GREEN BAY - Wanting to create a culture of competition at the bottom of their 53-man roster, the Green Bay Packers entered training camp with no fewer than nine position battles.
Over the past six months, jobs were at stake at quarterback and receiver, running back and offensive line, inside linebacker and outside linebacker, cornerback and safety. And, of course, the Packers had to decide on a kicker.
The victors were determined Saturday when the Packers unveiled their initial 53-man roster five days before their 2019 season opens with a trip to the Chicago Bears.
The roster contained several surprises. For one, the Packers will carry only two quarterbacks into their season (barring a roster move) after releasing DeShone Kizer. The Packers traded defensive back Damarious Randall, a former first-round pick, for Kizer in the spring of 2018, but he never blossomed into the quarterback they’d hoped. Instead, Tim Boyle is now in line to be Rodgers’ top backup this season.
Boyle had a better preseason than Kizer. The second-year quarterback out of Eastern Kentucky threw for 356 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions with a 112.9 passer rating. Those numbers were better than Kizer’s 273 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and 70 passer rating. Boyle’s 59.6 completion percentage (34-of-57) needs to improve, but it was still better than Kizer’s 55.6 (25-of-45).
If keeping only two quarterbacks wasn’t a surprise, the Packers’ initial receiver depth chart would qualify.
The Packers placed Equanimeous St. Brown on injured reserve Saturday, ending his season. The second-year receiver, who had 21 catches for 328 yards last year and figured to be a contributor this fall, left the Packers’ third exhibition against the Oakland Raiders with a high-ankle sprain. St. Brown said Thursday night after the team’s preseason finale he felt “lucky” the injury wasn’t worse, and that he expected “four to eight weeks” recovery time.
That would have put him on point to return by Week 7.
“It just depends on the person,” St. Brown said.
St. Brown took a hard shot from Raiders safety Erik Harris after catching a pass on a slant route late in the second quarter, but he said the way cornerback Keiseaon Nixon tackled him — wrapping around his body and twisting him to the ground — led to the injury.
“Everything happened so quick. Honestly, in my opinion, it was the cornerback, the way he tackled me. I just remember getting wrapped up and twisted on the way down.”
The Packers kept undrafted rookie Darrius Shepherd as their sixth receiver, replacing St. Brown. Shepherd, who was signed after a tryout this spring, beat out second-year receivers Allen Lazard and J’Mon Moore.
Lazard sustained a concussion against the Raiders and was unable to play in the Packers’ preseason finale. The Packers would like to retain him on their practice squad, but he must clear waivers. Moore, meanwhile, was a fourth-round pick in 2018 but never seemed comfortable in Green Bay.
The Packers also traded offensive lineman Justin McCray to the Cleveland Browns, swapping seventh-round draft picks in 2020. The trade ensures the Packers will get the higher seventh-round pick next spring. It’s not much for compensation, but more than the Packers would have gotten if they had just released McCray outright.
In the backfield, sixth-round rookie running back Dexter Williams beat out Tra Carson. The Packers kept only three tailbacks. Williams will play behind Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams.
The biggest surprise on defense might be the Packers’ decision to go with a light depth chart at linebacker. The Packers released undrafted rookies Randy Ramsey and Markus Jones, keeping only four outside linebackers: Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary and Kyler Fackrell. They kept four inside linebackers, including seventh-round rookie Ty Summers.
It’s unclear whether the Packers will need to place injured Oren Burks (pectoral) on reserve in the next couple days, opening up another roster spot. If they do, he would be eligible to return this season.
The Packers kept 11 defensive backs, including seven corners. Among their cornerbacks were sixth-round rookie Ka’dar Hollman and first-year corner Chandon Sullivan. The Packers rounded out their safety position with Will Redmond, who played five games last season.
Meanwhile, Mason Crosby’s missed extra point Thursday against the Chiefs apparently wasn’t enough to dissuade the Packers from keeping their veteran kicker for a 13th season.
The Packers appear poised to retain their all-time points leader after releasing Sam Ficken, Crosby’s competitor throughout training camp.
Ficken, who spent time with the Los Angeles Rams the past two seasons, was signed in April to push Crosby after a disappointing 2018 season for the veteran kicker.
He gave Crosby a good run. Ficken displayed a stronger leg, if not also a more inconsistent one. The third-year kicker made his only field-goal attempt of the preseason, a 41-yarder at the Baltimore Ravens, and all five of his extra points. Crosby also made his lone field-goal attempt, a 43-yarder against the Ravens, and was 6-of-7 on extra points.
Crosby outkicked Ficken in practice. The veteran was 16-for-17 on field goals, while Ficken was 28-for-35.
“I think either way,” Ficken said Thursday, “both of us will be kicking somewhere. I don’t know where exactly, but I’ll let other people decide that. All in all, I feel pretty good about where I’m at and we’ll see what happens. It will be an interesting few days.”
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle
RB: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams, Danny Vitale.
WR: Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow, Trevor Davis, Darrius Shepherd
TE: Jimmy Graham, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger, Marcedes Lewis
OL: David Bakthiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Billy Turner, Bryan Bulaga, Elgton Jenkins, Alex Light, Lucas Patrick, Cole Madison
DL: Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Montravius Adams, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster, Fadol Brown
ILB: Blake Martinez, Oren Burks, Ty Summers, James Crawford
OLB: Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Kyler Fackrell
CB: Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, Tramon Williams, Josh Jackson, Tony Brown, Ka’dar Hollman, Chandon Sullivan
S: Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage Jr., Raven Greene, Will Redmond
K/P/LS: Mason Crosby, JK Scott, Hunter Bradley
G Dejon Allen, TE Evan Baylis, FB Tommy Bohanon, RB Tra Carson, G Anthony Coyle, T Gerhard de Beer, CB Kabion Ento, K Sam Ficken, LB James Folston, RB Keith Ford, S Natrell Jamerson, LB Markus Jones, CB Jocquez Kalili, QB DeShone Kizer, WR Allen Lazard, DL James Looney, S Tray Matthews, TE Pharoah McKever, WR J’Mon Moore, T Yosh Nijman, G/T Adam Pankey, CB Jackson Porter, LB Randy Ramsey, WR Teo Redding, CB Nydair Rouse, DL Olive Sagapolu, LB Brady Sheldon,DL Deon Simon, WR Malik Taylor, QB Manny Wilkins.
LB Reggie Gilbert to the Tennessee Titans for an undisclosed draft choice.
G Justin McCray to the Cleveland Browns for an undisclosed draft choice.
S Ibraheim Campbell
LB Greg Roberts
WR Equanimeous St. Brown
LB Curtis Bolton
FB Malcolm Johnson.