The Packers’ offseason program officially kicked off this week with players and coaches reporting for the first days of voluntary OTAs. The Packers will continue through OTAs on May 31-June 1, June 3, June 13-14, and June 16 while Mandatory Minicamp begins on June 7. The next few weeks will be an important process for all 32 teams leading up to the start of training camp. As for the Packers, here are a few players to watch with the summer heating up.
It’s officially the part of the season where every world-class athlete is in the greatest shape of their life. Apparently, that’s the case for Packers’ second-year wide receiver Amari Rodgers. For reference, here’s what Packers’ wide receiver coach Jason Vrable said about Rodgers last week.
“So, if you were to see him right now, he already looks faster and stronger than he ever did,” Vrable said. “He’s in the best shape of his life. His mindset is, ‘I’m going to be the No. 1 guy at all three positions.’ He has that going for him. His route-running is already cleaner and crisper. He’s trained an entire offseason.”
There’s certainly high praise and high expectations going around for the former 85th overall pick of the 2021 draft, and rightfully so. As our very own Jordan Wolf laid out on Wednesday, Rodgers is primed to contribute to the Packers’ offense this season. Which, looking back on his rookie year, should get Packers fans excited.
Last season, Rodgers undoubtedly struggled as a rookie. He recorded just four receptions on the season and was unable to find his place within the offense. On special teams, Rodgers was able to see the field on punt and kick return duties but even there he struggled to make a considerable impact.
Going into minicamp, and eventually training camp, Rodgers seems to have taken a major leap forward. Vrable noted that fellow slot receiver and mentor Randall Cobb also spoke highly of Rodgers mentioning the new energy radiating off of him. His confidence in himself and the playbook should go a long way toward a stronger year-two contribution.
Given the Packers’ current roster at the position, a year-two jump from Rodgers will obviously do wonders for the entire offense. Rodgers is a hot name to keep an eye on over the coming weeks. However, as Vrable mentioned to the media last week, “It’s just the start right now. We’ll see where it’s at when the pads come on and the lights go on.”
“It’s a great opportunity for him,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “He hasn’t probably gotten the number of reps that I don’t think anybody would like. So, it’s just maximizing those opportunities and he’s got a great opportunity to get the majority of the reps out there throughout the course of OTAs.”
Following Rodgers’ most recent contract extension, Love is expected to return to his normal backup role this season. That being said, all eyes are still on Love this offseason and into some preseason action to see what he can bring to the table.
Last year, Love made his regular-season debut in Week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs in place of Rodgers. Love completed 19 of 34 passes for 190 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. It certainly wasn’t the ideal debut for the 23-year-old, but multiple players and coaches have raved about his continued growth and confidence entering this year’s offseason program.
Another wide receiver that Vrable brought up while talking to the media last week was veteran addition, Sammy Watkins. The former Bills first-round pick will be reuniting with Vrable, who served as the team’s offensive quality control coach when Watkins was drafted in 2014.
Given the current shape-up of his contract, Watkins is by no means a guaranteed lock to make the 53-man roster. The front office and coaches will likely have their eyes on him all summer to determine what kind of impact he could have on the team this season. However, there’s a lot to like about Watkins’ game that could fit well with the Packers’ new offensive identity.
“He feels good where his body is at,” Vrable said. “One thing you’ll see with him is he plucks the ball different. He has hands where you’ll hear the pluck and running through the catch, and his play strength. There’s a reason why we drafted him that high and he’s had a lot of successful years in his career.”
The Packers have attempted a similar type of preseason veteran wide receiver addition when the team signed Devin Funchess in 2020. Funchess opted out of the 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns but returned last offseason. However, a hamstring injury in the preseason forced Funchess on the injured reserve before he was ultimately released.
The Packers would obviously hope to avoid that type of situation again with Watkins entering into this season. There is however a lot more optimism and excitement in the Packers building surrounding Watkins heading into mandatory minicamp.
The final player worth keeping an eye on throughout the Packers’ offseason program is going to be second-year running back Kylin Hill. Hill was drafted in the seventh round last year out of Mississippi State but had his rookie season cut short after suffering a torn ACL in Week 8.
Hill was seen rehabbing off to the side at the start of the Packers’ OTA on Tuesday, according to Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Hill’s progress toward returning to action will be worth watching as the summer progresses. Packers running back coach Ben Sirmans spoke highly of Hill and his recovery process while speaking with the media last Thursday.
“He’s been working his tail off,” Sirmans said. “He looks good physically and from what I understand he’s moving in the right direction. He’s done a great job really of doing more with trying to learn the offense. He’s a little hungrier and he understands what’s expected of him.”
Before his season-ending injury, Hill was able to make his mark in the return game on special teams. Now, entering into this season, Hill will also have the opportunity to compete for the number three spot at running back behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Hill being able to return and show that he can still be “an explosive guy” is going to be huge for the Packers this season.——————
Kole Noble is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in North Carolina and is a huge NFL Draft nut. You can follow him on twitter at @SlawSportsShow.