The Green Bay Packers have officially wrapped up their spring program, as their two-day minicamp concluded on Wednesday. If you haven’t been able to stay up to date on the Packers’ OTAs and minicamp, we’re going to take you through a position-by-position breakdown of the headlines from Green Bay’s spring practices.
How has quarterback Jordan Love looked? Is first-round pick Lukas Van Ness the real deal? Who the heck is Malik Heath and where did he come from? We’ll try to answer those questions and more before. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about the Packers before training camp opens up on July 26th.
The name everyone wants to know about is quarterback Jordan Love, who is taking over as a first-year starter now that Aaron Rodgers has been traded to the New York Jets. Love has had some mixed results in media-open practices, which should have been expected considering the inexperience in the passing game as a whole.
On the first day of minicamp on Tuesday, though, Love had two noteworthy throws on star cornerback Jaire Alexander. The first was a touchdown to receiver Romeo Doubs, who was fighting Alexander in tight coverage. The second was a 90-plus-yard touchdown to Christian Watson, the speedster. Love’s connection and chemistry with Doubs seem to be continuing in 2023. Behind Love, Danny Etling is currently receiving reps as the second quarterback on the team while fifth-round rookie Sean Clifford has been working with the third-team offense.
The running back room hasn’t made very many headlines this spring. The running back by committee approach still features Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon on the front end with Patrick Taylor, 2022 practice squader Tyler Goodson and 2023 seventh-round pick Lew Nichols battling it out for the RB3 spot. Attempting to evaluate running backs, a position so dependent on physicality, without pads is a fool’s errand. Check back in on the running back room in late July when the team is finally allowed to hit.
At receiver, the three-man rotation seems to be made up of Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and 2023 second-round pick Jayden Reed — who typically plays in the slot. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The interesting name here, though, is Malik Heath — a 2023 undrafted free-agent rookie. Heath has been working out with the top half of the roster in minicamp during drills when the offense is split up and going into both end zones. Heath, notably, had more receiving yards than 2023 second-round pick Jonathan Mingo at Ole Miss last year, but went undrafted after running a 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Keep an eye on Heath as a player who could potentially push draft picks Dontayvion Wicks, Samori Toure, Grant DuBose and Bo Melton for a roster spot this summer.
Up until recently, the “starting” tight end in practice was Josiah Deguara. In minicamp, though, 2023 second-round pick Luke Musgrave began overtaking that spot. Rookie third-round pick Tucker Kraft might still be buried on the depth chart, but it looks like Musgrave has begun to crack the depth chart.
About every other media-open practice, Yosh Nijman and Zach Tom rotate as the right tackle with the first-team offense. Earlier in the offseason, the Packers stated that Tom — who was a swing lineman for the team last year — will get looks at right tackle, right guard and center. He seems to be focusing on right tackle and center, though, the two positions that he lined up at in minicamp. Don’t be surprised if this camp battle comes down to the wire, as both Nijman and Tom are good enough pass protectors to start for most teams around the NFL.
If you were hoping for a Devonte Wyatt breakout season, now might be the time to pump the breaks a little bit. While Wyatt has lined up as a “starting” defensive end in base 3-4 defense looks for the Packers this spring, TJ Slaton has been receiving the first-team reps opposite of Kenny Clark when the team is in nickel packages — where the defense spends most of its time during the regular season. Clark has been playing defensive end in 3-4 looks with Slaton taking over as the team’s nose tackle. For what it’s worth, head coach Matt LaFleur mentioned two rookie draft pick defensive ends, Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks, as players who have stood out in practices this spring.
One of the more impressive players at Packers OTAs was Lukas Van Ness, who was making headlines virtually every week. The rookie first-round pick even earned some first-team looks with the defense before minicamp. During minicamp, though, the “starter” opposite of Preston Smith was Justin Hollins, the veteran who was picked up off of waivers mid-season in 2022. It’s never a bad thing to have a deep pass-rushing unit and Smith, Hollins, Van Ness, the recovering Rashan Gary and Kingsley Enagbare give the team options. Outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin was one of three players to miss every practice of OTAs and was also given an excused absence from minicamp on Tuesday. Garvin reported on Wednesday, meaning that he’s practiced with the team for just one practice going into training camp next month.
Inside linebacker is a position that hasn’t made many headlines, as the expected starters — Quay Walker and De’Vondre Campbell — have held their spots on the depth chart. Something worth noting here, though, is that special teamer Tariq Carpenter, who played safety in college and as a rookie last season, has moved to inside linebacker full-time this spring.
Along with Jonathan Garvin, the other two Packers who missed all of the team’s OTA practices this spring were cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas. Revolking the bonuses that would have been paid out to those players for attending voluntary practices will save Green Bay around $1 million in cap space in 2024. The pair of corners did show up for minicamp, which is mandatory.
When Alexander and Douglas finally reported to camp, the cornerback trio in nickel looks was made up of Alexander, Douglas and Keisean Nixon, who lined up in the slot. It will be interesting to see how that lineup shakes up once Eric Stokes, who is still recovering from a season-ending ankle injury, returns to the practice field. On the surface, the Packers have four plugs and three holes, when the team is healthy. It’s possible that Douglas could get a look at safety, a spot he practiced at for a limited amount of time last summer due to injuries at the position.
The only player who was excused from minicamp other than Jonathan Garvin was safety Tarvarious Moore, who was present at OTAs as recently as a week ago. It seems like Rudy Ford has an edge over Moore and Jonathan Owens as the starting safety opposite of Darnell Savage, but it’s a race that is entirely too close to call in June. Innis Gaines, who has mostly played special teams for the Packers, has been used in limited reps as a nickel defender with the first team this spring. Gaines saw most of his defensive snaps with Green Bay last year as a nickelback when the team played light boxes.
The biggest name to look out for in the third phase of football for the Packers this spring is rookie draft pick Anders Carlson, who was a surprising draft choice back in April. Carlson, the brother of Pro Bowler Daniel Carlson, is a kicker that special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia believes has a high upside, despite playing through some injuries at Auburn.
In minicamp, Carson went 11 of 12 on field goals, which is about as good as you can ask from a rookie kicker. Hopefully, he’ll be able to carry that momentum through the preseason, regular season and potentially postseason.
The biggest camp battle on special teams is probably long snapper after the team let go of 2022 starter Jack Coco following rookie minicamp. After a rookie minicamp tryout, like Coco the year before, the Packers signed rookie Broughton Hatcher to compete with 2023 free agent signing Matt Orzech. Orzech, who is getting the first opportunities in spring practices, was the Los Angeles Rams’ starting long snapper until he was allowed to hit free agency this offseason due to the Rams’ cap crunch.
As far as the return game goes, the expectation is that cornerback Keisean Nixon, who was named a First-Team All-Pro last season, will continue as the Packers’ kick returner. The open competition is at punt returner, where Nixon and second-round rookie Jayden Reed are expected to battle it out throughout the summer.