is more of a signal to me that he's going to be playing there much, much more this season.
Still, when the Packers are playing anything other than base—mostly the nickel and dime–Woodson slides back into his normal slot cornerback role. Second-year safety M.D. Jennings again took snaps as the No. 1 safety, and he has to be considered the heavy favorite to be one of the team's starting safety in nickel and dime packages.
But let's jump back to Bush, who jumped Shields on the depth chart to end last season and was given a new three-year deal this offseason. Can he hold the job? Bush has steadily improved, but keep in mind he's still a 28-year-old who has six years in the NFL under his belt. When does he hit his ceiling? And when do the other guys—like Shields, who the coaches obviously aren't handing anything to to start this season—eventually overtake him? In my mind, that reality is only a matter of time. If not Shields, Davon House could be plenty capable. While Bush starting now is telling, I'm not writing his name in as the No. 3 cornerback with permanent marker.
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