A couple of key names were missing on the first day of the media-open organized team activities in Green Bay on Tuesday. The players who didn’t report to voluntary practice, according to Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, were left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Elgton Jenkins, outside linebacker Preston Smith, outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin, cornerback Jaire Alexander, cornerback Rasul Douglas and safety Dallin Leavitt. Outside of Garvin, these are all veteran players. According to Matt Schneidman of The Athletic, Bakhtiari, Jenkins, Smith and Leavitt have all been at other voluntary activities that the Green Bay Packers have hosted this offseason.
Before we get into what actually happened at practice today, we first have to touch on injuries and which players were unable to participate. Per Schneidman, starters Rashan Gary (ACL tear) and Eric Stokes (ankle/knee) were held out of action due to their recovery from their 2022 season-ending injuries. They were joined by tackle Jean DeLance and center Jake Hanson on the sides of drills today.
Andy Herman of the Pack-A-Day Podcast also noted that seventh-round rookie running back Lew Nichols and practice squad receiver Jeff Cotton stayed at the indoor practice facility, where the team stretches and warms up, while the rest of the team was on the outdoor practice field. 2022 first-round pick Quay Walker apparently didn’t participate in team drills today after he was reportedly seen walking around with a limp, too.
Now that that’s all out of the way, here’s what to take away from the Packers’ practice.
Without Bakhtiari or Jenkins, the “starting” offensive line in team drills (left to right) was Yosh Nijman, Royce Newman, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan Jr. and Zach Tom. It’s interesting that Njiman, the preferred right tackle, moved to left tackle in Bakhtiari’s absence. Earlier this offseason, the Packers mentioned that Tom would be seeing reps at right tackle, right guard and center this summer, and today’s lineup is proof of concept to that statement. According to Herman, Tom did see some snaps at right guard today, as well, and 2022 third-round pick Sean Rhyan — who was bypassed as the third guard for Newman — got a few looks at center.
In team drills, according to Herman, second-year receiver Romeo Doubs got the nod over second-round rookie Jayden Reed in two-receiver sets. Josiah Deguara, the only veteran with significant experience at the position on offense, was the starting tight end over second-round pick Luke Musgrave and third-round pick Tucker Kraft.
Schneidman also noted that Danny Etling, who was on the practice squad last season, is the current second-string quarterback on the team. As of now, the Packers seem to be slow-playing opportunities for their rookies.
With both Preston Smith and Rashan Gary out for practice, the Packers’ “starting” edge rusher combo for team drills was second-year player Kingsley Enagbare and 2022 mid-season pickup Justin Hollins, per Herman. They got the nod over first-round pick Lukas Van Ness, who apparently flashed with the second-string team and would have registered a sack on quarterback Jordan Love if the play were live.
On the interior, T.J. Slaton got the nod over second-year first-round pick Devonte Wyatt in nickel sets during the team period. Rookie fourth-round pick Colby Wooden also got a few opportunities with the ones.
Quay Walker’s replacement at 3-4 inside linebacker was Isaiah McDuffie, which establishes a pecking order for the depth at the position now that Krys Barnes has left to the Arizona Cardinals. McDuffie got the look over special teams ace Eric Wilson, converted safety Tariq Carpenter and undrafted free agent rookie Jimmy Phillips Jr.
Since Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas weren’t on the field, the outside cornerbacks with the “starting” team were Kiondre Thomas and Corey Ballentine while Keisean Nixon continues to see snaps in the slot. Notably, Thomas and Ballentine got the opportunity over Shemar Jean-Charles, a 2021 fifth-round pick who was a healthy scratch in the later stretch of the 2022 season, and 2023 seventh-round pick Carrington Valentine.
One of the major camp battles in 2023 is going to be the safety spot opposite of Darnell Savage, which has a vacancy due to Adrian Amos hitting free agency this offseason. According to Herman, Rudy Ford was the first player to get a crack at it there but 2023 free agent signing Tarvarius Moore did work a bit with the ones. Another name to watch is Jonathan Owens, who was signed by the Packers after the safety started all 17 games with the Houston Texans last season.
Another phase of football that will impact the safety position is special teams, where coordinator Rich Bisaccia has utilized the position under his watch. There, Rudy Ford and Innis Gaines were used as the primary vice players on the punt return unit, which might give them an edge at locking down a roster spot in a crowded room.
As far as the returners go, Herman noted that Keisean Nixon, Jayden Reed and Romeo Doubs were working as punt returners today. It’s worth mentioning here that Nixon was primarily a kicker returner last season and that Reed received All-Conference and All-American accolades as a punt returner during his college years. Per Wood, Reed was the first player to return a punt out of the trio.
Unsurprisingly, 2023 free agent signing Matt Orzech looks to have the early inside track over Broughton Hatcher at long snapper, according to Schneidman. Orzech comes to Green Bay after handling snapping duties for the Los Angeles Rams. Hatcher was signed by the Packers after a successful tryout at Green Bay’s rookie minicamp.
Jordan Love to Christian Watson. Touchdown. pic.twitter.com/eBxYl6YlB2— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) May 23, 2023