Around this time a week ago, the Green Bay Packers were in the process of officially opening up 2012 training camp. Six practices later, including four in pads and one indoors, and some of the questions posed during the Packers’ offseason have started to find preliminary answers.
Nothing is set in stone yet—there’s still over a week before the first preseason game and a month before the Packers kick off the regular season—so caution must remain in over-reacting to too much of what happened during the first week.
But in case you missed the first week of camp, here’s what you missed.
Competition at cornerback is real
I wrote in my training camp preview that the cornerback position battle would be the most fascinating of camp. So far, that has held true. In the nickel and dime packages—which defensive coordinator Dom Capers will likely use a lot of in 2012—competition for the outside cornerback position opposite Tramon Williams (nickel) and the slot position opposite Charles Woodson (dime) has been fierce.
CB coach Joe Whitt told reporters Wednesday that looking into who lines up with the No. 1 defense in each package has been a futile exercise this early in camp. With all the rotating going on, it’s hard to say he’s bluffing. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been things to learn about the players battling for those positions so far.
Veteran Jarrett Bush originally lined up with the ones in the nickel, and Whitt said that he’ll likely return there Thursday. He’s been the most physical corner in this competition, hands down.
Second-year corner Davon House has been one of the early camp stars, and his performances the last three days have turned heads throughout the staff. Mike McCarthy can’t stop talking about him, even when unprompted.
After a dreadful start, former starter Sam Shields has come on strong this week. Too many wrote him off over three early training camp practices. Not smart for a player as physically talented as Shields, even if the technique and tackling have lacked at times.
And rookie Casey Hayward, who veteran beat writer Bob McGinn wrote glowingly about early in camp, has shown enough through six practices to think he’s ready to play a role covering NFL receivers. An early prediction would peg him as a favorite to play inside opposite Woodson in the dime.
No one should be writing any names down with permanent marker, however. This competition has a lot left in it. The first week has only cracked the surface of the Packers’ most crucial roster battle.
Cobb makes his case
The Packers offense may feature more game-breaking options than any in football. In fact, the offense may have more mouths to feed than one football can realistically accomplish. But the rest of the Packers offensive playmakers better make room for one more at the table: Second-year receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb seems to make a big play every day of camp, and he’s done it from a variety of different positions within the Packers offense. His best spot is clearly in the slot, where his quick-twitch athleticism and electric lateral agility makes him a difficult cover. But the Packers also feel comfortable playing Cobb outside, and he’s even taken handoffs from the backfield during camp.
Somehow, someway, McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements will be forced to give Cobb snaps. He’s just too dynamic, even with established guys like Donald Driver and James Jones on the roster. I have said it a hundred times now, but when 2012 is said and done, Cobb should have the third most snaps among the receivers. And by the the time ’12 is over, the league is going to wonder how it let 63 picks come and go two Aprils ago before Cobb fell right into the Packers laps.
Burnett starting to come on
The Packers haven’t been this young at the safety position in a long, long time. With no Nick Collins or Charlie Peprah around, Green Bay has an average age of just over 23 years old at the position. Technically, 2011 practice-squader Anthony Levine is the elder statesman at 25. While Charles Woodson is going to be playing safety in the base defense, the Packers simply don’t use that package enough for me to consider Woodson a true safety.
The Packers are clearly banking on third-year safety Morgan Burnett taking a big step, and so far in camp, he’s shown the ability. Burnett made a number of big plays during the 11-on-11 period Tuesday, including a couple of picks and an athletic pass-breakup along the sidelines. McCarthy said following the practice that Burnett is ready for a season that will have the league talking.
And let’s keep in mind: Burnett is entering his third year, but he missed all but four games in 2010 with a torn ACL and then missed most of the 2011 offseason because of the lockout. After a full season (mostly, Burnett wore a hefty cast mid-season that slowed a promising start) and a full offseason, let’s see if Burnett can take the next step.
Williams shows up beyond shorts
A year ago, Green Bay was abuzz with a fifth-round tight end named D.J. Williams. The former Razorback was catching everything in sight with shorts and a helmet on, and some saw the perfect complement to Jermichael Finley as the No. 2 tight end. That vision never materialized, however, mostly because Williams disappeared once the pads came on. The same can’t be said so far in 2012. Williams has been a visible factor in the passing game throughout camp, and he appears better suited physically for a blocking role after an offseason that either was or wasn’t aided by “cow wrestling.” If the progression continues through camp, there’s a spot for Williams in this offense.
Backing down the panic meter
Quarterbacks Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman haven’t always been sharp, but both have shown enough for the panic level of the backup quarterback position to drop a notch or two. Harrell’s arm is clearly improved, and his experience in the offense is starting to peak through. Coleman’s arm talent is well-within NFL range already. But I’ve been impressed with his poise on a number of plays, and McCarthy appears content throwing more at him than the average rookie.
Continuing to ride the wave
UDFA linebacker Dezman Moses was the defensive standout of minicamps and OTAs, wowing the staff when given the chance to play with the first-team defense. Through one week, it appears as if Moses has carried that momentum into training camp. While running with the No. 2 defense—a telling placement in itself—Moses has shown flashes as a pass-rusher. On Railbird Central Wednesday, Brian Carriveau went as far as to say that Moses might have a roster spot close to locked up already.
Remember when the Packers special teams were a constant mess? Those days are long gone. Kicker Mason Crosby hasn’t missed a live-action field goal thus far, while Tim Masthay has been Aussie-stylin’ punts inside the 20-yard line all camp. Cobb is one of the game’s best duel threats on punt and kick returns. And long snapper Brett Goode has only been mentioned when his backups showed just how valuable he is with a bevy of mistakes early.
Evener Quicker Hits
- Running back Alex Green passed his physical to start camp and was cleared for full pads on the first day. Both discoveries were encouraging for a player who could play a big role on offense, despite coming off ACL surgery last October.
- There’s a lot of energy coming from the defensive line, and that’s thanks mostly to rookies Mike Daniels and Jerel Worthy and free-agent addition Anthony Hargrove. Talent-wise, this group is lightyears ahead of what Green Bay threw out in 2011.
- I joined in on raving about Cobb in camp, but Donald Driver has shown he still belongs on this roster. His best practice came Monday, when he hauled in three touchdowns. Driver still has value as a veteran slot guy.
- Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, two of the younger receivers many believed could push the Packers into keeping six, or even seven, at the position, have been relatively quiet. Gurley has made a few plays in the red zone, but he left Wednesday’s practice with a groin injury.
- Linebacker D.J. Smith was active like always while filling in for Desmond Bishop, who just got back to practice Wednesday after starting camp on the NFI list. Something tells me Smith won’t just be an emergency backup in 2012.
Miss something from the first week you thought I should have discussed? Let me know in the comment section below.