The Green Bay Packers reported for training camp on Wednesday, and with practices beginning on Thursday, Acme Packing Company is at attention for the start of on-field work for the 2019 season. Therefore, this week’s Walkthroughs address camp — specifically what we are most excited to see.
The prompt for today is which one player our writers are most looking forward to watching in training camp and the preseason. Predictably, several contributors picked rookies or free agent arrivals, with one first-round pick getting several votes. However, the team’s biggest star gets one vote, as does a second-year player whose rookie impact a year ago was cut short due to injury.
What player would you pick? Let us know in the comments below.
Paul Noonan - Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers is the biggest X-factor on a team which has made significant upgrades to almost every position of weakness. None of that will matter if Rodgers doesn’t improve. There’s reason to be optimistic, as Mike McCarthy’s stale scheme is at least partially to blame, but it’s worth noting that Rodgers hasn’t been at his best for four seasons, which is a pretty large sample. Moreover, the one area the team didn’t really improve on (outside of a now-healthy Geronimo Allison) is wide receiver. It’s entirely possible that some new coaching blood kicks Rodgers back into high gear, but we should be wary of the possibility that he’s just getting older, more injured, and not quite as good.
Shawn Wagner - Darnell Savage
I will admit that I was shocked to hear Savage’s name when his selection was announced in April as the Packers’ second first-round choice. But watching more of Savage after the draft left me excited about his potential. It has been awhile since the Packers had an aggressive, ball-hawking safety. Savage’s speed was evident as he flew around the secondary at Maryland and his interception numbers were a product of both speed and instincts. He fills a huge need at the free safety position and has the perfect last name for a defensive player.
Evan “Tex” Western - Oren Burks
While the Packers’ young receivers and new arrivals on defense all offer tremendous promise and excitement, I’m going back to a player who showed that same promise a year ago before an injury cut his preseason short. Burks, the team’s third-round pick in 2018, looked well on his way to becoming a viable starter through a pair of exhibition games, showing excellent speed and coverage ability. Admittedly, Burks needed improvement in working his way through traffic and shedding blockers, but that skill will come with time for a former college safety-turned linebacker. If he had not suffered a shoulder injury, he likely would have played much more on defense during the season, and the team may not have felt forced to suit up Antonio Morrison for 300 snaps.
This year, the job next to Blake Martinez belongs to Burks, so long as he can show that he’s ready for it. Green Bay has not really had a true modern Will linebacker — fast, agile, and able to cover as well as defend the run — since moving to a 3-4 in 2009. Burks has the ability to be that guy, and I’m hoping to see him show that he’s ready for that role this August.
Kris Burke - Za’Darius Smith
It’s the dawning of the Age of Za’Darius in Green Bay after general manager Brian Gutekunst spent significant capital overhauling the Packers’ pass rush, with Smith being the biggest fish (and also one of two Smiths at linebacker along with fellow free agent acquisition Preston from Washington).
Za’Darius Smith earned his payday from the Packers after one strong season with the Baltimore Ravens and Gutekunst noted that his reasoning behind the signing of both Smiths (but particularly Za’Darius) was that they are entering their physical prime.
Mike Pettine’s defense obviously stems from Rex Ryan’s 3-4 and Ryan had ferocious linebackers with the aforementioned Ravens. The Packers are counting on Smith to be that same force for their defense. But with today’s release of Mike Daniels, he should also see more time along the line of scrimmage as well. Keeping opposing offenses guessing where the pass rush is coming from would be a huge advantage after years of being basically non-existent in the final seasons of the Dom Capers regime.
It will be very interesting to see how Pettine assembles his defensive line post-Daniels and Smith could be moved all over. This versatility should make the Packers’ biggest name in free agency a fun one to watch as camp gets underway.
Peter Bukowski - Darnell Savage
I’m not even sure there’s a close second for me at this point. His speed, versatility and playmaking are so rare for the position, providing the Packers with a skill set we haven’t seen at the position since Nick Collins. We are pretty sure Adrian Amos is going to be solid. Ditto for the new additions at outside linebacker.
With Kevin King healthy and Jaire Alexander on a trajectory to stardom, there are quality pieces around Savage, putting him in a better position to succeed than he would have last season for example.
Tex’s Burks pick intrigues me as well, though I am more cautiously optimistic with him because he’s still learning how to play LB even going back to his college days. Savage has a chance to immediately impact this defense in a way unique to the position’s recent history in Green Bay. Add in the attitude and swagger he brings, and it’s the only call for me.
Wendi Hansen - Darnell Savage
It’s safe to say that Green Bay had arguably the worst collection of safeties during the 2018 NFL season. But after signing Adrian Amos and drafting my pick for who to watch out for during training camp - Darnell Savage - I’m excited that, dare I say it, the Packers may have turned one of their most notable weaknesses into a strength.
We’ve all seen Savage’s college tape (and if you haven’t, you definitely should check it out). His speed and range prove that he can play deep and blitz like nobody’s business. He’s smart, is always around the ball, and is a playmaker. I think Savage will bring a level of versatility, fun, personality, and that certain gusto that the Packers need and have been looking for. I may or may not have already pre-ordered a Savage jersey if that’s any indication on how much I’m looking forward to seeing this kid out there this year.