Green Bay Packers top five position battles to watch in training camp: A fan’s take

With the lockout now over and training camp opening up for the Green Bay Packers on July 30th, the NFL season is officially upon us. As a lifelong Packers fan, I am beyond excited for the upcoming season and can't wait to cheer on the Pack in their quest to repeat. In this article, I will outline the five biggest position battles that will be taking place in Green Bay this training camp.

1. The Starting Running Back Position - Coming into last season, Ryan Grant(notes) was the unquestioned starting running back. Unfortunately, in the Packers' first regular season game, Grant suffered an ankle injury that made Packers fans everywhere cringe. Without an established back, even the most loyal Cheeseheads felt unsettled about how the season would end up. To the surprise of everyone, rookie running back James Starks(notes) slowly grew into a more than reliable back, and he even broke the Packers rookie single playoff game record for rushing yards when he ran for 123 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card game. As Grant comes back from his injury, he and Starks will be neck and neck in their fight for the starting position. However, don't count out rookie Alex Green(notes) either; the Packers coaches and management think very highly of their third round selection.

2. The Strong Safety Position - As a rookie last season, Morgan Burnett(notes) was immediately inserted into the starting strong safety position. However, much like many other key Packers, Burnett went down with a season ending injury and missed the playoff run. While Burnett was out, journeyman backup Charlie Peprah(notes) was surprisingly impressive, as he recorded 63 tackles and two interceptions. In addition, Peprah was an unsung hero in the Super Bowl, where his defensive audibles gave Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes) fits. With Burnett fully recovered, an intriguing position battle is developing at the safety spot. Although Burnett has more upside, Peprah was impressive in his place and won't go back to bench duty without putting up a fight.

3. The Backup Tight End Spot - Rising star Jermichael Finley(notes) is the unquestioned starting tight end, but the fight for the backup spots should be something to keep an eye on this August. Multiple tight ends are a staple of many of Green Bay's formations, and Aaron Rodgers(notes) loves to throw to his tight ends. When Finley went down with a season ending injury last season, his replacements left something to be desired for Rodgers, Coach McCarthy, and Packers fans in general. Andrew Quarless(notes) showed some promise as a rookie but often was plagued by "the dropsies," while Tom Crabtree(notes) is not much of a threat in the passing game but has become a fan favorite due to his hard-nosed blocking. The Packers will also still have linebacker-turned-tight end Spencer Havner(notes), who reeled in five touchdown passes two seasons ago but missed most of last year with a hamstring injury. In addition, the Packers picked Arkansas tight end DJ Williams in the fifth round of the draft and also added North Carolina tight end Ryan Taylor(notes) in the seventh round. With all these players fighting for a couple spots, it should make for a fascinating battle in training camp to see who emerges with the ever so elusive roster spots.

4. The Offensive Line - The offensive line has been an issue for the Packers the last few seasons, although things started to get better last season. Still, almost every one of the five positions will be up for grabs, with Bryan Bulaga(notes) the one lineman who appears to be a near lock to start. At the other tackle spot, a 35-year-old Chad Clifton(notes) will have to stave off first round draft choice Derek Sherrod(notes) for the starting spot, while each of the three interior line positions are completely wide open. Guard Daryn Colledge(notes) has been wildly inconsistent during his tenure in Green Bay but always seems to end up starting anyway. It will be interesting to see if this is the year someone can finally unseat Colledge at the guard position.

5. The Linebacker Position(Except for Clay Matthews'(notes) Spot) - The Packers are extremely deep at linebacker, which is a good thing except for the fact that tough decisions will have to be made before the final roster is set. The first of those decisions has already been revealed, as word was recently leaked that the Packers would be trading or releasing eight year veteran inside linebacker Nick Barnett(notes). Even after that decision, the Packers still have three very solid interior linebackers in AJ Hawk(notes), Desmond Bishop(notes), and Brandon Chillar(notes). My best guess is that Hawk and Bishop will get the starting nods, while Chillar will see plenty of snaps as he rotates with those two. For the outside linebacker spots, the competition is even more stiff. Frank Zombo(notes), Erik Walden(notes), Brady Poppinga(notes), Brad Jones, and Ricky Elmore(notes) all will be fighting not only for a starting spot but also just a spot on the roster. One or even two of those guys won't make the team, but the answer to the "who" question won't be known until training camp is well under way.

Being from Wisconsin, I know nothing but Green and Gold. The Brett Favre(notes) era was awesome, and I have nothing but great memories of seeing him at Lambeau, but its Aaron Rodgers' turn now. "A-Rodg" has already brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay, and now he's ready to keep it there to stay. I can't wait to see more Pack victories in the upcoming years! GO Pack GO!


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Updated Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011