With the Green Bay Packers’ first preseason game against the New England Patriots just hours away, fans are about to get their first good look at the 2015 squad. Even though we are only a few weeks into training camp, there are already a few intriguing battles at key positions. While those battles begin in camp, they have a way of spilling over into preseason games, and often being determined by them. There’s something about playing in a packed stadium against an unfamiliar team that just can’t be simulated with 11-on-11 scrimmage drills in practice.
Below are 5 camp battles that may be decided by preseason performance. Thursday night’s matchup against the Patriots will provide our first extended look at these players, and while this game is unlikely to determine these battles already, it will certainly set their tone for the rest of camp.
Brett Hundley vs. Matt Blanchard (QB)
The Packers’ surprise pick in the 5th round, Hundley is an athletically gifted but raw and inexperienced talent. Blanchard, on the other hand, is an undrafted player who has some experience in the league, having spent the past two years on the Chicago Bears’ and Carolina Panthers’ practice squads. While their respective draft pedigrees definitely give Hundley the upper-hand at earning the #3 QB spot for the Packers, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy will not simply hand it over to him. If Blanchard can prove himself to be a consistent and reliable QB, and if Hundley is clearly far from being NFL ready, the Packers could certainly decide that the risk of putting Hundley on the practice squad and perhaps losing him to a team hungry for young QB talent is worth it. While it’s more likely that the Packers would attempt to stash the already practice-squad-able Blanchard if they are happy with him, neither player has really distinguished themselves in camp. Both have flashed NFL throws and also some ugly interceptions and bad decisions. It will be interesting to see how both will perform in a game that is likely to offer a lot of reps.
Myles White vs. Jeff Janis (WR)
For a 7th round pick who has only appeared in three regular season NFL games, Janis has become something of a Paul Bunyan figure in some Packer circles. His blend of size (6’3″), athleticism, and speed have been the cause of much excitement since he was drafted by the team in the 7th round last year. While his ceiling is undoubtedly high, he has yet to produce consistently. Packers fans will also remember the name Myles White, who played in seven games for the Packers in 2013 as an undrafted rookie and spent 2014 on the Packers’ practice squad. Clearly there’s something that the organization likes about him, and it is White, not Janis, who has been distinguishing himself in camp against the backdrop of a handful of undrafted rookie wide outs. With fans salivating over Janis, White is making his own claim for the last WR spot on the roster.
Kennard Backman vs. Mitchell Henry (TE)
Backman is a 6th round pick out of UAB, and Ted Thompson rarely lets rookies go in their first year, so Backman has that going for him. Other than that, Backman has not shown much in camp. He’s been mostly quiet, standing out mostly due to missed blocks or dropped passes. Meanwhile undrafted rookie Mitchell Henry has been making catches, even with a club on his hand due to an injured finger. I’m not an NFL scout, but it seems that the guy who can catch with a club is looking better than the one who is having trouble with both of his hands. However, while pass-catching ability will certainly be a part of the decision on who to keep and cut, it may be special teams ability who earns one of these two a roster spot for this year. And in that category Henry has a definite edge as well, already finding himself working with the #1 team on kick returns as a blocker. Henry is outplaying Backman at nearly every level so far, but can he really earn a spot over a Thompson draft pick?
Nate Palmer vs. Carl Bradford vs. Joe Thomas (ILB)
Apparently Mitchell Henry isn’t the only player on the Packers capable of catching a pass with a club on his hand as Nate Palmer came down with a deflected Matt Blanchard pass a few days ago in camp. With Clay Matthews on the sidelines with a sore knee, Palmer, Bradford, and Thomas have been getting a lot of reps at ILB. Alongside Matthews, 2014 starter Sam Barrington and 2015 4th round pick Jake Ryan are close to locks. That leaves perhaps just two spots for Palmer, Bradford, and Thomas. Bradford may still be going through a learning curve from his position switch from OLB to ILB as an undrafted rookie last offseason, but he may have the steepest climb among these three with Palmer making plays and Joe Thomas earning first team reps early in training camp.
Ladarius Gunter vs. Demetri Goodson (CB)
Goodson surprised many by making the roster last season as a 6th round pick who was mostly quiet in training camp and the preseason, but with more young talent at the position this year (including the Packers’ first two picks in the 2015 draft), Goodson may be facing longer odds to make the roster a second time. Still, he’s probably the top candidate to squeeze in as the last CB on the roster. His top competition, however, is likely Ladarius Gunter, a tall (6’2″), athletic, undrafted rookie out of the University of Miami. Other than WR Ty Montgomery, Gunter has been the talk of camp so far, batting down balls and putting himself in the position to make interceptions. One key for Gunter will be to improve his play down the field, however, as he has gotten beat deep with some consistency. Goodson also fell out of practice on Tuesday with a calf injury, and it is conceivable that he could miss the game altogether, which would certainly put Gunter in a nice position to gain more reps and endear himself even further to the coaching staff.
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.