Green Bay Packers training camp is just one week away. While all eyes will be on the quarterback spot, here are five storylines that don’t have anything to do with whether Aaron Rodgers reports
The calendar has turned to July.
While this year has been a little different because of the COVID-19 related calendar, typically that means that NFL training camp is just around the corner.
It feels as if this offseason went by faster than those in previous years.
That could be because of the Milwaukee Bucks being one win away from their first title in 50 years.
It could be because the Packers’ offseason has resembled more of a soap opera than a typical offseason.
That situation is going to come to a head next week when veterans are set to report to camp on July 27th.
How committed is Aaron Rodgers to not playing in Green Bay again? How far is he willing to push the envelope to get whatever it is that he wants?
A training camp holdout would be a massive statement as to his intentions. If he returns, he’s maintained plausible deniability through the situation by not saying anything.
As Adrian Amos said during the team’s OTA’s this spring, whether Rodgers shows or not, the show will go on.
Training camp will take place regardless of Rodgers’ presence, and the 2021 Packers will look to capture the franchise’s 14th world championship.
Here are five big storylines going into camp that does not involve the reigning MVP.
1.) Heir Jordan –
Admittedly I am cheating a little bit with this storyline, but it’s my party and I’ll do what I want to, right?
Jordan Love is far and away the most enticing storyline for this training camp. That was true even without Aaron Rodgers’ public standoff with the franchise.
Love is a former first-round pick. He’s the presumed heir to Aaron Rodgers’ throne. He is Brian Gutekunst’s legacy pick.
With 2020’s limited offseason, we didn’t see Jordan Love at all. He didn’t play in the preseason, because there weren’t any preseason games.
He was inactive for all 16 regular-season games and both playoff games.
Tim Boyle was allowed to walk this offseason, giving the backup job to Love. Due to Rodgers’ situation, he has had to prepare as if he was the starter.
What’s going to happen with Love remains unclear. He might be the starter in Green Bay as soon as this year. He might be the starter next year. He may never play a snap in Green Bay.
What we do know is that it is in Green Bay’s best interest if Jordan Love has shown progress. If he’s the starter, this roster is ready to win now.
If he is not the starter, he could become a trade piece to net Green bay assets down the road as they’ve recommitted to Aaron Rodgers.
For many reasons, all eyes are going to be on #10 when camp begins.
2.) New man in charge –
Mike Pettine was fired after the Packers had another letdown from their defense in the NFC Championship Game. The goal for Matt LaFleur appears to be elevating that unit to a championship level.
In Pettine’s final two years, the defense was good but never great. The Packers have invested far too much in their defense to not be great.
This #Packers defense gonna be scary good for a loooong time…
• Eric Stokes – 22
• Rashan Gary – 23
• Darnell Savage – 23
• Jaire Alexander – 24
• Kenny Clark – 25
• Zadarius Smith – 28
• Preston Smith – 28
• Adrian Amos – 28 pic.twitter.com/qEv24Tzfdi
— Eli Berkovits (@BookOfEli_NFL) July 18, 2021
As my colleague Eli points out, the Packers’ defense is loaded with young talent. Of the players listed above, there are five first-round picks and three big free-agent signings.
That’s a large investment for that unit to be a big reason why they are not holding a Lombardi trophy at the end of every season since 2010.
Joe Barry was hired to bring in a hybrid of the Brandon Staley and Vic Fangio system. Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers both spoke glowingly as to how hard that system was to prepare for before they took on the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional round of last year’s playoffs.
Barry was the team’s second choice behind Wisconsin Badgers’ defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
The Packers are hoping that missing out on Leonhard turns out to be a blessing in disguise.
3.) Cornerbacks –
Kevin King was front and center for the Packers after they lost to Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game.
Two of Tom Brady’s three touchdown passes were in his direction, including a hail mary before halftime.
The Packers attempted to remedy that situation by taking Eric Stokes in the first round of the draft. Stokes gives the Packers a high ceiling player to potentially pair with Jaire Alexander for the next several years.
The other part of the intrigue with this group is going to be who plays the star role. Chandon Sullivan returns as the team’s holdover at the position.
Aside from him, there is a possibility the Packers move Darnell Savage into a role like that. Shemar Jean-Charles is someone that feels like a candidate to take some snaps early as well.
Keep an eye on the slot.
4.) Tight end group –
Robert Tonyan had a breakout season last year. He was one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs in the NFC. he reported to camp this year and was told by Matt LaFleur that they want to feature him in the offense this year.
The question for the Packers now is if Tonyan can do it again. Clearly, they believe he can.
Behind him, the Packers have a talented, versatile group that fits Matt LaFleur’s offense well.
Marcedes Lewis is the team’s blocking tight end. What he does in the run game and as extra protection is invaluable. He’s been described as one of the more important players in the locker room as well.
Jace Sternberger was everyone’s pick for breakout player in 2020. Instead, his season was marred by injuries, a positive COVID test, and an additional scare.
He will begin the season suspended, but it seems unlikely the team would give up on a former top-75 pick. The bet here? Sternberger has a big season and earns the trust of whoever is at quarterback.
With all due respect to the other tight ends, he’s the most talented one on the roster. He just needs to stay healthy.
Apart from those three, the Packers have two more non-traditional tight ends in Dominique Dafney and Josiah Deguara.
Both players can play on the line of scrimmage but are best used all over the formation. Dafney had a nice ending to last season and looked like someone who could stick around.
Deguara had a nice start to his career and looked like someone that could be used frequently early in his career.
Unfortunately, his season was cut short with a torn ACL in Week 4.
Could the Packers keep five tight ends? The early guess is that they will. The Packers continued to search for players to fill Deguara’s role after he was injured.
I believe they view the tight end position the way I just laid it out. They have a line of scrimmage tight end (Lewis), two guys they can make matchup problems within the passing game (Sternberger, Tonyan), and two H-Backs (Dafney, Deguara).
5.) Crowded receiver room –
The oldest storyline in sports. The Packers haven’t drafted a first-round receiver since Javon Walker.
This receiving corps was good enough to help the Packers to the best offense in all of football in 2020.
Davante Adams is the best receiver in football. He’s a roster lock. Amari Rodgers was just drafted. They traded up for him. He’s a lock.
MVS and Allen Lazard both play pivotal roles in the offense. I won’t call them locks, but they’re very likely to make the roster.
After that things get interesting. Juwann Winfree had an interesting OTA’s. Reggie Begelton is the camp darling from a season ago.
EQ St. Brown has had plenty of cracks at this roster. When he does things well, they look really smooth. He’s struggled with inconsistency.
Malik Taylor was taking top special teams’ reps early. Devin Funchess returns after a COVID-19 opt-out.
The top-4 receivers are going to make the roster. The question then becomes whether the Packers will keep five or six guys. If they only keep five, five players are battling for just one spot.
Special teams could be the deciding factor.