Thursday, May 29, 2014
What to watch as Packers' OTAs begin
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' offseason program has been up and running since April 22 but for the first time, the team can line up for 11-on-11 drills this week with the beginning of organized team activities.
The OTAs started on Wednesday. Fans (weather permitting) and reporters (rain or shine) will get their first chance to see the 2014 Packers today beginning at 11:30 a.m. local time.
Here are some things to keep an eye on:
1. First look at Julius Peppers: The prized free-agent signing has been at Lambeau Field since the start of the offseason program despite the fact that he does not have any financial incentive to be there. He does not have a workout bonus in his contract this year. Coach Mike McCarthy has said he plans to use Peppers in a hybrid role that could include defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker. During meetings and in individual drills, Peppers will work with the linebacker group. It also will be the first chance to hear from Peppers, who has not been available for comment since he signed his three-year, $26 million deal on March 15.
2. The tight end position: Without Jermichael Finley, who remains unsigned and not medically cleared, the Packers might not have a dynamic playmaking tight end. Or perhaps Andrew Quarless (who was re-signed in free agent), third-round pick Richard Rodgers or undrafted free agent/former tryout player Colt Lyerla can fill that role. Lyerla might be the most intriguing prospect. Ultra-talented but troubled, he went undrafted and unsigned until the Packers gave him a tryout during their rookie camp. Not only will be it be the first chance to see Lyerla in full-squad workouts but also the first chance to hear him speak about his past and future. He was not available to reporters during his two-day tryout earlier this month.
3. Clay Matthews' thumb, other injured players: The twice-broken right thumb is not expected to be a long-term concern, but Matthews might not be on the field for OTAs. He said last month that he will be ready for training camp but that he "can't imagine I'll be too heavily involved with some of the [OTA] stuff." The OTAs will provide an gauge for how other players coming off injuries have progressed. Most notable among them are right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) plus running backs DuJuan Harris (knee) and Johnathan Franklin (neck).
4. Safety situation: The Packers drafted safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round to be their immediate starter at free safety. Anything less would be a disappointment. Unless, of course, second-year pro Micah Hyde looks like a natural at that spot. That would not be a shock given how well Hyde played the nickel position last year as a rookie. Or maybe Hyde could push incumbent strong safety Morgan Burnett, who is coming off a disappointing season. McCarthy has said repeatedly during the offseason that he wants Hyde on the field more this year.
5. Second-year jump: Last year, defensive tackle Mike Daniels made the kind of second-year improvement McCarthy so often talks about after players have been in the NFL for a season. This year, he expects a similar (if not greater) improvement from members of the 2013 draft class. Chief among them is defensive end Datone Jones, the former first-round pick who often struggled as a rookie. McCarthy wants Jones more involved in the defense but in order to do that, he will have to produce, and that starts in the offseason.