The Green Bay Packers took the field on Saturday for their fourth training camp practice of the 2022 season. I was able to be in attendance, so here are some of my key observations and takeaways:
Matt LaFleur’s Pre-Practice Press Conference
– Aaron Jones was back returning kicks on Friday, but as LaFleur would tell reporters, it’s “just an emergency situation.” Jones, along with De’Vondre Campbell, is also sitting in the special teams meetings.
Takeaway: Following the playoff loss to San Francisco, LaFleur mentioned that the Packers would look into utilizing starters more on special teams. Rich Bisaccia would also make a similar comment this offseason, noting that late in Ronde Barber’s career, he was still a core special teams player. I do believe that we will see more key contributors on special teams than in years past, specifically on the blocking units, but for players like Jones, Campbell, and Adrian Amos — who have all taken special teams reps this summer — my guess is that they are being prepared for that just in case scenario but won’t begin as the preferred starters.
– LaFleur on edge rusher Randy Ramsey via Ryan Wood: “He’s one of the guys who are going to be in competition. Right now, it’s pretty clear cut who are 1 and 2 are, but as for 3 through 5, it’s anyone’s guess.”
Takeaway: Ramsey suffered an ankle injury last summer that sidelined him the entire season. Earlier this offseason, Brian Gutekunst would say that the team was “excited” to have Ramsey back in the mix. In addition to competing for playing time on defense, he was also fourth in special teams snaps in 2020 per PFF.
– As Matt Schneidman would note, the Packers will ease Sammy Watkins back into the mix. He was practicing on his own today and will rejoin team drills next week.
Observations and Notes from Practice ￼
– David Bakhtiari was working with the rehab group, which was the first time that has happened during training camp.
– Zach Tom was back at left tackle with the starters today and had an impressive performance. For a tackle, he lacks some length, but his athleticism is apparent on the edge. He finished his Wake Forest career with 1,474 snaps at left tackle, allowing just four sacks and 23 pressures in that two-year span, according to PFF.
– The other starts along the offensive line were Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, Royce Newman, and Yosh Nijman from left to right. With versatility being the hallmark of this offensive line unit, as Matt LaFleur said earlier this week, things will be “fluid” as players are moved around in search of the best five.
– The second team offensive line was made up of Tom – who was getting more reps – Michal Menet, Jake Hanson, Sean Rhyan, and Cole Van Lanen. To my knowledge, we have yet to see Rhyan taking snaps at tackle, where he spent most of his time at UCLA.
– With a deeper interior defensive line rotation, there were several snaps with Kenny Clark lined up as the five-tech. Getting Clark on the edge and in space is always a good thing as it will mean fewer double-teams and more one-on-one opportunities.
– Romeo Doubs just continued to make plays, including one downfield pass from Jordan Love where he had his man beat and another in traffic. Doubs was playing with the ones, twos, and threes on Saturday and was the first return man on punts as well. Doubs averaged over 12 yards per return at Nevada on 37 attempts with a touchdown.
– There appeared to be an emphasis on running the ball today, and the defense was well prepared, flying to the ball and filling gaps. The defensive front also generated a number of “pressures” as well.
– The secondary was very good as well – sticky in coverage. Rodgers and Love rarely had an opportunity to push the ball downfield and oftentimes had to go get to their second and third reads before finding a target. Overall, the defense won the day – which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even Rodgers mentioned there could be some long days during his last appearance on the Pat McAfee Show:
“It could be a long training camp for the offense. I like the way our defense is looking and playing, and just on paper, it looks like they’re going to be pretty formidable,” said Rodgers on the Pat McAfee Show. ”So there could be some growing pains for the offense, which would be great for us, it would be nice to take our lumps from time to time and help us to get better facing a really good defense like that.”
– Jack Coco was the long-snapper with the first team field goal unit. In addition to Doubs returning punts, we also saw Amari Rodgers and Ish Hyman back as well.
– La’Darius Hamilton and Tipa Galeai were the second-team edge rushers once again, with Galeai putting together some really nice pass rush reps where he utilized that speed of his. After Gary and Smith, the third through fifth spots on this roster at this position are wide open, but what we do know is that the Packers need more impact plays from the rotational players in 2022 than what they received in 2021.
– Tight end Tyler Davis, who there has been a lot of hype around, very much held his own as a blocker today. While it was a small sample size, last season, he ranked 17th among all tight ends in PFF’s run-blocking grade.
– There were several plays where Aaron Jones was lined up out wide. When discussing the passing game and the questions at receiver, we can’t forget about Jones, who has finished second on the team in receptions for three straight seasons.
– On a few of those instances when Jones was split out, AJ Dillon was in the backfield. Between 2020 and 2021, the Packers went from using two running back sets 16% of the time to just 2%, according to Sharp Football. This is a very small sample size, but as Pete Dougherty would write following the Packers’ late-season win over Minnesota, there were seven plays that game with both Jones and Dillon in the backfield, and the offense averaged 7.4 yards per play.
– Rashan Gary was incredibly impressive. Whether using speed or power, he lived in the backfield, oftentimes matched up against Nijman. Also, this was another practice where neither Rodgers nor Love tested Jaire Alexander.
– Cornerbacks Rico Gafford and Kabion Ento had very nice days as well, with Gafford tallying three pass breakups and Ento two. Gafford is a recent convert from wide receiver and possesses 4.22 speed – which could make him a valuable member of the special teams unit either as a gunner or return man. He also played under Rich Bisaccia in Las Vegas. Ento, meanwhile, really flashed last summer, but an area where he struggled was with tackling.
– Juwann Winfree, Shemar Jean-Charles, Kingsley Enagbare, and Dallin Leavitt all had reps with the starters today. Winfree is fighting for a roster spot that may hinge on the Packers keeping a seventh receiver. Jean-Charles could see some playing time in the slot this season depending on the matchup, while Leavitt brings special teams experience from his time under Bisaccia in Las Vegas, with Enagbare trying to carve out a rotational role on pass rush downs.
– In addition to struggling to move the ball, it was a sloppy day for the offense with a pair of fumbles and two false starts as well.
– Last preseason, LaFleur mentioned that he wanted to see Jordan Love “let it rip.” There were a few instances of that today where he made nice, decisive reads and got the ball out quick and on target. Hopefully, this means his confidence in the system is growing.
– The starting defense took a few reps as the field goal block team. Perhaps this is one way to cross-train each player to a specific position–just in case they are needed at some point this season.