Aaron's Answers: Sizing up Packers' position battles

Aaron Nagler
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) is shown during organized team activities  Tuesday, May 23, 2017 in Green Bay.

Throughout the offseason, I’ll be answering reader questions in a weekly mailbag here at PackersNews.com. If you’d like to submit a question in the future, just email me at anagler@gannett.com.

OTAs are wrapping up, then minicamp starts next week before everyone disappears for a few weeks prior to the start of training camp. In the meantime, I’m here to answer all your Packers-related questions. Let’s get to it.

From Alex Plaster:

Which position group battle during camp are you most looking forward to?

Aaron’s Answer:

Has to be the running backs.

I know there’s tons of intrigue and interest around the cornerbacks and the secondary in general, and I’ll also be keen to see how things play out behind the starters along the offensive line.

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But with a converted wide receiver leading a bunch of rookies in a backfield tasked with providing Aaron Rodgers and the offense with a running game, not to mention protecting Rodgers in certain passing situations, is going to be incredibly compelling to watch.

I mentioned during my Facebook Live session Thursday that any one of the backs in camp could jump out of the crowd and make a push not only for playing time but the starting position. I know McCarthy has stated Ty Montgomery will be the starter, but things can change rapidly once pads come on.

A big part of how the backfield shakes out, of course, will come down to how each guy does in pass protection, an area where Montgomery certainly had his struggles last year. I’m interested to see what kind of development Montgomery has made in that area in particular.

Now, do I expect a rookie to end up as the Week 1 starter? No. I suspect Montgomery keeps a pretty strong hold on that spot for a while. But stranger things have happened. Regardless, I’m certainly going to be watching how everything shakes out in the offensive backfield with keen interest.

From Robin Haworth:

Jordy Nelson seemed to thrive in the slot last year.  Randall Cobb doesn't seem big enough to play outside.  Is there room for both of them, or will continued use of Jordy in the slot result in less Cobb on the field?

Aaron’s Answer:

I think a big part of the answer here is that it will be matchup dependent.

When the Packers turned things around on offense last year, they did so in part because McCarthy did a good job of using a lot of different personnel groupings and formations, something he had gotten away from in recent years, at least to the extent we saw down the stretch last season.

Nelson did indeed thrive in the slot, but I don’t expect him to suddenly be used there exclusively or even extensively. I think they’ll continue to use him wherever they think they have the best matchup advantage.

Cobb is certainly a slot guy predominantly, but there were plenty of instances when he kicked outside last year. While I don’t think he’ll ever make his living out there, McCarthy won’t hesitate to use him in that capacity.

Where I think Cobb may lose snaps is with the expected expansion of two-tight-end sets. When the Packers go that way, I’d expect to see Lance Kendricks in the slot, either in the initial set or by adjustment from the quarterback.

That said, McCarthy has said repeatedly this offseason that he has to find ways to get Cobb the ball. I wouldn’t expect a dramatic downturn in playing time for Cobb, but I do think a small decrease in snaps is probably coming.

From Fred Wulle:

How can Aaron Rodgers have such unwavering confidence in Don Barclay given his shaky history?

Aaron’s Answer:

Well, to start, I doubt Rodgers sees Barclay’s history as “shaky.”  The quarterback has spoken often about living with guys who get beat physically. It happens. That’s football. That’s Barclay, on occasion.

What Rodgers also has said repeatedly is that he does take issue with guys who aren’t prepared or who make repeated mental mistakes. That’s not Barclay and that, more than anything, is probably the source of Rodgers' confidence in him.  

Look, would Rodgers prefer to have a more talented player backing up his starting center? Probably. But in the NFL, you need guys like Barclay, who are relatively cheap and can help get you through stretches of a game or a few games when injuries strike. Barclay has done that repeatedly throughout his career.

Remember when the Packers played the Seahawks and Chiefs in back-to-back weeks with Barclay at right tackle in 2015? Was Barclay overmatched in those games? You bet. Did he battle? Absolutely. Did they win those games? They did indeed.

Now, I’m sure you also remember his disastrous performance in Arizona later that same year. I’d contend that game was most likely the impetus for the Packers drafting Jason Spriggs to be their swing tackle.

No one is ever going to confuse Barclay for an All-Pro, but the guy puts in the work and can be counted on to give everything he’s got. No, it’s not always pretty. But Rodgers knows he can count on him and with 12, that seems to go a long way.

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