Breaking Down the Packers 5 Biggest Training Camp Projects
Merriam-Webster defines a project as "a planned piece of work that has a specific purpose (such as to find information or to make something new) and that usually requires a lot of time."
Using that definition, I'm going to look at five different projects that the Green Bay Packers will be attempting to put into place this training camp.
The coaching staff is being much more innovative this offseason in their attempt to put their best players on the field in certain situations.
If the five projects I'm going to write about works out for the team in 2014 and in the future, the Packers will be much better off in their attempt to bring a fifth Super Bowl trophy to Titletown, as well as a 14th NFL title.
When JC Tretter played his college football at Cornell, he played tight end, guard and mostly left tackle. Tretter never played center.
But playing center is what he will be attempting to do in 2014 for the Packers in his second year with the team. Tretter's rookie season was just about a wash, as he broke his ankle at an early OTA. The Packers put him on the PUP list but later put him on the roster late in the 2013 season.
Tretter never got in a game, however. Still, the Packers liked the way he looked behind the scenes playing center. When Evan Dietrich-Smith left via free agency to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that opened a big door for No. 73 at center.
Tretter has picked up the playbook very quickly, and the coaching staff loves his smarts and his quickness. There will be some tough competition, however, as the Packers drafted center Corey Linsley of Ohio State in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Whoever wins that job this summer will become Aaron Rodgers' fourth starting center in as many seasons.
Micah Hyde played in 51 games in his college career at Iowa. In those 51 games, Hyde played at safety in just two of those games. Otherwise, Hyde played cornerback.
He also played cornerback in his rookie season in Green Bay last year. No. 33 was very effective, too, as he mostly played the corner-slot position due to the hamstring injury of Casey Hayward.
For the season, Hyde had 61 tackles, one sack, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Hyde was also pretty effective returning kicks.
But Hyde did not have one pick all season. Nor one in the postseason. The pick that Packer Nation wishes Hyde would have held on to was in the playoff game against the 49ers at Lambeau Field. Late in the game, and with the game tied, Hyde almost had a pick in 49ers territory that would have given the Packers an excellent opportunity to win the game.
But Hyde didn't hang on to the ball, and the Packers ended up losing on a late field goal. That's why it's somewhat ironic that Hyde is moving over to play safety this year. Why? Not one safety had an interception last season for the Packers. Not one. That hasn't happened in more than 60 years.
That being said, Hyde has pretty decent ball skills and is one of best tacklers in the secondary. For now, he is holding down one of the starting safety positions alongside Morgan Burnett, but it's expected that first-round draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will end up starting soon enough.
What does that mean for Hyde? It would mean that Hyde would be an option at both cornerback and safety for the defense and that he would be the sixth defensive back on the field when the Packers go into their dime defense.
The first part of the 2013 season was very promising for the defense of the Packers. Going into their Week 9 meeting versus the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, the Packers had the 11th-ranked defense in the NFL, as well as the fourth-best rush defense in the league.
The game against the Bears was a disaster, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers fractured his clavicle, which caused him to miss seven more games, plus the Packers defense started to look very porous against the run.
Part of the problem was the ineffectiveness of the defensive line, but so were the tackling angles and the overall tackling skills of the linebackers, especially the inside linebackers.
Yes, there were injuries to both Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore, which affected their game at one inside linebacker spot. A.J. Hawk had one of the best seasons of his career in Green Bay at the other inside linebacker position, but even he made a number of his 118 tackles well past the line of scrimmage.
What the Packers need is a thumper at inside linebacker who is quick to the football. That player could be Sam Barrington. The coaching staff really loves his ability to play fast on defense.
No. 58 was a seventh-round draft pick in 2013 out of South Florida, and he ended up beating out Terrell Manning to make the team. Barrington played exclusively on special teams last season before a hamstring injury put him on injured reserve after the Week 9 contest versus the Bears.
Expect to see the coaching staff give Barrington every opportunity at inside linebacker this summer to see if he can win a starting job, based on the skill set he has shown thus far at the position.
If you have ever attended a practice watching the Packers quarterbacks throw the ball, you will quickly determine that Aaron Rodgers has a very strong arm. When you see Matt Flynn throw the football, it's quite obvious that No. 10 does not have near the arm-strength of No. 12.
When you watch former Wisconsin Badger Scott Tolzien throw the football, you would say that his arm-strength is more similar to that of Rodgers as opposed to Flynn.
But what Tolzien doesn't have, and that Rodgers and Flynn both have, is a mastery of the offense run by the Packers.
No. 16 does have some nice ability, and that was shown off last season when Tolzien had his opportunity to play because of the injury situation at quarterback. But even with 717 yards passing he had in less than three games, Tolzien only had one touchdown pass and had thrown five interceptions. He was prone to making mistakes.
He also didn't deliver a win for the Packers. Flynn then took over and basically rescued the season for the Packers, as he won two games late versus the Falcons and Cowboys, which gave the team an opportunity to win the NFC North in Week 17 when Rodgers returned from his fractured clavicle.
Going into training camp in less than two weeks, Tolzien is much more familiar with the offense of the team, as he has been able to attend the offseason quarterback school that the Packers use to develop their quarterbacks.
Time will tell if that will be enough for Tolzien to take the backup quarterback position away from Flynn, but expect to see No. 16 getting a lot of opportunities this preseason.
Outside Linebacker/ Defensive End Hybrid
The defensive coaching staff started thinking out of the box last season when they decided to use Mike Neal in a couple of different ways. Neal had always been a defensive lineman at both Purdue and with the Packers, but the Packers started working with Neal at outside linebacker besides playing on the line.
It led to the best season of Neal's career in Green Bay, as No. 96 had 50 tackles, five sacks and one forced fumble. Neal also played in all 16 games last season for the Packers, after only playing in 20 games the previous three years combined.
In the postseason game against the 49ers in which Neal injured his knee and was forced to leave the game, the Packers were forced to use defensive end Datone Jones at outside linebacker.
Before the season even began, the team was using both Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer at outside linebacker after both had played defensive end in college.
Expect more of the same in 2014 with a number of different players, as the coaching staff is trying to get their best players on the field depending on the down and distance.
The Packers plan to use newly acquired free agent Julius Peppers at both defensive end and outside linebacker. The Packers also plan to utilize outside linebacker Nick Perry at the "elephant" defensive end, which was the position he manned at USC in college.
The plan is also to move Neal around this season as well, plus fourth-round draft pick Carl Bradford will be getting some looks on the line and also standing up.
No. 91 played both defensive end and outside linebacker at Arizona State, where he was extremely effective getting 142 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 20 sacks, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), nine passes defended, one fumble recovery and six forced fumbles in two seasons.
Bottom line: Expect to see defensive coordinator Dom Capers substituting freely to keep his hybrid players fresh, and to also to come up with the best ways to utilize the pass-rushing skills of these players.