NFL Nation: What we've learned July 29

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When you have a kicker who converted an NFL-worst 63.6 percent of his field goals and had a slump during which he missed 12 of 14 attempts -- and for the first time in six years you have two kickers in camp -- every training camp kick will be scrutinized.

Through three days of practice, we’ve seen exactly one live kicking session. But it was enough to add to the intrigue of the Packers’ competition between incumbent Mason Crosby and young challenger Giorgio Tavecchio.

Here’s what we’ve learned about the Packers’ special teams so far:

Crosby vs. Tavecchio: If the first live field goal period was any indication, this could be a hotly contested race. Crosby appeared to pull himself out of his slump late last season by making his final six field goals (including playoffs). During the six-kick session over the weekend, he missed a pair of kicks (from 50 and 53 yards). Tavecchio missed just once, from 53 yards. Both also made 53-yarders. In reality, Crosby is competing against himself. If his percentage doesn’t improve, the Packers may decide to move on, whether Tavecchio or someone else is the answer. Whatever fundamental tweaks special-teams coach Shawn Slocum made to Crosby’s technique at this point have taken a backseat to Crosby’s mental approach. “As you come into camp, you want to find that [mental] picture, that thing where you get into that rhythm when you’re just swinging free and hitting the ball to the line you want,” Crosby said.

Returner rotation: Considering how much receiver Randall Cobb will be involved in the offense following the departure of Greg Jennings in free agency, the Packers would like to find someone else to return kicks. But they’re not willing to do so at the expense of special-teams production. That’s why Cobb, who has three career special-teams touchdowns in two NFL seasons, continues to take reps in the return game. But he’s not always getting the first rep, which can typically be used to figure out who tops the depth chart. During Sunday’s kickoff return period, backup receiver Jeremy Ross got the first rep. Cobb went second. Slocum also used starting cornerback Sam Shields, backup cornerbacks James Nixon and Loyce Means and rookie running back Johnathan Franklin. Ross is the most likely challenger, but he has to prove his costly muffed punt in the playoff loss at San Francisco was a fluke. Franklin is an intriguing candidate. He didn’t return kicks in games at UCLA but said he often did so in practice.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Not surprisingly, for a team that gave up 579 yards of total offense in the 45-31 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers last season, the Green Bay Packers have more questions than answers about their defense three days into training camp.

But here’s what we’ve learned about the defense so far:

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashDatone Jones is expected to give the Packers' pass rush a boost this season.
Jones looks the part: When the pads went on for the first time Sunday morning, first-round draft pick Datone Jones’ game went to another level. The defensive end from UCLA eventually will be a three-down player, but for now, at the very least, he looks like the most likely candidate to pair with B.J. Raji as the two linemen in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ nickel and dime packages. “He’s a guy who can rush the quarterback; I can rush the quarterback,” Jones said of Raji. “So I feel like we can get after it a little bit.” The 6-foot-4, 295-pound Jones, who was the 26th overall pick, showed his speed and quickness in the first one-on-one pass-rushing drill of camp.

Jolly’s first step back: There’s no template for a return to the NFL after missing three full seasons because of a suspension, jail time and drug addiction. And after three practices, including just one in pads, it would be foolish to make any definitive evaluation of Johnny Jolly, the once-troubled defensive end who is attempting a heretofore unimaginable comeback. But Jolly, who last played in the NFL in January 2010, has gotten himself back into shape after ballooning to nearly 400 pounds (he’s listed at 325, and he would only say that both he and the coaches are happy with his weight). He was able to at least exert some force and move around blockers in the early practices. If he can do that -- and a little more -- perhaps there’s a spot for him on a defense that could use help up the middle. “With Johnny, that’s where he always thrived, as an inside player and his ability to get off blocks, his instincts,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He just needs as much [work] as he can, but we also have him on a rep count, too, because we have to be realistic about where he is.”

Cornerback concerns: The Packers still think veteran CB Tramon Williams can return to his 2010 form, when he was one of the key defensive players during the run to Super Bowl XLV, but after two subpar seasons and a $5.9 million base salary in 2013, Williams needs a bounce-back performance. He dropped out halfway through Sunday’s practice because of a knee injury that isn’t believed to be serious, but this position has been hit hard by injuries. Casey Hayward, who led all rookies last season with six interceptions, is expected to miss the first two weeks of camp because of a hamstring injury he sustained while working out on his own. Davon House, who was a strong contender for a starting job last year at this time before he sustained a shoulder injury in the preseason opener, hasn’t practiced yet, either. On the bright side, rookie Micah Hyde, a fifth-round pick from Iowa, has been one of the early surprises of camp, earning praise from McCarthy after the first practice. “If you had asked me who was the one player that jumped out to me today, I’d say it was Micah,” McCarthy said.

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