5 takeaways from Packers' offseason program
For five weeks, all will be still. Players have been excused for summer vacation. Coaches are with their families. On the football calendar, the space after minicamp may be the only real quiet time.
Which makes this the perfect time to reflect on the Packers' offseason.
Coach Mike McCarthy said his team had its best offseason in recent years, citing advanced analytics for his evaluation. Of course, what happens five weeks from now will be much more important. Minicamp and organized team activities are quickly overshadowed by training camp.
Before the football season cranks into full speed next month, here are five takeaways from the offseason program:
1. Jeff Janis is coming
At this point, it seems clear the former seventh-round receiver will enter training camp locked in a battle to be quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ third option behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
If talent wins, Janis will earn that role. When it comes to raw size and speed, there really isn’t much comparison between Janis and other young receivers on the roster. The Packers continually threw deep to Janis in team drills, and he continually beat the likes of cornerbacks Sam Shields and Damarious Randall, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The only thing that can get in his way — and it has been a big hurdle — is lack of chemistry and trust with Rodgers. Janis has to be reliable. He has to prove he’ll be in the right place on the field when he’s supposed to be there. If he cuts out the mistakes, he has a real chance to carve a role for himself in the Packers' passing game.
Coaches have to be intrigued with the possibility of Nelson and Janis stretching the field deep on the perimeter with Cobb working underneath.
2. Eddie Lacy still has work to do
Some players can’t afford a vacation.
There was no more pressing issue at the start of the offseason than Lacy’s conditioning. While Lacy was slimmer than last year in the upper body, McCarthy did not give the running back's conditioning a ringing endorsement earlier this offseason. He said there was “a lot of work to do” but added he believed Lacy would hit the target.
The Packers would be open to Lacy continuing his workouts with P90X founder Tony Horton over the next five weeks leading up to training camp. With the progress Lacy has made, perhaps a little more work will be the difference in whether or not he reaches his goal.
3. Blake Martinez got a lot of first-team reps
Perhaps no player benefited from a teammate’s unavailability more than Martinez.
With Sam Barrington still recovering from the foot injury that forced him to miss 15 games last season, Martinez and second-year inside linebacker Jake Ryan got almost exclusive first-team reps. Martinez was first in the dime linebacker rotation, a critical role he needs to fill. Those reps can only help a rookie.
It’s fair to wonder how many first-team reps Martinez would have received had Barrington been available. Most likely, Barrington and Ryan would have gotten the bulk of them. Barrington is on schedule to be a full participant in training camp, so it will be interesting to see how reps are divvied up next month. Most curious is whether Martinez or Barrington get reps in nickel and dime.
Still, a full workload gives Martinez a head start over where other rookies would be at this point, something that should help considering defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ history of being hesitant to play rookie linebackers early.
4. The Packers have full confidence in Brett Hundley as backup QB
It is much too early in Hundley’s career to make any bold predictions about what kind of quarterback he’ll be in the NFL. Could he still be a bust? Sure.
But one thing is already clear: Hundley has a chance to be very good. It is only a chance, but that shouldn’t be discounted. It’s more than some quarterbacks ever show, especially those drafted in the fifth round.
Hundley has a live, powerful arm, if not always accurate. He carried himself with poise in minicamp, marching the first-team offense downfield for touchdowns in the two-minute drill. His competitiveness has blown away coaches and teammates alike. His grasp of the offense is clear. Hundley has been a tutor to some young teammates, helping them learn the playbook.
Most important, it’s clear Hundley has inspired total confidence in his coaches. There’s a reason they didn’t hesitate to let Scott Tolzien sign with Indianapolis this offseason. Should the Packers need to rely on their backup quarterback this fall — see: 2013 — they believe Hundley is ready to win games.
5. Damarious Randall is versatile
Given his success last season playing cornerback on the perimeter, it was mildly surprising to see how many reps 2015 first-round pick Randall got in the slot this offseason.
Randall consistently lined up in the slot when the Packers had their nickel defense on the field, leaving 2015 undrafted corner LaDarius Gunter on the perimeter opposite Shields. The Packers like Gunter a lot — he’s a reason they were quick to move on from Casey Hayward — but he won’t start over Randall in their 3-4 base defense.
Of course, the Packers don’t play base on the majority of their snaps. It will be interesting to see how they configure their secondary in nickel.
Part of the reason for Randall’s frequency in the slot — a big part — most likely was Quinten Rollins’ unavailability after suffering a nasty dislocated finger on his right hand in the first OTA session. Rollins will be ready for training camp, and he would seem to profile as the most likely slot cornerback. Perhaps that isn’t the lock it seemed earlier this offseason.
Randall at least has the versatility to give the Packers options as to where he lines up.