Larry McCarren's Training Camp Report: A Preview
The Packers are counting on rookie Jerel Worthy and B.J. Raji to anchor the defensive line. Image by Mark Hoffman
Super Bowl Championships may not be won during training camp, but that's when foundations are laid and tones are set. With that in mind, here are 10 things to keep an eye on as the Packers start practicing tomorrow.
1. Signs of life on the defensive side of the ball: Last season, that unit finished dead last overall and was an NFL worst-ever against the pass. Not-so-coincidentally, the Packers sack percentage also ranked last. 'Nough said.
2. The play and health of Tramon Williams: A nerve injury in his right shoulder left the cornerback a shadow of his former self in 2011. Nerves heal at their own pace and Williams still was not 100% as the offseason camps wound down. If he can get there, or close to it, the Packers have a pro bowl caliber corner.
3. A return to form by B.J. Raji : I know he made the Pro Bowl last season, but a lot of those votes were earned during the Packers' drive to Super Bowl XLV. He can dominate, and that's what the Packers need from a 340 pound man who's blessed with extraordinary quickness.
4. The progress of 1st round draft choice Nick Perry: He'll be making the transition from a hand on the ground rusher in college to rushing as a linebacker with the Packers. During the offseason camps, he seemed to be handling the change pretty well. If Perry can keep opponents honest when it comes to the blocking attention devoted to Clay Matthews, the Packers pass rush just got better.
5. The safety position opposite Morgan Burnett: You wouldn't think a 15-1 team would have a spot that's wide open for competition but the Packers do. Charlie Peprah, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Anthony Levine et al, have at it. If the Packers play Charles Woodson at safety in their base 3-4, they'll still need another safety when Woodson lines up over the slot receiver, which is most of the time.
6. The progress of the entire 2012 draft class: Besides Perry, there were 5 other additions to the defensive side of the ball. Out of that group, the Packers should get some instant help as well as increased competition across the board. They need both. (See Thing to Watch #1).
7. The play of Sam Shields: The third year corner followed a stellar rookie season with a sophmore slump. That slump started with an extremely ordinary training camp.
8. The inside linebacking spot opposite Desmond Bishop: The Packers had Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore playing inside this offseason, as did 5th round pick Terrell Manning. D.J. Smith and Robert Francois answered when opportunity knocked last season. Is there any heat on A.J. Hawk?
9. Jeff Saturday: The Packers signed the 5-time pro bowler to be the instant replacement for Scott Wells at center, but he is 37 years old. If Saturday has another season or two in him, great, but sometimes guys get old in a hurry.
10. Graham Harrell: He goes from #3 to #2 in the quarterback pecking order and that puts him a snap away from playing the game's most important position. Harrell's arm looked stronger and he threw with more authority during offseason drills. The Packers' comfort level (and our's) with him as their backup will be directly proportional to his play during camp and in particular preseason games.
Larry McCarren played center for the Green Bay Packers from 1973-1984. He was inducted into the Packers hall of fame in 1992. McCarren played 162 consecutive games, the most of any center in Packers history. He earned the nickname ‘Rock’ because he was so tough and durable. Follow Larry McCarren all through taining camp on NBC26.com