Training camp preview: Packers prepare for the long haul

Frank Cooney The Sports Xchange When the Green Bay Packers become the first NFL team to open a 2016 training camp today, head coach Mike McCarthy will have 18 returning starters from a 2015 season in which they were 10-6, second in the NFC North ...

Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay Packers quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (12), Joe Callahan (6) and Brett Hundley (7) participate in drills during training camp Tuesday at Ray Nitschke Field. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

Frank Cooney

The Sports Xchange


When the Green Bay Packers become the first NFL team to open a 2016 training camp today, head coach Mike McCarthy will have 18 returning starters from a 2015 season in which they were 10-6, second in the NFC North and not happy about it.

The early camp is because the Packers open preseason action on Aug. 7 in the Hall of Fame Game against the Indianapolis Colts.


In preparation for a five-game preseason and the extended workout time that goes with it, McCarthy sat out 15 veterans from the so-called mandatory minicamp, including stars like quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.

One player McCarthy did not give a breather was running back Eddie Lacy, with whom the coach expressed concern over conditioning after the back played last season with too much weight on him.

Lacy trained with P90X founder Tony Horton in the early portion of the offseason. McCarthy and teammates spoke favorably of a slimmer Lacy when he reported for the team’s spring workouts in mid-April.

Other players don’t need prodding.

Rodgers is coming off a season in which he passed for more than 3,800 yards, 31 touchdowns and only eight interceptions, but he remains motivated because his completion percentage of 60.7 and passer rating of 92.7 are each his lowest as a starter since 2008.

Wide receiver Jody Nelson, Rodgers’ top target, is expected to return after missing 2015 with a knee injury.

The Packers may be concerned about depth in the defensive secondary with the loss of veteran nickel back Casey Hayward, who signed with San Diego as a free agent, and the suspension of Demetri Goodson for four games for using performance enhancing drugs.

The Packers were also surprised when nose tackle B.J. Raji, a mainstay on the line for seven years, announced he was taking a “hiatus.” So the Packers used their first-round pick, No. 27 overall, to select UCLA defensive lineman Kenny Clark, who is expected to start in the middle.


Here is a closer look at the newcomers and key players and how they should factor into the Packers’ 2016 team:


Training Camp Schedule

St. Norbert College. Veterans and rookies report today.

2015 record: 11-7

Divisional record: 3-3

Coach: Mike McCarthy. 11th season as Packers/NFL head coach. 112-62-1 overall; 8-7 postseason

Starters returning: 18: 10 offense, 8 defense, kicker, punter.



Offseason standout

Inside linebacker Blake Martinez.

When McCarthy came right out at the end of last season and announced his intention to get defensive leader Clay Matthews back to wreaking havoc at his natural spot of outside linebacker, perhaps Green Bay’s biggest offseason priority was to address a huge void in the middle.

General manager Ted Thompson waited until the fourth round of the draft to take a linebacker. Yet, the player selected at that point, Stanford’s Blake Martinez, made a favorable first impression on the likes of McCarthy and Matthews this spring.

“He looks very comfortable,” McCarthy observed during organized team activities, which preceded the minicamp that ended the team’s offseason program this week.

Whereas first-round defensive tackle Kenny Clark and a couple other fellow draftees had to stay away from the team for a good portion of the spring workouts because their colleges still were in session, Martinez was a full-time participant.

He proved to be a quick study and jumped right in as a starter, thanks to the transition of Matthews outside and the absence of 2015 opening-day starter Sam Barrington, who completed his recovery from an ankle injury that cost him all but that first game last season.


Regarded as a high-energy playmaker at Stanford, the 6-foot-2, 237-pound Martinez stood out in longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ eyes the last several weeks with his acumen on the field and in the meeting rooms.

Capers entrusted Martinez to relay the defensive calls while lined up beside second-year pro Jake Ryan in Green Bay’s base and nickel packages as well as the lone inside ‘backer in the dime.

“He’s very sharp, which you expect a Stanford guy to be sharp,” Capers said. “I think he’s going to be an attention-to-detail guy. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to be able to study the opponent and be able to play the percentages and probably gain a little bit because of that.”



• Kenny Clark (round 1), DT, 6-foot-3, 314, UCLA.

The first interior defensive lineman selected by the Packers in the first round since Raji was taken No. 9 in 2009. Clark brings immediate-help attributes beyond his tender age of 20 as a run stopper on early downs and a capable pass rusher in sub-packages. Clark will have to hit the ground running when training camp starts in late July after missing a good portion of the spring workouts because school still was in session at UCLA.

• Jason Spriggs (Round 2), T, 6-6, 301, Indiana.


Green Bay’s personnel honchos, starting with general manager Ted Thompson, are high on the athletic and agile Spriggs. That was evident when Thompson traded up nine spots in the second round and parted with a couple draft picks to snag Spriggs. He started all four years with the Hoosiers at left tackle, but the Packers are training him at both bookend spots. That puts veteran starters David Bakhtiari, who is entering the final year of his contract, and injury-prone Bryan Bulaga on alert.

• Kyler Fackrell (Round 3), LB, 6-5, 245, Utah St.

Despite the offseason plan to have defensive star Clay Matthews back at his preferred position at outside linebacker after he toiled inside last season, the Packers invested a high pick in another edge rusher. The rangy Fackrell excelled as a playmaker in his three years as a starter. He provides insurance for a position group that includes 36-year-old Julius Peppers and is without veteran Mike Neal, who remains a free agent.

• Blake Martinez (Round 4), LB, 6-2, 237, Stanford.

A determined Martinez, who previously graduated from Stanford, capitalized on being with the team for all workouts this spring following the draft as well as having ample opportunity to work with the starting group as an inside linebacker. He stood out in the coaches’ eyes with his insatiable studies off the field and his instincts and command on the field. He’s in prime position to contend for a starting spot.

• Dean Lowry (Round 4), DE, 6-6, 296, Northwestern.

An overachiever who may have been a reach midway through the draft, but those calling the shots for Green Bay like his upside. They are enamored with his versatility to play all along the defensive line and his proven ability to blow up plays behind the line of scrimmage. Lowry missed significant on-field time in the spring because of the in-class rule with Northwestern.

• Trevor Davis (Round 5), WR, 6-1, 188, California.


The battle for three or four backup spots behind entrenched starters Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will draw a lot of attention in training camp. The speedy Davis will be in that mix. Where he likely has to make his mark to earn a roster spot is on kick returns, which was his forte in two seasons at Cal.

• Kyle Murphy (Round 6), T, 6-6, 305, Stanford.

A developmental prospect who is not being pegged to one position after he started at right tackle as a junior and then left tackle last season. Murphy was a better run blocker than pass protector for the Cardinal, so his future may rest at guard. Like Clark and Lowry, the academic schedule at Stanford cost Murphy some spring work.


Players acquired

• TE Jared Cook: Signed to one-year, $2.75 million deal in free agency; career high receptions is 52.

• OLB Lerentee McCray: Special teams core player for Denver last year signed as free agent in April.


Key loss

NT B.J. Raji retired out of the blue in March leaving the Packers short-handed on an already thin defensive line and forcing the team’s hand in the first round of the draft.


Other losses

LS Brett Goode, CB Casey Hayward, WR James Jones, FB John Kuhn, LB Andy Mulumba, LB Mike Neal, LB Nate Palmer, TE Andrew Quarless, S Sean Richardson, QB Scott Tolzien.

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