There is certainly a buzz around the NFL as training camp approaches, but not for the reason many had envisioned. While fans and players alike have hoped for a safe and smooth beginning to the 2020 campaign, news this week was rather bleak with double-digit players opting out of the season.
But today’s notes hope to kick off training camp with a little more of the usual intrigue heading into the weekend. A number of position battles and bounce-back players will still be observed with a close eye as on-field action begins, though it will not be seen directly through the eyes of fans.
Here are a few musings on each of those topics.
What will the offensive tackle depth look like?
The safe assumption is that David Bakhtiari and Rick Wagner will start at left and right tackle, respectively. After that, however, the Packers’ depth at tackle is limited.
Third-year pro Alex Light has appeared in 16 games over the past two seasons with Green Bay and has experience as a swing guard and tackle, though his play on the outside has left plenty to be desired. After Light are a number of first-year players.
Former undrafted free agent John Leglue was signed in late December off New Orleans’ practice squad and re-joins Yosh Nijman, who earned a spot on the active roster midway through last season. Nijman, a former undrafted free agent himself from Virginia Tech, could be a breakout candidate this training camp and possesses exceptional athleticism and size for the tackle position. While a raw talent last preseason, he did line up at both left and right tackle and remains an intriguing developmental player, especially with a full pro season under his belt.
Practice squad hopeful Cody Conway and undrafted rookie Travis Bruffy round out further long-shot tackle candidates. While the versatility of right guard Billy Turner or college tackle Cole Madison could provide a lift behind the starters as well, the Packers will certainly be holding competition for one or two reserve tackles this training camp out of their mix of inexperienced young players.
Bounce-back candidates are plentiful at inside linebacker
After playing in just two games last season for Cleveland before a torn pectoral tendon, Christian Kirksey is a legitimate bounce-back candidate not only in Green Bay, but across the NFL. The Packers are gambling on Kirksey to regain some of the production he showed with the Browns when healthy after essentially adding him in exchange for Blake Martinez in free agency. While preseason action would have been helpful for Kirksey’s adjustment to the middle of the Packer defense, he provides some upside in 2020 at just 27 years of age and prior experience in Mike Pettine’s defense. Expect to see Kirksey on some inside blitzes in 2020 and continue to have a nose for ballcarriers with high tackle totals.
Oren Burks may be running out of time to establish himself as a building block at linebacker after being selected in the third round two years ago. But if Burks can translate any of his athleticism into production, he could at least become a serviceable reserve. He has shown flashes in training camp before and had high expectations just two years ago, but saw a dip in snaps and production during his sophomore season. While there is competition with Ty Summers and rookie Kamal Martin, Burks still has a chance to break through.
Finally, while not necessarily a true inside linebacker, Raven Greene has served as a box defender on passing downs and will return after being sidelined since Week 2 of last season. Greene had a very promising second summer for the Packers and looked to be an emerging defensive utility man before injury. As Kirksey’s strengths do not necessarily include pass coverage, Greene should find himself in position for third-down snaps once again in a potential bounce-back year.
Training camp activities will be missed in 2020
One of the highlights of this writer’s childhood was catching Packers practice a handful of times each summer. Offensive linemen riding into training camp on kids’ bikes three sizes too small. The “oohs” and “ahhs” of highlight reel touchdown catches. Players signing autographs after practices. The Family Night scrimmage that allows many to experience Lambeau Field who normally are unable to purchase tickets.
From a Packer fan experience, the vibe will be much different this season without fans able to attend practice. But it will be different for players as well, who feast off of crowd energy and get a real taste of what makes Green Bay special as a professional sports city all throughout training camp. Even the Packers’ streak of utilizing St. Norbert College as a training camp host ended after 62 years. While it will hopefully be just a one-year deviation from normal training camp activities, the experience will be missed by many.