Packers Training Camp Countdown: 12 Days

Every day until the start of camp on July 26, we'll provide one juicy nugget to whet your appetite for the return of football. We'd give you more but the CBA forbids two-a-days. Sorry. With 12 days until the start of training camp, it's 12 knock-down, drag-out training camp battles.

The Green Bay Packers begin training camp in 12 days. Here are 12 training camp battles, all of which we'll break down in further detail when our position series begins next week.

No. 12: Late-round picks battling for spots

History is in favor of most of the 11 draft picks making the roster. Six out of eight made it in 2012, seven out of 10 in 2011, all seven in 2010 and seven out of eight in 2009. Still, there is depth where offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter (fourth round), cornerback Micah Hyde and defensive lineman Josh Boyd (fifth round), outside linebacker Nate Palmer (sixth round), and receivers Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey and inside linebacker Sam Barrington (seventh round) are competing.

No. 11: No. 2 quarterback

Combine the best traits of Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman, and you might get one heck of a quarterback. Harrell is a cerebral player who has worked hard to develop his relatively meager physical skill-set. Coleman has an above-average physical skill-set and has worked hard to develop the cerebral part of the game. The preseason contests will be absolutely vital.

No. 10: Defensive line

B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Datone Jones and Mike Neal are locks. C.J. Wilson, who led the defensive line in tackles, is pretty close to a lock. Mike Daniels showed promise as a fourth-round pick last year. Potentially, the Packers could go with six. Who challenges for that sixth spot or forces their way onto the roster as a seventh? Boyd is a potential three-down player, with the strength to hold up against the run and push the pocket. Johnny Jolly, who hasn't played since 2009, offered that same kind of skill-set when he was in his prime. And don't forget Jordan Miller, who also has the ability to play all three downs.

No. 9: Tight end battle royale

Tight end might be the deepest position on the roster. Behind starter Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless returns. If healthy, he's the unit's best all-around player. D.J. Williams, who was a big-time receiving threat at Arkansas, has developed into a decent off-the-ball blocker. Matthew Mulligan is a proven in-line blocker. Ryan Taylor is a core member of the special teams. Brandon Bostick and undrafted rookie Jake Stoneburner are intriguing receiving threats. The Packers might wind up keeping five tight ends again. All seven could be on a roster somewhere.

No. 9: No. 4 receiver

Behind the Big Three of Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, there are eight other receivers on the roster. Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross are the "veterans" of the group, They've played in a combined 15 games, and Boykin has all five receptions and 27 yards. The other six are rookies. Dorsey and Johnson would have been the front-runners had they not missed OTAs and the minicamp with unspecified injuries. The Packers need one or two of these players to develop quickly, or else coach Mike McCarthy will be handcuffed with his personnel packages.

No. 8: Backfield

There are plenty of questions even before getting to who takes the first snap each week. Do James Starks and Alex Green have any kind of future? Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin are touted rookies and DuJuan Harris impressed in taking over the featured role at the end of last season. Will it be just those three runners or will the Packers keep four? Will Franklin take over the third-down role from fullback John Kuhn? Does Kuhn have a spot on the roster if Franklin is the third-down back and Lacy the short-yardage back?

No. 6: No. 1 running back

Who will be the starting running back? McCarthy would turn this question on its head by asking, "What's a starter?" It's a good point, since so much of the game is based on the hot hand, matchups and down-and-distance situations. In a perfect world, Lacy plays on first and second down, with Harris used as a change-up, and Franklin plays on third down.

No. 5: Kick returner

The job belongs to Ross, assuming he doesn't drop the ball. Dropping the ball, of course, was his problem in brief action last season. For all the criticism McCarthy took for dialing up a backward pass on a punt return that almost cost the team a victory at Chicago, nothing would have been said had Ross simply caught Randall Cobb's pass. Then, Ross killed the Packers by muffing a second-quarter punt in the playoff loss at San Francisco, with the Niners turning that gaffe into a game-tying touchdown. But Ross had three big returns in limited action. He's big enough to consistently run through arm tackles and fast enough to turn missed tackles into touchdowns. He potentially is a special talent.

No. 4: Safety opposite Burnett

It will be M.D. Jennings' job to lose entering training camp. Jennings and Jerron McMillian practically played an equal number of snaps last season. Jennings was solid but unspectacular. He used his speed to take away the big play, which can't be understated. However, he didn't offer much of a physical presence, forcing the Packers to go away from their preferred approach of using their safeties interchangeably. McMillian made more plays and has more upside because of his physicality. He wasn't as sound in coverage, though. A wild card is Sean Richardson, assuming he's cleared from neck surgery. He's big, fast, physical and intelligent.

No. 3: Cornerback rotation

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt promises an all-out battle for playing time. Tramon Williams is the unit's veteran leader but hasn't matched his brilliant 2010. Casey Hayward is a star in the making. If he becomes more consistent, Sam Shields will be a star, as well. Davon House was ahead of both on the depth chart early last summer until a shoulder injury sustained in the preseason opener. So, who are the top two corners in the base defense? And who are the two corners who join Hayward in the nickel package? The Packers are in enviable position because they have plenty of quality options.

No. 2: Right tackle

Marshall Newhouse's strength is pass blocking. Don Barclay's strength is run blocking. The Packers have been a pass-first team with Aaron Rodgers, but all signs point to coach Mike McCarthy putting a bigger emphasis on the running game. In fact, he did during a seven-game stretch spanning Week 9 through Week 16. The Packers ran the ball 48.4 percent of the time. Taken over the course of a full season, that would have ranked sixth in the NFL. That makes Barclay the favorite — unless Derek Sherrod is ready to roll early in training camp.

No. 1: Kicker

If Mason Crosby has his head on straight after last year's debacle, he's the overwhelming favorite to keep his job against Giorgio Tavecchio. It all comes down to Crosby. With career accuracy of 76.8 percent, he ranks 29th out of 32 active kickers, according to Pro Football Reference. In a league in which 83 percent is about average, Crosby has hit 80 percent just once — 85.7 percent in 2011. However, he is 10-of-12 (83.3 percent) in 10 career playoff games, he knows how to handle Lambeau Field's tricky conditions and he's an asset on kickoffs and onside kicks. The offseason battle was kept behind closed doors: They both went 3-for-3 in their only on-field kicking session in front of reporters.

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

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