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By CHRIS HAVEL
Favre Hall of Fame weekend kicks off five-game quest to build the best 53-man roster
The Packers’ transition from the “draft” to “develop” phase begins once a player is selected.
Beyond the feel-good “get to know me” stories there is rookie orientation, OTAs and minicamps. It is followed by a five-week lull before training camp, which opens a week and a day from today.
That’s when head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff escalates the talent evaluation process while crystallizing its vision as to which players best fit the 53-man puzzle. It presents a lot of moving parts.
Some of the newcomers will exceed expectations while others will fall short. A handful will flash early and grab everyone’s attention. That’s just the start of it for most. Then, they have to sustain it through consistency and dependability. It’s not easy catching the coaching staff’s eye.
Once a young player does he needs to capitalize on it. That’s even more difficult to do. Injuries are sure to eliminate some from truly competing for a roster spot. The hope is that none of the training camp or preseason injuries are the serious, long-term variety.
Meantime, the veterans need to blend with the younger players while preparing for the arduous task ahead. The Packers’ extra preseason game, which comes with playing in the Hall of Fame game at Canton, has plusses and minuses. It is up to McCarthy to maximize the former.
Clearly, the game plan will be to give young players as many reps as possible. There is no excuse to overlook a talented but inexperienced player this preseason. McCarthy’s reputation for being meticulous in terms of preparation and time management should serve him well.
The head coach has to discern which of the younger players are worth keeping while making sure aging players aren’t merely receiving a roster spot on reputation.
The Packers’ roster seems fairly clear-cut at many positions. However, injuries and performance – good or bad – can shake up a position group in a heartbeat. If you don’t believe it, consider Jordy Nelson’s injury last preseason.
It’s why forecasting the 53-man roster before camp opens is an interesting but ultimately meaningless endeavor.
Who knew Ladarius Gunter would be such a solid cornerback going into training camp? Who knew the receivers would be so caught up in their own downward spiral to focus on consistently catching Aaron Rodgers’ spirals?
As I recall, there wasn’t much talk – if any – about Eddie Lacy’s weight or conditioning during last year’ camp. Clearly, Lacy will be under great scrutiny. At the same time, I wonder which player will be this training camp’s “Lacy” or “Davante Adams?”
The fifth preseason game may be a godsend to players who are injured early in camp. A fifth game provides a greater chance to heal up and return in time to make the 53-man or practice squad.
For Aaron Rodgers, the extra preseason game likely means more headphone wearing, clipboard holding and sideline standing. Whatever it takes to keep him out of harm’s way and that includes being bored to death.
It’ll afford a great chance for second-year quarterback Brett Hundley to continue growing in all aspects.
The Packers’ staff also will have time to assess whether it needs a true “third-down back” in the style of a Darren Sproles or continue to use receivers out of the backfield.
The advantage of using a receiver in that role is it gives McCarthy an extra weapon in the passing game. The disadvantage is if the receiver isn’t able to pick up blitzes, run draws between the tackles or endure the increased contact.
The extra game should enable defensive coordinator Dom Capers to adequately prepare his linebackers for what’s to come.
Blake Martinez, Kyler Fackrell and Jake Ryan are inexperienced, and Sam Barrington is coming off an injury. My guess is Capers is OK with the extra reps to get each of these players up to speed when the season opens.
Obviously, the Packers are among the NFC favorites for good reason. They are a hungry, highly motivated team with a top-notch head coach and a top-five quarterback. That alone isn’t enough, but it’s a good place to start.
In a week and a day, we’ll begin to watch as McCarthy, Rodgers and the rest begin their quest.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com).
Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.