Camp Countdown: 1 Day — Defining Questions

Railbirds get ready. Packers training camp starts on Thursday. Our Matt Tevsh poses the questions that will tell the tale of the summer of 2015.

Hayward photo by Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY

Will Casey Hayward hold it down on the outside?

Rare was the time over the past six seasons that the Packers had to worry about at least one of their top cornerback spots with Tramon Williams holding it down. With Williams gone, Hayward figures to get the first shot opposite Sam Shields. While Hayward has made a name for himself in the league as an inside cornerback, he has had some success on the outside in limited duty. Hayward will get plenty of quality reps in practice going up against teammates Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and others, as will newcomers Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins and second-year pro Demetri Goodson. If Hayward slips up, the best man will play, as cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt would say.

Can B.J. Raji return to form?

A healthy, productive Raji can make a huge difference anchoring the Packers’ defensive line – from stopping the run, to pushing the pocket, to having another big body to rotate into the lineup. Raji was having a standout camp by many accounts last summer until a torn biceps put him on injured reserve Aug. 26. Raji is back and the Packers need him to pick up where he left off. With defensive linemen Datone Jones (one game) and Letroy Guion (three games) scheduled to serve suspensions, Raji will need to help Mike Daniels hold up the defensive line in order to start the season strongly. In Weeks 1-3 of the regular season, the Packers are scheduled to face Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles.

What type of difference and energy with the new coaches bring?

The headlining change with regard to coaching this offseason was head coach Mike McCarthy giving up play-calling duties to Tom Clements. While that change many not play out entirely until the regular season begins, there are plenty of new faces in new places to watch during camp. Ron Zook, who was with the Packers last season as a special teams assistant, takes over as special teams coordinator for whipping boy Shawn Slocum. McCarthy also added Mike Solari as an assistant to the offensive line and Jerry Montgomery as a defensive front assistant. Solari, 60, brings 27 years of experience in the NFL while, on the flip side Montgomery, just 35, will be entering his first season in the NFL.

Which undrafted rookie(s) will step forward?

Undrafted rookies have plenty to play for in Packers camp. They know that just about every year general manager Ted Thompson keeps a couple on the 53-man roster if not more on the 10-man practice squad. In fact, since 2010, the Packers have had at least two rookie free agents make the opening-game roster each season. Last year it was preseason star Jayrone Elliot at outside linebacker and Mike Pennel at nose tackle. A few players to watch coming out of OTAs and minicamp include running back John Crockett, cornerback Ladarius Gunter, offensive lineman Matt Rotheram and linebacker James Vaughters.

Can rookie Brett Hundley beat out Scott Tolzien for the backup quarterback spot?

The Packers have a pretty good idea headed into this camp in what they have with Tolzien. Not only did he get a chance to play at length in three games in 2013 (two starts), but he spent this entire offseason with the team. But in Hundley, they have a first-round talent that they got in the fifth round of the draft. With Rodgers firmly entrenched and not figuring to play much in the preseason games, Hundley should get ample opportunity to show his stuff. The big question, as we posed in our July 15 preview of the quarterbacks, is how quickly Hundley can adapt to the Packers offense from the spread scheme he ran at UCLA. No matter how he fares, his potential alone should factor into the Packers keeping three quarterbacks on the roster.

Which ILB will step forward?

The transformation at inside linebacker really began over the second half of last season, when the Packers moved Clay Matthews inside and gave Sam Barrington a shot while diminishing snaps for longtime veterans A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. Hawk and Jones are gone now, and with Matthews and Barrington more certain of their roles the, Packers should be stronger on the inside. Still, they will need another player to step forward when Matthews moves outside to rush the passer and Barrington needs a break. Fourth-round pick Jake Ryan or second-year pro Carl Bradford would be the logical choices but there are a host of other hungry, unproven players who know the opportunity is available. If no one stands out, look for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to get creative to keep his defense competitive.

Do the Packers finally have their return specialist issues solved?

The Packers would appear to have their best depth in years at the return specialist spots. In addition to Micah Hyde (three punt return touchdowns and a 13.6-yard average in 38 regular-season attempts) they added third-round pick Ty Montgomery, return Jared Abbrederis from an ACL and have potential in Jeff Janis, who McCarthy this off-eason called an Olympian in the weight room. Randall Cobb is an option, too, though he might only show up in spot duty. In any case, the Packers have options, and if they choose to save Hyde for defensive purposes only, they should be covered with multi-dimensional threats on kickoff and punt returns.

At what roster spot will McCarthy and Thompson surprise for the final 53?

Rosters are fluid in this era of the NFL. Five tight ends? Three fullbacks? Two quarterbacks? Only two reserve offensive lineman? The Packers have taken each scenario into regular seasons of the past. It would be easy to see this roster heavy at wide receiver or defensive line (because of early season suspensions) but there always seems to be a twist somewhere. The best 53 will make the squad and special-teams roles usually decide the final spots. Last year headed into the season opener at Seattle, the Packers kept 11 linebackers and just five defensive linemen.

Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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