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By CHRIS HAVEL
Meantime, let’s examine the 2016 depth chart: Offense
Mike McCarthy was pleased to confirm what the Green Bay Packers already suspected: That the 2016 rookies – drafted and undrafted alike – bring terrific potential to make an immediate impact.
The Packers’ entire rookie draft class, from Kenny Clark to Kyle Murphy, should be able to solidify roles and quickly contribute.
The undrafted players, or “tryout” players, typically account for about one-third of every NFL roster. From linebacker Beniquez Brown to punter Peter Mortell, they also have an opportunity to win a spot on the team’s 53-man roster.
With that and the Packers’ recent rookie orientation weekend as the overview, let’s examine the Packers’ depth chart.
This week: First, the offense.
Aaron Rodgers is one of a handful of truly elite NFL quarterbacks. He is still ascending to the zenith of his career, which is to say, his best seasons are still ahead of him. Rodgers remains healthy and 100 percent committed to leading Green Bay to another Super Bowl title.
If there’s anything to gripe about, it’s that Rodgers occasionally sacrifices rhythm and tempo in pursuit of the perfect pre-snap matchup. To watch him scan the defense while the play clock ticks has become at times a painstaking ritual. Imagine what the offensive linemen feel like.
Brett Hundley, the second-round QB out of UCLA, flashed great potential during the 2015 preseason. His increased workload should accelerate his growth and development this offseason. Of all the players I’m curious to see this season, Hundley and his growth curve rank at or near the top.
Joe Callahan put up tremendous numbers in Division III and will have a chance to be a “camp arm” and perhaps more.
Here, less is more.
Eddie Lacy, fresh off his P90X-ploits, is being counted on to reassert himself as one of the NFC’s toughest, most productive running backs. If the recent photos of Lacy don’t lie, it appears he has transformed fat into muscle, and has amped up a conditioning routine that let plenty to be desired – especially conditioning.
James Starks is a 30-year-old back whose best days are behind him. He had fumble problems last season, and he’s never been one of the most sure-handed receivers out of the backfield.
Still, the Packers see value in Starks and elected to draft elsewhere. The guess here is that No. 3 back John Crockett will get every chance to unseat Starks. And I believe he will.
Last year, McCarthy relied on Ty Montgomery and then Randall Cobb to line up in the backfield. In some ways, that role replaced what often is called the “third down” running back.
It will be interesting to see if GM Ted Thompson and McCarthy elect to sign a traditional “third down back” or save that roster spot to keep a sixth or seventh receiver.
Montgomery, Cobb and perhaps rookie Trevor Davis all have been or could be used in that role. The downsides to using a receiver, rather than a ball carrier, that way is suspect blitz pick-up and no true threat to hand off to and run between the tackles.
John Kuhn currently isn’t on the roster, so it could be the end or an era, so to speak. The deafening chant of “KUHHHH-n!” was always a fan favorite.
Now, it’s on to The Big Ripkowski, as in Aaron Ripkowski, who is bigger, stronger and younger than Kuhn. It’ll be interesting to see how great a role in the offense Ripkowski is given.
Some of that depends on his performance, but another key factor is McCarthy’s willingness to run behind a lead fullback, and to hand off or throw to the fullback as opposed to that traditional “third down back.”Ripkowski wouldn’t bring breakaway speed, but he would be excellent in blitz pickup and his ability to break the first tackle could make him effective as a receiver in the flat.
This position is loaded if everyone is healthy. Otherwise, frankly and until further notice, it is suspect.
Jordy Nelson’s healthy return from a season-ending ACL injury is critical. If he’s OK, the Packers’ offense is A-OK.
If not there is the distasteful prospect of a repeat of 2015. On the bright side, Nelson’s return is on track, and second-year receiver Ty Montgomery also is making progress. Nelson and Montgomery are expected to be available for the start of the season, although Montgomery’s rehab could push the envelope.
Either way, Cobb can’t be worse than he was a year ago. He appeared to press too much as the No. 1 receiver. Even James Jones’ presence wasn’t enough to get Cobb comfortable. Plus, he was nagged by injuries throughout.
Look for Cobb to have a big season, even if it takes Nelson a while to regain top form.
Speaking of rough 2015 seaons, there’s DaVante Adams, who unfortunately made drops part of his in-game routine. Adams may not be as good as he looked as a rookie, but there’s no way he’s as bad as he was last year. Adams also should rebound and benefit from Nelson’s presence.
Jeff Janis played exceptionally well at Arizona in the playoffs. He already is a special teams’ fixture.
Jared Abbrederis merely needs to stay healthy to win a roster spot. He has wiggle in his hips to get open in the slot, and he’s got good hands (his first attempt of every game aside).
Davis, the rookie, could handle the return duties until Montgomery returns. He also possesses legit 4.4-second speed which means he can stretch defenses, something sorely lacking a year ago.
Jared Cook’s signing in free agency transformed the position from unacceptable to plenty good enough overnight. Cook, who has the speed and size to attack the middle of an NFL defense, should become one of Rodgers’ favored weapons.
It should allow Richard Rodgers to focus on what he does best: come up big in the red zone and in sub-packages as the second tight end. Rodgers isn’t explosive enough to make NFL defenses fear him. Perhaps he will continue to make strides physically, but for now he’ll be a nice complement to Cook.
Stay healthy. If that happens this group should become as good as McCarthy believed it would be a year ago.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari battled through injuries and wasn’t nearly as good as he was in 2014. He needs to play better. It’s possible his successor, second-round pick Jason Spriggs of Indiana, is already on the roster.
The guards will be fine. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are the leaders up front, and along with center Corey Linsley form a much better than average interior.
Bryan Bulaga just needs to be in the lineup. He has had so many injuries it’s almost impossible to remember them all. The good news is that J.C. Tretter emerged in the playoff game at Washington as a bona fide NFL tackle.
Kyle Murphy, the sixth-round pick from Stanford, should contend to win a starting job in 2017.
Defensive Depth Chart
We’ll examine the defense in another article.
Until then check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.