With week 1 of the 2019 preseason in the books, the Green Bay Packers got back to work this week. With another game on Thursday night, it was a short, yet important week of practice. Below are the important storylines from Packers August Training Camp Pt. 2 (august 10th-13th).
Shephard the Strong
After making an impressive touchdown catch vs the Texans last week, Darrius Shepherd had a strong week of practice. With Trevor Davis sitting out this week with an injury, that left the 1st-string returner job up for grabs (at least temporarily). During a punting drill, Shepard got the first crack to catch the punts. If he can carve out a returning role, Shepherd may make a strong case to make the final 53-man roster.
To his credit, Shepard also produced on offense during practices. Working with the 1st-team offense in 11-on-11s, Shepard took an Aaron Rodgers hitch pass for a 1st-down. Shepard does have some experience playing in the slot. He even played there extensively this week with the 2nd-team offense. Having an important return role and doubling as a backup to (presumably) Geronimo Allison, Shepard could potentially be a valuable piece for the Packers.
That is of course if he makes the final 53-man roster. The starting wide receivers were apparent to as far back as Minicamp. After Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allison, there are likely 3 or 4 spots available on the wide receiver depth chart. With good reports coming out about Jake Kumerow every day, it appears likely that he will have a role. Furthermore, Equanimeous St. Brown has been contributing on special teams, and with his athletic potential, he will probably make the final roster. Shepherd could very well be competing with all the other wide receivers for one final roster spot.
— Full Press Packers (@FPC_Packers) August 15, 2019
Bryan Bulaga is an excellent offensive lineman. He has been a great pass-protector and run-blocker for years. The only knock against him is the lingering injury history. Only twice in his 9-year career has Bulaga played all 16 games. In an effort to best maintain his body, Bulaga takes regular rest days every week. I assume this will continue throughout the season.
During those rest days, other offensive linemen have gotten the chance to play at right tackle. This week, typical starting right guard Billy Turner moved over to the edge. This gave 3rd-round rookie pick Elgton Jenkins the chance to start with the 1st-team offense. While Jenkins played well, it was Turner that was getting the most buzz for his pass-protection.
Billy Turner has had a really good day at RT. Pass blocked really well. They will have to consider starting him there if he continues to play like that. At the least, they have a better idea of what they have at backup RT.
— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) August 10, 2019
This where football can be ruthless. The way his contract is structured, Bulaga could be cut this season. His $8.35 Million cap hit only comes with a dead cap of $1.6 Million, which means that the Packers would save $6.75 Million by releasing Bulaga. I am not saying that this will likely happen, especially after Jason Spriggs was cut last week. However, there have been some surprising cuts in Green Bay this year. That’s not even to mention the post-training camp release of Josh Sitton from a few years ago. With Turner looking like a potential option to be a long-term right tackle, could Bulaga be among those surprising cuts? At the very least, Turner may have a job at right tackle next season, after Bulaga’s contract expires.
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Heart of the Defense
Inside linebacker is considered to be the heart of the defense in football. The heart is in the chest, which is very fitting since starting inside linebacker Oren Burks is listed as out with a chest injury. Even before he went down in the preseason opener, it was at that position where arguably the biggest question mark existed for the Packers. Could Burks make enough of a leap in year two to make an impact as a starter?
Now, if Burks misses regular-season time, someone else will need to step up. Last week vs the Texans, 7th-round rookie Ty Summers amassed 10 total tackles. Unfortunately, he also missed some tackles, but that was a chronic problem throughout the defense. Still, Summers showed enough flashes and was constantly making the right reed and getting to where he needed to be on the field.
Whether it’s Bolton, Burks or Summers, the Packers need solid play from the inside linebacker spot. Otherwise, opposing offenses could run like crazy against Green Bay.
Running Back Into the Lineup
Aaron Jones made his return to practice this week. After recovering from a mild hamstring injury, Jones got some work in during 11-on-11s. This is much more encouraging development than what is happening with his backfield mate. Jamaal Williams is still nursing a hamstring ailment that has held him out since July practices.
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During Jones’ absence, rookie Dexter Williams was seeing 1st-team reps. He also got the start in the preseason opener. During that contest, Williams looked great and was able to create some yards even when the offensive did not block every defender. While the ground game is great, the biggest question mark surrounding the 6th-round pick is his receiving ability. Williams did not help ease those concerns as he dropped 3 passes in one day of practice. Since the veteran running backs do have 3rd-down ability, it appears that Dexter Williams is going to be behind them in terms of operating as a pass-catching option. Even full back Dan Vitale has demonstrated more receiving skills than the rookie.
Speaking of the full back, Vitale missed a couple of days of practice with a calf injury. In the absence of both Vitale and Malcolm Johnson, the Packers signed Tommy Bohanon to fill in at full back. As long as Vitale is healthy, there is not likely room on this roster for another player at that position. In the meantime, Bohanon may see some time in the upcoming preseason game against the Ravens. He does possess some receiving ability, so he should be able to step right into to Vitale’s role.
After an interesting start to camp in the kicking department, Mason Crosby finally had the better day. Crosby missed the first portion of training camp with a calf injury. In his absence, Sam Ficken was doing a great job, culminating on Family Night, when he kicked a 63-yard field goal to end practice.
However, this week there was a day when both kickers got 5 field goal opportunities from 24, 31, 35, 41 and 45 yards. Crosby made all 5 while Ficken missed the last 2.
The question mark in the subtitle refers to the fact that, like Bulaga, Crosby’s contract opens the possibility of a release. His $4.85 Million cap hit only comes with $1.25 Million dead cap, saving the Packers $3.6 Million if they do cut him. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, having a veteran kicker who has made high-pressure playoff field goals, is important. So even with the cap situation, the Packers will probably hang on to Crosby for at least one more season.
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