Updating top offseason stories

We take our weekly look at the battles at right tackle, linebacker and elsewhere, and we share our observations about other developing story lines after watching Wednesday's practice.

Editor's note: This is Volume 3 of an ongoing series in which we follow the Packers' story lines through organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp.

1. Who will replace Tauscher at right tackle?

With every practice, it's becoming more and more apparent that Allen Barbre is supplanting Breno Giacomini as the favorite to replace longtime stalwart Mark Tauscher.

If he hasn't done so already.

During the three practices open to reporters during organized team activities, Barbre has more than held his own against two-time Pro Bowler Aaron Kampman. Never mind Kampman's position switch. Kampman is one of the NFL's top pass rushers, and Barbre consistently has given him fits in that regard.

Barbre is strong and athletic, and with each rep he takes against the No. 1 defense, he's getting more and more polished.

Of course, nothing in the trenches will be settled during OTAs. The heat of training camp — and the full-contact drills that are a staple — will determine who will start. Nonetheless, the pressure will be on Giacomini, who is unable to practice in OTAs due to offseason ankle injury, to make up for lost time.

2. How's the defensive line stacking up?

The Packers used Wednesday's practice to install their nickel and dime defensive packages.

In those alignments, Johnny Jolly and B.J. Raji were the only two down linemen. They were flanked by outside linebackers Jeremy Thompson and Aaron Kampman. In that grouping, Kampman is basically playing the same position he's played for years — left defensive end — though he's doing it from a two-point stance rather than a three-point.

In that package, the Packers showed a few exotic looks that probably are top secret, so we won't detail them here.

The second team in the nickel/dime had Anthony Toribio and Michael Montgomery as the defensive linemen, with rookie Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga as the outside linebackers/standup defensive ends.

When everyone's healthy, Cullen Jenkins presumably would be in Jolly's spot on the first-team nickel/dime, with Jolly in Toribio's spot with the second team.

3. Who will be the four linebackers?

Clay Matthews III was back at practice, albeit briefly, after missing a couple of weeks with a hamstring strain.

Regardless, Jeremy Thompson continues taking all of the first-team reps at right outside linebacker. The starting four remains unchanged, with Thompson and Aaron Kampman on the outside and Brandon Chillar and A.J. Hawk on the inside.

Asked to recall what the coaches told him when moved to outside linebacker in the new scheme, Thompson said he was told he had "special" abilities perfectly suited to play outside linebacker. It helps that he played a lot of coverage at Wake Forest, so that element isn't new.

On Wednesday, Thompson was superb in coverage to deny a completion to tight end Jermichael Finley. On the sideline, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene was fired up and yelled praise at Thompson.

4. Rookie watch

Draft picks — B.J. Raji, first-team defensive end; Clay Matthews III, second-team right outside linebacker; T.J. Lang, second-team right guard and right tackle; Quinn Johnson, third-team fullback; Jamon Meredith, second-team left tackle; Brandon Underwood, cornerback, still in school; Jarius Wynn, third-team defensive end; Brad Jones, second-team left outside linebacker.

Notable undrafteds — Tyrell Sutton, No. 5 halfback, first practices after graduating from Northwestern; had arguably the offense's top two running plays of the day with his ability to get lost in traffic and dart through a hole. Receivers Kole Heckendorf and Jamarko Simmons had impressive workouts; Heckendorf is further along mentally; Simmons has strong hands. Receiver JaRon Harris hasn't shown much and receiver Patrick Williams' drop on the last play of practice was indicative of how things are going. Ronald Talley, third-team defensive end; didn't do much on Wednesday because of the nickel/dime focus. Tight end Carson Butler did not practice (unspecified injury).

5. Bill's observations

— Every year, the Packers keep one or two undrafted rookies on their 53-man roster. The receivers are going to have a hard time making it, with Ruvell Martin being a proven commodity and Brett Swain, a seventh-round pick last year, looking greatly improved as the top challenger to Martin. Missing the first two weeks of OTAs while finishing classes at Northwestern won't help Tyrell Sutton, but his talent was evident when he darted through some openings on Wednesday. Perhaps the player with the best chance is Delaware defensive end Ronald Talley. His strong suit — run defense — won't be evident until training camp, though.

— During the Scouting Combine, I asked fullback Quinn Johnson about his hands, considering he caught only a handful of passes at LSU. He said he'd rate them a 9.5 out of 10. Sure thing, I thought. Well, looks like he wasn't being boastful. Johnson looks smooth out of the backfield. If he's as good of a blocker as he was in college, he's going to be hard to keep off the field.

— Coach Mike McCarthy frequently has said he wants continuity on his offensive line. Well, for three weeks of OTAs, the group of Tony Moll, Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre have taken every rep with the first team. Barring an injury, that group should be jelled once Chad Clifton is healthy enough to replace Moll at left tackle.

— As good as undrafted receivers Kole Heckendorf and Jamarko Simmons have looked, Brett Swain has looked even better. He made a couple of impressive leaping catches on Wednesday, including one when Brian Brohm stepped up in the pocket and whistled one over the middle. He looks much quicker than he did last summer, due in part to his knowledge of the offense and his reshaped body.

— The Packers' 2008 draft would look a lot better if second-round cornerback Pat Lee pans out. On Wednesday, he ripped a ball away from Heckendorf and broke up passes intended for Heckendorf and Donald Driver.

Desmond Bishop is working behind A.J. Hawk as the strong-side inside linebacker. On back-to-back plays, he blew through the offensive line to stop Sutton and chased Brohm out of the pocket. Moments later, he almost intercepted a pass from Matt Flynn to Heckendorf.

— The Packers' offense ranked fifth in the NFL in scoring offense last season. Imagine how good that unit can be with a healthy James Jones? He made a couple of deep catches on Wednesday, including a perfect sideline bomb from Aaron Rodgers.


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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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