Five Packers With a Lot at Stake in Training Camp

Training camp is almost here and that means starting spots are up for grabs and jobs are on the line.

With a full preseason, including preseason games, making a return this year, Brian Gutekunst, Matt LaFleur and his coaches will get a proper look at their roster ahead of the 2021 campaign.

Here are five players for whom camp will be most crucial this summer:

Jace Sternberger

Sternberger’s time in the NFL has been tumultuous to say the least.

The tight end has had to deal with multiple concussions, other injuries and a bout of COVID-19 during his first two years in the league, and is now facing a two-game suspension to start 2021.

With Robert Tonyan enjoying a breakout season and the rest of the tight end room well stocked with blocking specialist Marcedes Lewis, the versatile Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney, who forced his way into the lineup at the end of last year, the former third round pick Sternberger needs to prove he is worth one more chance.

Equanimious St. Brown

EQ has also had his share of injury issues since his arrival in Green Bay. A high ankle sprain cost him the entire 2019 season and he also missed time in 2020.

He has flashed at times during his limited action, but with Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Amari Rodgers dead certs to make the team, that leaves St. Brown fighting with Devin Funchess and a handful of younger receivers for one or maybe two roster spots.

Funchess has more experience and is arguably a more proven commodity, and the likes of Malik Taylor and Juwann Winfree are more likely to contribute on special teams. EQ faces an uphill battle to make the roster.

Josh Jackson

Jackson is another player drinking at the last chance saloon.

After the Packers brought back Kevin King as well as drafting Eric Stokes and Shemar Jean-Charles, the former top 50 draft selection appears to be falling further down the depth chart.

The same issues that Jackson had coming into the league have stuck with him, with his penchant for drawing yellow flags one of the factors keeping him out of the line-up.

Jackson was a healthy scratch at times last season due to his lack of special teams contribution and will now be hoping a scheme change can revive his green and gold career.

Jordan Love

Packers fans will be hoping not to see Love in the regular season, but finally getting the chance to watch him in the preseason is an exciting prospect.

Love was up and down during OTA’s earlier in the offseason, so training camp will be vital for him to show continued development.

He could shut some people up with good performances in preseason games and give a glimpse of what’s to come, maybe even as early as 2022.

Preston Smith

After a stellar first season in Green Bay, Smith stalled last year, failing to reach the standard he previously set.

His sack numbers dropped from 12 to four between 2019 and 2020, leaving some to question his physical condition.

Rashan Gary will be going all out to take more of Smith’s snaps away this year and establish himself as the Packers’ number two edge rusher, so Preston needs to hit the ground running in camp if he is to keep his starting spot on defence.

 

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Mark Oldacres is a sports writer from Birmingham, England and a Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow him on twitter at @Marko7LW

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Comments (42)

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Savage57's picture

July 22, 2021 at 06:52 am

Really good list, Mark, though I question the inclusion of Love.

Short of punching out LaFleur, his place on the team is pretty secure no matter what he does in camp.

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HawkPacker's picture

July 22, 2021 at 07:13 am

When reading the article these were my exact thoughts. I certainly agree with Mark's list other than, of course, Love.

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:19 am

Agree Savage. Adding Love to a list of possible cuts is like adding Dexter Williams to a list of likely Packer All Pros following the 2021 season.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 22, 2021 at 01:25 pm

I immediately assumed that the article meant what was at stake were roster spots, but in some ways, Love does have a fair amount at stake. In my view, Love's performance will determine whether Bortles will make the team and whether the Packers keep three QBs.

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nostradanus's picture

July 22, 2021 at 07:27 am

Sternberger - He has had a slow start to his career and some unfortunate obstacles to overcome in his first two seasons. But he was a 3rd round draft choice and if they held on to Orin Burks (whose only attribute is special teams) they will give Jace plenty of chances.

EQ - He shows flashes, but either he has to find a way to contribute on special teams or his job goes to Taylor, Winfree or Gaither. I believe they will keep 6 WR's with Funchess getting a spot because of his intriguing size & skill set, so the 6th receiver absolutely has to excel on special teams!

Jackson - They didn't trust him enough to elevate him to the 53 for the playoffs with King hobbled?! Not a good sign! While I believe he is as good as King, apparently the DB coaches and DC do not. Plus the fact that he doesn't play special teams it does not look good for Josh. Maybe they can trade him for a 7th rounder and a bag o' chips.

Love - I can't wait to see him in the pre-season and I have my fingers (and toes) crossed that he provides hope for a future without the MVP, hopefully no sooner than 2022 though.

P. Smith - Smith will be fine, he had a down year and being that many were not sure if there was even going to be a season last year, it is somewhat understandable. Smith is still a very good player and with Gary and Z will provide a 3 headed monster in the pass rush! I have no worries at all about Preston, he will show up in shape after being a bit embarrassed with his Covid weight last year!

Of these 5, I believe Jackson and EQ are gone. Why? Because the Packers are in nickel and dime mode with the salary cap! They need to trim wherever they can and by cutting bait with EQ and Jackson they can shave roughly 2 million off of the bloated cap figure. This will be a deciding factor for many guys this year, Burks, Summers, J K Scott, H. Bradley, K. Hollman.
Bottom line: If someone in your position group is playing just as well and they are younger, better physically or better at special teams and the Packers can save money by moving on, they will!

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PewAuKeeFan's picture

July 22, 2021 at 08:23 am

nostradanus, I always like reading your analysis 👌

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nostradanus's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:12 am

Thanks man I appreciate it ;)

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2021 at 09:19 am

" I believe they will keep 6 WR's with Funchess getting a spot because of his intriguing size & skill set, so the 6th receiver absolutely has to excel on special teams!"

I think you hit on an important point here in that the Packers have several guys who don't fall neatly into position groups...or could easily fit roles in position groups outside what the roster says they do. Deguara and Dafney--call them TEs or FBs. Funchess--call him a move TE or a WR. The versatility they provide by being able to slide into other roles makes the offense less predictable.

So when it comes right down to it, the numbers at WR/TE/FB(RB) when final cuts are announced might look off based on that positional adaptabililty.

They still have only one really good in-line TE, though, and he's almost as old as I am... ;)

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Guam's picture

July 22, 2021 at 09:32 am

Had to laugh Dobber! "Almost" being the key......

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:15 am

SHhh!! Ixnay on the most-al-nay!

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nostradanus's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:16 am

True Dobber
This ain’t no Mike McCarthy offense so it could go a lot of ways and bunching together the receiver group is more complicated than just counting WR’s. But special teams is the key for sure, we all know that is going to be a major emphasis this year!

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:42 am

I don't think the Packers keep 6 WRs. I could be wrong but I see more positions on the 53 devoted to support the run game. More OL, TEs and RBs.

Going to be a fun camp to follow.

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 22, 2021 at 02:01 pm

I was surprised Burks wasn't on the list. He obviously should replace Love. Burks has been a huge disappointment. He is sipping at the Last Chance Saloon too.

Agree....no way Preston is going anywhere. After Z, Gary, and P the depth at Edge are mostly unproven later round or UDFAs. Even the 2020 version of P is better than those players now. Not to say Garvin, Ramsey, etc might yet emerge and I hope one of them does.

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flackcatcher's picture

July 22, 2021 at 12:15 pm

Salary cap intrigue. Never thought I see that from the Packers. But the past couple of years have been... (shakes head) As you say, play on the field may not decide those players fates.

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Coldworld's picture

July 22, 2021 at 07:37 am

I do not really see P Smith as under threat given his new contract. Nor do I see Love as being. It’s hardly a secret that the Packers believe he needed more time, so I doubt they are expecting consistency.

Really the salient feature this year is the amount of competition across the board for those who aren’t established starters and the potential questions over allocation of spots by position on both O and D, where our system is unclear at this point.

It should be ferocious competition, and that should result in a stronger roster. We should see some of the draft picks who haven’t gelled weeded out by competition and ST value. It’s going to be really tough for the first 3 you mention plus the likes of Burks, Summers, Hollman. Too much talent challenging for them to stick unless they make a big jump. Thats a really good thing. Let’s hope the injury gods smile on us.

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2021 at 09:20 am

"I do not really see P Smith as under threat given his new contract. "

I'm glad I read this far before I posted. Agree 100%.

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CoachDino's picture

July 22, 2021 at 07:03 pm

Great point, P smith's contract makes him a lock. Plus at 8m plus incentives he's not a bad deal.

IDK what will happen to Jace but to me he will be given every opportunity to make the team due to the specific TE position/skill set he brings. After Tonyan he is the best Rec TE. Tonyan Leaves after 2021, there is no replacement on the roster. JD and Dafney are HB and ML a pure blocking TE. None of them are Rec "threats" unless schemed. Certainly not seam threats.

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Guam's picture

July 22, 2021 at 08:13 am

Like others, I believe Love and Preston Smith do not belong on this list. I would substitute Oren Burks and Yosh Nijman for those two. Both Burks and Nijman are heading into their third season having earned little playing time to date and having younger talent filling the pipeline behind them. The Packers will not continue to waste roster spots on third year talent that are still "developmental" and are not contributing to the team. This is their year to shine or depart.

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2021 at 09:14 am

I agree with you, Guam. I would have included these two and removed P. and Love. Unless there's a radical change in their play, I think both Burks and Nijman would need the injury bug to strike their position groups pretty hard in order to make this team.

<<knocks on wood>>

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Guam's picture

July 22, 2021 at 09:37 am

Nijman has been a conundrum for me. He clearly has great athletic ability for a guy his size, but can he learn any technique? He did play special teams last year and looked improved, yet he didn't get a shot when Bahk went down. Maybe can turn the corner this year, but I just don't know. I think Burks is gone.

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:19 am

Nijman apparently played about 19% of ST snaps, which sounds like some duty on punt or FG units.

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/gnb/2020-snap-counts.htm

I agree, though, that his inability to find the field--even when he was active--when injuries hit was a telling sign at that point...and that it looks like this team is moving on from Burks.

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Coldworld's picture

July 22, 2021 at 11:06 am

The reason Nijman is different to Burks is that he projects as a truly freak athlete at a premium position who was so far from NFL technique that he didn’t get drafted. The Packers banked in being able to train him. He is a player who really would have benefited from an off season last year given the amount he had to learn. I’m not shocked that they did not blood him late last season, I think we were right to go with experience. We will get an inkling of whether he has progressed during camp. That will tell us if he’s close or not. Until then It is all guess work for us, but if they believe he is getting it, they won’t let him go.

Burks was drafted to play, and was expected to. He is a decent but not great ST player but he has shown no football acumen in any role in which he has been tried. I really don’t know why he is still here, but I suppose there is always hope for the lightbulb and hasn’t been someone to grab his spot. It will take a revelation for him to survive.

I think Jackson is in the same boat unless the coaching change helps him miraculously find a role he can master. EQ has at least flashed, but he’s running out of time and into much stronger competition. This year they all are: this camp could be brutal and deep enough to make such holdovers a thing of the past, but if they think Nijman is getting close, a true LT is the biggest prize of the lot unless they have at least two healthy and better candidates.

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:50 am

Nijman first played OT when he was recruited by VA Tech. In grade and High School he played Defensive line and was pretty good. Even as a new OT student at VA Tech, he played pretty well. Hopefully Stenavich can unleash him in year 3 as his student. You can't teach his size, strength, and speed. You can teach footwork and technique.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

July 22, 2021 at 08:21 am

I would say Lowry and Burks are more on their last chance and in danger of not making it out of camp with their jobs than Love or Preston. Lowry could be a victim of not having a place on the roster if the Packers feel confident they can move Clark to DE and roll with Slayton and Lancaster at NT. Burks is a man without a home who hasn't shown consistency at either ILB or OLB and could easily be unseated by younger and cheaper guys at either spot.

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 22, 2021 at 11:02 am

Agree about Burks. Had such high hopes for him.

Lowry is safe unless he completely collapses during camp. He is a valuable depth player but I think Keke will move past him in the rotation.

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Coldworld's picture

July 22, 2021 at 11:11 am

Sadly I agree on Lowry. I would like to have seen him traded. He is the kind of player who holds a team back, not because he is awful, but because he is always available and just good enough. His current contract is starter level. He is not. I hope Barry discards Pettine’s fixation with Lowry. I do not see him being released or even traded though, given the current roster.

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Since&#039;61's picture

July 22, 2021 at 08:42 am

Love and P. Smith are pretty secure. No problem with chucking Sternberger, EQ, Jackson and Burks. Continue to improve the roster rather than carrying players who haven’t been a factor since they arrived.

Build a solid roster at every level. Thanks, Since ‘61

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2021 at 09:22 am

Every GM has his pet projects, and it could be some of these guys will fall into that group. It will give us plenty to complain about in September! ;)

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DamSkippy's picture

July 22, 2021 at 09:45 am

Whatg about Kevin King. To just assume this guy who costs us the game against the Bucks is good to go is just bull and shit. All the guys you mentioned if they all played great and made the team, doesnt matter if your achiles heel is King and he is going to continue to give up the big play, whats the point. Rodgers and or Love cant make up for that.
Time the coaching staff get serious and start taking these losers to task and make some dam needed cuts. Get rid of dead wood

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nostradanus's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:20 am

King wasn’t perfect last year and looked really bad in the championship game of course. However he was put in a bad position by his defensive coordinator and was coming off injury, he was probably about 75% in that game. I blame the defensive coordinator on that page is before halftime, It never should’ve happened.

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Coldworld's picture

July 22, 2021 at 11:17 am

I agree, if nothing else, King has been decent when healthy and very good in the red zone. By mid way through last season he was visibly immobile. Baffles me how he was handled and Jackson and Hollman retained on the roster to date. It has to have been Pettine based on that fact.

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flackcatcher's picture

July 22, 2021 at 12:35 pm

The packers were running combo defensive sets in the secondary for most of the second half. Very effective, and it let both CB play to their strength in man coverage. At some point, it became Gray's call on Jackson and Hollman, as a DC Pettine had more than enough on his plate. My guess, for what it's worth, is how the Refs have a quick flag for hands with the Packers, playing both became a real negative in the last half of the season.

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nostradanus's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:21 am

PS: Sorry about the spellcheck but you know what I mean

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 22, 2021 at 11:13 am

King is safe. His concern needs to be Stokes taking his starting spot. Even then KK would still see a lot of snaps in Nickel and Dime.

And with Barry playing more zone, this could really help King as he struggles in man at times.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

July 22, 2021 at 11:31 am

King doesn't strike me as someone fluid enough to pay nickel, but I think he will still get a heavy share if snaps outside when Jaire or Stokes is playing inside.

My guess is King will stay outside for most of the year and Stokes will play outside when Jaire goes inside. But that also depends on who shows up in the safety rotation and whether there is someone that can anchor the FS position to allow Savage to move inside.

Either way, King is safe. For now.

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arthurl's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:23 am

I remember how good Brett Hundley looked in the preseason, then was ineffective in real game situations. I also remember how poor ARod looked his first two years, but he started showing more in preseason by year three. I say all this because basically this is Love’s first year and people need to temper their expectations and he definitely shouldn’t be judged during preseason.

I would also mention that first year ARod took over the starting job I believe they finished the season 6-10. This was after losing to the Giants in the NFC championship game. They had a very good team, that being Farve’s last season in GB. This year has a similar feel to me.

If Love has to start this season, they could be good; but I have a realistic in my opinion average season at best.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

July 22, 2021 at 12:30 pm

I don't know why this is a hill I'm willing to die on, but I still don't think Hundley was given a fair shake in GB. The offense was an absolute mess from 2016-18, and when the offense was Rodgers sandlot football, it was doomed to fail.

I think he had a lower ceiling than GB was hoping for, but I think in a system like MLFs he would have found much more success than he did in his brief starting stint, which is why I think Love could probably still squeak out 8-9 wins, or maybe more if Dillon lives up to his full potential.

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stockholder's picture

July 22, 2021 at 10:51 am

All 5 will make the team. The only way they don't? Is if they sit and want to nurse their Butt. You don't pay for excuses.

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 22, 2021 at 11:15 am

Another player on the thin ice is Dexter Williams. He is going to be powerfully "rushed" by Hill and Taylor.

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Matt Gonzales's picture

July 22, 2021 at 12:57 pm

To quote a Pack-a-Day'er here, every time I hear someone mention Dexter Williams I have to remind myself he's even on the team.

I feel like Christine Michael has a better chance coming back and making the roster than this point than Williams.

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jurp's picture

July 22, 2021 at 02:33 pm

As for your take on Love: "He could shut some people up with good performances in preseason games and give a glimpse of what’s to come, maybe even as early as XXXX 2021."

FIFY

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CoachDino's picture

July 22, 2021 at 07:08 pm

Love is a tough call, does he really need to prove himself in his first preseason? Not really, it won't mean anything in the big picture. He will still start if AR is gone and will be the Back-up if AR doesn't.

Im a JL fan but I have no preconceived idea that he is going to be a good QB in his first year be it this year or next. Most certainly not in 2021. How many rookie QB's put up good #s? very few and ones that are taken with the idea of development even less.

That said - I'm hopeful he can buck the odds. He has all the tools, has displayed leadership in college and has a great coach, scheme and supporting cast.

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