Offseason Battle Lines: Offensive Breakdown

Here's a look at where the big battles will be waged, with rookie camp starting Friday and OTAs in two weeks. The addition of two offensive linemen and two running backs probably will mean changes in terms of numbers and names on the roster.

Eleven draft picks, who-knows-how-many college free agents and some street free agents have been added to the mix for the Green Bay Packers, a team two years removed from a Super Bowl championship and coming off an 11-win season.

Coach Mike McCarthy likes competition and competition he shall get.

The interesting position battles will be at offensive line and running back. Last season, the Packers kept just seven linemen. With a pair of fourth-round picks added to the brew, the Packers figure to keep eight linemen if not nine. Last season, the Packers ended the season with five running backs (including fullback John Kuhn). A pair of draft picks could lead to a major shakeup.

Here's where things stand, with the rookie camp starting on Friday and organized team activities in two weeks:

Quarterbacks

B.J. Coleman; Graham Harrell; Aaron Rodgers.

Battle lines: Who's No. 2? Is Coleman, last year's seventh-round pick, ready to challenge Harrell for that role? Or Will Coleman have to fend off undrafted rookie Matt Brown, an impressive prospect from Illinois State, to keep his spot in the locker room?

"It's too early to say," quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said of Coleman's potential at the end of last season. "We'll take a look at him in the offseason program and see what he can handle and push him. We're going to break him down and we're going to build him back up fundamentally. I know he's excited for that."

Running backs

Johnathan Franklin; Alex Green; DuJuan Harris; Eddie Lacy; James Starks; FB John Kuhn

Battle lines: The Packers ended last season with Ryan Grant, Green, Harris and Starks on the 53-man roster. So, it wouldn't be far-fetched for the Packers to go into the season with Franklin, Harris, Lacy and Starks/Green. Four running backs, however, is a lot and at least one roster spot must be found for the rookie blockers. Starks has played in just 22 of a possible 48 regular-season games in his three seasons and would appear to be on thin ice, but when he's healthy, he's been a better player than Green. On the other hand, will Green be a different player now that he's got the 2011 ACL injury in the rear-view mirror?

"It's going to obviously increase the competition in the room, which is always a great thing," position coach Alex Van Pelt said at the draft. "It'll be interesting. It'll sort itself out as we go through the OTAs and training camp, but it made that room better and not just by the two players that we added but by the competition it'll create for the other guys that are in that room."

At fullback, Kuhn has a big-time cap number of $2.54 million, but he'll be heavy favorite to fend off Ryan Roberson, an undrafted rookie from Texas who was not considered one of the top prospects in this draft class.

Wide receivers

Jarrett Boykin; Randall Cobb; Sederrik Cunningham; Kevin Dorsey; Charles Johnson; James Jones; Jordy Nelson; Jeremy Ross.

Battle lines: The Packers' Big Three of Cobb, Jones and Nelson is as good as there is in the NFL. Beyond them, however, is the Big Unknown. It's almost beyond belief that the talk at the start of training camp last summer was whether the Packers would keep six or seven receivers on the roster. Now, do they even have five? Boykin is a big, physical player who showed promise in training camp, but he has athletic limitations. Ross showed explosive potential as a returner but can he be trusted after botching the lateral at Chicago and muffing the punt that turned the tide in the playoff loss at San Francisco? Johnson has enormous upside but it's a long way from Division II. Dorsey is intriguing, too, with good size, speed and hands. Their college position coaches say both are hard workers and high-quality people.

"I think outside of the first three, one thing that is consistent, they're all good size, so they're physical receivers," McCarthy said. "The two young men that we've added both have excellent physical ability, speed. Jeremy, Boykin, they're off to a good start so I really like the competition there."

Tight ends

Brandon Bostick; Jermichael Finley; Matthew Mulligan; Andrew Quarless; Ryan Taylor; D.J. Williams.

Battle lines: Finley is one of the key players on the team given the uncertainty at receiver. After that, however, it's anyone's guess. Tom Crabtree, who handled the nitty-gritty the past three seasons, signed with Tampa Bay. Mulligan, a street free agent, could be an upgrade in that role. So, too, could Quarless, who was Crabtree's equal as a blocker before sustaining a devastating knee injury at the Giants in 2011 and missed all of 2012. Taylor's value is on special teams. Williams, a noted pass-catcher at Arkansas, has been a disappointment in the passing game with nine catches in two seasons but has been better than expected as a blocker. Bostick, a receiver at Newberry, is an impressive downfield threat and could challenge Williams.

"I like the kid," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said of Bostick at the end of last season. "He's got speed, he's an efficient route-runner, he's got good hands, big hands. He's the kind of guy that defenses would have to account for."

Offensive line

C Garth Gerhart; C Evan Dietrich-Smith; G T.J. Lang; G Josh Sitton; G/C Greg Van Roten; G/T Don Barclay; T David Bakhtiari; T Bryan Bulaga; T Andrew Datko; T Kevin Hughes; T Marshall Newhouse; T Derek Sherrod; T J.C. Tretter.

Battle lines: Four-fifths of the starting offensive line is set, with Bulaga at left tackle, Sitton at left guard, Dietrich-Smith at center and Lang at right guard.

Who lines up at right tackle? That will be the battle to end all battles when the veterans take the field for OTAs and then reconvene for training camp at the end of July. Sherrod needed a second operation to repair the broken leg that ended his rookie season and kept him off the field in 2012. He's the favorite to win the job, depending on how quickly he can shake off a year-and-a-half of rust.

"I'm really counting on Derek Sherrod to be a factor," McCarthy said at the draft. "He's a different man since the second surgery after the season. So, he's making progress. I don't have a timeline for you but he's definitely a lot better than he was during the season. So, he's someone we have to get healthy, get him in there and get him ready."

Barclay impressed when forced into action toward the end of last season. He's a rough-and-tumble run blocker but needs to be better in pass protection. At the end of the season, position coach James Campen called Barclay "a battler ... who's going to get better and better." Newhouse will be in the mix, but given the Packers' focus on the running game, he might not be a serious contender.

Scouts consider Bakhtiari a better prospect at guard and Tretter's best spot might wind up being center. They have a lot more upside than Van Roten, an undrafted rookie last year who was promoted to the roster after Bulaga's injury. The wild card is Datko. If the shoulder that torpedoed Datko's career at Florida State is 100 percent and can stay that way, he'll challenge for a spot as Bulaga's backup.

"If I'm in that room, let's be honest, you've got two fourth-round picks back-to-back, certainly the competition barometer went up a heck of a lot," Campen said. "So, that's a good thing to have. And the men that are already in that room understand that, and they understood that before this draft. Our competition just got better."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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