With organized team activities and minicamp in the rearview, let’s take a look at some of the question marks still surrounding the 2023 Green Bay Packers as we approach the start of training camp in a month. The Packers must get answers to short- and long-term questions, ranging from depth on their 2023 roster to how they need to approach improving positional groups in the future.
Who is the backup quarterback?
After a mid-round run on quarterbacks in the 2023 draft, the Packers elected to pick Penn State’s Sean Clifford — who was previously brought in on a pre-draft visit by the team — in the fifth round. Here’s the kicker, though: The vast majority of draft projections had Clifford, who was not some hidden small-school gem, going undrafted.
Obviously, the program should be moving in a linear direction to figure out if Jordan Love is The Guy at quarterback. Nothing matters more in the immediate or distant future than solving that question. With that being said, the Packers are one injury away from either Clifford or Danny Etling, a 28-year-old who hasn’t thrown a single regular season pass in the NFL, starting meaningful games for the team.
At the moment, Etling is taking the second-team reps for Green Bay through minicamp, but I wouldn’t write his name in ink as Love’s backup because the Packers haven’t even put shoulder pads on yet. At some point, the team is going to have to make the call of if either Etling or Clifford are ready to be backup-caliber quarterbacks in 2023 or if the squad is going to have to be active on the waiver market this summer.
Are Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Jayden Reed enough at receiver?
It’s hard to feed more than three mouths at the receiver position, but there’s no veteran presence in the receiver room for Green Bay. The oldest receiver for the Packers is Jeff Cotton, a 26-year-old practice squadder who spent seven weeks as a street free agent during the 2022 season.
Green Bay has a very young receiver group and it seems like they’re going to try to push Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and rookie Jayden Reed to gobble up all the snaps that Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb played in 2022. If there’s any hesitation that one of these receivers isn’t taking the next step in their game, though, it shouldn’t be out of the question that the team could add a consistent veteran, like a Jarvis Landry, via free agency.
Can David Bakhtiari play a full season?
This one is simple: Can David Bakhtiari’s knee handle a 17-game season?
Since Bakhtiari’s ACL tear, and the complications from how his knee has handled the recovery, he’s only played in 12 games over two seasons. For the Packers to make other decisions on the offensive line (we’ll get into that next), they need to know if the left tackle position is going to be locked for 2023.
Turf games, of which the Packers will play five this season, are of particular concern for the blindside tackle.
Who will win the starting right tackle job?
Through minicamp, Green Bay has been rotating incumbent starter Yosh Nijman and second-year Zach Tom at the right tackle position. Bakhtiari’s health will play into this, but there needs to be an internal discussion about Nijman’s future with the team if Tom does end up winning the right tackle job.
Nijman, a 27-year-old who is due for a payday in 2024, is on a one-year deal worth north of $4 million after signing his restricted free agent tender. There’s a world in which Bakhtiari plays 17 games at left tackle, Tom starts at right tackle and the 2023 Packers are best served by trading away Nijman’s one-year deal for future draft picks and some immediate cap relief.
Who will start at defensive end?
After losing Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry in free agency, the Packers have plenty of playing time to go around at the defensive end position in 2023. The assumption, at this point in the offseason, is that Kenny Clark will end up moving to 3-4 defensive end (from nose tackle), second-year first-round pick Devonte Wyatt will see his snap count increase and T.J. Slaton will take over the nose tackle position in base down looks.
Those are all assumptions, though, and the team does have two other defensive end options in rookie draft picks Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks. This race should be highly competitive. On paper, defensive end and safety are probably the two positions where the team has the least amount of proven bodies in defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s system compared to the snap counts that they’re expected to play.
Is Lukas Van Ness ready to contribute immediately?
Based on the ACL recovery timeline of what’s expected from NFL players, the assumption is that starting outside linebacker Rashan Gary will start the 2023 season on the physically unable to perform list. That will give 2023 first-round pick Lukas Van Ness an opportunity to start opposite of Preston Smith, but the question is if he can seize it.
Van Ness was never a starter at Iowa, a byproduct of the team honoring veteran players and the post-Covid world where six-year players are now much more common. By all accounts, Van Ness has been impressive throughout OTAs and minicamp, but the team hasn’t even put on shoulder pads. Look for Van Ness to compete with Justin Hollins and Kingsley Enagbare, who contributed in 2022, for the early-season replacement starter role.
Can the inside linebackers rebound from 2022?
Maybe the most disappointing unit on the Packers’ roster last year was inside linebacker. Following De’Vondre Campbell’s First-Team All-Pro campaign in 2021 and the selection of first-round pick Quay Walker, inside linebacker was supposed to be a strength of the team.
If the team doesn’t believe that Campbell will rebound to 2021 form or that Walker isn’t taking the next step in his development, it would be worth it for the team to explore adjusting their defensive structure. The team hardly played any dime defense last year and they typically did not blitz their inside linebackers in base and nickel defenses. If these linebackers don’t end up improving in the read-react mold that Joe Barry’s defense demands, easing into a more blitz-happy approach could lead to a higher level of execution from the unit. It’s not like size and speed are anything that Campbell and Walker lack in.
Who is going to start in the slot?
Cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas did not report to the team until minicamp, skipping out on voluntary OTAs. When Alexander and Douglas did show up, though, return man Keisean Nixon continued to hold his position as the team’s nickelback.
What’s interesting here is Green Bay seems to be legitimately four-deep at the cornerback position, but third-round first-round pick Eric Stokes has yet to practice with the team following his 2022 ankle injury. When Stokes does return to the field, will it be Douglas or Nixon playing the slot full-time? Due to injury, I don’t think we have any indication of who the coaching staff plans to play in that scenario. Stokes is expected to be healthy enough to practice at some point during training camp.
Who is going to start at safety?
This is another potential Douglas landing spot. Last summer, when injuries dismantled the depth of the safety unit, Douglas spent a practice at the position. With Adrian Amos out of the picture, someone new will have to start opposite of Darnell Savage at safety this year.
Beyond Douglas, who worked at cornerback during minicamp, other options include spot starter Rudy Ford, special teams ace Tarvarius Moore, recent signing Jonathan Owens and rookie seventh-round pick Anthony Johnson Jr. Many expected Green Bay to address this position high in April’s draft, but the lack of even a mid-round draft pick has made this a wide-open competition between experienced veterans.
Is Anders Carlson the guy at kicker?
The Packers lost their all-time scoring leader Mason Crosby this offseason when the kicker’s contract expired. In response, the team drafted former Auburn kicker Anders Carlson in the sixth round in a somewhat surprising selection. Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who did a stellar job in his first year with the team, believes that Carlson’s college numbers were impacted by a knee injury that seems to be fully healed now.
How confident is the team in Carlson? They’ve essentially held onto two kickers since the start of the pandemic and only roster Carlson currently. That’s not to say that they won’t add enough before training camp, but, clearly, they like what Carlson has shown through minicamp. We’ll have to see if the kicker keeps this momentum going once reps, and kick block teams, are live.