Other than the part-time spot at inside linebacker created when Clay Matthews moves to the line of scrimmage, the Green Bay Packers’ starting lineup is pretty well set.
Even the battles at the bottom of the depth chart haven’t created much suspense. Perhaps that will change when the preseason begins on Thursday at New England, but there have been only two where-did-he-come-from performers during camp: guard Josh Walker and cornerback Ladarius Gunter.
Walker, who went undrafted in 2013 out of Middle Tennessee State, was signed to Green Bay’s practice squad early last season. It’s only one phase, but Walker has been outstanding in the daily one-on-one pass-blocking drill. By our count, he is 15-1. He’s certainly captured the attention of the coaching staff. When Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton got a partial day off on Tuesday, Lane Taylor and Walker alternated reps with the No. 1 offense.
“You see a big, strong offensive lineman,” said assistant offensive line coach Mike Solari, a longtime NFL assistant who spent the past five seasons building San Francisco’s juggernaut line as the Niners’ head line coach. “You see a guy that comes to work every day and wants to get better. It’s exciting for a guy like Josh because when you sit in the room, you’re seeing two outstanding guards (Sitton and T.J. Lang) in a sense of how to do it. Josh is competing. He just wants to play. But we’ve got a long ways to go. We’ve got a long ways to go. It’s going to be exciting to see him in the preseason games and how he develops each week and keeps improving.”
Gunter has drawn obvious comparisons to Sam Shields, as both entered the league as undrafted free agents out of Miami. They couldn’t be more different, though. Shields is 5-foot-11 and runs like the wind. Gunter is 6-foot-2 and runs like, well, he runs like someone who went undrafted. But he’s made as many plays as any cornerback on the roster in camp.
“We’ve noticed him,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He’s strong; he’s long. I think talking to Joe (Whitt, the cornerbacks coach) about him a little bit, the footwork is a work in progress and what-not, but his ability to be strong in the press and everything, I think, has shown some things. And I think he’s someone that can develop and have a shot at this.”
Here’s how the roster stacks up heading into Thursday night. Rosters must be cut to 75 on Sept. 1 and 53 by Sept. 5.
Quarterback: There’s not much of a decision. The Packers aren’t going to cut Hundley after moving up in the fifth round to grab the record-setting UCLA passer. It helps that he’s gotten better and closed the gap on Matt Blanchard. Prediction (3): Aaron Rodgers, Scott Tolzien, Hundley.
Running back: The Packers could go with three running backs, but is there any danger of losing, say, Rajion Neal? Probably not in a league overflowing with running backs. Besides, in a pinch, John Kuhn can carry the mail. So, the Packers can save themselves a roster spot by stashing their No. 3 runner on the practice squad. Rookie fullback Aaron Ripkowski looks like a potential asset on special teams. Prediction (4): Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Kuhn, Ripkowski.
Wide receiver: Four spots are locked up with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and rookie Ty Montgomery. Jeff Janis hasn’t lived up to the expectations bestowed on him by coach Mike McCarthy, but he cranked it up last summer after missing the start of training camp with shingles. Because of his long-term potential and ability to contribute on special teams, he’s the favorite for the No. 5 spot, even though he’s been outplayed by Myles White. Prediction (5): Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Montgomery, Janis.
Tight end: McCarthy called this a “really good group.” We shall see. Behind Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers is more a who’s-that than a who’s-who list of contenders. Justin Perillo seems to have some chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. It’s hands that are setting back Kennard Backman and Mitchell Henry. Backman’s hands have been slippery and Henry’s left hand is enveloped in a club cast. Prediction (3): Quarless, Rodgers, Perillo.
Offensive line: Green Bay’s starting five are as good as any front wall in the NFL. Behind them, McCarthy said the competition is as “high as we’ve had it here.” Again, we shall see. Tretter has been inconsistent and Barclay has struggled as he returns from a torn ACL. It could be Walker vs. Taylor for the final spot. Prediction (8): David Bakhtiari, Sitton, Corey Linsley, Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Barclay, Tretter, Walker.
Defensive line: Suspensions obviously play a role here and the seventh man on the roster might not be with the team beyond Week 1. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac wants to see his guys beat blocks and make tackles — something they’re not able to do in the no-tackling practices. Can Mike Pennel do that or is he nothing more than a big man? Without Guion, that size could be an asset. Bruce Gaston has come on strong the past week. Prediction (7): Mike Daniels, B.J. Raji, Letroy Guion, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Pennel, Gaston.
Outside linebackers Jayrone Elliott made the team last summer on the strength of an NFL-high five sacks in the preseason. Is there an Elliott on this year’s roster between Adrian Hubbard, Jermauria Rasco and James Vaughters? Prediction (5): Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Andy Mulumba, Elliott.
Inside linebackers: Outside of Matthews, Sam Barrington and fourth-round pick Jake Ryan, no position is secure. Even with one hand, Nate Palmer remains ahead of the pack in the race to fill Matthews’ spot when he goes to outside linebacker. Carl Bradford is a No. 1 on all of the special teams. Prediction (5): Matthews, Barrington, Ryan, Palmer, Bradford.
Cornerbacks: There’s no doubt about the first five spots. If they keep six, it will come down to Gunter vs. Demetri Goodson. Gunter has made infinitely more plays in coverage than Goodson but the coaches will want to see if his speed is an issue. Goodson is a No. 1 on all of the special teams. Prediction (6): Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Gunter.
Safeties: The Packers could go with only Morgan Burnett, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Sean Richardson since Hyde spends practice playing safety with the No. 2 defense when he’s not playing nickel with the No. 1 unit. Banjo, however, has had a good camp and is a No. 1 on all of the special teams. Prediction (4): Burnett, Clinton-Dix, Richardson, Banjo.
Special teams: With general manager Thompson pulling the plug on the punting competition before the first preseason game, things are settled. Mason Crosby will kick, Tim Masthay will punt and Brett Goode will snap. Prediction (3): Crosby, Masthay, Goode.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.