Time running out on key roster battles
And down the stretch they come …
The Green Bay Packers have some heated training camp battles taking place. With six practices and two preseason games remaining before the roster will get cut to 53 players, here’s where things stand at five key positions.
While seventh-round pick Ty Summers made headlines with his 10-tackle performance last week vs. Houston, it’s obvious why undrafted free agent Curtis Bolton has lined up ahead of Summers for most of the summer and why he's the front-runner to replace injured Oren Burks.
Against the Ravens, Summers tied for the team lead with five tackles. However, by our unofficial count, he missed four tackles. Splash plays and tackles for losses are great, but a linebacker must make the plays he should make. With eight missed tackles in two games, Summers isn’t getting that accomplished.
Bolton, meanwhile, had four tackles and an interception. That came on the heels of making two excellent plays in pass defense last week. His athleticism is obvious.
Here are the questions facing general manager Brian Gutekunst: Is Bolton good enough and physical enought to replace Burks? Can Summers clean up his tackling issues to be the starter? Can James Crawford be more than just a special-teams ace to jump ahead of the rookies? Or does Gutekunst need to make a move before the Packers line up to face Chicago?
“I’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Bolton told reporters after the game. “At first glance, I’m not too happy. I thought I played a little too aggressive when I didn’t need to. I played a little passive when I should have been more aggressive. I guess I played decent, nothing to be real excited about. Obviously, the interception was huge and I was real happy about that. But for much of the game, I know I need to get back in the film room and improve where I need to. There’s a lot of stuff I can fix.”
Injuries to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams have meant plenty of opportunities for someone to seize control of the No. 3 job. That Tra Carson – with his meager 1.7 yards per carry in the preseason – is leading the charge says all you need to know about this battle. He’s a powerful runner who has shown up in pass protection in the games.
Dexter Williams, the sixth-round pick from Notre Dame, dropped three passes at practice this week and another pass on Thursday. Plus, a botched quarterback-running back exchange gift-wrapped a touchdown to the Ravens. He’s an excellent runner but, at this point, the Packers absolutely can’t put him on the field in a meaningful situation. Darrin Hall had a 28-yard run on one of the few well-blocked plays of the night. He also made an excellent one-handed touchdown catch at practice this week.
Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are locks, and Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow probably are, too. “I hope to be a guy who can help out the team, do anything I can do, whether it’s on special teams or offense. I just want to do my part and make sure I do my part out there,” Kumerow said after catching three passes for 52 yards.
How many more relatively undistinguished receivers can Gutekunst keep? While he had one drop on Thursday, Darrius Shepherd continues to impress on offense and he broke two tackles on returns. At 6-foot-5, first-year player Allen Lazard is an imposing weapon. He caught three passes for 63 yards after scoring a 27-yard touchdown last week. Also 6-foot-5, Equanimeous St. Brown hasn’t done anything offensively in the preseason but he had a solid rookie campaign and is having a quietly productive camp. The wild card is Trevor Davis, who has been injured since the joint practices with Houston. Does his impressive 2017 work as a returner win him a job, or is that but a too-distant memory?
Said Lazard after another strong night: “I want to show these coaches that I can do it all; inside or outside, blocking, catching, special teams. No matter what it is, I want to do whatever I can to help this team win a Super Bowl.”
Neither DeShone Kizer nor Tim Boyle has been able to string together a few strong practices to seize control of the No. 2 job. At this stage of things, there’s not much reason to believe anything will change.
Boyle’s preseason passer rating of 112.2 is impressive but he simply wasn’t accurate enough to move the offense against the Ravens. Accuracy is the name of the game in Matt LaFleur’s offense; Boyle has completed 57.7 percent of his passes in two games.
Kizer has completed 56.5 percent of his passes in two preseason starts. On fourth-and-4 from the Ravens’ 39 on the opening possession, he threw a high fastball that whistled through Adams’ hands on what should have been an easy completion. On his next possession, he didn’t give St. Brown or tight end Jimmy Graham a chance to use their size on deep passes.
“I didn’t execute as well as I would have liked,” Boyle said. “Once we got the run game going, it opened up some play pass for us. We’ll have some good film to watch and will go in to tomorrow and correct it and move forward.”
Veteran starter Lane Taylor and second-round rookie Elgton Jenkins rotated series as they continued to fight for the job at left guard. You wouldn’t even know it’s a battle based on the practices because Taylor has taken just about every rep with the first unit. On Thursday, Jenkins was called for two holding penalties, a step backward after a strong debut vs. Houston. The first wiped out an 8-yard run by Carson and the second eliminated a 15-yard run by Dexter Williams.
Will Gutekunst keep eight linemen or nine? If it’s only eight, veterans Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick could be fighting for the last spot alongside Jenkins (assuming he doesn’t start) and tackle Alex Light.