Unlucky 13: Vets Who Will Be Fighting For Job

Even with 21 of 22 starters returning, there will be plenty of roster spots up for grabs. With organized team activities beginning on Monday with the first day of practice on Tuesday, Packer Report gets you ready for those big battles.

The Green Bay Packers enter their offseason practices as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They won seven of their last eight regular-season games last season and return 21 of 22 starters.

However, Ted Thompson drafted seven players and added 14 more undrafted free agents. That's 21 bodies who will be challenging the veterans when organized team activities start on Monday. Here are 13 players that will need a strong summer to keep their paycheck.

Offense

Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini: Barbre had a strong 2009 offseason, training camp and preseason at right tackle, and appeared a capable replacement for Mark Tauscher. Then the real games began, and Barbre turned into a turnstile in the passing game, with (unofficially) seven sacks allowed in seven starts. Strong and athletic, Barbre has the physical tools to be a great — not just good — lineman. But the total package isn't close to equaling the sum of the parts. As bad as Barbre played, the coaches wouldn't even put his backup, Giacomini, on the field. T.J. Lang and Tauscher are all the Packers need at right tackle, and rookie fifth-rounder Marshall Newhouse could be in the mix there, too. At this point, it would be stunning to see Barbre on the final roster and an upset to see Giacomini survive.

Daryn Colledge or Jason Spitz: Colledge was one of the Packers' top blockers in 2008 and one of its worst in 2009. The coaching staff and front office have done him no favors in his first four NFL seasons, with the starting left guard playing at every position but center — and he's even snapped the ball at practice. Unofficially, Colledge gave up a team-high eight sacks last season. Spitz beat out Scott Wells for the starting gig at center but went down with an early-season back injury. Wells excelled, so the coaches have pitted Spitz vs. Colledge at left guard. The winner will start and the loser could walk (trade or release). Or they could keep both, depending on the development of second-year center/guard Evan Dietrich-Smith and Newhouse.


FB John Kuhn
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Korey Hall or John Kuhn: The Packers know what they have in these two: Solid but not spectacular. Hall is the more athletic blocker and better special-teams player but hasn't been able to stay healthy in his first three seasons. Kuhn is a better straight-line blocker and a reliable inside runner, but his gaffe cost the Packers a blocked punt (and perhaps the game) at woeful Tampa Bay. One of them will be out of a job if second-year player Quinn Johnson makes a significant step forward after a so-so rookie season. Johnson has the potential to be the dominant run blocker that turns a good running game into a championship-caliber running game. Johnson, who arrived at LSU as a linebacker, must turn into a difference-maker on special teams. He failed to record a single tackle in that role last year.

Donald Lee: In the midst of a breakout 2007 season in which he finished with 48 catches for 575 yards (12.0 average) and six touchdowns, the Packers awarded Lee a contract extension through 2011. The next two seasons, Lee averaged 38 receptions for 282 yards (7.4 average) and six touchdowns. He officially dropped four passes last season, including two in the end zone. He's an OK but not great blocker. The Packers need more from their second tight end because that's such an important role in Mike McCarthy's offense. With fifth-rounder Andrew Quarless potentially a better receiver and at least as good in the run game, Lee will need to rekindle his breakout 2007.

Defense

Justin Harrell: The 2007 first-round pick has played in only 13 of a possible 48 games. He hasn't started a game since the wild-card win vs. Seattle as a rookie, when the Packers opened in their goal-line defense. He has no sacks, no forced fumbles, no fumble recoveries, no noteworthy plays. Between the torn biceps tendon that ruined his senior year at Tennessee and kept him out of offseason practices as a rookie, a sprained ankle as a rookie and two back surgeries that kept him out of the first seven and final three games in 2008 and all of 2009, the word "disappointment" doesn't get close to describing his career. To up the ante, the Packers drafted two defensive ends.


LB Brady Poppinga
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Brady Poppinga: Poppinga should be safe, considering the Packers lost Aaron Kampman in free agency and Jeremy Thompson to his neck problem. However, Poppinga didn't do anything of note during three starts last season and didn't do much on special teams, either, with 10 tackles but three accepted penalties. He's tough, willing and a great team player, but he's poor in coverage and offers nothing as a rusher with one sack in his last three seasons.

Atari Bigby: Bigby's roster spot should be safe, but it's not a given. Rookie third-rounder Morgan Burnett will be given every chance to wrest the starting job away from Bigby. If Burnett winds up the starter and Khalil Jones — the receiver-turned-safety — turns into a big, strong, fast special-teams demon, then the Packers might find Bigby expendable. Bigby is a physical player who has made some big plays, but he lacks the desired range in coverage and missed nine games in 2008 and three more in 2009.

Jarrett Bush: The whipping boy of the fans, it's not Bush's fault that he was beaten so often in coverage last season. If not for injuries to three of the top five cornerbacks, Bush never would have seen the field on defense. Instead, he was thrust into a marquee role and allowed four touchdown passes. He's athletic enough to be a solid cover man but always loses a step when the ball is in the air because of almost nonexistent instincts. Bush was supposed to be the Packers' special-teams ace but instead had 10 tackles and committed a team-high four accepted penalties. He'll be challenged for his special-teams role by undrafted rookie Sam Shields.

Will Blackmon or Pat Lee: Who knows how far the Packers could have advanced last season had Blackmon or Lee not been KO'd by injuries. In four seasons, Blackmon played in all 16 games in 2008 but just four games in 2006, nine games in 2007 and three games in 2009. Lee played in five games as a rookie in 2008 and none in 2009. Both are coming off of season-ending knee injuries, with Blackmon's torn ACL in Week 4 by far the more serious. Lee has more upside as a cornerback and the Packers have a dire need for another solid cover man; Blackmon is the team's only legit kick returner. Assuming Al Harris makes a successful comeback from a knee injury and Brandon Underwood takes a step forward after showing some promise as a rookie last year, chances are the Packers will part ways with either Blackmon or Lee.


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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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