Skip to main content

5 things learned at Packers training camp – Aug. 9

Notes on the nickel/star position, the guard competition and more

CB Chandon Sullivan
CB Chandon Sullivan

GREEN BAY – The Packers held a non-padded practice inside the Don Hutson Center on Monday that was closed to the public but open to the media.

Here are five things we learned:

1. The nickel or "star" position in Joe Barry's defense is mostly Chandon Sullivan's domain, but others will be on call.

The fourth-year pro from Georgia State has taken the vast majority of the slot corner snaps with the No. 1 defense, and he's felt at home there.

"It allows me to show my versatility," Sullivan said. "I can play zone, I can play man, blitz a little bit. I'm just excited to see what this season holds."

Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said other players will work in on occasion, with No. 1 corner Jaire Alexander taking some reps and safety Darnell Savage "begging" to give it a try. Rookie fifth-round pick Shemar Jean-Charles has taken a lot of snaps there with the second unit as well.

For matchup reasons, the Packers want to have some flexibility with who mans the spot, so even though Sullivan has been the primary option, things will continue to shuffle around here and there.

"Being able to put multiple guys in there just opens up the possibilities for you schematically," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Specifically with the nickel position, shoot, it's over 70% now typically in the National Football League that you're going to be in some version of nickel defense. So that's a starting position. That's a big-time role for us."

It's also not an easy one, and not at all like playing a typical outside corner spot.

"It's way different, for the simple fact it's a lot more space," Sullivan said. "Guys have a two-way go. Typically teams put their quickest, fastest player in the slot to try to take advantage of that space. So it's about knowing where your help is at, knowing angles and just being confident in your play."

2. To say Ben Braden's perseverance is admirable doesn't quite capture it.

Since entering the league undrafted out of Michigan in 2018, the "massive" (to use LaFleur's word) 6-6, 329-pound guard has spent time on the active rosters and practice squads of both the New York Jets and Packers, plus a stint in training camp with the New England Patriots last year.

Through all that he's barely played in the regular season, getting some special-teams and kneel-down snaps once in a while over the past three years. But now in Green Bay – where he spent about half the '19 season on the practice squad, was released, and came back last October – he finds himself competing for a starting job at guard.

Braden continues to rotate with Lucas Patrick and Jon Runyan on the No. 1 offensive line, three guys for two guard spots while Elgton Jenkins fills in for David Bakhtiari at left tackle.

He says he's simply grateful for another opportunity, especially the feedback he got this offseason from offensive line coach Adam Stenavich after the coaching staff was impressed with the work he did on the scout team in practice last year.

"He said, 'We're looking for you to be pushing and really competing at any spot, so be ready anywhere, both sides of the ball," Braden said. "I've never had a coach text me or even call me in the offseason to say that, so I was super-thankful that he reached out to me.

"I think that really lit a fire in me even more to find out how I can really push the envelope as far as my level of play."

With little of his own game film to review, Braden said he watches the film of the veterans and asks them questions. He's done so much flipping sides, from right guard to left guard and back, that switching is second nature to him now.

Where he feels he's progressed the most is in sharpening his technique, because when he's with the first unit and going against the Packers' starters on the defensive line, he's learned he can't get away with small lapses on the little things.

"It's never a perfect game, even though that's what you strive for," he said. "Now it's just smoothing out those fine details."

3. The Packers' offense doesn't stay down for long.

Whatever rhythm was lacking on a rainy Family Night for the No. 1 offense was quickly rediscovered indoors.

In one 11-on-11 sequence Monday, QB Aaron Rodgers completed five straight passes to five different receivers – a stop route to Randall Cobb, up the seam to Allen Lazard, an outside swing pass to Davante Adams, a slant to tight end Isaac Nauta, and a deep dig or comeback to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who reached high to make a nice snag.

The play of the day, though, might've been turned in by rookie running back Kylin Hill, who caught a short pass from Rodgers at the goal line and held on for the touchdown despite some heavy contact in traffic from corner Josh Jackson that knocked Hill's helmet off.

The Green Bay Packers held training-camp practice on Monday, August 9, 2021, inside the Don Hutson Center.

4. The tight end position continues to get healthier.

On the same day Dominique Dafney was activated from the physically unable to perform list and practiced for the first time in camp, Josiah Deguara took 11-on-11 reps for the first time since coming off PUP late last week.

Deguara was a starter in Week 1 at Minneapolis as a rookie last season but was lost for the year to a knee injury in Week 4. Dominique Dafney was on the active roster late in the year and caught at TD pass in Week 17 at Chicago.

5. The first preseason game Saturday night will focus on young players.

LaFleur said "select vets" will not play at all in the preseason opener vs. Houston, which means a lot of starters will be sitting it out. QB Jordan Love will play a large portion of the game in his first NFL action against another team.