Fullback, O-Line Among Offensive Spots Up For Grabs

In 2009, for the first time in the Mike McCarthy era in Green Bay, there are more than just a couple of starting jobs and other legitimate contributing roles up for grabs. In a two-part series, Packers.com will take a look at several competitions to keep an eye on as training camp unfolds. Today’s part one looks at a handful of offensive spots that could be a long ways from settled.

090720fullbacks215.jpg

Fullbacks, from left to right, Korey Hall, John Kuhn and Quinn Johnson

NFL training camps are always full of competition for roster spots and backup positions. It's the nature of the business.

But in 2009, for the first time in the Mike McCarthy era in Green Bay, there are more than just a couple of starting jobs and other legitimate contributing roles up for grabs. In a two-part series, Packers.com will take a look at several competitions to keep an eye on as training camp unfolds.

Today's part one looks at a handful of offensive spots that could be a long ways from settled.

Fullback

Veterans Korey Hall and John Kuhn combined to give the Packers a valuable option around the goal line last season, as the pair combined for four touchdowns.

But fifth-round draft pick Quinn Johnson of LSU now enters the mix with a reputation as a smashmouth lead blocker, perhaps capable of helping to improve Ryan Grant's 3.9-yard rushing average last year, more than a full yard below his 2007 average of 5.1 and a half-yard behind opposing teams' 4.6 mark in 2008.

Hall and Kuhn have proven their value on special teams as well, so Johnson is no lock to unseat either one. As a rookie, he will surely be tested in pass protection, and he'll need to find a role on special teams as well.

It's possible the Packers could keep three fullbacks on the roster, but if only two make the team, the competition becomes two-fold. Which guys make it, and which one is the starter?

Right tackle

Replacing a valuable veteran like Mark Tauscher will be no easy task, but there are plenty of candidates who are going to take their shot.

Third-year pro Allen Barbre, who was primarily a backup left guard his first two seasons here, worked as the No. 1 right tackle throughout the OTAs and mini-camp, and he very well could open camp with the first unit up front. A left tackle in college at Missouri Southern State, Barbre has said he feels more comfortable at tackle than at guard, and he spent most of his offseason focusing on the change from the left to the right side.

But rookie fourth-round draft pick T.J. Lang, another collegiate left tackle from Eastern Michigan, will be given an opportunity to earn that spot too, as will 2008 fifth-rounder Breno Giacomini, who had offseason ankle surgery. Lang worked at both right tackle and guard on the second unit during the spring, while Giacomini missed virtually all of the on-field offseason work, so it remains to be seen whether he'll be fully cleared for camp and/or how much all the missed time will affect his ability to compete for the job.

Fourth-year pro Tony Moll can't necessarily be counted out, either. Moll worked as the No. 1 left tackle during OTAs while starter Chad Clifton rested, and he has by far the most experience of the candidates, with 18 career starts, including seven at right tackle.

Center

Unlike at right tackle, this competition is pretty simple on paper. It's between Scott Wells and Jason Spitz. Over the last two years, Wells has started 26 of the 32 regular-season games at center, with Spitz starting the other six when Wells has been out with injuries.

Wells had his toughest year health-wise to date in 2008, and he enters training camp having missed most of the offseason work due to shoulder surgery. Meanwhile, Spitz has played the vast majority of his first three seasons at right guard, but going back to the 2006 NFL Draft he was projected by many scouts as a better long-term prospect at center.

Both players are capable and have started plenty of games overall in their careers (Wells 54, Spitz 41), but only one can win the job. And barring injury, the loser of the competition may not have an easy time finding a regular role.

Free agent Duke Preston was signed in the offseason as a versatile backup for the center and guard spots, while Josh Sitton continues to settle in as the starting right guard and Daryn Colledge does the same at left guard. But neither Wells nor Spitz is thinking about where he fits in if he doesn't win the center spot. They're concerned only with winning the job in front of them.

Final wide receiver spot

Provided there are no injuries, the Packers should have the strongest receiving corps in the NFC North with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson as the top four. Ruvell Martin has held the No. 5 job for three years running and is valuable as a blocker in the running game.

So will things remain status quo with the "Big Five," or will there be a sixth receiver on the roster in 2009? Martin, a non-drafted free agent cut twice by San Diego earlier in his career, will be the first to say no one in his position is safe. Statistically his production has declined each of his three seasons here, to career lows of 15 catches, 149 yards and one touchdown in 2008. But at 6-foot-4, he remains a big target and a reliable route-runner who enjoys a good rapport with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

{sportsad300}The player with the best chance to crack this group may be Brett Swain, a seventh-round draft pick in 2008 who spent his rookie season on the practice squad. Swain stood out amongst the rest of the group during the spring, and he may make a push for that No. 5 spot, or even prompt consideration for keeping six receivers. How other position battles play out, at tight end for instance, could influence that decision as well.

Among the other contenders, Jake Allen had that memorable last-second catch in the preseason game against Tennessee last summer, while Wisconsin native Kole Heckendorf flashed some ability in shorts during OTAs. He'll be watched closely with the pads on for the first time as a pro.

No. 2 quarterback

One of the surprises in last year's training camp, seventh-round draft pick Matt Flynn beat out second-rounder Brian Brohm for the backup job behind Rodgers, showing the ability to make plays out of the pocket in his preseason outings.

Brohm's rookie camp was not what he had hoped for, but with a full year and an offseason in McCarthy's quarterback school under his belt, he will try to challenge Flynn for the No. 2 job again.

Both quarterbacks have a better grasp of the offense now, but this year they'll be making the adjustment to working against Green Bay's new 3-4 defense in camp. Probably moreso than last year, their poise will be tested with an array of blitzes and pressure packages in practice.

But just like last year, the bottom line is whoever performs better in the preseason games will be the No. 2, and with Rodgers no longer preparing as a first-year starter, Flynn and Brohm could get even more playing time in August.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Advertising