Packers Exit Survey: OTAs

The Packers have wrapped up their Organized Team Activities, and now only a short minicamp stands between the team and training camp.

As the Packers head off for some summer adventures, Jon and Gary sat down to share some thoughts on OTAs and how the team is shaping up.

1. What is your tweet-length review of the Packers’ OTAs?

Jon: Every player looks good, but a few things need to be cleaned up. Football team.

Gary: Every single player on the Packers is somehow in the best shape of their lives, all at the same time.

2. How have your expectations for Josh Jones changed?

Jon: I don’t think mine have changed all that much, but mine were probably higher than most to begin with.

I maintain that Jones has among the easiest paths to success of any of the Packers’ draft picks since the Packers seem to be able to tailor a role to suit him perfectly this season. I think he’ll be an athletic presence in the middle of the defense, serving as the “super sub” sort of player that Micah Hyde has been for the past few years.

Gary: There’s a lot to like about what we’ve seen and heard about Jones, but I’m doing my best to keep my expectations where they were before OTAs. Of the Packers draft picks in the first five rounds, I’m expecting CB Kevin King, LB Vince Biegel and RB Jamaal Williams to make a more significant contribution this upcoming season than Jones will.

That’s not a knock on Jones, but his path to playing time is a lot longer than the other three. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett are not going to lose their starting spot to a rookie, no matter how good Jones is right now.

Jones will likely play that hybrid safety/linebacker role the Packers used Morgan Burnett in at times, and may play corner depending on how he does in training camp and the preseason.

3. Were there any players who stuck out to you?

Jon: Jahri Evans. Sure, he’s an aging player at one of the most physically demanding positions, but he spoke with a drive and hunger that was unique and encouraging to see. After a decade as a fixture in New Orleans, last season he got his first taste of life as something resembling a fringe player with his brief exile to Seattle. He seems eager to show the Packers that their faith was well placed, an exciting development for a guard-hungry team.

Gary: Kyler Fackrell. The second-year linebacker didn’t show enough last season to believe the Packers could count on him as a rotational pass rusher. He looked too thin and a step too slow, in my opinion. Reports from camp say Fackrell’s added about ten pounds of muscle to his frame, likely exactly what he needs to take that next step forward. The clock’s ticking on him, too. He’s 26 years old in November – Vince Biegel turns 24 in July.

4. How will the offensive line hold up this season?

Jon: I think the Packers offensive line situation is solid in the long term but tenuous in the short term. If this was Madden and offensive linemen couldn’t get injured during non-simulation play, you wouldn’t be concerned about the line at all. The tackles and center are as good as they come, Jahri Evans should be a competent replacement for T.J. Lang, and Lane Taylor is solid enough.

But what if someone gets injured? I’m very concerned about the depth on the offensive line, and if it doesn’t hold up from an injury perspective, this season could take a nosedive.

Gary: It will be fascinating to see how two undrafted free agents on the offensive line – Geoff Gray and Adam Pankey – perform through camp and the preseason. Gray comes from the University of Manitoba, and was the seventh overall selection in this year’s CFL Draft. Pankey played both tackle and guard for West Virginia, possessing the flexibility Green Bay looks for from their backups. I’d venture a guess that one of those two make the 53-man roster.

5. Jacob Schum is out at punter, and Justin Vogel is the only punter left on the roster. What do you think will happen at punter?

Jon: I wonder what the true difference is between a pretty good punter and a really good punter. I suspect it’s not all that much. Punters don’t get a lot of work compared to most positions on a football team, so even a replacement level one is probably not that much of a drop off in terms of overall talent on a team.

That makes me think the job is probably Vogel’s to lose, but don’t read too much into it. Outside of his holding duties with Mason Crosby, there’s little reason to keep him around for continuity, especially with former punters the Packers are familiar with still available. If Vogel falters at all, Jacob Schum, Tim Masthay, and even Peter Mortell are only a phone call away.

Gary: My gut says that Vogel will likely have some competition at some point in camp. It feels unprecedented for an NFL team to hand a starting job (if you consider a punter to be a starter) to an undrafted free agent before training camp begins. Perhaps Tim Masthay gets another look from the Packers, too.

But the favorite for the gig has to be Vogel, who has the reputation of having both a big leg and the ability to kick in a direction. The Packers want their punter to be able to punt to a side of the field, and will call punt protections to match.

6. Barring an injury to Rodgers, how many QBs do you think the Packers will keep on their Week 1 roster?

Jon: I really would like to say two, but I’m skeptical of my own assessment. Last season I thought Joe Callahan didn’t even belong on the practice squad, but he spent time on the Packers’ active roster and got plenty of interest from other teams around the league.

But it’s that very situation that makes me think the Packers may be willing to keep three quarterbacks again. If they didn’t jettison a third quarterback for most of last year, despite big question marks at running back and in the secondary, what’s to say they wouldn’t do so again this year? I wouldn’t put a percentage on it, but I think there’s a good chance they keep three quarterbacks again.

Gary: Two. There are not enough quarterbacks who have the talent, athleticism and skill to play in the NFL. But because quarterback is the most critical position on a roster, players who may possess one of the three will hang around longer than any other position. I think that’s why we saw Joe Callahan bounce around the league before returning to the Packers late in the season.

Will Joe Callahan or Taysom Hill (who turns 27 in August) be promising enough that Green Bay would risk losing a more talented player through waivers to keep him around? Right now, I say no.

7. What percentage of the team’s rushing yards will Ty Montgomery have for the Packers this season?

Jon: 45-50%, but the Packers’ rushing total will be lower than in the past. At their best last year, the Packers were winning with Aaron Rodgers loading up for 40 to 50 passes a game. That should be instructive for this year, and hopefully the Packers’ coaching staff will take it to heart.

Montgomery should see the bulk of the carries if he’s healthy, but that’s only because he’ll be on the field the most. That should lead to an increased total of the Packers’ rushing yards, but maybe not a huge overall total.

Gary: 40%. It’s too early to know who of the Packers rookie running backs are going to push for playing time, but the quality seems higher than in years past. Also, consider Montgomery’s game log during last season. He had just one game with over 10 carries (Chicago, Week 15), and finished the season with fewer than 100 carries.

I expect Montgomery to be the first one out on the field, but I expect him to have fewer than half of the team’s total rushing yards this season. There are too many other rookies and weapons hungry for touches.

8. Kevin King missed OTAs because he was finishing up his college courses. Will it impact his development, and if so, how?

Jon: I don’t think so. Right now, King’s main selling points are his size and athleticism, and those won’t wane just because he misses OTAs. The intensity of study and installation during training camp should get him back up to speed.

Gary: I hope not. OTAs are more focused on concepts than actual practice, so King missing these practices means he’s missing opportunities to learn the playbook and defensive scheme from the coaching staff. As the top pick at a position where he’s expected to contribute, I find it hard to believe he hasn’t been in communication with the Packers coaches while finishing school.

9. The NFL implemented a rule change that loosens the iron fist on celebrations. Which Packers player will have the most outrageous celebration this year?

Jon:  Martellus Bennett is going to figure out something unique, and I am excited to see whatever it is. My first suggestion would be teaming up with another member of the receiving corps for some sort of football-centric version of the Iron Lotus. Randall Cobb seems like he’d be a good size for spinning.

Gary: I’ll echo Jon’s comment about Bennett, but don’t rule out Aaron Rodgers from taking a few more chances. He’s considered one of the league’s biggest trash talkers on the field, and perhaps we see a few more Shooter McGavin double-pistols this season after touchdowns.

10. What’s your boldest prediction for the upcoming Packers season?

Jon: The defense will be improved enough to make the Packers competitive in the playoffs again. I can’t predict a Super Bowl appearance, but I think it’s reasonable to hope for (or even expect) an improvement.

Gary: By season’s end, I think Martellus Bennett will have more touchdowns than any other wide receiver or tight end. Bennett’s a huge target at 6-7, and the Packers tend to throw more near the goalline than average. Of his 30 career touchdown receptions, 23 have come in the red zone.