It seems like it was just yesterday that players were reporting to Green Bay. Yet already two weeks have passed since practice began. Needless to say, there are far more storylines surrounding the 2013 Packers after two weeks than anyone could have predicted. While no player's destiny is set save for the injured, here are some observations of where the team stands heading into its first preseason game.
B.J. Coleman needs at least another year of seasoning, and he may not get it
Throughout this offseason, head coach Mike McCarthy mentioned several times that there would be an open competition at backup quarterback. He meant it too; for the first week of camp, the backup snaps were split evenly between Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman. Overall, Harrell looked competent in practice and in the Family Night scrimmage. The same could not be said of Coleman.
In addition to his struggles with accuracy, Coleman has displayed a penchant for turnovers, including two picks on Family Night. It's no coincidence that the Packers uncharacteristically made the move to sign Vince Young mere days later. McCarthy and Ted Thompson want more from their backup quarterback this year. The fact that the Packers signed a player who hasn't been on an NFL roster since the 2012 preseason underscores their disappointment in Coleman.
It's evident that Coleman is at least a year away from attaining NFL competence, but there's no guarantee he survives that long. While he's the only quarterback on the roster the Packers can stash on the practice squad, the team isn't going to burn one of those eight spots on a player they don't think will develop. When Coleman struggled in 2012, it was written off due to his rookie status and because he'd yet to experience one of McCarthy's QB schools. A year later, Coleman's gone through the cycle yet still struggles with fundamental components of quarterbacking. If he fails to improve over the next four weeks, the Packers may have no choice but to cut ties and either carry three quarterbacks on the 53 or find someone else for the practice squad.
David Bakhtiari may be Ted Thompson's most valuable pick of the 2013 draft
As with any team, the Packers are deeper at some positions than others. One of the positions that seemed to lack any depth entering camp was left tackle. This offseason, the coaching staff made the unprecedented move to flip their entire offensive line, a decision predicated on having Bryan Bulaga anchor the group at left tackle. That plan had to quickly change once Bulaga tore his ACL during the Family Night scrimmage last Friday. While many pundits, myself included, believed Marshall Newhouse would shift back to the left side, the Packers have elected to instead promote rookie David Bakhtiari to starter.
Starting a rookie tackle is never optimal, but it's not unprecedented either. During the Packers 1996 and 1997 Super Bowl runs, the team won games with John Michels and Ross Verba starting at left tackle. The 2010 championship team too featured a rookie starter at tackle, the aforementioned Bulaga. Even last year, Don Barclay played in the final regular season games and playoffs as the Packers' starter on the right side.
In only two weeks, Bakhtiari has gone from the team's 7th or 8th offensive lineman to the team's starting blindside protector. While that wouldn't have happened without Bulaga's injury, Bakhtiari had forced his way into the competition at right tackle. The Packers have to feel good about Bakhtiari's play so far. He'll be overmatched at times during the season, but the early returns suggest he'll be a starting tackle on either the left or the right for seasons to come.
The final roster spot at running back will come down to DuJuan Harris and Alex Green
It wasn't supposed to be this way. After concluding the 2012 season as the Packers' starting tailback, there was a strong case that DuJuan Harris should start again this year. Unfortunately, the combined effects of surgery to remove a cyst from his lung and an injury to his knee landed Harris on the PUP list. After two weeks, not only has Harris remained on the sidelines, but most of the other running backs have impressed. Even the much maligned James Starks has impressed with his speed and powerful running style. While McCarthy insists Harris is still the starter, it's difficult to imagine the Packers would play Harris over Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, or Starks if today's game against the Cardinals counted.
While Alex Green has been on the field, he's similarly fallen behind the competition. Green received much undue criticism for his struggles last season. After tearing an ACL his rookie year, Green had yet to make a full recovery when the 2012 season began. With more time now separating Green from the injury, it was thought that he might finally demonstrate why the Packers made him a third round pick. While he hasn't performed miserably, Green's yet to distinguish himself from the other backs in any facet of the game.
Though Harris and Green possess well rounded games, neither fills a niche that none of the other running backs can. Lacy can serve as the Packers' workhorse and short yardage runner while Franklin fits the bill of a third down back. In terms of pass protection, nobody on the team looks like they will unseat John Kuhn. If Starks continues to play well while staying healthy, there may only be one spot on the roster for Harris and Green to fight over.
Datone Jones looks like the Packers' best pass rushing defensive lineman
Shortly after the Packers selected Datone Jones in the first round of this year's draft, I opined that Jones wouldn't be more than a situational player during his rookie year. My reasoning was based on Jones' weight deficiencies combined with the fact that defensive linemen usually need a year before they contribute.
The main hurdles Jones will have to clear are his size and consistency. At 280 pounds, Jones is light for a 3-4 lineman and may get pushed around by an NFL offensive line. Consequently, Jones' play will be inconsistent until he can put on more size.
Well, Jones added some weight since the draft (he weighed in at 295 pounds when he reported to camp) and has consistently regularly beaten his man during team drills since camp commenced. He was also the only defender to record a "sack" in the Family Night scrimmage.
However, part of the reason Jones has stood out at his position is the lack of competition. Mike Neal, who finished second on the team with 4.5 sacks in 2012, didn't pass his physical until Wednesday. Johnny Jolly has performed well for a player who missed the last three years, but there's still considerable rust for him to shake off. The only other five-tech who's really stood out is Mike Daniels, but with his size it's unlikely he'll ever create consistent penetration. The Packers have to hope that Jones hasn't stood out merely as a result of being a big fish in a small pond.
The kicker battle will last late into the preseason
Judged solely on the Family Night scrimmage, Mason Crosby has been outmatched by newcomer Giorgio Tavecchio. But as we discussed on the podcast, the Packers haven't shown even a modicum of interest in bringing in additional competition.
This is partially due to two factors: the lack of viable options on the street and the impending availability of kickers currently on other rosters. There isn't anyone the Packers could sign today that Thompson believes would outperform Crosby or Tavecchio. However, teams like the Dolphins will eventually cut one of their two kickers. If in three weeks a player like Dan Carpenter or Caleb Sturgis is released, the Packers could then pounce in hopes of upgrading the position. Until then, the Packers are content to find out if Crosby can correct his accuracy issues or if Tavecchio possesses a strong enough leg for 48+ yard attempts.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn