Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Training camp insights

It has finally arrived, Packer fans: summer training camp! As most all of you know, workouts began Saturday. Reports out of Green Bay are that in the first few practices things appear to be much more physical on both sides of the ball than in prior camps under head coach Mike McCarthy. Certainly this was a weakness the past season. Perhaps new defensive coordinator Dom Capers, long known as a task master, has something to do with it. In fact, it has been reported by on-site observers that the defensive play is making the offense play with a more physical approach, as well. That can only bode well long-term.

There were even reports of a few tussles here and there between some offensive and defensive linemen. Nothing serious. Just enough shirt grabbing, etc. to demonstrate an intensity that might not have been there last year. Defensive players seem to be jumping on board the new 3-4 scheme. Al Harris has noted that the team definitely has the players to make the scheme work. Others have said that they enjoy playing in a scheme that has some unpredictability to it...something that couldn't be said last season. The only member of the defense remaining unsigned is first round pick B. J. Raji. He's a lineman, so not critical he be in at the moment. He is in Green Bay, according to fellow first-rounder, Clay Matthews, and is itching to get to camp. But until some of the other first rounders sign and set salary ranges don't expect much movement soon. If he can get into camp at least a week before the first preseason game (Aug. 15), he should be able to play in that game.

On the offensive side of things, the main goal of the camp is to settle on a starting line. So there is still a bit of shuffling going on, with perhaps the main competition coming at center where incumbent Scott Wells is in a battle with Jason Spitz for the starting job.

While Ryan Grant is still the starting running back, there is strong competition for that "change of pace" back the Packers haven't really seen much of the last few years. Brandon Jackson showed flashes late last season. Third-year back, DeShawn Wynn has come in a bit lighter than past camps; whether he can finally demonstrate the toughness to go with his speed remains to be seen. Rookie free agent Tyrell Sutton out of Northwestern is apparently also showing great speed on the field and, according to radio voice of the Packers, Wayne Larrivee, has the smarts to pick up blocking assignments, etc., and could make a real push to be part of the final roster. Rookie fullback Quinn Johnson has reportedly been delivery crushing blocks. And speaking of blocks, and back to the more physical nature of camp so far, offensive linemen have been sustaining blocks as far as 10 yards downfield, whereas in the past perhaps a 5 yard push would have been the extent of things.

On the receiving side, the Pack retains one of the best receiving groups in the league. Yay! And, as we saw last year, we have a QB in Aaron Rodgers that can get the ball to them anywhere on the field. Perhaps this year that will also include more catches by second-year TE Jermichael Finley. Putting behind him a dismal rookie season in which he basically didn't understand what it took to be a pro, Finley is saying all the right things this year, as well as so far bringing that new attitude to the practice field. If the Pack can continue to operate at the same high level it did last year with the wide receivers, get the running game going, and then toss in a real tight end threat...man oh man! It's an offense that could create real havoc on opposing defenses.

Apparently the only area of the squad at present that seems to be a problem is punting. So what else is new, right? That has basically been the case since Craig Hentrich was allowed to shuffle off to Tennessee in 1997. Old news, true. But not being able to (a) find a reliable punter and/or (b) keep him, has been an ongoing problem. Neither Durant Brooks or Jeremy Kapinos seems to be pleasing coach McCarthy. And the problem is, there really aren't many alternatives at the moment. Keep your fingers crossed on this front.

Just a word about Justin
That would of course be a reference to former first round pick, Justin Harrell. He was a surprise choice at #16 three seasons ago. And his entire career at this point with the Packers has essentially been one of injury.

By all reports, Harrell is a fine young man and would be a real asset on the field...if he is healthy. Perhaps for the first time since he's been in Green Bay, that might finally be the case. At least he is on the practice field and is what coach McCarthy calls "a full-go participant." It would be great to see him live up to his potential, or even come close, for that matter.

If you want to get a better appreciation for the trials he's been through physically, as well as the work he's put in to get back on the field this summer, check out this great article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. It's worth the read. Good luck, kid. Hope it works out for you...and the Packers.