Packers Training Camp Opens: The Defense Gets Angry
The Green Bay Packers training camp opened on Friday to an anxious crowd and a horde of kids on bicycles. All involved were immediately thankful for a break in the scorching heat of the prior week, with weekend temperatures dipping into the 60’s. Friday and Saturday featured shorts-and-shells-only followed by a full pads practice on Sunday.
The Friday and Saturday sessions were mostly notable for who didn’t participate. Twin seventh-round picks Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey, who missed most of the OTAs with injuries, gave it a go on Friday only to both end up right back on the sideline. It appeared that Dorsey may have reaggravated the foot he hurt in rookie camp, while Johnson added an injured knee to his already bothersome hamstring. In fact, Johnson’s was bad enough to require an MRI, but early word is that it isn’t expected to be serious.
During OTAs, Davon House and Derek Sherrod were expected back for training camp. Wrong. Sherrod is reportedly “close,” and House was actually listed as out due to illness.
DuJuan Harris was expected to miss some more time, and that he is.
New additions to the list of infamy, and the most troubling, are Mike Neal and Casey Hayward. Both somehow managed to hurt themselves during individual workouts between OTAs and now. Neal has a mysterious abdominal pull, while Hayward caught the local mad hamstring disease. Both have been given the timetable of “two weeks,” which if I am translating correctly means sometime between two weeks and being waived.
In fact, an inside source has revealed to me that few at 1265 Lombardi believe Hayward will be back after two weeks. If you are annoyed by this potential setback, just think how Sam Shields feels. Had he not signed his tender, he would now be in a very strong negotiating position for a new contract. He and Tramon Williams are the only healthy corners on the roster who have seen live NFL action, not counting Jarrett Bush, of course, whose live action many of us are trying to forget.
Speaking of another expected-to-be-deep position, the injuries to the rookie receivers are quite the boon for Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross, who probably only have to stay sober and upright to make the final roster.
Moving to the action between the lines, Sunday’s first go at it in pads was expected to be sloppy but intense and it delivered on both accounts.
Publicly, the Packers would never admit that they lacked defensive intensity or that a certain side of the ball deserved a disproportionate amount of the blame for the season-ending debacle at San Francisco, but what is said in the locker room is another story. The defense appeared to have a chip on their shoulder to go along with the normal advantage that they typically have at the start of camp.
There was a lot of jawing on both sides and three different sizable scuffles. Mike McCarthy even lit into linebacker Sam Barrington after he laid out Jeremy Ross. Even though any Packers linebacker actually hitting someone should be commended, I have to agree with the coach on this one. With the Packers’ recent luck at both positions, the last thing we need to see is a linebacker and a receiver in a big-time collision during practice.
Putting on pads seemed to only enhance the monster that is Datone Jones. His speed made him completely unmanageable for any lineman who wasn’t on the first team, and his ability to blow up the run had his defensive brethren raving. If Jones can avoid the IR, he looks primed to end the recent tough luck that has bedeviled Ted Thompson in the first round. That was a trend that absolutely HAD to be reversed if the Packers were to remain competitive, and so far, so good.
Micah Hyde made his own mark in the secondary, which is exactly what the Packers wanted to see with Hayward and House as spectators. Hyde was perhaps the star of Friday and Saturday, but simply held his own on Sunday.
Eddie Lacy has not gotten off to a fast start, and Johnathan Franklin was the sharper and more explosive back in the first padded practice. Overall, James Starks has been the best running back in practice, but that position will be largely decided in the preseason, when the defense is allowed to tackle.
The speedy Loyce Means and James Nixon have both flashed in the secondary and probably have the early lead as candidates to make the team as undrafted free agents. Means may even have a shot as a return man if he can catch the ball.
The kicking contest between Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio has been even so far. The longer that remains the case the more pressure builds on Mason Crosby. Imagine Crosby having to make pressure kicks in the preseason? The Packers’ release of Desmond Bishop showed a willingness to accept dead money, making Crosby’s release that much more likely if he struggles.
The battles at backup QB and starting safety will be decided in the preseason. M.D. Jennings appears to maintain a slight advantage over Jerron McMillian, getting more reps with the ones, and being the dime safety while McMillian covers the slot. However, McMillian had a strong practice on Sunday while Jennings was unmentioned.
The offensive line neither earned raves nor predictions of doom. Again, when the defense is allowed to hit the QB and crush the running backs, the real story will be told. That means the line has two weeks to figure it out.
That’s only one padded practice so far, which means this is merely the beginning of these stories. With one weekend down, the Packers have avoided the fate of the Ravens, Broncos, Eagles and others, who have already lost important players to injury. Now for Week 2.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.