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Five Intriguing Packers Training Camp Battles to Watch For

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Five Intriguing Packers Training Camp Battles to Watch For

For the Green Bay Packers, fielding a successful veteran team means that there will be precious few new starting jobs to compete for entering this 2015 season.  Barring injury or a major surprise there are at most four starting positions up for grabs.

The more intriguing aspect of Packers Training Camp 2015 will be the five possible roster battles described below.  Each potential battle features at least one veteran player who could be facing the ax at the final roster cut.   

1. John Kuhn vs. Aaron Ripkowski at Fullback.                                                                                                                                          

The skinny:  Fan Favorite The Kuuuuuuuhn was signed for this season on another one year contract at the veteran minimum.  There is no guaranteed money, so if things don’t work out it will cost the Packers nothing to waive him.  Kuhn is one of only five Packers players age 30 or above.  Aaron Ripkowski was drafted by the Packers in round six of this year’s draft and the hope is that he will become a dependable player in the same mold as John Kuhn.    

Making the case for Kuhn:  He is a respected leader, hard worker, almost mistake free and is almost like another coach when he is on the field.  Kuhn is a valuable player to have on board for a year that should end up with the Packers playing in San Francisco in February.                     

Making the case for Ripkowski:  He is younger, slightly bigger, faster and has good hands out of the backfield.  Would be an instant starter on most of the special teams.  A willing blocker and if he is to supplant Kuhn one day anyway, why not now?

How it will probably end:   Both will make the 53 man roster in what will be Kuhn’s last year.

2.  Jared Abbrederis vs. Jeff Janis at wide receiver.                                                                                            

The skinny:  Barring injury the Packers have four locks at wide out:  Nelson, Cobb, Adams and Montgomery.  Last year, as in most years under McCarthy, the team has kept only five receivers.  Both are entering their second year. Janis made the final roster last year but was a game day inactive for most games logging only 15 plays all season. 

Abbrederis injured his knee early and spent the entire season on IR. 

Making the case for Abbrederis:  A highly accomplished punt returner he can also return kickoffs and will compete for playing time in the slot.  A little bigger version of Randall Cobb he excels at route running and has apparently fully recovered from his injury.  Highly productive in a major college program at Wisconsin he would seem to have a bright future ahead of him.

Making the case for Janis:  Coach McCarthy has heaped praise on Janis as a hard worker who deserved more playing time at the end of last season than he got.  A big receiver (6’ 3”, 219 lbs.) with blazing speed who has a very high upside and could also return kickoffs.

How it will probably end:  Both fit the mold of young ascending players who will be versatile additions on special teams – the team will carry six receivers this year and both will make the final 53.

3.  Lane Taylor vs. Matt Rotheram on offensive line.

The skinny:  After the five returning starters on the O-line, I have JC Tretter and Don Barclay as your 6th and 7th lineman.  The team normally keeps eight.   

Lane Taylor is a third- year player who caught on as an undrafted free agent. Taylor is more an interior lineman than a tackle.

Rotheram also went undrafted but was offered a $5000 bonus by the Packers and chose Green Bay after 15 other clubs expressed interest in bringing him aboard. Rotheram is also a better interior lineman but can play every position except left tackle. Both are currently about 325# but Rotheram (who played last year at 342lbs. at Pitt) has a 2” height advantage on Taylor.

Making the case for Taylor:  A veteran who knows the system and has been used on special teams particularly extra point and field goal teams.

Making the case for Rotheram:  A very versatile player who has a nasty streak.  In college he started at right guard and right tackle but many view his best position as center.

How it will probably end:  Taylor made the team by default last year when Don Barclay was lost to injury for the year and his special teams play was unimpressive to say the least.  Rotheram makes the team and Taylor is released.

4.  Chris Banjo vs. Ladarious Gunter at defensive back.

The skinny:  I realize that Banjo is a safety and Gunter a corner, but with the versatility at the corner back position (particularly with rookies Collins and Randall) you are going to find more mixing and matching this year between the two positions than ever before.  Banjo was signed to an exclusive rights contract after splitting time last year on the practice squad and the active roster. 

Gunter was signed this year as an undrafted free agent out of Miami.A big press corner with great size (6’, 202 lbs.) and strength.Although not the fastest he is a ferocious tackler. He excels on the outside in man coverage and can easily slide over as a single high safety or over to cover the tight end.

Making the case for Banjo:  For his size, Banjo is a punishing tackler and is valued for his special teams play.  He has worked his way up and continues to get better.

Making the case for Gunter:  Great size, something the Packers corner backs don’t have much of right now.  Plenty of upside with the proper coaching.  Gunter hopes to follow in the foot-steps of another former Miami Hurricane, Sam Shields.  Gunter has impressed coaches so far in the OTA’s.

How it will probably end:  With his size and versatility and ability to make a splash on Special Teams I like Gunter to stick.

5.  Josh Boyd vs. Khyri Thornton at defensive end.

The skinny:  Boyd is a third year player who has taken snaps away from former first rounder Datone Jones.  He is probably never going to be a pro-bowler but will give you all he has and is a good all-around player, but also not excelling in any one area.

Khyri Thornton was a surprise 3rd round pick of the Packers last year and he arrived at camp ill-prepared to contribute. In camp he made few plays and coasted as he was constantly beaten by seemingly lesser players until he landed on season-ending IR.

Making the case for Boyd:  Josh Boyd is a serviceable defensive end who doesn’t make errors and has earned the trust of his coaches.  Learning the system after appearing in 17 games last season he seems poised to continue to be a solid, albeit unspectacular, contributor again this season.

Making the case for Thornton:  You just don’t give up on a third round pick after just one year, do you?  To his credit he has come back this year with what he has termed a renewed enthusiasm to prove himself and earn a roster spot.

How it will probably end:  To date Boyd has been the better player by far but the sample size is very small indeed for Thornton.  “If” Thornton shows anything at all he will stick - primarily because Ted Thompson does not easily give up on high draft choices (remember Jamal Reynolds who managed to occupy a roster spot for three long agonizing years?) 

That however might be a “big if”.

This one is a toss-up.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (54) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RCPackerFan's picture

One of the players that you picked to make the roster is one of my sleeper picks to make the 53. Ladarious Gunter.
The thing that separates him is his size. He has size that no other CB has on the roster. The knock on him is speed. But if he is a press corner he doesn't have to have elite speed to stay with WR's if he can push them around at the LOS.

Other match ups that you picked, I think both Janis and Abbrederis make the 53. I think both Kuhn and Ripkowski make the 53.
On the OL, I think its more then just Taylor and Rotheram in the battle for the 8th spot. I would also throw in Jeremy Vujnovich, and Garth Gerhart. Ultimately I think they will keep more of a Tackle prospect, but I wouldn't rule anyone of those 4 out to make the roster.

Idiot Fan's picture

Totally agree. It's interesting that Whitt has been talking about Gunter, Rollins, and Randle a bunch. I've heard very little about Goodson, who was talking a big game coming into minicamps. I wonder if it's possibly Gunter vs. Banjo vs. Goodson?

I'm also interested to see how the backup LB spots play out, particularly with Hubbard and Thomas.

Ugh, this is the longest, worst stretch of the sports year, waiting for camp to start.

Evan's picture

I agree about Vujnovich. I'm thinking the 8th OL needs to be more of a pure tackle with the ability to play LT. The interior is stacked.

Though, I guess Bulaga is the primary backup at LT, yea? Then Barclay would go to RT? I've always hated the OL musical chairs.

DrealynWilliams's picture

"How it will probably end: Taylor made the team by default last year when Matt Barclay was lost to injury for the year and his special teams play was unimpressive to say the least. Rotheram makes the team and Taylor is released."

Who's Matt Barclay?

jayrey26's picture

Thompson didn't draft Jamal Reynolds. Mike Sherman did.

Nerd's picture

I think Wolf drafted him at Sherman's behest. That WR we took too, instead of Chris Chambers, what was his name? Ended up a Viking.

The TKstinator's picture

Robert Ferguson.

Nerd's picture

Montgomery sticks at RB, behind Lacy and Starks. Who knows, with a new AssitantHC/Playcaller, we might even get some screens. Can you imagine Monty or Cobb in the open field with blockers out in front?

Also, I look at Thornton as more of a NT.

The TKstinator's picture

Isn't Montgomery a WR?

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Montgomery played some RB in college. As a WR alone, I think he would have been a 6 or 7th round pick.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I kinda see of him as a bigger stronger Shane Vereen.

tm_inter's picture

Montgomery has been reported to be a better runner than a receiver. I read that he had suspect hands but was a powerful runner with the ball.

Jersey Al's picture

Montgomery will not be a running back. I think he has gotten a bit of a bad rap due to a drop in production his final season at Stanford. After his junior year, he was drawing Dez Bryant comparisons. I think he will surprise everyone as a WR. However, I'm most excited about his return abilities. It's been a long time since the Packers have had a real kick returner.

Evan's picture

Agreed. I'm sure (eventually) we'll see him in the backfield from time to time a la Cobb, but 39 carries in 4 years does not a running back make. He'll be a primarily a KR/WR.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I watched 4 games of film on Monty at draftbreakdown, and couldn't tell if Montgomery had any vision as a RB. I don't really think he'll play RB for GB but at 221 Lbs he could assume the roll that Cobb had of once in a while lining up there. I note that in every game I watched Monty had a bad drop, sometimes 2 bad drops in the same game. If he drops a couple of passes from Aaron Rodgers, he will have a whole lot of trust issues to overcome.

croatpackfan's picture

Ty Montgomery is not and will not be RB... There is Rajion Neal, John Crockett ("Taz") and Alonso Harris. Both of the last 2 players showed special abilities during their college season(s)...

I do not understand you, people. Why would you spare well to excellent WR to play out of his position? By your opinion we do not need Ty Montgomery to be RB. That duty can be delivered to Randall Cobb. He was also playing that position from time to time.

You need real RB to play RB. 3rd RB is mostly ST player and safety valve in case of injury!

Nick Perry's picture

Like Reynoldo just mentioned croatpackfan, those plays where Cobb runs out of the backfield I think go to Montgomery now and I think they should and will.

croatpackfan's picture

I agree that they will use Ty to run out of the backfield, but that play can be played 1 to 2 times per game. And that play does not makes performer to be 3rd RB. RBs has different duties, and that is what I was saying!

Nick Perry's picture

BOOM!!! That's exactly what I've been preaching to the choir Nerd, although I doubt he'd get more than say 20 carries in a season, just something different a few times a game. Could be used as a change of pace type back at times, or like Cobb was used against New England, and your idea a screen pass! Oh my fricken God, could you imagine TC actually calling some screen passes with Monty being escorted by Sitton , Lang, and/or Lindsey out front? Obviously Lacy in the screen game is just as lethal, just in a run you over opposed to around you kind of way. The possibilities of the combinations the Packers can throw at a defense are endless. I love this years team!

Tundraboy's picture

Camp can not get here soon enough. So much to watch this year.

The TKstinator's picture

Really a bad sign when a rookie "coasts" like Thornton reportedly did. He better turn that around. Gotta have guys with that nasty streak. Intensity.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

From what I've read the guy has been coasting his whole career. That's not gonna fly anymore.

The TKstinator's picture

Agreed!
I can imagine some of these guys being "men among boys" at the collegiate level, but when they show up at a pro training camp and EVERYBODY is just as big and strong as they are....how does the "light" not go on??

dobber's picture

Surprised you don't mention OLB, with Mulumba, Elliott and Hubbard playing for what looks like a single roster spot. Can't imagine Elliott doesn't have a leg-up on that one, but you never know.

Expected Crockett to jump up and grab hold of the third RB spot, but apparently Raijon Neal has been very good so far, and Crocket dinged his ankle in practice.

http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/davante-adams-takes-next-step-at-...

Bring on camp!

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Nice article

"(Kuhn) is almost like another coach when he is on the field."
And hopefully a Packers coach off the field in the future.

Jared Abbrederis vs. Jeff Janis
We should talk about hands. Abbrederis has great hands! Jeff Janis has, well, he has forearms. I expect them both to stick and Bennett to teach Janis how to catch.

"Ted Thompson does not easily give up on high draft choices"
Justin Harrell too... Since they are accepting of UDFA I feel this balances things out a bit. Personally, I think once the Rookies walk into the Don Hudson center they should burn a symbolic draft card and leave the ashes to blow away in the wind.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

That's a great line: Janis has, well, he has forearms. Janis does body catch too much. IMO, though, Janis' hands are considerably better than Montgomery's.

Nick Perry's picture

I don't know about that my friend. I love the idea of Janis finding a place in this offense but the knock on him was he caught everything with his body, has that changed that much already? I don't see him practice (Don't know if you do) but I didn't see enough last year to say that he has better hands than a 2013 Consensus All American. Montgomery is going to be a nice piece to this offense.

Evan's picture

Is Kuhn really a fan favorite? Seems more like the coach's favorite and the fans' favorite whipping boy.

The TKstinator's picture

KUUUUHN!
But I think the fans hate the fullback dive from the one when he gets stopped short of the goal line.
Of course, when he MAKES IT.....

Evan's picture

So, hate the play not the player, yea?

The TKstinator's picture

I'd say yes to that.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

The Mulumba, Elliott, Hubbard, and I would add Bradford into the mix at LB in general, will be interesting. I just like the way Banjo plays - he strikes me as a guy who is handy to have available.

I suspect that some of these battles will be determined by what GB does at other positions, and whether Mulumba sticks might be determined by how many players they keep at OL or at CB, etc.

Evan's picture

I noticed Gunter is wearing 36 - can't recall that being worn since Butler...but I'm sure I'm just forgetting. Gotta retire that number.

The TKstinator's picture

Nick Collins?

Evan's picture

Ugh...good lord. Just ignore me.

Carry on.

ha

alwz4gbp's picture

I was at a game when Collins was a rookie. We were interviewed by a TV station while tailgating and asked what we thought about the days game. My response was " I don't like that kid wearing Leroys number!!!!" There is no way they should have given that number out so quickly. Yes, Collins turned out to be a good player, and maybe would have surpassed Leroy if not for the injury, but he was no Leroy. Retire it? Probably not, but don't give it out to a rookie a year after Leroy steps down.

aaronqb's picture

I agree with all of your predictions, but I hope Kuhn does not make the 53-man. He is slow and offers little on special teams.

I also think there are many more roster battles than these five, but agree these are probably the most interesting to watch. I expect GB to go heavy on the LB position because Peppers is probably in his final season and both Neal and Perry are in the last year of their contracts.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I'm a little ambivalent about Kuhn. He will see the field if he is kept and will contribute. But I can't help thinking he is short term positive and would be kept at the expense of a younger player, one who is ascending or one who has talent that needs to be developed (and of course who might not ever develop).

FITZCORE1252's picture

Seems like this time every year we're talking about carrying a sixth WR, and it never happens. Maybe this is the year, I'm excited about both Jeff and Jared. Jared has shown what he is in college, and Jeff has everything you look for in the position (well, aside from his little midget hands :-) ), but can he do it at this level? I can't wait to find out.

Mojo's picture

Agree with all of Jeffs conclusions. The Pack will probably keep both FB's. I'd go with the Ripper and send JK to the booth. Sure you lose some of that coach on the field stuff, but sometimes in life you have to gamble.

Probably keep both Abby and Janis, but I'd roll the dice on getting Abby on the PS. They can use Montgomery on KO's and/or Hyde on punts. Got a feeling though QB1 will lobby for Abby and his other- worldly route running.

Rotheram over Taylor. This one should be easy and it has less to do with Rotheram than Taylor. Taylor blew chow in the little we saw of him.

Gunter v Banjo. Banjo has been on the edge of the 53 since he got here. Packers keep Gunter based on upside and versatility.

I was going to keep Boyd over Thornton, but I believe Boyd has already missed time due to his lingering knee issue. Boyd supplies zero pass rush so Thornton by default, gets the nod. I wouldn't be surprised if both end up getting cut and they keep Pennell.

There's probably a dozen other battles to mention which makes the month of August so interesting.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Pennel is definitely possible. I like him a lot, especially if Guion can really play DE pretty well.

BTW: back in April at allgbp you asked for stats on Crosby versus opposing kickers. Just curious if you saw my response - I think it had Jersey Al's opinion and stats too.

Mojo's picture

I did and thanks for doing that.

dobber's picture

I would argue that Janis has a better shot at making it through to the PS. Abbrederis has a volume of work at a much higher level, and if he shows well in camp I think he makes it. Don't get me wrong: Janis is a local kid (here) and we're rooting for him to do well, and he has the raw speed that the Packer WR corps needs. This is an embarrassment of riches and you can only keep so many.

Good teams end up cutting good players. But I wouldn't be surprised if a freak, late-camp injury relegates one of them to IR if they both show well...

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Bold Prediction: Tavarus Dantzler makes the 53. I think Dantzler making at least the PS is a given. (Is there a way to delete completely such bold predictions?]

Icebowler's picture

49ers make the playoffs? really?

Imma Fubared's picture

Great analysis but hey, remember a guy named James Worthy who also stuck for three years and was a 2 pick. What the heck does it take for Ted to say, this guy was a mistake, time to move on????

I clearly remember analyst screeming during the draft that Worthy was a 4 round at best, was known for taking plays off and came off as lazy at times.

He made a great play once in a while but he was rested when he did it and this was another wonder pick by Ted: I wonder what he's drinking.

alwz4gbp's picture

James Worthy played for the Lakers during the "Showtime" era.

The TKstinator's picture

He was awesome. I loved those fast breaking, 120 point games.

Clay Zombo's picture

Jerel Worthy may never have been any good but him tearing his ACL week 17 of his rookie season sure as hell didnt help.

With 8 new rookies and a few good looking UDFAs, roster spots will be hard to come by. Especially with guys like Barclay and Abrederis coming back afer a year on IR

Losing Tramon, House, Dujuan, Lattimore and Bush to free agency or not re-signed, along with the release of Hawk, Brad Jones, and Bostic thats 8 open roster spots that I see.(Did I miss any?).

Its gonna be a battle and I hope the best men win regardless of draft position. I would hate to give up on high picks too quickly but I also dont want to lose good players hoping/waiting on potential.

PackEyedOptimist's picture

1. I'm hoping Ripkowski shows he is almost as good/ready as Kuhn, so they can let Kuhn go, mainly because I think we really need the roster spot for other positions where the young talent is deep.
2. I like Abbrederis, but I'm not convinced he is durable enough for the NFL. I think Janis has far better hands than fans give him credit for; he made lots of tough catches in college, but he also was wide open often, and on those occasions made a "forearm catch" (moreso than a body catch). However, I really think the roster spot goes to the best special teams player, and that means someone who can block and tackle; the return and WR positions are already filled adequately.
I also like Pinkard and Coxson, but I think they get the PS.
3. I agree that the final OL should be a left tackle prospect to develop. He might easily not be on the current roster.
4. Again, it will be the best blocker/tackler special teams player, unless Gunter or another is spectacular as a DB.
5. I don't think Thornton OR Boyd makes it. I expect a different player to take that roster spot. Pennel, Ringo, and camp surprise Hooks, all are more likely.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I think your #5 is more possible than fans think. I agree with #3 in a perfect world, but I would endorse it with the caveat that the last OL players has to be able to play, or develop into a player. PFF recently had an article where out of the blue they mentioned Ringo as a sleeper. Some others I know have mentioned Ringo. I haven't seen any film on Ringo so I am neutral on Ringo.

tm_inter's picture

Great article, Jeff! Keep them coming!

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