Plenty Of "Other" Things To Watch In Camp


The elements of this year's Packers training camp that will receive heightened attention already have been well-documented.

There's the running back situation, where Vernand Morency and Brandon Jackson enter as the top two options, both looking to be named the feature guy. There's the kicking job, where incumbent Dave Rayner will be challenged by rookie sixth-round draft pick Mason Crosby. And there's the starting safety spot currently held by Marquand Manuel that Marviel Underwood, returning from a 2006 knee injury, rookie third-round pick Aaron Rouse, and others, have their eye on.

But there will be plenty of other things, call them under-the-radar items, that could be just as intriguing to watch as training camp unfolds. Here are a few of those:

The nickelback battle

In theory, the third cornerback for the nickel package is going to be on the field for less than half of the defensive snaps, but it's a vital position the Packers want someone to grab a strong hold of to provide the right complement to veteran cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson.

"They just have to be smart and make plays in there," Packers director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie said. "With Al and Charles out there, you want to bring in a guy that someone's not going to just pick on. We've got some talent there, we just have to get it done."

That talent includes second-year pro Will Blackmon, free-agent acquisition Frank Walker, and third-year man Patrick Dendy, who took over the nickel job last year when Ahmad Carroll was released a month into the season. Second-year pro Jarrett Bush will be in the mix as well.

Any one of those four could land the job, but the competition is so fierce that the early front-runner could just as quickly lose it to someone else.

The defensive tackle rotation

The Packers are very deep at defensive tackle, which should make for a healthy rotation to keep players fresh and consistently making an impact.

But don't think just because as many as four or five defensive tackles will play in any given game that the starting positions are irrelevant. Ryan Pickett is entrenched at one starting spot, but returnees Corey Williams, Colin Cole and Johnny Jolly are being joined by first-round draft pick Justin Harrell in the fight to start alongside Pickett.

"Whoever starts, it won't bother us but it will bother those guys," McKenzie said. "They want to be named the starter. It's more of a pride thing. But the coaches feel good that they can rotate a whole bunch of guys through and not be scared."

{sportsad300}A sleeper on defense

Last year, relatively unknown players like receiver Ruvell Martin, tight end Tory Humphrey and defensive end Jason Hunter made the opening-day roster as "sleepers."

The improved depth and addition of 11 draft picks will make it much harder for sleepers to make the squad this year, but one worth watching is linebacker Spencer Havner.

Havner, a non-drafted free agent from UCLA, was signed last October to the Packers' practice squad, where he spent the final 13 weeks. He's one of many young players who has shown impressive progress during the offseason, and if he shows he can make an impact on special teams, he just might earn one of the backup linebacker jobs.

"He has great size, he's athletic, and real smart," McKenzie said. "All he has to do is just get out there and show what he can do. He's got all the skills to be a solid player in this league, and hopefully he'll get a shot to show himself on special teams."

McKenzie also feels Havner has some versatility going for him. He feels Havner can play more than one linebacker spot, which should help his chances.

New additions on special teams

As General Manager Ted Thompson pointed out at the shareholders meeting earlier this week, special teams play must improve, and the 2007 draft brought in several players with experience on return and coverage units.

So not only will it be interesting to see who lands the return jobs on punts and kickoffs, but it's worth watching who is the first guy down the field on punt coverage, or who's busting up the wedge on kickoff coverage. Those players will catch the coaches' eyes and could be the impact players on special teams in 2007.

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