Green Bay Packers: Predicting 5 Unexpected Training Camp Cuts
Green Bay Packers: Predicting 5 unexpected training camp cuts
In an almost unprecedented move, the Green Bay Packers offensive line will likely feature new players at all five starting spots, compared to 2012's week one starting lineup.
This amount of wholesale role-shifting signals the team is not averse to some serious roster upheaval.
With last year's Week 1 starters flipping sides (former right tackle Bryan Bulaga and former right guard Josh Sitton are now on the left; former left tackle Marshall Newhouse and former left guard T.J. Lang are now competing on the right) and Evan Dietrich-Smith replacing the departed Jeff Saturday at center, the Packers' offensive line will be all new in 2013.
Familiarity and comfort are in short supply on the Packers' offensive line. But this is not the only position group that may see some significant changes when General Manager Ted Thompson makes his final cuts. Thompson already made some bold roster moves this offseason by releasing Charles Woodson, Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith, and by letting Greg Jennings, Tom Crabtree and Erik Walden depart in free agency.
Here are five other possible training camp cuts that may surprise. Not included in this list are kicker Mason Crosby and quarterback Graham Harrell. Although both are possible cuts, Crosby's departure would not be a surprise, given his career-low season in 2012. He will either bounce back or be replaced by Giorgio Tavecchio. Harrell, on the other hand, has been with Green Bay since 2010 but has not shown enough promise to date (either due to opportunity or ability) to be considered a lock. If Harrell were overtaken by strong-armed second-year quarterback B.J. Coleman, few would be shocked.
If long-shot returnee Johnny Jolly makes the Packers squad, it may come at the expense of former seventh-round draft pick and occasional starter C.J. Wilson. But that's a big "if." Jolly may be regarded as a better playmaker than Wilson, but he actually has fewer sacks than the steady Wilson in one more season of service. Wilson's deficiencies as a pass rusher have kept him from making much statistical impact as a defensive end. To be fair, the defensive end role in Dom Capers' multiple-front 3-4 defense is often a thankless task. Wilson started a career-high seven games for the Packers last year, but only contributed 2.5 sacks. He has a total of 3.5 sacks for his entire three-year career.
Wilson's run-stopping role is challenged by stalwart Ryan Pickett, who figures to continue to do duty at defensive tackle and at defensive end opposite 2013 first-round draft pick Datone Jones. It's never good for you when a team makes their No. 1 draft pick at your position. Wilson is in an uphill battle for a roster spot but he has youth and health on his side. If the superior Pickett starts to show his age (33) in training camp, it might leave an opening for Wilson to stick around. As the largest of Green Bay's true defensive ends, his chances are aided by the inexperience and injury problems of Jerel Worthy and the position shifting of Mike Neal. Both are recent second-round draft picks.
While coaches often praise versatility in their players, it's usually not a good sign when you are moved to a new position in the offseason. Mike Neal's up-and-down career has taken a curious lateral move to outside linebacker. Based on reports from mini-camp, it appears that he may split time at defensive end and outside linebacker.
Availability due to injury and suspension have been the bane of Neal's young career. He now has to learn a new position, which has required him to slim down in order to gain speed and flexibility. It's an experiment that may or may not be to Neal's advantage when it comes time to make final roster cuts. The former 2010 second-round draft pick finished his career at Purdue as a defensive tackle, indicating both college and professional coaches are not quite sure what to do with him.
A 16-game starter in 2012, tackle Marshall Newhouse has done everything that has been asked of the former fifth-rounder. Still, that might not be enough to merit keeping him on the 2013 squad. According to Bob McGinn, Newhouse allowed 11 sacks last year — the most since Tony Mandarich in 1990 — so he is easily the weakest link of the Packers' regular starters on the offensive line.
Moving to right tackle might end up being Newhouse's most natural position. If not, he finds himself behind second-year free agent surprise Don Barclay, who started six games at right tackle for the Packers in 2012. Newhouse did start three games at right tackle for the Packers in 2011, after playing exclusively at left tackle at Texas Christian University.
In the tackle mix is former first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod who missed all of last season due to injury. If Sherrod can regain the form that led him to be the Packers' first selection in the 2011 draft, he may be hard to keep out of the lineup, either by taking the right tackle spot or by bouncing Bulaga back to his customary role. Fourth-round draft pick J.C. Tretter is out of the running at right tackle due to a broken ankle, but the Packers' other fourth-round pick, David Bakhtiari has practiced at both right and left tackle.
Jarrett Bush has earned and re-earned his place on the Packers roster in each of his seven seasons. A special teams regular, Bush won the starting cornerback spot in 2012's Week 1 loss against San Francisco. Clearly overmatched, he was removed from the starting lineup the next week and never started again.
Charles Woodson is gone. However, with the emergence of Casey Hayward and Sam Shields, and the expected healthy returns of Tramon Williams and Davon House, Bush is once again looking at a crowded group of players to beat out. Factor in 2013 fifth-round draft pick Micah Hyde and the outlook is even tougher for Bush. He'll have to once again be indispensable on special teams to have a chance at an eighth straight season in Green Bay.
Another former starter that may find himself buried too deep down the depth chart, James Starks' career has been derailed by lack of availability due to injury. The same could be said about fellow running back Alex Green.
The Packers proved last year that you can never have enough running backs. They placed three on injured reserve: (Cedric Benson, Brandon Saine, Johnny White) and went through stretches where Alex Green, Starks and John Kuhn were not available due to injuries. Five different running backs plus fullback John Kuhn started games for the 2012 Packers, including midseason pick-ups DuJuan Harris and erstwhile starter Ryan Grant.
The mish-mash at running back has been thinned with the departures of Grant, Benson, Saine and White. However, Green Bay reloaded at running back by drafting second-rounder Eddie Lacy and fourth-rounder Jonathan Franklin, who are roster locks, barring injury. Late-season sensation Harris also appears to have a role in 2013. This likely leaves, at most, one running back slot for former starters Starks and Green. Injury may make roster decisions for the Packers, but for now, give the nod to the younger and higher-drafted Green over Starks.