Like everyone else in Packer Nation, I am pretty stoked that OTA’s are here. It is a chance for this team to begin the long journey of becoming the 2017 Packers. While much will be written on the match-ups and competitions, and I will certainly add my two cents to that conversation…excitement is not the only thing that OTA’s bring. The beginning of OTA’s signals what for all intents and purposes is the crop of players that will become the 2017 team and while this is exciting, it also comes with certain question marks. Here are several concerns and question marks that OTA’s and training camp will have to answer this year. Here are my top three questions and/or concerns in order of importance.
1. Outside linebacker
Even with the pick of Vince Biegel in the first round of the draft, the Packers are thin at outside linebacker. Dom Capers likes to use as many pass rushers as he can on passing downs and our inside linebacker group has for years been the position of lesser talent. Capers frequently put Peppers and Jones on the field with Matthews and Perry last year to generate the kind of pressure he was looking for, and he did so with some success. With Peppers and Jones now gone and Biegel’s availability timeline likely pushed back due to foot surgery, the Packers will be relying on Jayrone Elliott and even moreso Kyler Fackrell to fill out that portion of the roster unless an undrafted free agent pickup shows promise. Alternatively, Thomas, Ryan or Martinez could show significant improvement in the pass rush. Either way, it is the outside linebackers that are called upon to get pressure on the quarterback in Capers’ scheme and with the injury history of both Matthews and Perry, Packer Nation cannot be too confident that we have done enough. OTA’s will begin to answer this question.
2. Special teams
Special teams is another area of concern, and one with more question marks than the outside linebacker position though I think the OLB situation is more critical. Who will be the punt returner? Who will be the long snapper? Will Jeff Janis be back and if he does make the team, will he be the same gunner he was in the past? With the schedule that the Packers have this season, they can’t afford to get off to a slow start but with three out of the first four games being against playoff caliber teams and the Bears a Divisional rival, field position will be important to winning and that is where special teams comes in. Additionally, the long-snapper and holder (will it be Schum or Vogel?) affect the kicking of Mason Crosby and there could very well be games this year that are decided by field goals. Special teams is a big concern and the questions have to be answered during the OTA’s and Training camp and finalized in the pre-season.
3. Offensive line
While there is a lot of excitement surrounding the Packers’ offense this year, the replacement of TJ Lang still has to be chosen. Kofi Amichia joins Lucas Patrick and Kyle Murphy in rotation to try out for the part alongside (or behind) Evans. Mike McCarthy has made it clear he wants Jason Spriggs as a backup tackle. With all the talent that this year’s offense has, it would be a shame if it was compromised by the right tackle position being a sore spot. Continuity is so key to the offensive line that this situation will have to be one that is a focus throughout OTA’s and camp. If Jahri Evans works out…problem solved. If not, we could be very young at that position quickly.
So there are three concerns I have about where the Packers are at leading into the organized team activities that started this week. There is a lot to be excited about too certainly but these will be worth keeping in mind as well and I look forward to see which players step up.