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Plenty Of Positional Battles To Keep An Eye On

The Packers once again will have plenty of positional battles going on in training camp this summer. Some may be for starting positions, but most are for spots on the depth chart and for berths on the final roster in general. With training camp just a few days away, here’s a rundown of those positional battles to keep an eye on as the preseason unfolds:


Safety:Veteran Atari Bigby was unsigned the entire offseason and missed all the OTAs and mini-camp, leaving rookie third-round draft pick Morgan Burnett to take all the snaps with the No. 1 defense alongside fellow safety and Pro Bowler Nick Collins.

The thought when Burnett was drafted was that he would challenge Bigby for a starting job, and it appears his chances of unseating him may have improved with his solid play in the spring. But Bigby also hasn't been fully healthy for much of the last two years and was reportedly focusing on his health in the offseason so he'd be ready to go in training camp. A veteran who climbed all the way from non-drafted free agent to starter isn't going to concede anything easily.

How the reps will be divided up between these two will be watched closely from the first day of camp. Will Bigby and Burnett split snaps with the first unit? Will Bigby get them all as the incumbent starter until further notice? Will Burnett look just as impressive once the pads come on? This battle may get more attention than any other over the next month.

Left guard:Daryn Colledge has had his job challenged time and again during his first four seasons in Green Bay, and his fifth year will be no different. Except the competition this time will be his best friend on the team, Jason Spitz.

With Josh Sitton entrenched as the starter at right guard and Scott Wells coming off a fine season at center, which he took over last year after Spitz went down with a back injury, either Colledge or Spitz will take the final inside spot. If Colledge holds onto the job, as he has virtually every time he's had to battle for it, then the competition may shift to Spitz and Wells at center.

No matter how it shakes out, the good news is the Packers should have a quality, experienced backup on the inside of the line should a starter get hurt.

Punter:The only definite here is that the Packers will have a new punter in 2010, but if either Tim Masthay or Chris Bryan has an edge heading into training camp, the coaches aren't letting on.

The team's punting has been subpar the last two seasons, but the coaching staff feels both Masthay (who originally came into the league as a non-drafted free agent from Kentucky) and Bryan (an Australian Rules pro) have the leg strength to hang the ball high and the touch to drop punts inside the 20. Consistency, and the ability to boom the big punt when the offense is backed up, are the question marks.

This competition will come down to the performances in preseason games and could last all the way until the end of camp. But whoever wins the job, the Packers are counting on him being an upgrade over the team's last two punters.

Defensive end:With the suspension of Johnny Jolly, suddenly there will be another player at this position making the roster who otherwise might not have. Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett are the starters here, and second-round draft pick Mike Neal also is sure to stick.

But after that, former first-round pick Justin Harrell, 2009 sixth-rounder Jarius Wynn and rookie seventh-rounder C.J. Wilson are the leading candidates for what could be two roster spots instead of just one. With Harrell, health is a question as he returns from his season-long back injury from last year, and the same goes for '09 practice-squad player Ronald Talley, who's coming back from a knee problem that required offseason surgery.

The Packers felt they got good value in the draft the last two years with the picks of Wynn and Wilson, and both should get extensive looks as potential inside rushers in the nickel package.

Fullback/tight end:Back in Head Coach Mike McCarthy's first season of 2006, the Packers made the unusual move of keeping four tight ends on the 53-man roster coming out of training camp. Then last year, they made the equally unusual move of keeping three fullbacks.

But the chances of both happening in the same season are remote at best. That means one of the team's top four tight ends – after starter Jermichael Finley there's Donald Lee, Spencer Havner and rookie fifth-round draft pick Andrew Quarless – or one of the three fullbacks – Korey Hall, John Kuhn and 2009 fifth-round pick Quinn Johnson – won't make it, and it's possible one player from each position will be released depending on roster needs at other spots.

At tight end, Havner became a key offensive contributor when Finley was injured last year, catching four TD passes in his absence (plus another in the playoffs). But Quarless joins the group with athleticism and raw ability that may be only a small notch below Finley's. At fullback, Hall and Kuhn have been steady performers, with Kuhn becoming a consistent goal-line threat (two rushing TDs, four receiving TDs over the last two seasons), while Johnson is a classic thumper of a lead blocker.

Value on special teams, as it often is with final roster decisions, could be the deciding factor here. Lee, the most veteran player of the bunch, already expects to be reprising the special-teams role he held back in '06, while Quarless and Johnson are the youngest players and have the most to prove when it comes to the coverage and return units.

Running back:With Ryan Grant's back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons and Brandon Jackson's skill at blitz pick-up, it's hard to imagine either being bumped from the No. 1 or 2 running back slots. But the No. 3 position is far from a settled issue.

Rookie sixth-round draft choice James Starks will look to come back fully healthy from the shoulder problem that cost him his entire senior season at Buffalo. Kregg Lumpkin will try to make the final 53 as an under-the-radar guy just like he did as a non-drafted rookie two years ago. And this year's non-drafted rookie, Quinn Porter from tiny Stillman College, is getting some opportunities as a return man that could increase his potential to contribute.

To save wear and tear on Grant and Jackson, it's likely these next three backs will get the bulk of the carries in the preseason games and get their chance to shine.

Wide receiver:Just like at running back, no one is going to crack the upper reaches of the depth chart barring an unfortunate injury. Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are this team's top four, and they form one of the most talented top fours in the league.

But the No. 5 spot is there for the taking. Brett Swain, who was coming on as a special teams performer when he got hurt last year, will be returning from reconstructive knee surgery as he looks to reclaim his roster spot. Among the other young receivers in the running, the one with perhaps the best chance to unseat Swain is Patrick Williams, who has been with Green Bay the longest and should know the offense the best.

Williams, who was outside linebacker Brad Jones' college roommate at Colorado, was with the Packers through the spring in 2009 and part of training camp before getting hurt. He was signed to the practice squad at midseason and then spent the final three regular-season games and the playoff contest on the active roster, though he was inactive on every game day.

All the other candidates for the No. 5 job – Charles Dillon, Shawn Gore, Jeff Moturi and Chastin West – joined the Packers this past spring. Dillon is the only one who isn't a rookie, having spent time in training camp with the Indianapolis Colts in 2008 and then playing Arena football in 2009.

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