It was merely a month and 11 days ago that we at APC began rolling out our Self-Scouts and Roster Predictions. Now, with only two and a half weeks separating us from start of the regular season, it's as good a time as any for an update on five of the position battles in Packers' training camp. Here's where things stand today:
Starting Right Tackle
Breakdown: The starting right tackle competition began as a two man race that soon expanded to three with rookie David Bakhtiari's strong camp. It became a two man race once again after Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL and Bakhtiari was promoted to replace him. Marshall Newhouse, the most experienced healthy tackle on the Packers' roster, has nimble feet and can perform well in pass pro when not forced to handle elite speed rushers. He's a below average run blocker, however. With the team's renewed interest in the ground game, it could be his undoing.
Conversely, Don Barclay is a mauling run blocker who can seal the edge outside. Unfortunately, Barclay lacks Newhouse's athleticism and requires regular help on passing plays. Neither has played particularly well, but the coaches appear to favor Barclay at the moment. Newhouse still has an opportunity to catch up, but he'll have to show more in running game if he wishes to remain a starter.
Outlook: Given that Bakhtiari may struggle from time to time in the run game do to his size, the coaches seem likely to stick with Barclay to counterbalance.
Kickoff and Punt Returner
Breakdown: It was only three weeks ago that Mike McCarthy declared that pending improvement from one of the other returners, Randall Cobb would remain the team's primary return man. While that statement should be taken with a spoonful of salt, it says a lot about the lack of production from the alternatives. Jeremy Ross demonstrated strong return ability last year, but he's still very limited as a receiver. Even if Ross proves the best option, the Packers may decide not to keep a player purely for returns.
The coaches once talked up Johnathan Franklin as an option, but he hasn't flashed in either of the two preseason games. Micah Hyde had a decent return this past Saturday, but he was notorious at Iowa for letting punts sail past him and probably isn't more than an emergency returner in the NFL. Randall Cobb's recent bicep injury underscores the importance of finding a replacement for him on special teams.
Outlook: Ultimately, Ross probably wins the job, but it'll be by the skin of his teeth unless he fixes his dropping problem.
Breakdown: The quest to replace Matt Flynn continued in 2013 with some familiar names. Graham Harrell, the Packers' third quarterback from the Super Bowl year, has slowly developed into a somewhat competent passer. His intelligence keeps him in the final roster discussion, but his arm strength is subpar and his physical development has maxed out. Barring a standout performance from one of his competitors, the Packers will stick with Harrell.
One such competitor is B.J. Coleman, a second year passer out of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Coleman's play was so substandard through two weeks of camp that the Packers signed Vince Young, a quarterback on the street since last year's preseason. While Coleman did perform better this past weekend when he completed 8 of his 13 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, he's been relegated to the scout team and is out of the running.
Young is the wildcard in this battle. He's undoubtedly the best athlete of the group, but the hitch in his throwing motion continues to limit his accuracy. Young's understanding of the offense is just now catching up to the other quarterbacks. If he's going to stick, he has to explode for a big performance over the next two weeks.
Outlook: The Packers will keep three quarterbacks between their roster and practice squad. With Coleman a practice squad candidate, the Packers will release either Harrell or Young before week 1. Given his knowledge of the offense and the Packers' time investment in him, Harrell likely holds onto the backup job for another year.
Starting Running Back
Breakdown: The second preseason game featured Eddie Lacy's first live snaps as a professional, and the former Alabama tailback impressed. Not only did Lacy average 5.0 yards a carry, but he spun out of tackles several times while refusing to be taken down by a single tackler. The biggest and perhaps only legitimate knock against Lacy is durability. He missed the first game of the preseason with a hamstring injury after being injured throughout the draft process. After coping with James Starks' injury woes over the past three years, the Packers hope to avoid relying on another unavailable running back.
Fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin was once believed to be a potential starter himself. Unfortunately, Franklin inside running has been ineffective and his pass pro inconsistent. To his credit, Franklin has demonstrated great instincts as a receiver on screens and dump offs, but that will only net him a limited role.
Lacy's only viable competitor at this stage is DuJuan Harris. Harris missed virtually all of the offseason recovering from surgery to remove a cyst on his lung and a lingering knee injury. McCarthy says Harris will be 100% for the third preseason game, but that doesn't provide him with many snaps to upstage Lacy.
Outlook: While the Packers may elect to name Harris the starter for week 1, the majority of the snaps are likely to go to Lacy if he's healthy.
Breakdown: After the Family Night scrimmage, it seemed unlikely Mason Crosby would ever crawl out of the slump he's been mired in since last season. Though he performed better in practice, Crosby had yet to separate from newcomer Giorgio Tavecchio. That may have changed Saturday when Crosby hit all three of his field goals and continued to show off his powerful leg on kickoffs. It's hard to say Crosby's regained the lead, but he's certainly climbed out of the hole he dug for himself.
Tavecchio only missed one kick against the Rams, a 49-yarder on the Packers' second drive. While he displayed enough leg strength to convert the field goal, the kick sliced to the left and missed the goal posts. Tavecchio similarly disappointed on his first kickoff which landed just short of the goal line. Tavecchio didn't have any other mistakes Saturday night, but with little margin for error he'll have to be flawless going forward to win the job.
Outlook: Neither Crosby or Tavecchio can claim a strong lead at this juncture, but a slight edge has to go to Crosby at this point. The future is further clouded by the Dolphins' recent release of Dan Carpenter, whom many have surmised the Packers are interested in signing. While no substantial news has surfaced regarding a potential suitor, Carpenter has delayed talking to teams while he and his wife welcome their first child. This morning, another potential wrench was thrown into the works, as the Buffalo Bills released 36-year-old Rian Lindell, who carries an 81.3% career field goal percentage and has hit nearly 84% over the past four years. It still seems plausible that the Packers could add another kicker to the mix, and it's impossible to predict a winner in this competition until we know whether or not that will happen.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn
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