The Green Bay Packers completed their second session of media-available OTAs Tuesday.
Here are some of the biggest storylines from the latest round of workouts ahead of the 2013 season:
Mike Neal continues to receive reps at OLB
A week ago, we wondered aloud if Neal’s work at outside linebacker was anything more than a early offseason experiment. With a second session of OTAs and another chance to see Neal receive reps standing up as a linebacker, it’s clear the Packers are doing more than just toying with the former second-round pick on the edge.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Tuesday that he “likes the way” Neal is moving as a linebacker. While it is still unclear if Neal—who was formerly listed at 294 pounds in 2012—has lost any weight to play outside linebacker, the Packers are obviously giving Neal every chance to prove in May that he can be used in a variety of ways this September.
But even if the Packers are encouraged with Neal’s early returns on the perimeter, the true barometer of how he’ll handle the new position should come once the pads come on and Neal is asked to make plays in space. While certainly more athletic than most defensive linemen, Neal may still struggle to handle the breadth of responsibilities expected of an 3-4 outside linebacker.
That said, the continued reps on the outside show the Packers are committed to giving Neal an opportunity to impact the defense in more ways next season. Such versatility may allow Neal to be an important hybrid piece for Capers in 2013. His next step will be impressing beyond helmets and shorts later this summer.
Andrew Quarless and the road to recovery
Nearly 18 months have come and gone since Andrew Quarless underwent reconstructive knee surgery, but the long road to a return appears to have a visible end. Quarless was one of the standouts at Tuesday’s OTAs, where he displayed the kind of explosion and lower body power not seen in the 2010 draft pick since before his catastrophic injury in December of 2011.
Mike McCarthy said after the OTA session that Quarless was completely past his injury. Moving as well or better as before the reconstruction, Quarless may now have a real shot at recapturing an important role in the Packers offense.
A three-game starter during the Super Bowl season of 2010, Quarless was asked to be the offense’s go-to blocking tight end for most of the next season. He flourished in the role before a freak injury threatened to cut his NFL career drastically short.
A year and a half later, Quarless might be gaining the inside track to his former spot on the depth chart.
The Packers lost veteran tight end Tom Crabtree to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, which has opened up a role as the primary backup behind Jermichael Finley. Versatility always on his mind, McCarthy said that Quarless can play all four tight end positions in the Packers offense.
Now, if Quarless can remain healthy—and the burst shown Tuesday continues once the pads come on—McCarthy may have a leading candidate to re-strengthen his tight end position in 2013.
Still no Johnny Jolly
Despite graduating from his court-ordered drug rehab program last week, defensive lineman Johnny Jolly was not present during Tuesday’s OTAs. Jolly said via Twitter that he’ll “be back soon,” but every minute of offseason work he misses will cut into his already slim chances of making Green Bay’s 53-man roster.
McCarthy preached about second chances when asked about Jolly following practice, but refused further comment on the matter until Jolly was in Green Bay.
To their credit, the Packers have been more patient with Jolly than anyone could have expected during a three-year ordeal that has included multiple arrests and jail time. Once Jolly finally makes his return, he’ll still need to blow away coaches with the kind of skill set that made him such a valuable member of the 2009 Packers defense. Back then, no defensive linemen on the roster was better at stopping the run or batting passes at the line of scrimmage.
However, three years away from the game can bankrupt a football player of his physical skills.
At 30 years old, and with his last NFL snap coming in January of 2010, Jolly remains a long shot to make the roster—regardless of when he finally reports.
Versatility with Don Barclay
Few offenses in the NFL value versatility on the offensive line like the Packers, and their practice of teaching every offensive line position to their group continued Tuesday. The prize pupil this time around was second-year offensive lineman Don Barclay.
The Packers played Barclay all over the offensive line during drills and team work Tuesday. A starter at right tackle to finish the 2012 season, Barclay was given reps at tackle, guard and center during the OTA session. His apprenticeship along the offensive line has officially begun.
Despite the shuffling, Barclay remains in the running to be the offense’s starting right tackle next season.
But if he loses out on that competition, the Packers clearly want Barclay to be able to contribute on gamedays at more than one position. The team usually carries just seven offensive lineman on the 45-man gameday roster. He proved last season that he’s more than a capable backup as the right tackle.
Quick notes: McCarthy praised 2012 fifth-round pick Terrell Manning Tuesday, claiming he came on at the end of 2012, especially as a special teams player. The Packers are expecting him to compete to play at inside linebacker next season. He’s an intriguing player to watch the rest of the offseason…Rookie Johnathan Franklin was third in line to return punts Tuesday. If Randall Cobb is removed from returning duties, Franklin might be the front-runner to replace him, especially on punts…McCarthy is emphasizing forced fumbles this offseason after statistics revealed his defenses have lacked in the area. The Packers forced just eight in 2012, the second least in the NFL. In context, the New England Patriots finished first with 32…Second-year receiver Jarrett Boykin left practice with an undisclosed leg injury…Green Bay signed safety David Fulton, an undrafted free agent from Division II Chowan University. The Packers roster is currently at 89 players.
Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.