Enough of these minicamps and OTAs, training camp is here and that means it's finally time to get some answers.
The Green Bay Packers have more than their share of questions that need to be answered before that trip to Seattle the first week of September.
Do they have a starting-caliber center?
The Packers will have a fourth starter at center in four years, a revolving door that must be closed. Problem is, there is no one who has ever snapped a ball in an NFL game. J.C. Tretter, a fourth-round draft pick in 2013, and Corey Linsley, a fifth-rounder this year, likely will battle for the job. The Packers are very high on Tretter, who is big, athletic and intellegent. On the other hand, he's an Ivy Leaguer who played tackle in college and missed his rookie season with an ankle injury. Still, Tretter and Linsley are mid-round draft picks at a position where the Packers usually try to get by with less.
Who will start at tight end?
Jermichael Finley's career -- at least in Green Bay -- appears to be over following neck surgery, which makes tight end the greatest position battle in camp. Holdovers Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostic and Jake Stoneburner and rookies Richard Rodgers and Colt Lyerla all have a shot to play. Quarless is the best two-way tight end, though he's coming off a bad year. Bostic, a converted wide receiver, has a skill set that resembles Finley's but has never done it on the field. Rodgers, a third-round pick, and Lyerla, a gifted athlete who went undrafted because of off-the-field issues, are the most talented players in the group. It'll be interesting to see how quickly they can get up to speed.
Can new faces stem the talent drain at wide receiver?
After losing Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones over the last two years, the Packers went all-in during the draft and took Davante Adams in the second round, Jared Abbrederis in the fifth and Jeff Janis in the seventh. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are fixtures and Jarrett Boykin showed promise, but coach Mike McCarthy's offense needs more than three wide receivers. Holdover Chris Harper could be a surprise, but Adams or Abbrederis will be needed. Adams looks like Jones, only faster, and Abbrederis appears to be NFL-ready. The only question on Abbrederis is durability, so he will be watched closely in camp.
Who will win the No. 2 quarterback job?
For years, no one cared who the backup quarterback was. Then Aaron Rodgers missed all or most of eight games last season and everything changed. Resourceful Matt Flynn was brought back on a one-year contract and the Packers think Scott Tolzien has potential as a long-term backup. McCarthy generally keeps only two quarterbacks, but Tolzien is no longer eligible for the practice squad, so the competition for the backup spot could be a battle for survival.
How will the new defense work?
McCarthy ordered defensive coordinator Dom Capers to simplify his schemes and make better use of his personnel, especially young players. How that manifests itself is anyone's guess, but it appears the biggest changes will be in Capers' traditional 3-4 front. With more versatile players on the edges, the Packers likely will switch between 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, not unlike the New England Patriots.
Does Julius Peppers have any gas left in his tank?
A difference-maker for years in Chicago, Peppers is 34 and in decline. Many NFL people think he can still be dominant, however, especially if his workload is reduced. The Packers will use Peppers as a combination end and outside linebacker, which also could help keep him fresh. No matter how he's used, Peppers has one job in Green Bay and that is to give the Packers a dynamic pass-rushing threat opposite linebacker Clay Matthews. If he's still got it, the attention he draws should make Matthews even more effective.
Can the Packers stop the run without Pickett and Jolly?
Oversized, 30-something run-stuffers Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly weren't re-signed, turning the defensive line into a land of opportunity. The Packers moved B.J. Raji back to nose tackle, his natural position, and will try to reduce the many long runs by opponents with smaller, quicker linemen. Recent draft picks Datone Jones, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Josh Boyd and Khyri Thornton are all in the mix at end and hybrid linebacker/end types such as Peppers and Mike Neal could be factors. Jones, last year's first-rounder, has to get tougher and play stronger if he's ever going to reach his potential. It would sure help if he did that this season.
Is there a safety on the team who can intercept a pass?
The safeties were blanked in 2013, with nary a single interception, and the group's poor play was indicative of the team's problems on defense. Strong safety Morgan Burnett had a forgettable season after signing a long-term contract, but his play could improve if the Packers stop the revolving door at free safety. They used their first-round pick on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to plug that hole, but Micah Hyde, impressive in the nickel cornerback role as a rookie, has been the No. 1 free safety during the off-season. The Packers need either one -- or both -- to make impact plays.
Are the inside linebackers up to the task?
Some think inside linebacker is the new safety in Green Bay. A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones weren't awful last season, but the impact plays were few and far between, especially by Jones. It was no secret general manager Ted Thompson was looking for a dynamic inside linebacker with his first-round pick, but the ones he wanted were gone. Now the Packers are hoping better line play will help Hawk and Jones become bigger factors. After three years in the shadows, athletic Jamari Lattimore might be ready to break out, too.
Who will return punts and kickoffs?
Cobb is no longer in play here; he's simply too valuable on offense to risk injury on special teams. Hyde has his moments as a returner last season but the Packers might want to limit him as well if his role on defense expands. Abbrederis was a solid returner at the University of Wisconsin, especially on punts. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Hyde return kickoffs and Abbrederis punts.
Contact Tom Oates at email@example.com or 608-252-6172.