Packers’ to-do list

Tom Oates The Wisconsin State Journal For a team that prides itself on stability, the Green Bay Packers had an eventful offseason. Heavy personnel losses in free agency led to a deeper-than-usual dive into free agency for general manager Ted Thom...

Outside linebacker Julius Peppers (56) celebrates amid the Green Bay Packers’ 34-31 win against Dallas in the NFL Divisional Playoff game on Jan. 15, in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Peppers is one of the players the Packers will have to replace after he signed with the Carolina Panthers. (Rodger Mallison / Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

Tom Oates

The Wisconsin State Journal


For a team that prides itself on stability, the Green Bay Packers had an eventful offseason.

Heavy personnel losses in free agency led to a deeper-than-usual dive into free agency for general manager Ted Thompson, who signed five veterans. And the defensive collapse in the NFC Championship Game led Thompson to select defensive players on the first four of his 10 draft picks.


With such significant roster turnover, the Packers have more to accomplish than they usually do in August.

Here are 10 items on their to-do list when training camp opens this week:


  1. Showcase Brett Hundley’s development

Hundley’s trade value will never be higher than it will be after this season, but only if the backup quarterback has a chance to show that his natural ability has been polished by three years under coach Mike McCarthy.
Since no one wants to see Aaron Rodgers get hurt, the best place to do that is in the exhibition games.

If Hundley has another August like he did as a rookie, he could yield a return far greater than his original fifth-round draft slot.


  1. Find a complement for Ty Montgomery

Forget the wide receiver number, Montgomery is now a running back, one with toughness, vision and versatility.
But Montgomery was nicked up last season and these days most NFL teams don’t rely on one workhorse back anyway. The Packers hope one of the three drafted backs - Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays - can become a tough, between-the-tackles runner like the departed Eddie Lacy.

The best bet is Williams, but the spot is there for the taking.



  1. Figure out how to use the tight ends

The addition of free agents Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks wasn’t a good sign for Richard Rodgers, but they won’t cost him his job. Far from it.
McCarthy is expected to build sets with multiple tight ends and he can’t keep just two or that portion of the playbook will be lost with one injury.

It will be interesting to see how much the tight ends are used in tandem and whether they can add a much-needed big-play element down the middle.


  1. See which wide receivers step up

Davante Adams’ breakout season gives the Packers a big three at wide receiver with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Everything after that is unsettled.

Geronimo Allison has size (and a one-game suspension), Jeff Janis has big-play ability, Trevor Davis has speed and draft picks DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre combine size and speed. The Packers probably won’t keep seven this year due to the influx of tight ends, but the final three spots are up for grabs.


  1. Develop offensive line depth

In the past 10 months, the Packers lost guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang and super sub JC Tretter. Of the three, Tretter might be the hardest to replace. Lane Taylor was solid as Sitton’s replacement last season and the signing of former Pro Bowler Jahri Evans eases the sting of Lang’s departure.
With Jason Spriggs entrenched as the third tackle, finding depth inside is critical.


Don Barclay should be better now that he’s a year removed from knee surgery and second-year tackle Kyle Murphy is working some at guard, where he will compete with practice squadder Lucas Patrick and draft pick Kofi Amichia.


  1. Manufacture a pass rush

Nick Perry is coming off an 11-sack season and Clay Matthews is healthy again, but replacing the pass rush of Julius Peppers and Datone Jones will be a challenge.
If veteran Jayrone Elliott, second-year man Kyler Fackrell or draft pick Vince Biegel can rush from the outside, the Packers can follow through with their plan to move Matthews all over the defense.

A year in the weight room should help Fackrell.

As for the inside rush, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry need to expand their roles after flashing some quickness as rookies.


  1. Fix the cornerback position

Injury, inexperience and a lack of speed at cornerback left the defense vulnerable to strong passing attacks last season.
Sam Shields retired and Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter all return for their third seasons with something to prove.

The Packers brought back Davon House in free agency and used their top draft pick on Kevin King, adding speed to the position.


Both could - and probably should - start. Randall might be better suited for nickel back anyway. He and Rollins must rebound after injury-plagued sophomore seasons.


  1. Replace linebackers with safeties

The Packers haven’t had good play at inside linebacker for years, especially in pass coverage, but the wave in the NFL is to use big safeties as inside linebackers in many packages.
Morgan Burnett did it some last season and rookie Josh Jones was drafted with that in mind. Big and fast, Jones made play after play in offseason drills. Now the Packers will see if he can do it with the pads on.

  1. Restore order on the special teams

Other than kicker Mason Crosby, the special teams regressed in 2016, ranking 29th in the NFL.
The coverage was poor, the returns weren’t much better and the decision to sack punter Tim Masthay for Jacob Schum was no help.

Schum has been cut, leaving the job to undrafted rookie Justin Vogel, not a comforting thought for a team that desperately needs to upgrade the position.

The loss of punt returner Micah Hyde leaves a void as well.


  1. Change the way they play defense

Coordinator Dom Capers hasn’t had an abundance of talent to work with in recent years, but he hasn’t been particularly creative, either.
In the past three drafts, the Packers added Randall and Clark in the first round, Rollins, King and Jones in the second, Fackrell and rookie end Montravius Adams in the third and Lowry, Biegel and inside linebackers Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez in the fourth.


Capers has an aversion to relying on young players, but it’s time for him to step out of his comfort zone and find ways to employ all of his talent.


- Copyright (c) 2017, The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by  Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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