The 2020 opener is just days away and never have we known less about what this team is shaping up to look like than this year. The combination of the pandemic wiping out the preseason and the Pack’s mandate that beat reporters not provide specific information on where players are lining up, has us completely in the dark.
We know that the national media is down on the Pack because of their unexpected draft strategy. On paper, they did not significantly upgrade the lineup anywhere via the draft and free agency. They’re the popular pick as the team that will regress in 2020. I think they probably will take a step back, to 10 wins, maybe 11, if the chip on Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder is as big as I think it’s going to be.
I think Rodgers is on a mission to make a point that they could have waited a year or two to groom his replacement. By all accounts he’s had a great camp and is in step with the scheme in year two of the Matt LaFleur system.
Let’s start with the offensive line. The biggest question mark is who will replace Bryan Bulaga at right tackle? Ricky Wagner was the presumed guy, but he’s missed a lot of camp: injuries have always been an issue with him. Billy Turner may be the answer, especially with how well Lane Taylor has reportedly looked this summer at right guard. If Turner is the opening day starter, we’ll know very quickly if he is up to the task, as he deals with Danielle Huner and or Yannick Ngakoue. Gutey might want to keep Jared Veldheer on speed dial. The backups figure to be Alex Light, Lucas Patrick and the two rookies, Runyan and Hanson.
Safe to say the Pack will keep all three quarterbacks. Tim Boyle knows the system infinitely better than Jordan Love, who needs this to be a redshirt year. The loss of OTAs and minicamps hurt him more than anyone else.
The running game better be dominated by Aaron Jones. Now, does Jamal Williams spell him or does AJ Dillon get those snaps? It’s going to very interesting to see how that plays out, with Williams in a contract year. My guess is that it’s Williams early and Dillon gets worked into the mix as the weeks go by.
And what do we make of Tyler Ervin. He earned a spot on the roster as the return guy, and showed to be a nice gadget piece in the run game late in the season. Word is, he’s been working as a wide receiver at camp, so it looks like LaFleur is going to get his speed on the field.
I think the Pack keeps five wide receivers (with Ervin also getting snaps there). Adams, Lazard, MVS and ESB are locks. The fifth spot is likely Kumerow’s to lose, but Darius Shepherd may steal it. I’d still prefer to see the Pack find a veteran on the street–one with some speed.
The tight end spot is the biggest concern on this side of the ball. By all accounts, Jace Sternberger has had a very quiet camp. Robert Tonyan will likely be the opening say starter, with Marcedes Lewis joining him on running plays and rookie Josiah Deguara playing a fullback/H-back/tight end hybrid role. I’m really interested in how Ervin and Deguara are worked into the offense.
The biggest change on the defensive side of the ball is the addition of Christian Kirksey to replace Blake Martinez. If Kirksey can stay on the field, the former defensive captain in Cleveland under Pettine could make things a little more difficult for opposing tight ends and backs to feasted on the Pack’s defense last year. The inevitable knee injury to Kamal Martin dampens what was one of the fun stories of camp–it looked like he was in line to start alongside Kirksey. The torn meniscus will likely land him on the PUP list to start the season.
This is a touchy spot, because I, like many of you was yelling the name Patrick Queen when I found out the Pack had leap-frogged the Ravens in the first round. That kind of player is the missing link to Pettine’s defense. If they don’t find a veteran like Nigel Bradham to step in, we’re looking at Oren Burks or Ty Summers. Yikes.
We’re all anxious to see the Smith brothers in year two and whether Rashan Gary can take a massive year two jump. It would have been fun to see him in some preseason action to see if he’s noticeably slimmer and quicker. Up front, Kenny Clark rightfully got paid. Now can Dean Lowry look more like the 2018 version rather than the 2019 version? Can Kingsley Zeke take the jump that we keep waiting for Montravious Adams to take?
The secondary looks solid with nice depth at safety for the first time in forever. Adams, Savage, Greene and Redmond are locks and rookie Vernon Scott will also probably claim a roster spot. The return of Greene should give a shot in the arm to the dime defense. When he was lost for the season, Pettine lost the only guy who could step in at linebacker and roam sideline to sideline.
Kevin King needs to stay healthy if he wants to get paid. He does get torched from time to time, but he and Alexander form a top ten pair of corners. The Pack is betting that Chandon Sullivan can replace Tramon Williams. Let’s hope so, because Josh Jackson has yet to show he can handle things and youngsters Ka’Dar Hollman and undrafted rookie Stanford Samuels will be counted on more for special teams than in the secondary.
With no preseason, it’s hard to gauge how the front office feels about its undrafted guys. The extended practice squad is likely where virtually all of these guys land.
The initial 53-man roster comes out on Saturday afternoon, with the practice squad to follow. Will the Pack snatch a couple of guys cut from other teams? I always feel bad for the guys who make the roster on Saturday and then are cut a couple of days later.
The next blog will come out on Monday morning with my thoughts on the roster. In the meantime, I have some exciting news about year #25 of “Packer Preview” on KFAN. This year, we’re back to 8am on Sunday mornings. The Gophers’ lost season is our gain. If the Big Ten resumes in the fall, I’ll be bumped back to 7am, but until then, we’re back at 8.