Plenty To Watch As OTAs Continue

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After taking this past week off, the Packers will resume their organized team activities (OTAs) following the holiday weekend, with three more weeks of three workouts per week, followed by the full-squad mini-camp June 21-23 to conclude the offseason program.

Three more OTAs are open to the public and media, weather permitting, beginning on Wednesday, June 2. The other open practices are the following two Wednesdays, June 9 and 16. All workouts are scheduled to begin at 11:15 a.m. at Ray Nitschke Field.

There aren't any battles for starting spots that are going to be won or lost before the pads come on in training camp, which begins July 31, but the OTAs still offer plenty to keep an eye on moving forward. Here's a glance at some things worth watching over the next four weeks:

OFFENSE

With the signing of Graham Harrell and the release of Chris Pizzotti, there's a new battle for the No. 3 quarterback spot now between Harrell and rookie Noah Shepard.

Shepard, from South Dakota, was signed as a non-drafted free agent while Harrell, the record-setting passer from Texas Tech, spent last season with Saskatchewan in the Canadian Football League but was on the injured list the whole time.

With the 80-man roster limit and 10 players (seven draft picks plus three restricted free agents) expected to count against that number by the time training camp begins, it's possible if not likely the Packers will only take three quarterbacks into camp, so both young guys need to make a quick impression.

Last year the Packers kept only two quarterbacks - Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn - on the final 53-man roster, and that could happen again. But if a third quarterback is not on the roster, he'll likely have a spot on the practice squad, so either way there's a job available.

It's also worth watching the two rookie draft picks on the offensive line, first-rounder Bryan Bulaga and fifth-rounder Marshall Newhouse. In the first week of OTAs, they were the only rookies on the No. 2 line, Bulaga at left tackle and Newhouse at right guard. Bulaga is expected to be Chad Clifton's primary backup at left tackle, while Newhouse could factor into the depth chart at a number of spots up front.

With linemen, it's especially important not to jump to any conclusions until they're actually wearing pads and hitting people, but the coaches are watching them closely nonetheless.

"You like to see how they move around, see if they can pick up the system, see if they're in tune with a line call or blocking scheme adjustment or a blitz that happens fast and what they do in the middle of that particular play, or can they pick up a twist," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "So there's a lot you can gather from these practices.

"Is it everything? No. You can't make a total evaluation. That's why I think we have to take caution either way, whether a guy looks awful good at this point in time or whether he's really struggling. You just have to let them have some time, especially young players as they learn how to do things and the way we want them done."

DEFENSE

With veterans in the secondary like Charles Woodson (choice), Al Harris (injury) and Atari Bigby (contract) absent from the first week of OTAs for a number of different reasons, several young players were getting reps with the No. 1 defense, experience that should only accelerate their development and give the coaching staff a decent look at how they fit in.

Second-year cornerback Brandon Underwood was working with the starters, while third-year man Pat Lee was the nickel back. Rookie third-round draft choice Morgan Burnett was playing safety with the top unit alongside Nick Collins.

Odds are they won't have those spots to open training camp, but there's a lot with the depth chart that will need to be sorted out through the preseason games, and now's their chance to get a leg up with the veterans gone.

"This is extremely valuable time for young guys," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "The more repetitions they can get, the more it gives them an opportunity to show what they're capable of doing and improve.

"The way you learn the defense is taking things step by step. There's a reason why we do things the way we do it, and if you do a good job step by step then it doesn't overwhelm you at any point."

{sportsad300}There are also questions regarding the depth at outside linebacker, with three non-drafted rookies and two non-drafted free agents from a year ago all trying to show they belong. Newcomers Frank Zombo from Central Michigan, John Russell from Wake Forest and Tim Knicky from Stephen F. Austin are in the mix along with Cyril Obiozor and Robert Francois, who came from Texas A&M and Boston College, respectively, in 2009.

The top three outside linebackers on the roster are Clay Matthews, Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga, but after that it's a long ways from getting sorted out. One of those aforementioned five has a chance to line up with the No. 2 defense when training camp begins.

SPECIAL TEAMS

With primary return man Will Blackmon still rehabbing his knee injury from last season, other candidates in addition to third-year receiver Jordy Nelson will receive consideration for returning punts and kicks.

Rookie cornerback Sam Shields is an intriguing prospect whose speed is immediately noticeable. Third-year corner Patrick Lee has shown flashes in the return game each of the last two years during the preseason but hasn't been able to stay healthy. And rookie running back Quinn Porter was a successful returner at little-known Stillman College, posting two 90-yard TDs on kickoff returns last season.

At punter, the competition between Tim Masthay and Chris Bryan will continue. Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum wants to significantly reduce the number of punts opponents get an opportunity to return this season, and with both punters already showing an ability to get significant hang time, that's a good start toward reaching that goal.

Pinning opponents deep when there's a chance to do so is another priority, and Slocum noted that in the two "going-in" punting scenarios he's conducted during the rookie orientation and the first week of OTAs, neither punter had a touchback, which also bodes well.

"I don't know if I've ever been through two complete periods and not have a touchback with two punters," Slocum said. "So that's very good. That's an area we have to improve in and we're going to do that."

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