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The Replacements: Looking at New Starters on the 2014 Green Bay Packers

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The Replacements: Looking at New Starters on the 2014 Green Bay Packers

Jarrett Boykin and Julius Peppers were opponents last year but could be starters on this year's Packers team. Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki—USA TODAY Sports.

Jarrett Boykin and Julius Peppers were opponents last year but could be starters on this year's Packers team. Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki—USA TODAY Sports.

Like any NFL team in any given year, there's turnover on the Green Bay Packers roster.

There's attrition due to players leaving via free agency, perhaps some being forced into retirement.

The Packers didn't stand pat, however. After three consecutive earlier-than-preferred playoff exits, the Packers cast a wide net to find replacements for their departed starters.

Whether through free agency or the draft, the Packers have an infusion of talent they hope will allow them to get back to Super Bowl glory.

The following is a look at the positions featuring new starters in Titletown in 2014:

 

Wide Receiver

Last year's departed starter: James Jones

This year's starting candidates: Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams

Who'll get first crack: Randall Cobb as the No. 2 receiver, Jarrett Boykin as No. 3

Analysis: After starting his last 30 games in a Packers uniform, James Jones took the Oakland Raiders up on their offer to return to his native California.

Jones scored an NFL-leading 14 receiving touchdowns in 2012 and had a career-high 817 receiving yards in 2013, so his production and experience are going to be missed.

Surprisingly, Randall Cobb has less than the equivalent of one full season of starting experience (just 12 career starts) but figures to hear his name announced coming out of the tunnel more often, taking over for Jones.

Just because he hasn't started many games doesn't mean Cobb hasn't played. With 136 career receptions for 1,762 yards and 13 touchdowns, Cobb has gained the trust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Maybe analysis is better spent on figuring out who will be the Packers' No. 3 wide receiver.

Boykin, who started eight games in 2013, is coming off a season that saw him set career-highs with 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns.

There's no reason to think Boykin will regress, but he will find competition in the form of second round draft choice Davante Adams.

How quickly Adams can get up to speed on the team's offense will be a big factor in how much of a role he plays in his rookie season.

 

Tight End

Last year's departed starter: Jermichael Finley

This year's starting candidates: Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor, Richard Rodgers, Colt Lyerla

Who'll get first crack: Andrew Quarless

Analysis: When healthy, Jermichael Finley was one of the most productive tight ends in franchise history, although his future is clouded by spinal injury that must be treated with sensitivity.

No doors have been closed on Finley, but until he gets cleared by the team doctors, the coaching staff has to prepare as if he won't be there—and as of right now, he's not there.

Andrew Quarless started a career-high 10 games last season in Finley's absence to go long with 32 catches for 312 yards and two touchdowns.

After signing a two-year deal with the Packers in the offseason, Quarless figures to remain the starter, although he did miss the entirety of the offseason program, on which the organization has yet to comment.

While Quarless is likely the best in-line blocker among the tight ends, analysis might be better served not to find out who the starter is, but who can fill the role of "receiving tight end," the type that can be a threat downfield.

Brandon Bostick got a cup of tea with the Packers last season before a foot injury landed him on injured reserve. That experience gives him a leg up on a pair of rookies: Richard Rodgers and Colt Lyerla.

Both Rodgers and Lyerla had positive showings during the Packers' offseason program, but it will be a different world when the pads come on in training camp. Lyerla, in particular, is toeing a thin line and must stay out of trouble if he hopes to become a contributing member of the Packers offense.

Taylor has a chance to contribute in an H-back role.

 

Center

Last year's departed starter: Evan Dietrich-Smith

This year's starting candidates: J.C. Tretter, Corey Linsley

Who'll get first crack: J.C. Tretter

Analysis: Now that Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent, Aaron Rodgers will be working with his fourth starting center in four seasons, and there's a good chance it will be a player that hasn't so much as played a single NFL snap in his life.

Although he spent much of last season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, at least J.C. Tretter has been around the Packers offense for a year longer than incoming rookie Corey Linsley.

Tretter worked with the starting offensive line for the duration of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp, a streak that is likely to continue through the opening of training camp.

By no means is Tretter guaranteed of a spot in the starting lineup, however. Not only has he not taken a snap in the NFL, he didn't even play major college football at the FBS (division IA) level.

Linsley comes from a brand-name program at Ohio State and has the experience of facing top college athletes on a game in and game out basis.

It's not going to be easy for Linsley to come into Green Bay as a fifth round draft choice and become a starter, but the opportunity is there for the taking in what truly will be an open battle.

 

Defensive Line

Last year's departed starters: Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly

This year's starting candidates: Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Letroy Guion

Who'll get first crack: Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels

Analysis: Ryan Pickett and Johny Jolly, who started 16 and eight games respectively last season, are free agents able to sign with any team of their choosing.

While no one has ruled out a return by either player, at 34 and 31 years old, neither Pickett nor Jolly figures to play a huge role even if they happen to come back.

The Packers turned to Julius Peppers in the offseason, which signaled a sign of change in the team's defensive schemes.

Peppers is unlikely to play as a base end in the 3-4 defense, but the Packers didn't give Peppers $7.5 million guaranteed to sit the bench.

Exactly what role the Packers have in plan for Peppers is uncertain, but there's been no shortage of talk about him playing an hybrid "Elephant" position as a defensive end/outside linebacker.

As for true defensive linemen, Daniels is in line for an increase in playing time after leading the team 6.5 sacks among players at his position.

Although he's just 6-feet tall, Daniels has proven capable of playing on running downs and could be a true three-down player for the Packers in 2014.

Likewise, the Packers will be looking for last year's first round draft choice Datone Jones to play a bigger role after a rookie year limited by an ankle injury.

And it would appear the Packers also have designs on free agent signee Letroy Guion playing on early downs as a run stuffer.

 

Safety

Last year's departed starter: M.D. Jennings

This year's starting candidates: Micah Hyde, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Who'll get first crack: Micah Hyde

Analysis: M.D. Jennings started all 16 games last season and made 74 tackles, but even though the Packers had the opportunity to retain him as a restricted free agent, they showed little interest, allowing him to sign with the division rival Chicago Bears in the offseason.

The Packers didn't get a single interception from the safety position last season, so they'll be looking to get much better production from whoever replaces Jennings in the starting lineup.

Following a promising rookie season, the Packers switched Micah Hyde from cornerback to safety during the offseason and allowed him to work with the first-string defense despite adding Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as a first round draft choice.

Hyde may have a year of experience on Clinton-Dix, but it might be difficult for him to hold off a player that comes as highly regarded as the former Alabama safety.

Regardless of who starts, there's probably a role for both players with as many nickel and dime packages—requiring extra defensive backs—as the Packers run.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (15) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RC Packer Fan's picture

In the Packers offense i consider it 3 starting WR's. The 3rd WR spot I think will be Boykin to start the year. Adams i think will play a quite a bit, but Boykin has shown he can play and produce.

TE, I think Quarless will be the starter. But my darkhorse sleeper that could be the starter is Brandon Bostick. A lot of the attention this offseason has went to Quarless, Rodgers and Lyerla, but Bostick maybe the guy who comes in and wins the job.

C, I think Tretter starts the season as the starter and if he plays well will keep it. Otherwise Linsley maybe the guy.

DL, is tough for me to predict because i am unsure how they are going to line up. I also think we are going to see more of a rotation this year. Run downs more i think we'll see Boyd more, passing downs Jones and Daniels.
I think the 'starters' will be Daniels, Raji, Jones.
Also how do Peppers and Neal fit in. And how do guys like Thornton, Worthy, Guion fit into that rotation?

I am really looking forward to seeing how the front 7 turns out.

S, I think Hyde will start out as the starter, but I think Clinton-Dix will earn the starting job at some point and could be sooner then later. Either way i expect both to play a lot.

L's picture

I agree with your WR prediction.

As long as A.Quarless is able to start practicing come training camp I think you're right he'll end up starting the season, but if he's dealing with some kind of lingering injury thing that keeps him from establishing his role as the starter during the preseason this position could be a complete toss up for identifying the starter come the start of the season. I also agree that B.Bostick is the guy most likely to be "next guy up" if A.Quarless isn't 100% ready to go; however, if R.Rodgers or C.Lyerla demonstrate that their still capable playmakers once the pads come on then who knows if the position simply becomes pretty much a rotational one with all of these guys contributing some. Outside of R.Taylor's special teams play he doesn't really compete with these other guys in regards to fulfilling the TE roles, so I'm not really including him in the conversation.

I agree with your Center assessment for the most part; except, to change one thing: "Tretter definitely starts the preseason as the starter and if he plays well enough he'll keep it; otherwise, Linsley is likely the guy for the season."

DL: I agree with your statement about seeing more rotations given that I think there's going to be more defensive specialty packages in use this year which will involve rotating in and out the front players a little more often. I'm in agreement with your "starters" (M.Daniels, BJ.Raji, and D.Jones) in regards to the 3-4; however, if they're actually going to be playing more defensive packages revolving around a Nickle or Linebacker heavy formation perhaps the starters will simply be 2 of those from that group along with J.Peppers or maybe even M.Neal playing the 3rd starter's role as an "elephant end" (sort of the 3rd down-lineman) instead. I mention them because they should be quite capable and strong enough to hold their ground against the run out of the 3 point stance while also being talented enough to get after the quarterback if necessary too. I think a 2-5-4 or 2-4-5 kind of defensive look w/ an elephant end will be used more often then the typical 3-4: just my guess though. The 2-5-4 would probably feature the group on the line that I mentioned earlier with players like N.Perry and C.Matthews remaining as the outside linebackers and then two inside backers. The 2-4-5 may either see one of the inside linebackers replaced by a defensive back playing down in the box as a hybrid backer or maybe they simply replace the one of the outside linebackers to add another slot cover corner. The options and versatility that are presented out of these formations are vast which has me thinking that it'll be their featured defensive looks, but the most important aspect is the ability to stop the run first and foremost and if going a bit lighter on the line doesn't allow this then I can see them having to be forced to play more 3-4, 3-3-5, or even 3-5-3 formations. The neat thing with the 3-4 or even 3-5-3 formations are how they can use the Elephant End to created a type of 4-3 or 4-4-3 look if they wanted too. Overall, I'm excited and am looking forward to seeing how the so-called "starters" of the front 6, 7 or 8 turn out, plus how they're all going to be rotated and used. The defense should be much improved this year as long as injuries don't test the limitations of the team's versatility.

I sort of agree with your assessment on M.Hyde. I simply think the team is trying really hard to find ways to get him on the field as often as they can; so, in the 3-4 I think he'll probably get the starting nod over H.Clinton-Dix initially and as long as he doesn't appear incapable of handling the Safety job he'll probably hold that position all season long while also being moved around to several other spots in many of the other defensive formations. He's probably the main guy they look toward using in the hybrid backer role or as the second slot cover corner within the 2-4-5 or 3-3-5 formations. I do wonder though if H.Clinton-Dix appears to be the playermaker they hope he is early on and M.Hyde appears to be doing really well too do they start playing H.Clinton-Dix over someone like M.Burnett in the 3-4 formation or do they simply factor that into their logic and reason for using more 2-4-5, 3-3-5, 2-3-6, 1-5-5 or even 1-4-6 formations instead of the 3-4, 2-5-4 or even an actual 4-3. Of course, any logic and reason to use more of those formations in less ideal situations coincides directly with the front players' abilities to stop the run while the team remains light on the D-line.

Stroh's picture

I've been saying the same mostly... Packers start 3 WR, so Nelson, Cobb and Boykin start. Adams will have some packages and be the #4 WR.

Quarless is the likely and apparent starter, but Bostic, due to his downfield receiving ability and improved blocking will have a real shot to unseat him. This will be a very close training camp competition to watch.

At Center, I don't think it'll be much of a competition. Tretter will be the starter. I think he's going to be one of the better NFL Centers pretty quickly (within a couple years). Linsley will be fighting for a roster spot w/ Taylor, the winner depending on who proves more versatile at LG, C, RG.

My guess on the DL has Daniels at LDE, Raji at NT and Datone Jones at RDE. I agree that its possible Boyd plays in place of either Daniels or Jones on run downs. Both need to prove they can withstand being a 34 DL vs the run. I disagree w/ the author that Daniels have proven he can play the run.

Peppers will be a pseudo DL. As an EE on early downs he'll possibly play w/ his hand on the ground, in what would look like a 43 Defense. On pass downs Peppers will move around IMO and play up and down the DL and as an EE. There will be a lot of moving and interchangeable players pass rushing w/ Perry, Neal, Peppers being the moveable pieces on the DL and Matthews at LB.

What I really wanna know is if they plan to move Matthews to LOLB to accommodate Peppers and Perry on the Right side as the EE/ROLB.

Hyde will be the starting Safety this year IMO. And Clinton-Dix will take the starting job next year. Hyde will be a starting Safety, slot CB and even have some packages as a pseudo LB.

Charlie M's picture

I sure hope you're right about Tretter but I'm not as confident.

"I think he's going to be one of the better NFL Centers pretty quickly (within a couple years)."

Strong statement. I'm curious what you're basing this on however. Ok measurables at the combine and blocking Ivy League de's? I know he works hard, as McCarthy said he was there everyday in the offseason and its not a reach to say he probably has a very good grasp on the playbook. He also has never played c and missed most of the year last year.

Stroh's picture

I read an article recently that if Tretter had not been injured he would have had a legit chance to beat out EDS either in training camp or during the season. The Packers thought that highly of him. He has very good athleticism and good power. As a Center one of the most important attributes is his football IQ. We know he's got that in spades... Honestly I have no concerns w/ Tretter. He'll go thru some minor growing pains this year, but he'll have it all figured out quickly. The Packers were very impressed by what he showed when able to practice last year after coming off PUP.

Stroh's picture

"Mike McCarthy said at the owner’s meetings in Orlando, Fla. that Tretter may have earned the starting job over Dietrich-Smith last year had he not been injured."

jeremyjjbrown's picture

It will be interesting to watch where they put Peppers. After years of always lining up on the right I'm sure he's chomping at the bit to move around.

I expect we'll see him line up in the 5 and 7 technique a lot, mostly from the Strong side and then occasionally inside in the nickel. But, that is just a wild guess based on some other 4-3 under style defenses.

Daniels and Peppers as the Tackles with Matthews and Perry/Neal at OLB's in a more traditional 2-4 like Capers like to run would be nice as well. Hell, I even expect to see a 1-5-5 like the Steelers used to run at times at some point

I just can't wait to see him take down Cutler!

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I agree with your comments, RC. I don't agree with the author that Daniels has proven his ability to handle the run. GB has been very smart about putting Daniels in positions where he can excel - that's good coaching. If Daniels shows that he can handle the run that would give GB even more flexibility along the defensive line, as would Datone Jones taking a leap in his 2nd year. If neither does, then I fear that Peppers will be forced to play more DE than one would hope. I would love to see Peppers being moved up and down the line and used at EE, and not forced to play DE. I agree that we are likely to see quite a bit of Boyd too, although Raji will be the starter.

Clearly the coaches think very, very highly of Tretter. I always have a nagging doubt until a player does it in an NFL game, though, so the drafting of a true college center from a big-time program provides some comfort.

I think TE is largely wide open. Unless Quarless, one more year removed from his knee injury, regains his blocking ability, any of the prospects has a chance, but I agree that Quarless should be viewed at least for now as the probable starter, mostly by default. If Quarless does not regain his old form, he is better suited to being a back up. At 1.5 Million a year with $350K guaranteed, he did not get starter's money. IIRC, Bostick's measurables are very close to Lyerla's, and Bostick along with the rookies will all get a long look.

JimTaylor31's picture

Sure be nice if Lattimore or Barrington could step and grab an ILB spot. At least get a share of the playing time.

Stroh's picture

Lattimore is definitely in line for more playing time. While the Packers still say Jones is the starter, it wouldn't be a stretch by any means that Lattimore beats him out. Jones did play injured last year and apparently it hurt his play, so he should play better this year. But Lattimore is on the cusp of becoming a possible starter if he continues to progress and takes a step up.

Fejs Buks's picture

I didn't see Jordy Nelson on WR starters...strange

JimTaylor31's picture

Who is Jordy Nelson??

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I found this interesting article on Kyri Thornton. I am not sure of the ultimate source, since it is so glowing that he sounds like a 1st or 2nd round pick. Here is the link:

http://gnb.scout.com/story/1416553-free-sample-khyri-thornton-s-scouting...

aussiepacker's picture

Definitely a glowing reference. If he lives up to all this praise than we might just have a baller?

Stroh's picture

I've watches some highlites of Thornton. What stands out to me is his quickness and disruptivenesss. He gets a really good jump either to engage or penetrate and seems to play in the backfield quite a bit. If 1/2 the rest is true Thornton will turn out to be well worth the 3rd rd pick they used on him.

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