From 80 to 53: Our Reasoning

We go through every position group to tell you the difficult choices looming in setting the 53-man roster. Might the Packers keep four or even five tight ends, and if so, what position groups lose a player?

To listen to some fans, Ted Thompson is the worst general manager in the history of sports. And yet, there are tough personnel decisions looming at practically every position group. Not tough because it's picking between the lesser of two evils, but tough because Thompson has built a deep roster.

After watching every practice and talking to every assistant coach during the first two weeks of camp, I took my best guess at the final 53-man roster. Now, here is why I made those decisions.

Quarterbacks

Tough decision: None. Graham Harrell probably winds up on the practice squad as an emergency quarterback because he knows the system. His arm is terrible, but with that said, I marvel at his production in college. Sure, it was the system but it does take a little ability.

Running backs

Tough decision: None at the moment. Sixth-round pick James Starks can't get on the field while undrafted Quinn Porter played well against Cleveland and is probably a better option as a kickoff returner than Brandon Jackson because of his speed. Kregg Lumpkin played well against the Browns, too, but has been mostly invisible at practice. Starks goes on injured reserve and will get his chance next year.

Fullbacks

Tough decision: Veterans Korey Hall and John Kuhn keep their jobs and Quinn Johnson is out. Johnson played well against the Browns to get back in the race but was one of the worst players on the field during the scrimmage. Hall and Kuhn played well against Cleveland, too. Hall made a nifty catch on a poor pass by Aaron Rodgers and Kuhn's touchdown run came on a typically terrific second effort. Both are superior to Johnson on special teams, too. Johnson has a future in this league but I'm not sure his skill-set matches the Packers' scheme. Put Johnson in a traditional "I" formation and let him pound away at a predetermined defender and he'd be terrific.

Tight ends

Tough decision: Maybe none, depending on the health of Tom Crabtree. I admittedly didn't give much more than a cursory look at Crabtree in the magazine preview. He wasn't a standout player at Miami (Ohio) and he was joining a position group with three established veterans and fifth-round pick Andrew Quarless. Well, Crabtree has been a surprise and is a "starter" on the punt team and kickoff return team. He also played offense before Quarless on Saturday but left the game with a hand injury of unknown severity. Thompson's track record suggests he won't part ways with a draft pick unless he stinks, and Quarless definitely doesn't stink. Keeping four tight ends is odd; keeping five seems preposterous. But, four it is (with Crabtree stashed on injured reserve) — though, it should be noted, that the tight ends know the plays at fullback. So, it's possible that the Packers keep one fullback (Kuhn would be my guess) and five tight ends if Crabtree's injury isn't severe.

Wide receivers

Tough decision: The Packers usually keep five receivers but who's worthy? Special teams are the key here, which is why Brett Swain beat out Ruvell Martin last year. As Charles Dillon told me last week, the Packers don't need a fifth receiver to catch passes. So, it's possible Swain sticks, but he hasn't done anything noteworthy as he comes back from a torn ACL. Only Dillon has stood out a little among the group of Patrick Williams, Chastin West, Jason Chery and Shawn Gore.

Offensive line

Tough decision: This is a talented group but only Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, Mark Tauscher and T.J. Lang are locks. If Daryn Colledge loses the left guard job to Bulaga, is there any reason to keep both Colledge and Jason Spitz? Considering Spitz can play center at a much higher level than Colledge can play tackle, then my guess is they'd keep Spitz and try to move Colledge. From there, Breno Giacomini, Marshall Newhouse, Allen Barbre and Evan Dietrich-Smith are fighting for the remaining two or three spots. Giacomini gave up a sack against Cleveland but was a bear in the run game. Newhouse has terrific upside with his athleticism and smarts. Dietrich-Smith could be the center of the future, though it seems to me he played better at camp last year. I think they all make it and Barbre is out. He'd be the No. 3 or 4 left tackle (behind Clifton and Bulaga and maybe even Newhouse) and No. 3 or 4 left guard (behind some combination of Colledge, Bulaga, Spitz and Newhouse).

Defensive line

Tough decision: The big decision is whether they keep six or seven. Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Mike Neal are locks. Justin Harrell, Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson seem to be the next three in the pecking order, with Anthony Toribio expendable because Pickett can relieve Raji at nose tackle. If they keep six, who sticks? After waiting so long, it would seem odd to give up on Harrell if he manages to stay healthy. From there, it would be Wynn and Wilson. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac raves about Wilson's work ethic. Wynn is the better pass rusher today but Wilson might have more upside in that area.

Linebackers

Tough decision: Ideally, the Packers would keep nine but they really only have seven deserving of a roster spot: Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, Desmond Bishop and Brady Poppinga. A deal involving Colledge or Spitz might be the solution. But dealing with who's on the roster, Obiozor gives more impact on special teams than Frank Zombo or Robert Francois. Zombo, it should be noted, was the only Packers defender to be credited with a quarterback hit on Saturday. If not for a quad injury, Alex Joseph might have been worth keeping. He was having a strong camp.

Cornerbacks

Tough decision: The easy solution is putting Al Harris on PUP for the first six weeks, though he still thinks he'll be ready for the opener. Whether it's now or later, a tough choice must be made, so let's get to it. Do the Packers go with seven corners — keeping both Sam Shields and Jarrett Bush — or do they go with six and get rid of one of them? Today, Bush is the more valuable player because of his special-teams contributions. But that was Shields' role at Miami, and he's obviously a superior prospect at cornerback. That he can't field a punt isn't relevant. My guess is they'd keep seven, especially as an insurance policy for Harris, with that roster spot coming from offensive line (Dietrich-Smith) or safety (Blackmon, if not healthy, or Peprah).

Safeties

Tough decision: Injury issues cloud this decision. What we know is Nick Collins and Morgan Burnett are locks, and Derrick Martin probably is because of special teams. The questions start with Atari Bigby and his ankle. PUP seems like a good bet since, if all goes well, Bigby won't be ready to practice until just before the regular-season opener and has a ton of ground to make up after skipping all of the offseason workouts. If his knee finally feels right, Will Blackmon makes it because he's the only proven kick returner. Mike McCarthy keeps saying Blackmon's knee just needs a little time to get over the hump. Given all of that uncertainty, Charlie Peprah probably makes the team as an insurance policy.

Special teams

Tough decision: To me, this is no contest. Until Mason Crosby can consistently make kicks from the hold of Chris Bryan, then Bryan really isn't in the punting battle. Tim Masthay has performed well and he and Crosby have built a chemistry. That's what Crosby needs at this point in his career.

Practice squad

QB Graham Harrell, WRs Charles Dillon and Chastin West, OL Nick McDonald, LBs Frank Zombo and Robert Francois, CB D.J. Clark, P Chris Bryan.


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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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