Fights breaking out under the middday sun training camp are nothing new. In a way, they’re a rite of passage, a summer ritual.
And based on the way the Green Bay Packers offseason has played out, fans can expect to see a few more skirmishes than usual at Ray Nitschke Field this July and August.
It’s not because the Packers brought in a bunch of a bad eggs in free agency and rotten apples through the draft––although the addition of defensive lineman Tony Hargrove, suspended because of the New Orleans’ Saints’ “Bountygate,” may put that image to the test.
There’s going to be some pushing and shoving because the Packers focused so much of their attention on the defensive side of the football in the offseason, and perception is reality.
Where words and motivation speeches failed the defensive coaching staff last year, the Packers front office led by general manager Ted Thompson sent an unspoken message the past few months that’s going to resonate with the veterans on the team.
By signing three free agents on the defensive line and spending the first six picks of the draft all on defense, very few players from last year’s team can feel safe about their job security.
One eye-popping stat is well known by now. The Packers gave up the most passing yards in NFL history in last season, and the reasons were numerous.
The defensive linemen couldn’t collapse the pocket. The pass rushers were too late getting to the quarterback. The linebackers were exposed by speedy running backs in coverage. The cornerbacks couldn’t tackle opposing ball carriers. The safeties were burned by receivers following continuity and miscommunication issues.
There’s no reason to name names. Nearly every player on the defense was culpable for some shortcoming at one time or another. That’s what happens when you’re the worst in NFL history.
But because of that dishonorable distinction, the Packers personnel department couldn’t stand pat. The coaching staff gets the benefit of the doubt for winning a Super Bowl the year before. The players, like always, will have to win their jobs.
Take the defensive line, for example. Holdovers with mediocre production like Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn have been put on notice.
In come three newly inked free agents: Hargrove, Daniel Muir and Phillip Merling. And in addition to that trio, the Packers selected two more defensive linemen in the NFL Draft: Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels.
Because the Packers spend so much time in their subpackage defense, many times with only two defensive linemen or less on the field, playing time is going to be at a premium. And so are roster spots.
In competitive drills at training camp, whether against offensive linemen or themselves, the stakes will be high for the defensive linemen to perform. And if they don’t play up to par, they might not be around for very long.
The same can be said at nearly every position on defense.
The outside linebacker spot opposite Clay Matthews was a trouble spot for the Packers for the past several seasons. A revolving door of players including Erik Walden, Brad Jones, Vic So’oto and Frank Zombo failed nail down the job with any authority.
With Nick Perry added to the mix, there’s going to be at least one odd man out. It will be like a game of musical chairs being played by grown men scrapping for the last metaphorical chair in the form of a roster spot.
In the back seven, the ante was upped when the Packers traded up for cornerback Casey Hayward and linebacker Terrell Manning.
Fair or not, there’s a certain stigma attached to players who a team trades up to get. And don’t think their teammates haven’t noticed. They’ll be perceived as a threat.
Words will be exchanged, ineffective punches into a face mask will be thrown and egos will be bruised. It will be like a fight for territorial dominance akin to the animal kingdom.
But really, it will be good for the team. The defense needed a wake-up call, and this could do the trick.