We knew the Green Bay Packers weren’t faced with a lot of weak spots in desperate need of filling when training camp started.
There are, however, a number of starting jobs that will be contested among players who seem to possess NFL talent and are of roughly similar ability.
In today’s pass-oriented NFL, the most critical defensive positions are the defensive backs and the pass rushers.
The Packers are rock solid at the safety and cornerback positions, both starters and backups. The defensive backs group is projected to be among the best in the league.
The outside linebacker group is equally strong. After Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, the only questions are who will emerge as their top backups and how much playing time they’ll get. That competition is among Datone Jones, Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott and rookie Kyler Fackrell.
Sam Barrington — if he’s healthy — and Jake Ryan figure to start at inside linebacker, but rookie Blake Martinez should also see the field. Not a lot of star power or great depth here, but barring injuries, an adequate group. Had Ted Thompson thought otherwise, he would have used higher than a fourth-round draft pick to address the position. Carl Bradford and Joe Thomas need to have a good camp to make the roster.
That brings us to defensive linemen. Letroy Guion should have a better year at nose tackle than the now-retired B.J. Raji did last year. Mike Daniels gets better each year and is nearing All-Pro status. After these two, the third starter and depth become concerns. Mike Pennel is suspended four games, so it looks like rookie Kenny Clark needs to step in as a dependable starter immediately.
Should injuries occur on the defensive line, reserves such as Christian Ringo or rookie Dean Lowry might be pressed into service before their time. Datone Jones dropped weight to give outside linebacker a go, so his days as a defensive end appear to be over. On paper, the defensive line appears to have very little depth.
On offense, the most talked-about job is that of the third wide receiver. Unless one player wins the job outright, a number of guys could get a fair amount of playing time. Many consider the Packers’ receiving corps among the top 10 in the league, so wide receiver is not viewed as a weakness.
At tight end, Richard Rodgers and Jared Cook bring different skills to the position. Unless one of them clearly seizes the job, the two players might well be platooned throughout the year. At the moment, Rodgers has the edge simply by being the only one of the two who’s healthy.
The two quarterback slots are set in stone, with the next best player probably being given a practice squad berth.
Eddie Lacy and James Starks will again be the top two running backs. Aaron Ripkowski is all but a sure thing to fill John Kuhn’s role and John Crockett will make the squad if he has a good camp.
The offensive line is an established and proven group of veterans. There promises to be a shake-up next year, but the returning offensive line is one of the greatest team strengths for 2016.
It’s always fun to root for players to get to be among the last players to make the squad of 53, even though these players aren’t likely to have an impact on the team’s success this year.
The 2016 roster seems deeper and more solid than usual. But injuries are always the great unknown for NFL teams – a factor that waylaid the Packers last year.