Packers head to camp with plenty on plate
The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - INSIDE SLANT
Aaron Rodgers, head coach Mike McCarthy has plenty issues to address when the Green Bay Packers begin training camp practice July 26 at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin.
Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are trolling for contract extensions, a situation made even more dramatic by the team's decision -- thus far -- not to re-sign tight end Jermichael Finley despite medical clearance from doctors.
His absence would leave tight end as arguably the Packers' weakest position. Still some optimists say Green Bay hasn't completely shut the door on him, evidenced by keeping the nameplate above the free agent's locker this offseason. However, the chances of Finley playing football again -- and doing so with the Packers -- after he sustained a career-threatening bruised spinal cord on a helmet-to-helmet hit last fall dwindle by the day.
Minus Finley, the Packers don't have a formidable over-the-middle tight end on the roster. A serviceable Andrew Quarless is penciled in as the starter, but he was relegated to bystander wearing a cap during the open spring workouts. That merely increases the urgency for Green Bay to get second-year prospect Brandon Bostick and athletic rookie Richard Rodgers, a third-round draft pick out of Cal, ready as Finley's potential successors.
Here are other issues of importance as the Packers prepare for training camp:
KEY POSITION BATTLE
--Free safety: General manager Ted Thompson addressed the team's biggest need this offseason by taking former Alabama playmaker Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the draft with the No. 21 pick. However, Clinton-Dix hasn't been anointed the savior of the back end of Green Bay's defense, which didn't have one interception or a forced fumble by a safety all last season.
During minicamp, Clinton-Dix played second fiddle to Micah Hyde in the pecking order besides returning strong safety Morgan Burnett. Hyde, a natural cornerback who played considerably and contributed in the nickel role as a rookie last season, is cut in the versatile mold of former Packers standout Charles Woodson. With impressive 2012 rookie nickel back Casey Hayward back in the fold after missing most of last season because of injury, a compelling summer showdown between Hyde and Clinton-Dix at safety is brewing.
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
--Bryan Bulaga, RT: It's been a welcome sight having Bulaga back on the field this spring and without restrictions. However, after missing the entire 2013 season because of a torn ACL sustained in training camp, Green Bay's first-round draft pick in 2010 isn't a shoo-in to jump back into the starting lineup.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said that Bulaga and Don Barclay are competing for the job at right tackle. That position was Bulaga's since early in his rookie season before he was moved to left tackle last offseason, only to get injured.
With David Bakhtiari entrenched at left tackle after a solid rookie season, Barclay held his own on the opposite side last season and could be more than just an insurance policy for Bulaga, who has been hampered by significant injuries the last two years. "Donnie has the ability to play potentially five positions on the offensive line. I don't know how many guys you can say that about," McCarthy said.
BEST LONGSHOT ROOKIE
--Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama, undrafted rookie: Besides being motivated by the draft snub, Hubbard looks the part of a rookie with the measurables to stick with the team after training camp breaks in late August. He stands 6-foot-6, weighs 257 pounds and had the longest arm length (34 inches) among outside linebackers at the combine.
Some teams may have backed off on Hubbard because a minor heart abnormality turned up in his testing at the combine. He had 16 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in two years as a starter with Alabama.
NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - NOTES, QUOTES