Updating top offseason stories

We wrap up the minicamp with our weekly look at the key battles at right tackle, defensive line and linebacker, with an update on the rookies and Bill's observations. Wednesday's practice was the last one until training camp begins on Aug. 1, but we'll have plenty of news and features to fill your Packers itch until then.

Editor's note: This is the fifth and last volume of our ongoing series in which we follow the Packers' story lines through organized team activities and the just-completed mandatory minicamp.

1, Who will replace Tauscher at right tackle?

With Breno Giacomini recovering from offseason ankle surgery, Allen Barbre took every snap at right tackle with the No. 1 offense and was so impressive that even Aaron Rodgers says Barbre deserves first crack at replacing the venerable Mark Tauscher.

When training camp convenes on Aug. 1, expect Barbre to line up with the No. 1 offense. But Giacomini and rookie fourth-round pick T.J. Lang, who has been splitting second-team reps at right guard and right tackle, remain in the mix. Lang has been impressive even while learning two positions. While at right tackle on Tuesday, Lang saw inside linebacker Desmond Bishop looping to the outside on a blitz and stopped him in his tracks.

As for the rest of the line, so far, so good in coach Mike McCarthy's mission to stop the musical chairs up front. In 16 offseason practices, only Lang and undrafted Evan Dietrich-Smith (center and right guard) were on the move on a daily basis. On Wednesday, undrafted Dane Randolph swung from right tackle to left tackle to replace the ailing Jamon Meredith. Otherwise, all the linemen got to focus on one spot.

2, How's the defensive line stacking up?

Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac's opinion hasn't changed after five weeks of practices: He expects some great competition to fill the presumed six spots on the roster.

Expected starters remain Ryan Pickett at nose tackle, first-round pick B.J. Raji at left end and Cullen Jenkins at right end. Beyond that, Justin Harrell, Johnny Jolly, Michael Montgomery, sixth-round pick Jarius Wynn, undrafted Ronald Talley and Alfred Malone (who missed all of the offseason work after ankle surgery) will be vying for three spots.

Complicating things could be Jolly's trial for possession of codeine, which the Green Bay Press-Gazette reports will finally begin on Friday in Houston. If found guilty, tough-on-crime Commissioner Roger Goodell certainly will suspend him for, perhaps, four games — and that's not mentioning the possibility of spending time in jail. If not guilty, he figures to be the key reserve at defensive end in the base and defensive tackle in the sub-packages.

Harrell, if healthy, presumably will make the roster, and his role looks to be as a run defender. Montgomery, Wynn and Talley are all about 15 to 20 pounds lighter than the desired size for a 3-4 end, but all have shown the ability to slip blocks. Malone has ideal size for the position but hasn't been able to practice.

3, Who will be the four linebackers?

Nothing new here, with Aaron Kampman at left outside linebacker, Jeremy Thompson at right outside linebacker and A.J. Hawk at one of the inside spots.

Judging by how he was moving, the second inside linebacker, Nick Barnett, very well could be ready early in training camp after tearing the ACL in his right knee at Minnesota at midseason. The Packers won't rush him into the lineup, though, because Brandon Chillar is a proven commodity.

The marquee training camp battle will be Thompson vs. first-round pick Clay Matthews III. Thompson did everything asked of him during the offseason but it remains to be seen if he's talented enough to hold off the athletic Matthews, who missed most of the offseason work with a hamstring injury but looked 100 percent during the minicamp.

Heading into training camp, the top backups are Brady Poppinga (for Kampman), Thompson/Matthews, Chillar (for Barnett) and Desmond Bishop (for Hawk). If the Packers keep a ninth, which is what they've hinted, the top contenders at this point are seventh-round pick Brad Jones and inside linebacker/tight end Spencer Havner.

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, 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.

Notable undrafteds — Of the four receivers (Kole Heckendorf, Jamarko Simmons, JaRon Harris and Patrick Williams), Heckendorf was consistently the most impressive this offseason. On Tuesday, he beat a double team for a touchdown. Later, though, he was stripped by Al Harris but pounced on the loose ball. Heckendorf has good height (if not size) and tremendous hands. The big, sure-handed Simmons missed minicamp with a back injury. JaRon Harris took advantage of Simmons' absence, including beating Will Blackmon on a slant. Williams needs to improve his hands and might not even make it to training camp since three players will have to go to get all of the draft picks signed. Tight end Carson Butler missed minicamp with a leg injury. Evan Dietrich-Smith, who takes the second-team reps at right guard when Lang's at right tackle, has a chance because he plays center, too. Tyrell Sutton remains the No. 5 halfback.

5, Bill's observations

— Wednesday's practice was shortened to 50 minutes of jogging through the plays, but the one noteworthy thing was Pat Lee working as the No. 4 cornerback rather than Will Blackmon. Was that a change in the pecking order or simply a chance to give Lee some more looks? We'll find out in August.

— I know A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett are former first-round picks, but for one day, I'd like to see the defensive coaches give Desmond Bishop a shot in the starting lineup. He gets into the backfield more than any of the other linebackers, and he was the only playmaker among the linebackers last season.

DeShawn Wynn frustrates me. He's obviously got some talent. If only he had Ryan Grant's work ethic. In 11-on-11 situations, Grant — regardless of whether he's "tackled" at the line of scrimmage or after a 5-yard gain — runs 40 or 50 yards on every carry. Wynn runs for maybe 15 yards, jogs for another 10 and heads back to the huddle.

— Take that, Tiger! Punting from the defense's 35-yard line on Tuesday, Jeremy Kapinos uncorked a punt that seemed destined to bounce into the end zone. Instead, it landed at the 1-yard line and bounced back to the 2, where it was downed by Jarrett Bush. If Kapinos can do that in game situations, he'll be the punter here for a long, long time.

— Even coach Mike McCarthy has said every team is thrilled with where it stands at this time of year. Nonetheless, I'll walk out on a limb and predict 10-6. Too often, a team's weaknesses overshadow its strengths. Do the Packers have some glaring question marks? You bet. They also outscored their opponents last year and lost a ridiculous number of close games. Add to the mix a legit defensive coordinator, two first-round picks to bolster the defense, a more experienced quarterback, presumably better special teams and a locker room free of distraction, and that should swing the pendulum back in the Packers' direction.


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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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