Magazine Story: From 80 to 53

Packer Report Magazine's Training Camp Preview, which will be available at the Packers Pro Shop next week, breaks down all of the big battles. The 64-page, all-color magazine has been redesigned and features some new content.

Publisher's note: This story (which has been slightly revamped due to Johnny Jolly's supension) leads off our extensive preview of training camp in the new edition of Packer Report Magazine. The magazine will be available next week in the Packers Pro Shop as well as Packer City Antiques and the Express Convenience Store and Citgo by the stadium.

If you haven't seen the magazine in awhile, give us another look. The design staff gave it a physical makeover, we've added several new features and all 64 pages are in glorious color (with the exception of a sweet photo of Packer Report's founder, the great Ray Nitschke). If interested in a single issue, contact me at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or click here.


It's no wonder why insiders like Sports Illustrated's Peter King and the experts in Las Vegas believe the Green Bay Packers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Of their 22 preferred starters on offense and defense from last season, only Aaron Kampman has departed. And even that isn't much of a void, considering Brad Jones started half of the season at left outside linebacker and the Packers' defense played better with the rookie than with the out-of-place former Pro Bowler.

So, there will be a paucity of starting positions on the line when training camp kicks off on July 31.

Barring an injury, only third-round pick Morgan Burnett among the rookies will be in contention for a starting job as he'll battle incumbent starter Atari Bigby. That will be the marquee competition of camp, with Burnett flashing plenty of big-play potential during offseason workouts. Bigby, however, has proved to be an underrated starter considering the Packers' 25-8 record when he starts over the last three years compared to 5-10 without him.

While safety will be the marquee one-on-one battle, the clashes at cornerback could be what define the season. The Packers' pass defense was dissected by veteran quarterbacks last season, but that was with three of their top five cornerbacks on injured reserve. Al Harris and Pat Lee are back (Will Blackmon has been moved to safety) and Brandon Underwood presumably will be better as he enters his second season. Throw in ultra-athletic undrafted rookie Sam Shields, the maligned Jarrett Bush and holdover Josh Bell, and the Packers at least have some options behind All-World Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams. Whether those options are good options will be defined in the 44 days between the start of camp and the start of the season.

The other big battle will be at left guard, where incumbent starter Daryn Colledge will duke it out with his best friend, former starting center Jason Spitz. T.J. Lang could get into the mix, too, as could first-round pick Bryan Bulaga or even fifth-round pick Marshall Newhouse or holdover Allen Barbre. But Lang seemingly is being groomed to replace veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher and Bulaga is the presumed heir at left tackle for Chad Clifton. With only so many reps to go around, figure on it being Colledge vs. Spitz unless both stub their toe.

The 80-man roster must be cut to 75 players by Aug. 31 and to the final 53 by Sept. 4. Here's how the roster looks heading into camp, with the figures in parentheses being the number on the roster and our best guess at how many players will stick at each position.

Quarterback (3 to 2): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Graham Harrell. The skinny: Aaron Rodgers reached his first Pro Bowl on the heels of one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in the 90-year history of the franchise. With presumably better play on the offensive line, just how much better can Rodgers play? Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements thinks the vastly improved Flynn could be a starter. Considering the Packers have went with just two quarterbacks the last two seasons, Harrell will be vying for a spot on the practice squad. Our prediction: Rodgers, Flynn.

Running backs (5 to 3): Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson, Kregg Lumpkin, James Starks (sixth round), Quinn Porter (undrafted). The skinny: Grant is coming off back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons and remarkably had only one turnover last season. A workhorse who got 75 percent of the carries by the running backs, Grant is one of the NFL's most underrated players. Jackson has been a disappointment with the ball in his hands but is a smart and reliable pass blocker on third down. Starks has intriguing upside with his collegiate production as a runner and receiver but has a long injury history. Lumpkin's injury history is a big issue, too, and it's a long way from Division II for Porter. Our prediction: Grant, Jackson, Starks.


Fullbacks (3 to 2): John Kuhn, Korey Hall, Quinn Johnson. The skinny: The Packers kept all three last year but that probably won't be the case this year. Will Johnson, a bruising fifth-round pick last year, take a step up both as a blocker and on special teams, or do they go with the all-around steady play of the veterans? Our prediction: Kuhn, Hall.

Wide receivers (10 to 5): Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Brett Swain, Patrick Williams, Charles Dillon, Chastin West (undrafted), Shawn Gore (undrafted), Jeff Moturi (undrafted). The skinny: Even without a top-flight pass-catching running back to pad the stats, the Packers ranked fourth in yards after the catch last season. This is a special group, led by the ageless Driver and the big-play Jennings. As a team, Green Bay's 39 catches of 25-plus yards were just three out of the NFL lead. The only knock is the drops, with Green Bay's 36 ranking fifth. The only question is No. 5. Swain was a developing player, especially on special teams, until tearing up his knee early in the season. He should be ready to go for the start of camp. His top challenger will be Williams, an undrafted rookie last year who is a powerful target. Moturi was the best of the undrafted guys during the offseason work. Prediction: Driver, Jennings, Jones, Nelson, Williams.

Tight ends (5 to 3): Jermichael Finley, Donald Lee, Spencer Havner, Tom Crabtree, Andrew Quarless (fifth round). The skinny: Finley had a breakout second season and the next step is the Pro Bowl. Even while missing three games with a knee sprain and sharing reps with Lee for much of the season, Finley ranked 12th among tight ends in receptions and 10th in yards. Lee is coming off of two unproductive seasons but is the leader of a young position group. Of Havner's seven catches, four went for touchdowns. Quarless had a big senior season at Penn State but looked like a project during offseason work. Our prediction: Finley, Havner, Quarless.

Offensive line (14 to 10): Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, Mark Tauscher, Jason Spitz, T.J. Lang, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Breno Giacomini, Allen Barbre, Bryan Bulaga (first round), Marshall Newhouse (fifth round), Nick McDonald (undrafted), Chris Campbell (undrafted). The skinny: Maybe the musical-chairs approach to the line is over, with true reserves at left tackle (Bulaga) and right tackle (Lang), where the Packers are counting on aging veterans Clifton and Tauscher. Sitton, the team's best lineman last year, has Pro Bowl potential at right guard and Wells seems entrenched at center. Colledge and Spitz will battle at left guard, but there's no reason to believe the loser will be released. After all, the Packers kept Wells last season after he was beaten out by Spitz. Dietrich-Smith is probably close to a lock, as well. Our prediction: Clifton, Colledge, Wells, Sitton, Tauscher, Spitz, Lang, Dietrich-Smith, Bulaga, Newhouse.

Defensive line (10 to 6): Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, Cullen Jenkins, Jarius Wynn, Anthony Toribio, Justin Harrell, Ronald Talley, Mike Neal (second round), C.J. Wilson (seventh round), Aleric Mullins (undrafted). The skinny: The Packers kept six defensive linemen last year but might keep seven because of the unit's depth, which is still strong even without Johnny Jolly. Pickett, Raji, Jenkins and Neal are locks. Is Wynn ready to take a step forward after a mostly invisible rookie season? Will Harrell finally stay healthy? Will Wilson make a splash after a superb college career? However it shakes out, this might be the best group in the NFL, especially if Pickett and Raji successfully flip-flop their roles from last year. Our prediction: Pickett, Raji, Jenkins, Wynn, Neal, Wilson.

Outside linebackers (7 to 5): Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, Brady Poppinga, Cyril Obiozor, Robert Francois, Frank Zombo (undrafted), John Russell (undrafted). The skinny: Matthews reached the Pro Bowl after posting 10 sacks as a rookie. Jones and Poppinga alternated starting assignments during offseason workouts but Jones is the clear No. 1 because he's better rushing the passer and playing coverage. It's absolutely vital that Jones develops as a pass rusher because Matthews is going to get a steady diet of double teams. The others will fight for the final two spots, though the team might have to get a veteran if there is an injury or Obiozor isn't ready for prime time. Our prediction: Matthews, Jones, Poppinga, Obiozor and free agent.

Inside linebackers (5 to 4): Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, Brandon Chillar, Desmond Bishop, Alex Joseph (undrafted). The skinny: There's no reason to break up last year's quartet. The maligned Hawk makes a lot of money but is a big reason why the Packers ranked No. 1 in the NFL against the run. If Joseph impresses, maybe the Packers will deal Bishop. Our prediction: Barnett, Hawk, Chillar, Bishop.

Cornerbacks (9 to 6): Charles Woodson, Al Harris, Tramon Williams, Pat Lee, Brandon Underwood, Jarrett Bush, Josh Bell, D.J. Clark, Sam Shields (undrafted). The skinny: The Achilles heel of the defense against top quarterbacks actually could become a strength. But Harris is coming off a devastating knee injury and Lee hasn't played a regular-season game since Nov. 24, 2008. What's unknown is whether Harris will be healthy enough to play in Week 1, Week 3 or 4, or if they put him on the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks. If they need to keep a sixth, the Packers obviously like the maligned Bush's special-teams ability but the speedy Shields might win that role and has some long-term upside on defense. Our prediction: Woodson, Harris, Williams, Lee, Underwood, Shields.

Safeties (7 to 4): Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, Derrick Martin, Will Blackmon, Charlie Peprah, Morgan Burnett (third round), Anthony Levine (undrafted). The skinny: The winner of Bigby vs. Burnett might determine the numbers, since Martin is a core special-teams player and Blackmon remains the best option as a kick returner. If Burnett wins the job, is Bigby good enough on special teams to claim a roster spot? If Burnett pans out, imagine a duo of Collins (13 interceptions in last two seasons) and Burnett (14 in three years at Georgia Tech). Another option is the Packers go with five corners and five safeties, with Blackmon able to fill a combo role. Our prediction: Collins, Martin, Blackmon, Burnett.

Specialists (4 to 3): Mason Crosby (kicker), Tim Masthay, Chris Bryan (punters), Brett Goode (snapper). The skinny: Crosby has failed to hit even 80 percent of his field-goal attempts in any of his first three seasons but again will be unchallenged. Masthay emerged from offseason practices as the front-runner in his battle with Bryan, but the preseason games will be the determining factor. Goode has been flawless as the snapper in his two years. Our prediction: Crosby, Masthay, Goode.


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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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