Four intriguing storylines to watch at Packers minicamp
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers will conclude their offseason program this week with a three-day, mandatory minicamp from Tuesday through Thursday at Ray Nitschke Field. All practices will be open to both the media and the general public.
As usual, the minicamp marks the final dose of football activity until the players reconvene for training camp in late July. Here are four storylines to watch this week:
Return of Clinton-Dix
Under coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers are known for having stellar attendance during the optional portions of the offseason program. Organized team activities are voluntary, but more often than not the Packers have their entire team in attendance.
This year there were sporadic absences from cornerback Tramon Williams, wide receiver Randall Cobb and kicker Mason Crosby, but it was the prolonged non-sighting of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix that caught the media’s attention.
Clinton-Dix, who is in a contract year after the Packers picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, did not participate in OTAs because he was attending to a personal matter, McCarthy said. Clinton-Dix will, however, attend the team’s mandatory minicamp, according to a report from ESPN Radio, and should receive plenty of questions from reporters.
“There's really no need to get into attendance,” McCarthy said last week. “We're having a really good offseason. Ha Ha, just like a number of veterans, when we start the offseason program, we go through everybody's individual schedule. Things do come up, so he's had a personal situation that he's attended to, so I have no concerns.”
If history is any indication of what to expect this week, McCarthy is likely to excuse his veterans from the entirety of minicamp. In years past, all players with five or more seasons of experience have been encouraged to start their summers early as younger players remain in Green Bay for the last few days of offseason work.
It stands to reason, then, that this year’s minicamp will provide an interesting glimpse into the Packers’ quarterback situation in an Aaron Rodgers-less world. The fractured collarbone from a year ago shed a heinous light on the inadequate development of backup Brett Hundley, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, and now the coaches could have three days to evaluate their quarterback depth without allocating reps to Rodgers.
Instead, this week is all about Hundley, DeShone Kizer and undrafted rookie Tim Boyle. Hundley is expected to take the majority of first-team reps, but Kizer will have ample opportunity to show his progress — or lack thereof — after two months in the Packers’ offensive system.
These three days will set the stage for one of the most exciting training camp battles to come.
“The quarterback room is stressed more than anybody because they have so much responsibility,” McCarthy said. “So they’re developing the area of footwork, and decision-making is a high priority. We’re making progress there. So those are the types of things I’m paying more attention to, the fundamentals of the feet as opposed to completions and the other production statistics. So they’re getting better, but they’re both young and raw. Brett is clearly ahead of DeShone; that should be obvious. But DeShone has a big upside. So they’ve got a lot of work to do, and they’re very diligent. Great energy.”
The exact manner in which defensive coordinator Mike Pettine chooses to deploy certain players will not become known until training camp, at which point the pads are donned, reps are real and the battle for roster spots is more earnest.
Until then, the overarching theme espoused by Pettine and his assistant coaches has been the amorphous nature of the defensive scheme — that is, the more versatile players will be used in numerous positions and alignments depending on the down, distance and personnel.
And while it seemed like safety Josh Jones was being hemmed in by McCarthy, who spoke several times about the team’s desire to lessen Jones' workload by making him more of a dedicated safety, the former second-round pick has been floating much more than expected. The shuffling of Jones from deep safety to box safety to a position mirroring a dime linebacker speaks to the fluidity of Pettine’s defense.
Expect players like Clay Matthews and rookie Oren Burks to have similar, multi-faceted job descriptions in the months to come.
“It really depends on the job,” Pettine said. “When we go to a subpackage where we have five DBs on the field, a lot of times that sixth position — Oren Burks plays that as well — it’s our dime spot. In the history of the system, we’ve had guys that have had safety backgrounds play it, linebackers. It just depends on what jobs you’re doing. I’ve always liked having a guy with a safety skillset there, so now you essentially have three safeties on the field and you can kind of be interchangeable and trade jobs out just so it’s not easy for an offense to identify who’s who.
“To answer the question (about Josh Jones), is he a safety or is he a linebacker? (The answer) is yes. He’s doing both types of jobs but primarily when we put a DB in that spot, it’s typically in a passing situation.”
Moment to shine
If McCarthy excuses his veterans from minicamp, the Packers will navigate their final three days of practice without No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams, now in his fifth season, and No. 2 receiver Randall Cobb, entering his eighth.
Without Adams and Cobb, the two most experienced receivers at minicamp would be Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis, a pair of third-year players whose contributions have been vastly different in their time with the Packers. Allison, the former undrafted rookie, has caught 35 passes in 25 career games as a No. 4 or No. 5 wideout depending on injuries. Davis, a former fifth-round pick, has just eight receptions in 27 career games and was little more than a punt returner last season.
In other words, if there is a sizable gap between Adams and Cobb, who sit atop the depth chart, and Allison, the logical No. 3 at this point, then the gap between Allison and the next group of receivers — Davis, Michael Clark, DeAngelo Yancey and the three rookie draft picks — is even larger.
Whether now or in training camp, the Packers need at least one member of that group to step forward and establish himself as a bonafide fourth option. This week offers rookies J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown an opportunity to work their way up the depth chart before the slog of training camp begins.
“They’re all unique in their own right,” wide receivers coach David Raih said. “But all three of them love football, and all three of them have different backgrounds, all three of them are very competitive. I’m just excited about it. I think they fit into the room well and that’s important, and that’s something the personnel department around here puts a large account into. But I’m really impressed with them and as they learn what they’re doing, they’ll continue to grow.”
NOTE: The Packers signed defensive tackle Joey Mbu, who was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Atlanta Falcons in 2015. The 6-foot-3, 313-pound University of Houston product was signed to the Indianapolis Colts practice squad last season and promoted to the active roster in November, appearing in seven games.
IF YOU GO
What: Packers' three-day minicamp, open to the public.
When: 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Where: Ray Nitschke Field.
Note: Sessions will be moved inside the Don Hutson Center and closed to the public in the event of inclement weather.