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 the final open practice of organized team activities.

Editor's note: This is Volume 4 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?

Nothing that we haven't said in the prior three installments of this series: Allen Barbre is getting better each week, and he'll enter training camp as a relatively clear front-runner when training camp opens on Aug. 1.

Even Aaron Rodgers is impressed by what he's seen.

"I think Allen's done a great job," Rodgers said after Wednesday's practice. "He's a big, strong, athletic guy. He's going to get comfortable at right tackle. When Breno (Giacomini) gets back, there's going to be some good competition there. You've got to give Barbre the edge right now. He's doing a nice job. His thing is just mental. If he can mentally comprehend our scheme, he's got all the physical tools. He's probably the most physically gifted lineman we've got."

Nothing will be settled during four weeks of organized team activities, when the players are wearing helmets and shorts. Next week's minicamp will be more telling, though Barbre's chief competition, Giacomini, doesn't figure to be allowed on the field until training camp as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery.

2. How's the defensive line stacking up?

Wednesday's practice featured a heavy dose of passing situations, so the Packers weren't in their base 3-4 defense often.

On passing plays, the defense generally lined up with four defensive linemen — or two, depending on how you look at it — with Johnny Jolly and B.J. Raji at defensive tackles and Aaron Kampman and Jeremy Thompson as standup defensive ends.

In a Hail Mary situation, Raji was flanked by Kampman and Thompson.

If former first-round pick Justin Harrell is going to make an impact this year, it's going to be as a run defender. He's lined up with the third team in nickel/dime situations, and that's with Cullen Jenkins sidelined after offseason ankle surgery. Apparently, the coaches think little of his ability to pressure the quarterback.

3. Who will be the four linebackers?

Even with Clay Matthews III back on a limited basis Wednesday after missing the first three weeks of OTAs with a hamstring injury, Jeremy Thompson is the leader at right outside linebacker.

Whether Thompson is simply keeping the spot warm for Matthews or if a full-fledged battle will be waged during training camp remains to be seen, but next week's minicamp should shed some light on the situation.

Certainly, Matthews remains very much in the mix. USC's three-time special teams player of the year, Matthews would be a fixture on the Packers' special teams if he's not a starter on defense. But when the Packers were working on kickoff coverage, Matthews and Aaron Kampman were working on the side with outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.

"He's had his medical issue with the hamstring, but he's everything that we thought he was as far as what he can do physically," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Mentally, he seems to have a good grasp. I'll say this about Clay and the rest of the rookie class — they've done a very good job of really keeping up."

The starting quartet was the same as it's been throughout OTAs, with Kampman and Thompson on the outside and Brandon Chillar and A.J. Hawk on the inside. Those guys aren't lining up in the same place play after play, though. We'll leave the rest to your imagination.

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; Jarius Wynn, third-team defensive end; Brandon Underwood, worked with second-team nickel and dime after missing first three weeks of OTAs while class was in session at Cincinnati; Brad Jones, third-team left outside linebacker behind Jeremy Thompson and Brady Poppinga.

Notable undrafteds — Tyrell Sutton, No. 5 halfback, again showed strong running skills but also dropped a swing pass. Receivers Kole Heckendorf, Jamarko Simmons, JaRon Harris and Patrick Williams didn't do anything noteworthy. Tight end Carson Butler was out again with a leg injury, and now he's battling newcomer Devin Frischknecht and linebacker Spencer Havner in the pursuit of No. 3 tight end Tory Humphrey. Asked about the rookie offensive linemen, quarterback Aaron Rodgers mentioned Evan Dietrich-Smith before the two draft picks. The Idaho State product has been working as the No. 2 right guard when Lang's been at right tackle.

5. Bill's observations

— Speaking of linemen, offensive line coach James Campen is spending time working on rookie left tackle Jamon Meredith's footwork. The rookie from South Carolina has the tools to play the offensive line's most demanding position but he lacks polish. Without the burden of installing a game plan, technique work is a staple of this time of year.

— Kicker Mason Crosby, coming off of a disappointing second season, is having a strong offseason. He connected from 53 and 58 yards into a slight breeze on Wednesday. He came up short from 53 on his first kick, but said he thought he was supposed to hit it short so the field-goal unit would have to cover the kick. He was perfect on eight shorter attempts during an earlier OTA practice.

— The 2-minute drill was a sore point in training camp last summer and during the season last year, and it hasn't gone much better during OTA sessions open to reporters.

In his opportunity on Wednesday, Aaron Rodgers moved the offense efficiently until throwing an interception to Tramon Williams on fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard line in the final seconds. The highlight, at least for the offense, was Rodgers' fake killing of the clock and resulting 20-yard completion to Jordy Nelson against a napping defense.

Of note, DeShawn Wynn was the running back on that drive.

Two weeks ago, Rodgers was intercepted by Williams to kill that 2-minute drive.

Charlie Peprah, Jarrett Bush and Anthony Smith also had interceptions. B.J. Raji, playing nose tackle, almost had an interception. Rodgers apparently didn't see the 337-pound Raji on a dump-off over the middle to Ryan Grant.

— The play of the day came on some trickery. Matt Flynn tossed the ball to Kregg Lumpkin, with Lumpkin running to his right before throwing back to his left to Flynn, who threw a beautiful pass to James Jones just over the outstretched hand of Bush.

— Tyrell Sutton, whose chance to make the team will boil down to his ability to produce as a third-down back, made a nice gain on a screen pass but also dropped a pass. Sutton also had a big gain around right end when undrafted rookie tackle Dane Randolph blocked undrafted rookie defensive end Ronald Talley.

— Proving that no defensive scheme is leak-proof, linebacker Brandon Chillar found himself covering Donald Driver in the slot.

— The No. 1 kickoff team had five defensive backs, four linebackers and a running back. The right side, from outside in: Will Blackmon, Jarrett Bush, Spencer Havner, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Jackson. The left side, from outside in: Tramon Williams, Charlie Peprah, Anthony Smith, Brandon Chillar and Brady Poppinga. Only Chillar, who is subbing for Nick Barnett, is a starter.

— While Pat Lee had an impressive practice in front of reporters last week, he remains behind Blackmon on the cornerback depth chart. With Al Harris skipping practice, Williams and Charles Woodson were the starters, with Blackmon taking the nickel reps. Lee was in Woodson's role as the slot corner with the second nickel.

— With safety Nick Collins finally deciding to attend and cornerback Brandon Underwood finally allowed to attend, the Packers wound up having perfect attendance during the four weeks of voluntary practices.

"This is a voluntary time right now, but I think that word is kind of been almost eliminated from our terminology here in Green Bay now," Rodgers said.


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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. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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