NFL Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers 2013 Training Camp Preview

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Previewing Green Bay Packers Training Camp

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers won their second straight NFC North title in 2012, but for the second straight year they bowed out of the postseason earlier than they expected to the team that eventually represented the conference in the Super Bowl.

The Packers have plenty of talent on their roster once again in 2013, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews. The loss of wide receiver Greg Jennings hurts a little, particularly since he signed with the rival Minnesota Vikings, but one of the team’s strengths is a deep group of pass catchers. Losing the leadership of veterans Charles Woodson and Donald Driver will also hurt, but the track record of general manager Ted Thompson keeps expectations high for this season.

The offense grabs most of the headlines, but the Packers were notably improved defensively in 2012. They were around the middle of the pack in terms of yardage allowed overall, after finishing last in the league in total yardage allowed and passing yards allowed in 2011, while finishing fourth in league in sacks (47) and tied for eighth in interceptions (18). But no one other than Matthews has more than 4.5 sacks last season, and finding a more balanced pass rush will be a big key this year.

Green Bay remains the favorite to win their division, as long as their key players remain healthy another 10-plus win season is likely and the possibility of a deep postseason run remains.

The Packers will start training camp on July 25, making them one of the last teams around the league to commence getting ready for the season in earnest. Here’s a look at what to watch for.

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Rodgers is obviously one of the league’s best quarterbacks, and barring injury he is in line for another terrific season.

A potential battle to watch will be between Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Coleman has more physical upside, and Harrell may need a strong showing during the preseason to stick in the NFL.

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Running Backs/Fullbacks

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Injuries and underachievement have led to an inconsistent running game for the Packers in recent years, so the drafting of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin with two of their first five picks in April was not surprising.

The two rookies should occupy the top two spots on the depth chart in some order, and any other Green Bay running back could be rendered useless fairly quickly.

Alex Green led the team in rushing last season with 464 yards, but he may find himself fighting with James Starks and/or DuJuan Harris for a roster spot during camp.

Fullback John Kuhn is a fan favorite in Green Bay, but if he is forced into a primary offensive role multiple devastating injuries have surely occurred.

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Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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With Jennings and Driver out of the picture, Randall Cobb’s role looks sure to expand this year. Jordy Nelson had a disappointing 2012 season (49 receptions for 745 yards), but a rebound back toward his 2011 production (68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns) would not be a surprise.

James Jones set career-highs across the board last season with 64 receptions for 784 yards and a team-leading 14 touchdowns. He will be hard-pressed to repeat that touchdown total, but with a clearer path to a consistent role his catch and yardage totals should stay steady.

Beyond the top three, Jarrett Boykin, Charles Johnson, Kevin Dorsey and Jeremy Ross will battle during camp to fill out the rest of Green Bay’s wide receiver depth chart.

Tight end Jermichael Finley has been an underachiever throughout his career, but he did have a career-high 61 receptions last season and is entering the final year of his contract. Andrew Quarless and D.J. Williams will compete to be Finley’s primary backup, and both have a good chance to make the 53-man roster.

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Offensive Line

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Improved play along the offensive line is vital for the Packers this season after allowing 51 sacks last season (second-most in the league), and they will move players around in an effort to protect Rodgers better. Tackles Brian Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse will be at left and right tackle respectively, while Josh Sitton will move from right to left guard and T.J. Lang will move from tackle to right guard. Evan Dietrich-Smith will take over as Green Bay’s starting center from the start this season after seeing some action there in 2012.

2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod may push Newhouse for a starting job, and Don Barclay and 2013 fourth-round picks David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter add some depth.

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Defensive Line

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B.J. Raji is well-established at nose tackle, but Green Bay has struggled to find consistent play at defensive end in recent years.

First-round pick Datone Jones is expected to start right out of the gate at one end spot, with Ryan Pickett slated to take the starting spot on the other side of Raji in Green Bay's base three-man front.

2012 draft picks Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels supply some depth, and rookie Josh Boyd, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal will compete for roster spots.

One of the better stories in Packers’ training camp may center around defensive tackle Johnny Jolly. He has not played since 2009 due to an indefinite suspension and a couple of drug-related arrests that led to jail time. All things considered, Jolly should get a chance to earn a roster spot as long as his physical conditioning is up to par.

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Matthews is the class of this group, and a driving force for the entire Packers' defense. 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry is now healthy after having his rookie season ended early due to a wrist injury that required surgery, and he should take the other starting spot at outside linebacker.

At the two inside linebacker spots the Packers are hoping A.J. Hawk finally asserts himself on a consistent basis, and Brad Jones will start alongside him.

Rookies Nate Palmer and Sam Barrington may be able to earn roster spots with strong training camp showings, with Dezman Moses, Terrell Manning and Jamari Lattimore also in the mix.

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Defensive Backs

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Cornerback Casey Hayward was a revelation for the Packers as a rookie last season, leading the team in interceptions with six. He should now move into a more prominent role this year, with Tramon Williams and Sam Shields giving the team a solid trio of corners.

Free safety Morgan Burnett led the Packers in tackles last season with 123 (88 solo), and he was rewarded with a contract extension this week. But there are bigger questions at strong safety, a spot Woodson saw time at least season, as M.D. Jennings and Jerrod McMillian are at best unproven.

Cornerbacks Jarrett Bush and Davon House look locked into roster spots, with safety Sean Richardson and rookie cornerback/safety hybrid Micah Hyde likely to be on the final 53-man roster as well.

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Special Teams

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Placekicker Mason Crosby had a poor 2012 season, making just 21 of 33 field goal attempts, but he does not appear to be in serious danger of losing his job despite the Packers signing Giorgio Tavecchio as potential competition during the offseason.

Tim Masthay is not one of the league’s top punters (43.5 average yards per punt last season-28th in the league), but he should be back in that role for Green Bay this season.

Cobb may see his role in the return game reduced some, opening the door for Franklin, Nelson or Ross to see more opportunities.