The Green Bay Packers started their on-the-field prep for the 2017 season on Monday.
On Tuesday, the fans can get their first look at this year’s team, with the second practice of organized team activities starting at 11:30 a.m. at Clarke Hinkle Field. (Weather permitting; there’s a 50 percent chance of rain.)
Here are some of the story lines for these offseason practices.
At this time last year, there was little doubt that Sam Shields and Damarious Randall would be starting on the outside with Quinten Rollins in the slot. Big changes could be in store with the additions of veteran Davon House and top draft pick Kevin King. At most positions, little can be gleaned until the pads come on, but the receivers-vs.-cornerbacks battles are legit. Can King, with his freakish combination of size and athleticism, be an instant starter? Can House played like he did at times during his first tour in Green Bay and in 2015 with Jacksonville? Can Randall and Rollins bounce back from dismal second seasons? Can LaDarius Gunter parlay last year’s trial by fire into a starting role?
2. The new old guys
General manager Ted Thompson used some unusual-for-him roster-building methods this offseason. Not only did he sign House, but he inked tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, guard Jahri Evans and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois. Bennett is arguably the best all-around tight end in the NFL. Bennett and Kendricks lack Jared Cook’s game-breaking speed but should add new options on the offense. Evans, a former All-Pro right guard, was signed to replace popular Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang. Jean Francois adds veteran depth to a defensive line that will be without Letroy Guion, who will open the season with a four-game suspension.
3. Second-year defenders
Thompson used his first four draft picks on defensive players this year after using four of his first five draft picks on defensive players in 2016. It’s easy to focus on the rookies but the Year 2 defenders must take a big step forward. Last year’s first-round pick, Kenny Clark, all but fell out of the rotation last year, with 13 snaps vs. Philadelphia in Week 12 and seven vs. Houston in Week 13. He came on strong down the stretch, though, with 18.3 snaps per game in the final four games and 26.3 snaps per game in the three playoff games. In 13 games, Fackrell averaged only 12.3 snaps and had nine tackles. Martinez was playing about two-thirds of the snaps until a knee injury against Washington in Week 11. He missed the next three games and then played in just 81 snaps the next six games, including one vs. Dallas in the playoffs.
Now what? Based on how he finished last season, Clark figures to be the starter alongside Mike Daniels. The Packers need much more out of Fackrell, considering the 1,100-plus snaps left by the departed duo of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones. Can Martinez be the every-down inside linebacker? Or will he lose playing time to rookie safety Josh Jones?
4. Backfield in motion
At this time last year, Ty Montgomery was a wide receiver. Now, he’s the last man standing in the backfield and, oddly, the veteran at running back. Montgomery is surrounded by five rookies in the backfield — including fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams, fifth-round pick Aaron Jones and seventh-round pick Devante Mays. Playing running back is about breaking tackles and picking up blitzers. Those skills, obviously, won’t show up during OTAs. That makes the 230-pound Mays the player to watch. If he can catch the ball in “live” situations, he’ll put himself right in the mix to be the No. 2 behind Montgomery.
5. Special teams
There are two battles with the specialists. One is at punter, with Justin Vogel, an undrafted rookie from Miami, trying to unseat incumbent Jake Schum. Schum won the one-on-one net-punt matchup in eight of the final 11 games (including playoffs). His 43.5-yard net average in the playoffs ranks as the second-best single postseason in team annals. Vogel averaged 43.8 yards per punt as a senior. The second battle is at long snapper. Derek Hart is the only snapper on the roster. He was a senior at James Madison in 2015. Hart, of course, is battling the rest of the league. Brett Goode, last year’s snapper, remains a free agent and is just a phone call away.
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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.