The Packers will try not to play musical chairs along their offensive line this season if they can help it. While there appears to be stiff competition for the center, right guard, and right tackle spots, head coach Mike McCarthy wants to solidify those positions sooner rather than later.
“There is definitely competition going on in the interior of our line, and really all the way through,” said McCarthy Saturday afternoon after the team’s first training camp practice. “We’re trying to find the best five and work all the different combinations that are needed. We’d like to make a decision earlier in training camp than past years, but time will answer those questions.”
On Saturday, Jason Spitz (right guard) and Scott Wells (center) and Spitz (center) and Josh Sitton (right guard) shared snaps as the interior combinations with the No. 1 unit. Allen Barbre started as the No. 1 right tackle and his backup Breno Giacomini held his own in one-on-one blocking drills.
Wells is returning from a tough season of injuries (back/trunk, ankle, shoulder), but looked good Saturday and was happy to be back on the practice field.
“I feel like I’m in the best shape coming into camp that I’ve been in partially due to the increased strength and conditioning that kept me off the on-field activities,” said Wells, who is up to 300 pounds, “but I spent more time re-habbing and strengthening my shoulder and getting into physical, cardiovascular shape.”
Wells is competing with Spitz for the starting center spot in what might be the tightest competition of camp. Wells has 54 career starts under his belt, but Spitz has performed well at center when given the opportunity. Throw in Sitton, a second-year player, and it looks like a three-way battle for two jobs.
Jenkins returns, Chillar fills in
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins returned to the practice field for the first time since suffering a pectoral injury Sept. 28 that ended his 2008 season. Jenkins is expected to fill one of the defensive end spots in the Packers new 3-4 defensive scheme.
“He (Cullen) was in our backfield a bunch on offense,” said McCarthy, “so Cullen doesn’t look like he has missed a beat. It’s good to have him back. He looked good today.”
Jenkins was rolling through the first four games last season (18 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and the Packers missed him dearly thereafter. With first-round pick B.J. Raji still unsigned, Jenkins took more snaps Saturday than he probably would have being that it was his first practice back. Still, he held up well.
“The only problem I can see is mentally, with the pec, is once we start tackling and have to go through that grabbing, that’s how I tore it,” said Jenkins. “But otherwise, none of this stuff is a concern for me.”
McCarthy had mainly praise for his new defense after the first practice. Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene worked intently with Aaron Kampman and Jeremy Thompson (who worked with the first unit), and Brandon Chillar filled in for Nick Barnett at inside linebacker. Barnett is opening camp on the PUP list recovering from an ACL injury last season. He, Raji, and rookie linebacker Brad Jones (also PUP) were the only players to sit out of practice Saturday.
Nitschke Field dedicated
Approximately 2,100 were in attendance, according to Packers.com, for the first practice at Ray Nitschke Field. The Packers dedicated the new practice surface and facility at 1 p.m. CT, just one hour before practice began.
“It’s obviously a great facility,” said McCarthy. “I can’t say enough about the Packer organization, so fan friendly. It’s a little safer off of Oneida Street for everybody, but the players love it. The coaches, we were down here last week getting ready for it, so we’re just excited to get out here on this new surface and get going. It’s a great facility.”
Nitschke Field is located just to the east of the Don Hutson Center. The Packers have traditionally used Clarke Hinkle Field (to the west of the Hutson Center) for training camp.
The Packers now have the same hybrid turf on Nitschke Field as they do on Lambeau Field. The facility includes permanent bleacher seating as well, away from traffic as McCarthy referred to above.
Going between the hashes
- Quarterback Aaron Rodgers thought the defense got the better of the offense on Day One. “That scheme they run is going to be a very good one,” said Rodgers. “Once they hit install three and four and start bringing some crazy stuff, we’re going to have to catch up.”
- Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins took turns fielding punts with a host of others including incumbent Will Blackmon, Tramon Williams, Jordy Nelson, Ruvell Martin, and Brett Swain.
- Among their team sessions, the Packers put an emphasis on ball security on the first day. Gathered together as one group, the running backs and receivers went one-on-two with defenders who tried to strip the ball away. The defense was successful just once, with Michael Montgomery making a recovery.
- Third-year wide receiver James Jones looked back to his rookie form after being slowed by a knee injury last season. He caught two long passes from Rodgers, one during the team period, but also dropped at least one catchable ball.
- The Packers implemented a blitz drill as part of their first practice where the defense lined up with just two down lineman – Johnny Jolly and Jenkins.