Tomorrow night, the St. Louis Rams take on the Green Bay Packers in Week 2 of the NFL preseason. To get some inside information on Packers’ camp, we went behind enemy lines and spoke with Dan Dahlke, one of the staff writers at LombardiAvenue.com, the Green Bay Packers site within the Fansided Network. Since it is only preseason and the starters will likely ride the bench after the first half, it seemed odd to have any “final predictions.” Instead, here are seven questions that should help us get a better overall impression of the “new” Green Bay Packers…
Also, be sure to check out Ramblin’ Fan’s answer to the Packers’ questions; click here to see!
1. The Packers started off slow in 2012, losing three of their first five games. What will Green Bay do this season to prevent that some happening again, and will they be able to fend off the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears?
Last year, it took them a bit to get their offense going. Teams played a lot of Cover Two against the Packers and limited their ability to throw down the field. It wasn’t until week six against the Texans did the Packers offense really got on a roll.
This year the hope is that an effective running game will pull teams out of the deep safety looks and force eight defenders in the box. If this happens, the Packers can then get some single man looks and exploit mismatches in the passing game. They can also run an effective play action and get some open looks down field. They need to get the big play back on offense.
Minnesota has had a good offseason and will be a tougher team this year. Of course, they have Adrian Peterson and he will always be a handful for the Green Bay defense, but they also added former Packer Greg Jennings and drafted big wideout Cordarrelle Patterson. You throw in tight end Rudolph who really came on last year and their offense suddenly looks pretty tough. Of course, Ponder will have to show up.
With Rodgers, the Packers will always have the edge at quarterback over the divisional teams. So we’re very fortunate there. I’m not too worried about the Bears. They have a lot of talented players, but I’m just not convinced Cutler is a real threat at quarterback. Plus with a new coach, they may take a step back this year.
2. Going off the previous question, what have they done this offseason to improve as a team?
The running game was the obvious Achilles heel of the offense last year. They haven’t had good production from running back since Ryan Grant in 2009. This year they drafted two really talented backs in Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. They’re both very different. Lacy is the big power back with quick feet and Franklin is a smaller, shiftier back that will make guys miss in the open field. The rookie backs bring some depth and added competition to the Packers’ backfield.
The Packers really struggled against mobile quarterbacks last year— just look at how Kaepernick demolished them in the playoff loss. They lacked athleticism on the defensive line so they went out and drafted defensive end Datone Jones from UCLA in the first round. Jones is a great fit for the Packers 3-4 defense. He has the strength to seal the edge and hold up against the run and he has the burst to bring some pressure from the line in their nickel sets.
3. Aaron Rodgers was the most sacks quarterback in football last season. With the sad news of Bryan Bugala’s season-ending ACL injury, what will the Packers do this season to keep their quarterback upright?
Yes, the amount of times Rodgers has been sacked the last few years is very frustrating for Packers fans. Bulaga was supposed to be the Packers’ answer at left tackle this year, but his injury was a huge blow to the team.
Fortunately, the Packers drafted David Bakhtiari in the fourth round out of the University of Colorado. He flew under the radar on most draft boards because he’s a bit undersized (6-4, 300 pounds) and Colorado only won one game last year. Bakhtiari has been one of the more impressive young players in camp so far, so Green Bay feels confident he can hold up at left tackle.
Still, we’re all a little nervous about a rookie being responsible for protecting Rodgers’ blindside. They’re really dealing with injuries on the offensive line, so there aren’t a lot of other viable options at this point. This could be an area of concern heading into the season.
4. The Packers lost both Donald Driver and Greg Jennings this offseason. However, they went out and drafted two of the top running back prospects in the NFL Draft. How will these roster changes affect the Green Bay offense, if at all?
Yeah, the Packers lost Driver and Jennings, but they still really like what they have at wide receiver. Their top three receivers from last year are still with them-James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb. Cobb is a rising star that they’re really excited about. Nelson and Jones are veteran receivers that are highly underrated. Jones led the league in receiving touchdowns last year with 14, and Nelson was the team’s leading receiver two years ago. The Packers also like what they have in young receivers Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross, and Tyrone Walker.
The Packers will look to improve their ground game with the additions of the rookie backs, but as long as they have Rodgers under center they’ll still be a pass-first offense. They’ll still spread teams out with multiple receiver sets and exploit mismatches in the passing game. You throw in a more effective running game, and the hope is that they’ll be tough to defend.
5. What is the best position battle happening in camp so far?
They have quite a few, but the most scrutinized is running back. They have the two rookies, Lacy and Franklin, but they also have returning veterans James Starks, Alex Green, and DuJuan Harris. The team really likes Harris. He came on strong for them at the end of last year. Green and Starks have both been dealing with injuries the past few years, but are finally healthy this year. And Starks, specifically, looks better than he ever has before and could push Lacy and Harris for playing time. Right now though, Lacy and Harris are still the favorites for the featured back role with Franklin pegged as their third down back.
6. Who are some surprise players in camp so far?
Undrafted rookie receiver Tyrone Walker has really impressed people so far in camp. He’s an undersized guy, 5-10, 191 pounds, and lacks blazing speed, but runs crisp routes and catches everything thrown to him. He’s really making a push for a roster spot.
Rookies Datone Jones, Bakhtiari, and Lacy have all impressed early in camp. Another guy not many people are talking about is fifth round rookie Micah Hyde. He has had a really strong camp so far. There have been a lot of injuries at cornerback, so he’s gotten a lot of snaps in the Packers starting nickel packages. He reminds a lot of people of Casey Hayward, the Packers breakout rookie last year. Hyde is very instinctual. He’s a good tackler. Played some safety in college. He doesn’t have great straight-line speed, so he can get burned on occasion, but he’s a physical player and sticks with guys in coverage.
7. What area of the team do you see the Packers improving the most this season?
Well we’ve already talked about the running game a lot, which should improve, but I also think their run defense should get better this season. Their struggles defending the run was overlooked last year because of their struggles against Kaepernick. However, they gave up big games to backs like Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore. Stopping Peterson should be just as much their focus this year as slowing down Kaepernick and the read option. Peterson has had their number the past few years.
They’re hoping first round pick Jones will help with this, but even more so, they are getting their 2012 first round pick back this year. Nick Perry was drafted to be the outside linebacker lining up opposite Clay Matthews, but he was lost for the season after week six.
Perry is a big linebacker 6-3, 265 pounds, and has excellent strength (35 bench reps) and speed (4.6 40). He’s an athletic freak, and a big improvement from the guys they had filling in at LOLB last year. The Packers have high hopes for him this season. He will definitely improve their linebacker play. He’s a great run defender on the strong side. He could be the difference on defense this year.