GREEN BAY – The Packers threw on the shoulder pads for their fifth training camp practice at Nitschke Field on Monday.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Zach Tom bulked up this offseason.
The Packers' second-year offensive lineman said he put on "like 15-20 pounds" as he attempts to win a starting spot on the offensive line. A fourth-round pick out of Wake Forest, Tom is competing with fourth-year veteran Yosh Nijman for the starting post at right tackle.
"During the offseason I was up to like 315 at some point. I definitely feel bigger out there," Tom said. "I feel like I'm able to get a little more movement in the run game than I was last year. My anchor is better than it was."
Tom impressed during a rookie season in which he made five starts in nine appearances, including two last-second call-ups in Washington (at left tackle) and Buffalo (at left guard). With his start against the Commanders, Tom became the first rookie to start at left tackle for the Packers since David Bakhtiari in 2013.
Still, the goal for the offseason was to add more weight and it appears to be serving the 24-year-old well. Tom held his ground during two reps against rookie first-round pick Lukas Van Ness to begin Monday's one-on-one drills between the offensive line and defensive line/edge rushers.
Last week, Bakhtiari praised Tom for his approach and offseason training regimen. Added with a full year in the playbook, Tom is feeling confident in his skills one week into camp.
"It's a huge difference because now you've had a year of learning the playbook, getting acquainted and everything," Tom said. "That helps you play faster and not think as much. I think last year sometimes I would get caught just thinking and playing slow. This year I'm out there just confident in doing what I'm doing."
Regardless of how right tackle turns out, it's possible the ultra-versatile Tom could be the backup at the other four starting spots on the offensive line. He started at center for Wake Forest before finishing his college career at left tackle.
"We got Zach Tom, Mr. Do-it-all right now," left guard Elgton Jenkins said. "So, it's beneficial to have guys being able to play multiple positions because it's a long season and you just want to get your best five out there every Sunday or whenever you play, so it's beneficial for us going forward."
The chemistry between the Packers' quarterback and second-year receiver keeps growing, evidenced by their 60-yard touchdown during a team period midway through Monday's practice.
Love, identifying man coverage, made a check at the line of scrimmage that led to Watson getting a one-on-one matchup with slot cornerback Innis Gaines. Watson used his speed to gain over-the-top separation and Love put the ball right on him for a would-be TD.
"We got the man look we wanted so we canned away from the other play and we went to the man-beater," Watson said. "I gave him a release off the line and used my speed to run away. It was a perfect ball – right on the outside shoulder, right on the red line. I couldn't have asked for a better ball. It was right in the stride. It was perfect."
One period before that, Love also hit Watson on a quick inside slant off a run-pass option after the 2022 second-round pick knifed inside Jaire Alexander for the pickup. It's one of several competitive clashes Alexander and Watson have enjoyed over the past week.
As two of the fastest players on the entire roster, Alexander and Watson were matched against each other throughout practice, including the one-on-one period. At one point, the young wideout even put some recent pointers from Alexander to good use.
"Just the other day, Christian was talking to me about how to run a certain route and today, in one-on-ones, he used that against me," said Alexander with a smile. "I was happy to see that. It was incomplete, so I was happy to see that, too."
The Green Bay Packers hosted a public training camp practice with special guest Peyton Manning in attendance on Monday, July 31, 2023, at Ray Nitschke Field.
3. Alexander is always looking for ways to improve.
Alexander considers himself the best cornerback in the game but not getting complacent plays a big part of staying at that elite level.
Case in point, Alexander has still been working with Williams on pressing the line of scrimmage more this offseason.
"G-Money, he's been helping me with my alignment," Alexander said. "Because sometimes I have a tendency to play a little farther off than normal. That's just how I play. So he's been trying to tighten my leverage down some and try to play it from there."
Alexander continued his rise last season. He was voted second-team All-Pro after recording 56 tackles, 14 passes defensed and a career-high five interceptions.
Still, it was an uneven year for a Packers' 17th-ranked defense that started slow before a late-season rally. Asked about the early struggles, Alexander said "we were making a bunch of excuses for ourselves" and "we have to execute that call."
However, the two-time Pro Bowler felt good about how the defense finished the year and expects to have one of the top secondaries in the NFL.
"Oh man, once Eric comes back, it's going to be 'Strap City,'" Alexander said. "You might as well go ahead and start marketing that right now. We're just waiting on '21' to get back."
Wyatt and Slaton set the tone for the first one-on-one period between the offensive and defensive linemen on Monday.
The two young defensive linemen are set to play critical roles alongside Kenny Clark after Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed left as free agents. Green Bay hopes their maturation can help the defense improve on its 26th ranking against the run last season.
"(I) love how T.J.'s been. He came in this season and he's been doing some really good stuff," Clark said. "He's locked in, playing with good energy, good effort out there. D-Wyatt, he's been steady and coming along. He's been doing a good job, too."
Green Bay Packers players biked their way to Ray Nitschke Field for training camp practice on Monday, July 31, 2023.
5. Peyton Manning attended Monday's practice.
In town to discuss a potential project with Head Coach Matt LaFleur, Manning was a visitor during the Packers' 1-hour, 44-minute practice.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback talked with both LaFleur and President/CEO Mark Murphy and signed autographs for fans during his walk down Armed Forces Drive.
Alexander – a member of Eli Manning's team during last year's Pro Bowl Games – said he also had a little fun with Manning's son, who accompanied dad to practice.
"It feels good because we beat Peyton Manning and got a little (cash) advance," said Alexander, referring to the bonus Eli's NFC team received for its 66-57 victory. "It's always good to see Peyton."