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Countdown to camp: WR numbers will force decisions

Posted Jul 16, 2012

The following is the second installment in a series of stories that'll examine the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines wide receiver.

Last year the number was five. Mike McCarthy said this year it could be six. It’s not out of the question that it might end up being seven.

With the depth the Packers possess at the position, how many wide receivers will make the final roster will be the question on many fans’ minds this summer.

There are nearly two dozen practices plus four preseason games to wade through before then, however, so there’s plenty of time for this to sort itself out.

Barring injury, the first five who will make the roster are virtually givens. Pro Bowler Greg Jennings and rising star Jordy Nelson were the Packers’ top two receivers in catches, yards and touchdowns during the offense’s record-setting 2011. Meanwhile, James Jones posted career highs in yards per catch (16.7) and scores (seven) last year, and Randall Cobb is on track to become the unit’s next breakout performer after catching 25 passes for 375 yards as a rookie.

Then there’s Donald Driver, who reworked his contract after his “Dancing With The Stars” triumph to come back for a 14th season. Even though his 2011 numbers (37 catches, 445 yards) were his lowest since 2001, he was the best receiver on the field during an otherwise dismal day for the offense in the playoffs last season.

Given General Manager Ted Thompson’s history of releasing veteran players long before training camp if they aren’t in the team’s plans (Chad Clifton, Donald Lee and William Henderson would be examples from recent years), it stands to reason Driver will remain the veteran leader at the position for now.

The other two top candidates who will make their bids for roster spots are Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley, each of whom spent all of their rookie 2011 seasons on the practice squad. Shaky Smithson returns for his second year after a season on injured reserve, while undrafted rookies Jarrett Boykin (Virginia Tech), Curenski Gilleylen (Nebraska) and former basketball player Dale Moss (South Dakota State) will look to make the same early impressions Borel and Gurley did a year ago.

It wasn’t just the Packers that took note of those two, either. Both Borel and Gurley reportedly turned down active roster spots with other teams last season to remain in Green Bay when the Packers boosted their practice-squad pay.

Borel, a converted Utah State quarterback, added some weight over the past year and is now listed at 199 pounds. He’s a gifted athlete who uses his knowledge from playing quarterback to find openings in the defense, and he did that often during OTAs.

A completely different type of target, Gurley (6-4, 232) is an intriguing jump-ball option whose size presents matchup problems. He showed a knack for blocking punts during training camp last year, too, so his chances of making the team could increase if he resumes that impact role on special teams this summer.

Given how unusual it would be to keep seven receivers on the final roster, much will be made of who’s having the better camp between these two. The Packers could have a tough decision to make, because the interest shown late last year by other teams will make it difficult for either Borel or Gurley to clear waivers and return to the practice squad.

Then again, who’s to say the Packers won’t keep seven receivers? Last year they kept five tight ends, which sounded just as odd at the time.

Thompson and McCarthy don’t adhere to specific numbers at each position, only minimums so as not to leave themselves dangerously thin. Depending on how the other offensive skill positions shake out, there could be some flexibility.

Just don’t start thinking eight.

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