Analyzing Packers' roster ahead of OTAs
Two thousand miles to the east, it’s easy to be blind to one of college football’s fiercest rivalries. At least without the occasional, subtle ribbing of a local two-time MVP quarterback who refuses to wear red.
When Stanford and California play, the meeting is so important it’s simply known as the “The Big Game.” But in a state dominated by Wisconsin vs. Minnesota, in a region dominated by Ohio State vs. Michigan, Stanford vs. Cal doesn’t get anywhere near the same attention.
Except Green Bay has become a satellite location for one of college football’s best rivalries, the oldest continued rivalry in the West. Stanford and Cal first met in 1892. More than a century later, the Green Bay Packers are infused with talent from both sides.
Of the five Pac-12 players the Packers drafted in their seven-man 2016 class, two played at Stanford and one played at Cal. Now, the Packers have three players from Stanford (receiver Ty Montgomery, inside linebacker Blake Martinez, tackle Kyle Murphy) and three from Cal (quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tight end Richard Rodgers, receiver Trevor Davis).
The only other alma mater with three players drafted to the Packers' 90-man roster is Iowa, though UCLA will join that group when 2016 first-round defensive tackle Kenny Clark signs his rookie contract. There are four players from Miami on the Packers' 90-man roster, but none of them were drafted (two — cornerbacks Sam Shields and LaDarius Gunter — were on the 53-man roster last season).
So there should be plenty of friendly banter inside the Packers' locker room starting when they open their organized team activities Monday, and escalating when Stanford travels to Cal for the 119th meeting in November. The Big Game has become the Packers' biggest roster quirk.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the 90-man roster as the Packers begin the third phase of their offseason (R-rookie; N-newcomer):
Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan (rookie), Ryan Williams (R).
Outlook: There was plenty of intrigue regarding who would be Rodgers’ backup a year ago, but the position has clarity this offseason. The Packers allowed Scott Tolzien to depart for Indianapolis, where he will back up Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. It was a clear sign the team trusts that 2015 fifth-round pick Hundley is ready to be the safety net at its most important position. Expect the Packers to add a third quarterback to their practice squad a year after keeping three on their active roster.
RUNNING BACKS (5):
Eddie Lacy, James Starks, John Crockett, Don Jackson (R), Brandon Burks (R).
Outlook: The Packers elected not to draft a long-term insurance policy after Lacy had a self-inflicted, miserable 2015 season. The Packers star running back arrived at training camp a year ago out of shape and never recovered. All indications this offseason have been promising, but the Packers have Starks available to split touches and snaps if necessary. It will be interesting to see how much of a jump top 2015 undrafted free agent Crockett makes in his second season.
Aaron Ripkowski, Alstevis Squirewell (R).
Outlook: For Ripkowski, the future is now. It appears the Packers could move on from the John Kuhn era, though there has been an open line of communication with the three-time Pro Bowler. The Packers afforded themselves a significant luxury last season, keeping two fullbacks on their 53-man roster. If Ripkowski seizes his opportunity, the Packers could return to the norm of keeping one fullback. If Ripkowski isn't deemed ready, expect the Packers to re-sign Kuhn.
WIDE RECEIVERS (12):
Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, Trevor Davis (R), Ed Williams, Jamel Johnson (N), Geronimo Allison (R), Devonte Robinson (R), Herb Waters (R).
Outlook: No other position on the Packers' roster offers as much intrigue. The Packers have drafted five receivers in the past three years, including Davis in the fifth round this year. Each will be fighting for jobs behind Nelson and Cobb. Could the Packers keep seven receivers? It’s rare, but the possibility can’t be dismissed.
TIGHT ENDS (6):
Richard Rodgers, Jared Cook (N), Kennard Backman, Justin Perillo, Mitchell Henry, Casey Pierce (N).
Outlook: General manager Ted Thompson is loath to dip into free agency, so the Packers signing Cook says a lot about what he could bring to the position. Cook should be the speedy target the Packers need down the middle of the field, nicely complementing incumbent starter Rodgers. It will be interesting to see whether the Packers keep three or four tight ends, and which players might fill those spots. Keep an eye on Backman, a 2015 sixth-round pick who needs to make a jump in his second season after spending a redshirt year on the 53-man roster.
David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, Jason Spriggs (R), Don Barclay, Kyle Murphy (R), Josh James (R).
Outlook: The Packers had no depth on the edge of their offensive line last season, so trading up in the second round to draft Spriggs should help stabilize the depth chart. Now, the Packers have a third tackle they can feel good about playing in an emergency situation. If the Packers keep four tackles, the competition between Barclay and sixth-round rookie Murphy could be one of the best training camp battles.
Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Lane Taylor, Josh Walker, Matt Rotheram, Vince Kowalski, Cory Tucker (R).
Outlook: The Packers have arguably the NFL’s best guard tandem with Sitton and Lang, and both will be playing for their next contract in 2016. Behind Sitton and Lang, there is some depth-chart flexibility. Taylor should be the third guard, though he’ll get competition from Walker and Rotheram.
Corey Linsley, JC Tretter, Jacobs Flores (R).
Outlook: On paper, the Packers' center position is one of the most secure spots on their roster. Linsley has been everything the Packers could’ve hoped — and then some — as a fifth-round pick. Tretter hardly represents any drop off as backup. The impending free agent should get his opportunity to be a starting center elsewhere in the league next season.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10):
Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion, Mike Pennel, Kenny Clark (R), Dean Lowry (R), Christian Ringo, B.J. McBryde (N), Brian Price (R), Tyler Kuder (R), Demetris Anderson (R).
Outlook: No position on the Packers' roster had more upheaval this offseason with the retirement of B.J. Raji, the four-game suspension of Pennel, the release of Josh Boyd and the transition of Datone Jones to outside linebacker. The urgency of stabilizing the defensive line was seen in the draft, where the Packers selected Clark in the first round and Lowry in the fourth. With a good training camp, there also is an opening for an undrafted rookie such as Price or Kuder to crack the 53-man roster.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (7):
Jake Ryan, Sam Barrington, Blake Martinez (R), Joe Thomas, Carl Bradford, Beniquez Brown (R), Mano Pikula (R).
Outlook: The Packers hope to play Clay Matthews at inside linebacker as little as possible, though he’ll probably have to get snaps inside early. They should be set in their base 3-4 defense with Ryan and Barrington, but they aren’t an ideal duo for the more frequently used nickel. If Martinez can handle nickel and dime snaps, the Packers will have completed their experiment with Matthews inside. Thomas’ chances to make the roster can’t be dismissed. It’s also a make-or-break offseason for Bradford, the 2014 fourth-round pick who never has found his footing in Green Bay.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (8):
Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott, Kyler Fackrell (R), Lerentee McCray (N), Reggie Gilbert (R).
Outlook: If Matthews returns to the edge, the Packers could have a highly productive bookend pass rush with him and Peppers. Perry re-signed to a one-year deal, allowing the Packers to transition Matthews to outside linebacker if necessary. Jones showed more pass-rush promise once he moved to elephant rusher late last season, but the real wild cards are Elliott and Fackrell. Both could be used on third downs this season.
Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter, Demetri Goodson, Robertson Daniel, Makinton Dorleant (R), Josh Hawkins (R), Randall Jette (R).
Outlook: There was a good reason the Packers let Casey Hayward walk in free agency this offseason. They feel good about their depth chart at cornerback, with Shields and Randall starting on the outside and Rollins lining up in nickel. Gunter should be a solid fourth cornerback, and don’t forget Micah Hyde’s ability to play nickel corner.
Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Micah Hyde, Chris Banjo, Jermaine Whitehead (N), Kentrell Brice (R), Marwin Evans (R).
Outlook: Thompson deserves a lot of credit for how he quickly he remodeled one of the weakest areas of the Packers' depth chart into one of their strengths. Burnett and Clinton-Dix complement each other nicely on the defense’s back end, and Hyde is a starting-caliber player at either safety spot. It’s worth wondering whether Clinton-Dix can make the jump in his third season to a Pro Bowl-caliber difference maker. If he does, it would lift the Packers' defense to another level.
Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Peter Mortell (R), Rick Lovato
Outlook: Crosby is on the hottest streak in NFL postseason history, setting the record for 22 consecutive made field goals. So it was a wise investment when the perennial title-contending Packers re-signed him to a four-year, $16.1 million deal in March. Masthay will have competition for his punting job with the Packers signing Mortell to a rookie free-agent deal. Lovato was good enough replacing Brett Goode last season to get his opportunity at long snapper.
Heaviest player: Mike Pennel, a 332-pound veteran defensive end.
Lightest: Makinton Dorleant, a 182-pound undrafted rookie cornerback out of Northern Iowa.
Tallest: Julius Peppers, a 6-foot-7 veteran outside linebacker.
Shortest: Brandon Burks, a 5-foot-9 undrafted rookie running back out of Troy.
Most experienced/oldest: Julius Peppers, in his 15th season at age 36.
Youngest: Kenny Clark, a 20-year-old rookie drafted in the first round out of UCLA.
Most represented college: Miami (CB Sam Shields, CB LaDarius Gunter, QB Ryan Williams, WR Herb Waters).