With Donald Driver back, the battle at wide receiver will become that much more intense.
Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are the sure things, meaning it’s Driver and James Jones leading the charge and impressive youngsters Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel topping the list of challengers for the final spots in the Green Bay Packers’ five-man receiving corps.
Unless, of course, they take advantage of the depth to keep six.
“Our roster will be challenged as far as (keeping) six receivers,” coach Mike McCarthy said after Wednesday’s organized team activity. “I think that’s something you really get into in training camp. OTAs are very important. It’s a learning phase, but I really don’t (think) roster spots will be determined here over the next couple weeks. The way we play, you could make a legitimate argument for six receivers with the overall roster. Special teams will play a big part on which positions are heavier than the others. It always does.”
The Packers potentially could trade Jones, especially if a team finds itself short-handed in August. Jones, coming off a drop-plagued 2010, had a fine season last year with 38 catches for 636 yards. His 16.7-yard average and seven touchdowns set career highs, and his yards after the catch per reception (7.7) and catch percentage (70.4) ranked among the league leaders.
However, he had zero or one catch in seven of 16 games.
“When you’ve got a lot of weapons, man, you need an unselfish group,” Jones said. “I think we’ve done that and been unselfish because we all know the ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl. But at times, I ain’t going to lie to you, it does get frustrating – for all of us. And I’m sure it gets frustrating for our quarterback. He’s got five, six good receivers to throw to, a tight end to throw to, so I’m sure it gets tough. But at the end of the day, we win a Super Bowl, everybody will be happy. That’s what we’re here for. I wouldn’t have signed back, Jordy wouldn’t have signed back if that wasn’t the goal. From the outside looking in, yeah, we could have been selfish, but let’s have some fun, let’s go win some games.”
Gurley and Borel, meanwhile, are highly regarded by the team, which gave them hefty pay increases after being offered roster promotions by Minnesota and Tampa Bay, respectively, last season. Because of those decisions last season, they’re fighting an uphill climb to make the roster this season.
“I’ve never shied away from (competition),” Gurley said. I made my bed, I’ve got to lay in it. I’d rather go down swinging than not swing at all.”
Added Borel: “It’s always going to be competition. When I first came in here last year, they told me it was going to be competition, and I wasn’t worried about it. I just focused on me and try my best and learn from them and build myself up as a receiver and just take it from there.”
— Clay Matthews dropped out of practice for precautionary reasons, apparently after feeling his hamstring tighten. Also out: running back Alex Green (knee), cornerback Charles Woodson (reason unknown), safety Charlie Peprah (knee), fullbacks John Kuhn (knee) and Jon Hoese (unknown), linebacker Frank Zombo (unknown), center Sampson Genus (shoulder), defensive lineman Johnny Jones (unknown), guard Jaymes Brooks (hamstring), defensive end Phillip Merling (travel issues), tackle Marshall Newhouse (unknown), defensive lineman Mike Daniels (shoulder), tackle Derek Sherrod (leg) and tight end Andrew Quarless (knee).
“We don’t do injury reports, but he’s here,” McCarthy said of Newhouse. “He’s here working and he worked out in the weight room and went to the meetings.”
Without Newhouse and Sherrod, midseason addition Herb Taylor was the No. 1 left tackle. Without Peprah, M.D. Jennings got the nod alongside Morgan Burnett at safety. Without Matthews, Erik Walden joined Nick Perry at outside linebacker.
— Merling received the veteran’s minimum of $700,000, though for salary cap purposes, he counts only $540,000, a source with access to NFL contract data told Packer Report. Like with deals for Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir, there was no bonus money.
— What does McCarthy watch during these noncontact practices? “I’m paying real close attention to the drill work, just because there’s some things that we haven’t done in the past — little things. Just make sure that the vision and what we talked about as a coaching staff is occurring. You take notes on that. Personnel evaluation is something that’s always ongoing. Try to watch different positions each day. I’m just trying to gather as much information as I possibly can. There’s things that you definitely have a better view of in live action as opposed to watching tape. Practice needs to look a certain way, and that’s really ultimately my goal every time I step on the field.”
— Jarrett Bush, who is starting at cornerback with Woodson not on the field, had a productive day during team drills. He almost had an interception, then batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Later, he threw receiver Greg Jennings to the turf while denying a pass.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.