Last week I came out with my Pre-Training Camp Ramblings, basically just a brain dump of thoughts that I have about this Green Bay Packers team heading into camp.
I appreciated the positive feedback on this type of article, so I thought I’d go with Part II for today since I have plenty of other thoughts to share with you all. So let’s dive in!
Still time for Jace Sternberger
Prior to last season, many expected Jace Sternberger to be the team’s breakout player. However, that didn’t happen. Over his first two seasons, Sternberger has battled injuries, and he also missed some time last year due to COVID.
As a result, Sternberger has only been on the field for 301 total offensive snaps, according to PFF. That’s not a lot, especially at a position as difficult as tight end. More times than not, we don’t see tight ends truly flourish until their second or even third years in the NFL. It’s a position that requires the individual to know blocking techniques like an offensive lineman and run routes like a receiver—the transition from college to the pros is tough.
Yes, Sternberger needs to show something this year, but I wouldn’t write him off just yet.
Rodgers and Myers
I certainly don’t think it’s a big deal that Aaron Rodgers missed OTAs and mini-camp, and honestly, if he misses a few weeks of training camp, I’m not worried about that either. But something to keep in mind is that he could be working with a new center this season and a rookie one at that.
Since 2014, Corey Linsley has held down the center position here in Green Bay, and the rapport between him and Rodgers was obvious. Now, that isn’t to say that Rodgers and Josh Myers won’t get there, but they’ll also need time to work together, and there will be a learning curve for each player as they begin working together. Just something to keep in mind.
Rodgers, Love, and training camp
I think if you gave Brian Gutekunst some truth serum, he would tell you that he wants Rodgers back for training camp — duh — but if the reigning MVP wants to extend his vacation an additional few weeks, Gutey would be fine with that too. That scenario really gives Green Bay the best of both worlds; Rodgers is back for Week 1 of the regular season, but Jordan Love gets some additional and much-needed QB1 reps during camp.
WR position possibly in-flux in 2022
This seems to be flying under the radar — or maybe I’ve just missed the conversation — but the Green Bay Packers receiver position could look quite different in 2022. At this moment, Chris Blair, who was signed to a futures deal in January, is the only receiver under contract beyond this season. Of course, Amari Rodgers will be included as well, but at this moment, he remains unsigned.
We don’t know what the future holds for Davante Adams, this is also the final year of Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s deal, and Allen Lazard is a restricted free agent. With that said, Lazard will very likely be back, as could MVS and/or Adams. And who knows, maybe someone from the back-end of the roster emerges as well. But right now, there’s a lot of unknowns.
It wouldn’t hurt to add to the IDL room
I’ll preface this by saying, I do like the interior defensive line room. Kenny Clark is Kenny Clark; I believe Kingsley Keke can take another step forward, I’m a huge fan of TJ Slaton’s skill-set, and maybe Joe Barry can revitalize Dean Lowry.
With all of that said, I also believe this unit could use more depth. As much as I like Slaton, he’s still a fifth-round rookie, Tyler Lancaster is a limited player, and Lowry hasn’t been someone you want to count on for 65 percent of your defensive snaps. After those three are Willington Previlon and Jack Heflin, two UDFAs.
Adding another rotational player to the mix will lower the snap counts and take some of the burden off of Lowry, Slaton, and Lancaster. Also, Green Bay is an injury away from relying on their inexperienced UDFAs.
2021 UDFA to watch
For an undrafted rookie to make the final roster, there are two key components involved. The first and most obvious is that they have to play well. The second is that they have to be at a position with some spots up for grabs.
So with that in mind, I’ll have my eyes on safety Christian Uphoff. Coming out of Illinois State, he’s well versed in that two-high safety look that we will see from Barry. He’s also versatile, has plus ball-skills, and is a willing tackler. Uphoff is also at a position where Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos are the only roster locks, leaving at least two and possibly three spots up for grabs.
JK Scott and Hunter Bradley
I know that the Packers have competition this summer at each of these position, and rightfully so given the struggles of JK Scott and Hunter Bradley last season, but the incumbents have far more experience than Ryan Winslow and Joe Fortunato. Until I see otherwise, I fully expect Scott and Bradley to win those jobs.
Want an obscure name to watch? TE Isaac Nauta
Now, hear me out on this one. As a traditional Y-tight end in this offense, we all know how important Marcedes Lewis is to Matt LaFleur’s system—he’s basically like a sixth offensive lineman. But he’s nearing the end of his career and when it comes to the other tight ends on the active roster, while they’re all asked to block, none of them are asked to do what Big Dog does—potentially leaving a big hole to fill when he does leave.
Well, that is unless Isaac Nauta can showcase his abilities. Coming out of Georgia in 2019 as a seventh-round pick, he was known more as a blocker than a pass-catcher, and his PFF grades in the NFL — albeit limited — reflect that. He isn’t going to be a contributor in 2021, but if Nauta can continue to develop as a blocker, earn a spot on the practice squad, the opportunity for him to make the final roster in 2022 is certainly in play.
Can special teams be enough for Oren Burks to hang around?
When it comes to the linebacker depth chart, it would appear that the first three spots are pretty well set with De’Vondre Campbell, Kamal Martin, and Krys Barnes (no particular order). That alone could leave Oren Burks on the outside looking in.
Defensively he hasn’t provided the help in coverage that the Packers hoped he would as a former safety and he’s very limited against the run. He has been a solid special teams player, however, but is that enough to keep him around?
The Packers can save $945,000 in cap space by releasing Burks, and when it comes to special teams help, they have Ty Summers and Isaiah McDuffie — who are both less expensive — to lean on.
Eric Stokes playing time
Ultimately, performance is king but we know that Brian Gutekunst prefers to bring rookies along slowly if that’s an option. So when it comes to Eric Stokes who will be competing against a veteran Kevin King for the CB2 role, perhaps playing time-wise, he will be on a similar trajectory as Jaire Alexander was during his rookie season.
That year, Alexander still saw his fair share of snaps early on, playing roughly 60-70 percent of the defensive snaps over those first few weeks. It wasn’t until he returned from injury in Week 7 that he was out there for around 100 percent of them. Like I said, we have to see how camp and the preseason unfolds, but this is something to keep in mind.
I know Will Redmond has had his issues defensively, and I’m sure we all remember his whiffed interception attempt during the NFC Championship Game, but I fully expect him to be apart of this team in 2021.
For starters, he’s still a young player, with 2020 being the first time that he saw some real playing time. I also believe he’s one of the handful of players that Green Bay is looking at for the slot cornerback role, where he took about a third of his snaps last season. Lastly, he’s inexpensive and has been a solid special teams contributor.
Versatility is the Hallmark of the OL
We saw this on display last season as this Green Bay Packers offensive line unit dealt with numerous injuries. Yet regardless of who was on the field or where they were asked to play, this was, by several metrics, still the best offensive line in football in 2020.
In taking a look at this depth chart, it’s clear that versatility is prioritized by Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur.
Billy Turner: OG, OT
Lucas Patrick: OG, OC
Elgton Jenkins: OG, OT, OC
Cole Van Lanen: OT, OG
Royce Newman: OT, OG
Jon Runyan: College OT, OG
Josh Myers: OC, OG
Jacob Capra: OG, OT
Coy Cronk: OG, OT
Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl.