The Packers concluded their offseason program with last week’s three-day minicamp. GM Ted Thompson spent the past few months replacing veterans lost to free agency and fixing the secondary, with an eye on getting back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2010. The new-look roster will reconvene in five weeks for training camp. Here are my top takeaways from the offseason program:
BORN TO RUN – The much-maligned defense still might not be talented enough and the coaches still might not be good enough, but nobody will be able to blame a lack of speed if that side of the ball implodes again in January. Thanks to additions made in the past two offseasons, this is the fastest D the Packers have fielded in years.
If all goes according to plan, the starting dime package will consist of Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Mike Daniels and either Dean Lowry or rookie Montravius Adams up front, rookie Josh Jones at linebacker, and rookie Kevin King, Davon House, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett in the secondary. That’s quite a difference from the past few years when tortoises like Mike Neal, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Nate Palmer, M.D. Jennings and Micah Hyde played prominent roles on passing downs.
NO ORDINARY JOE – One of the many reasons the defense struggled in 2016 was because so few young players stepped up. In fact, you could argue that only Joe Thomas improved his performance from the previous season. Well, if the past few months are any indication, the third-year inside linebacker ain’t done improving.
Thomas looks a little bigger than he did a year ago, and while I still don’t want to see him trying to tackle Seattle’s Eddie Lacy in week 1, I do hope the coaches find a way to get him on the field in the nickel and/or dime. He’s more fluid in coverage than Blake Martinez, who played ahead of him until spraining a knee in week 10. Let’s hope it doesn’t take an injury for the coaches to put the best man on the field this time around.
SEVENTH-ROUND STEAL – Michael opined on draft day that Malachi Dupre would be the team’s best seventh-round pick since center Scott Wells in 2004, and after watching the wide receiver all spring, it’s hard to disagree.
The true test won’t come until the pads go on late next month, but Dupre was far more impressive in shorts than any of the receivers picked on day 3 in recent years. He gets off the line better than Jared Abbrederis and Trevor Davis, he adjusts to the ball better than Charles Johnson, Kevin Dorsey, and Jeff Janis and he gets into and out of his cuts quicker than fellow rookie DeAngelo Yancey. None of this means Dupre is going to be the next Donald Driver, but it does mean he has the potential to be the steal of the draft.
KING FOR A DAY 3 DAYS – With Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the established veterans given the final minicamp off, backup Brett Hundley got a chance to be QB1 for a few days. The results were mixed. The third-year player from UCLA made some outstanding throws, but he also struggled at times with his accuracy.
I can’t say I was overly impressed with Hundley at any point this spring, but I also can’t say I’m overly concerned. He appears to be the kind of quarterback who’ll always look better in games than in practice. That’s because the 24-year-old is athletic, instinctive and a strong leader and those particular traits tend to show up a lot more on Sunday than they do during the week. That’s why I’d be really surprised if Hundley doesn’t play extremely well in the preseason games, regardless of how he looks on Ray Nitschke Field.
BIGGER AND (HOPEFULLY) BETTER – I’m still concerned about the pass rush, but I’m not quite as concerned as I was a few months ago. That’s because many of the young outside linebackers enjoyed good springs.
Nobody stood out more than Kyler Fackrell. Last year’s third-round pick needed to get a lot stronger, and at least by the look of his physique, he did. Whether that translates to the field won’t be known until the pads go on, but it’s certainly a positive sign. Other young outside linebackers who impressed at times were Jayrone Elliott, Reggie Gilbert and Johnathan Calvin. And the player with perhaps the best chance of making an impact as a pass rusher in 2017, rookie Vince Biegel, missed most of the offseason with a foot injury.
ROOKIE STANDS OUT – Whether Kofi Amichia has what it takes to eventually start at this level remains to be seen, but the sixth-round pick sure looks different than the rest of the centers and guards on the 90-man roster.
I don’t know exactly what Amichia weighs, but he resembles a big tight end more than he does an interior O-lineman. He’s going to need at least a year in the weight room before he’s ready to contend with NFL defensive tackles. What also makes the former South Florida star unique – and this one is a positive – is his athleticism. The young man is light on his feet and extremely flexible. Green Bay has employed a lot of very good guards and centers over the past two decades, but I can’t think of many who moved as well as Amechia.
NEW RETURN POLICY NEEDED – Special teams coordinator Ron Zook has incredible energy, but jumping up and down in the spring won’t open up holes in the fall. Incredibly, Green Bay had just one runback for more than 40 yards last season. Zook needs to do a better job with Xs and Os if the starting field position is to improve in 2017. He also needs to find players capable of juking and outrunning tacklers in the open field.
At least a dozen players were used on returns during the offseason, but unless the coaches decide to risk Randall Cobb on punts, it’s hard to get a feel for who might get that job. There are no obvious choices. While second-year receiver Trevor Davis would probably make the most sense, he’s iffy to earn a spot on the final roster. As for kickoffs, running back Jamaal Williams will likely get a long look. The rookie from BYU will be on the 53, but he lacks the top-end speed and acceleration to be a true difference maker in that role.
(Robert, who attended three practices during the offseason, provided the info for this post. He’s done great work for Packers Notes the past few summers and he’s going to be filing reports from training camp once again starting in late July.)