Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Packers' starting lineup appears to be set
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy has not named a starting center, tight end or free safety.
But Green Bay Packers training camp is in its fourth week, and the coach has not made changes at any of those positions where there was a new starter to be found.
For that matter, there has not been a single starting job that has changed hands since practice began on July 26 -- something that has to be a first in McCarthy's nine training camps as head coach.
Rookie TE Richard Rodgers has been a part of the Packers' process in building continuity this preseason.
With half the preseason gone, if a starting lineup change was coming, it probably would have happened in practice this week.
But the same players who have taken the regular starter's reps since camp opened were in their usual spots as the Packers began preparation for the third preseason game, at home against the Oakland Raiders on Friday, when the starters likely will see their most extensive action of the preseason. Some of them will then sit out the preseason finale in preparation for the season opener at the Seattle Seahawks.
That likely means that barring injury between now and Sept. 4, the Packers will open the regular season with JC Tretter as their starting center, rookie Richard Rodgers as their starting tight end and Micah Hyde at free safety. All three have started each of the first two preseason games, and all three were in those same spots on Monday and Tuesday.
"Teams that play together, particularly practice together every day, get better," McCarthy said. "That's always been my experience. The opportunity to grow takes time on the practice field. Obviously, once you start getting into the games, you have the opportunity to grow there. The continuity's been good."
That does not mean there won't be some variety from play to play or series to series. McCarthy has multiple personnel groups on offense just as coordinator Dom Capers does with his defense. For example, the Packers will use more than one tight end. And on defense, first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will play some safety when Hyde moves to the slot cornerback in some sub packages.
"We're still trying to play as many different combinations of players as we move forward," McCarthy said. "You'll see some of those changes as we get ready for Oakland and the way we go about it Friday night against Oakland. We have targets that we're trying to hit based on schemes we’re trying to run [with] different combinations of players. The biggest thing is the same guys are practicing every day together. It's been good that way."
Perhaps that's why when the No. 1 offense took the field for the first time as a complete unit on Saturday at St. Louis, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Co. put together a pair of 12-play drives that resulted in a touchdown and a field goal in their only action of the preseason so far.
"It's really important," Rodgers said of the continuity. "Although there were some questions early on about the center position, I think JC definitely separated himself, and we were really able to operate as a No. 1 offense with really, other than the tight end position, not many of those spots where there's a gray area on who was going to be the guy."
There has not even been much turnover at the bottom of the roster. General manager Ted Thompson claimed receiver Gerrard Sheppard off waivers on July 30 and that's the only other roster move the Packers have made since was last week's trade of defensive end Jerel Worthy to the New England Patriots for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.
"Sometimes you keep adding to the mix, it gets too salty," Thompson said. "Sometimes you have to stop and say, 'OK, let's try to figure this out.' And quite frankly it's just a reflection of where you are, if you've gotten somebody nicked up. When we claimed Sheppard, we had just had a couple of receivers with a bump or two and you don't want to get too light at those running positions, especially early in training camp."