2023 Packers Training Camp Primer: looking beyond the Jordan Love discourse
The Packers' first training camp of the post-Aaron Rodgers era begins this week, but the team must answer questions at positions other than QB.
The big week has finally arrived. The Green Bay Packers will hold their first practice of training camp Wednesday, marking the end of the NFL offseason. This camp will look noticeably different than any in the recent past for the team with Aaron Rodgers no longer on the roster and Jordan Love beginning his run as the full-time starting quarterback.
After a long offseason filled with Love discourse and countless Packers takes, today's edition of The Leap avoids the tiresome topics that NFL media has debated countless times in favor of the meaningful, interesting matters that will define Green Bay's training camp.
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Who do you expect to have the more impressive training camp: Kingsley Enagbare or Lukas Van Ness?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Lukas Van Ness can credibly claim a higher ceiling than any pass rusher on the Packers' roster not named Rashan Gary. However, Kingsley Enagbare probably has more to offer at this point in their respective careers.
Their athletic profiles look quite different, with Van Ness scoring significantly better in almost every category:
Even so, those supposed limitations didn't stop Enagbare from posting the best pass-rush win rate of any qualifying rookie in 2022. For whatever he lacks physically, Enagbare has shown the ability to compensate with technique. He also has a more refined role at this stage whereas Van Ness could spend time working both on the edge and along the interior. With Gary still on the mend, Enagbare could and probably should open training camp working with the No. 1 defense opposite of Preston Smith.
The arrival of Van Ness and the pending return of Gary has garnered most of the attention, and understandably so. But the early returns on Enagbare suggest a much brighter future than that of the typical pass rusher selected in the fifth round, and the Packers can reasonably expect more from him in 2023. If that progression occurs, Enagbare could force his way into the starting lineup regardless of what happens with the others.
Peter Bukowski: Lukas Van Ness was built for camp battles because he’s going to look much more impressive in practice. His best reps are going to absolutely wow the beat writers tweeting (or “X’ing”?) breathlessly about every rep.
That’s not shade by the way. I love camp tweets.
Kinglsey Enagbare wins with power and technique, savvy and guile. If we were being cliché, we’d call him a “gamer,” but Kyler Murray has made sure that term is too inflammatory now. Enagbare’s not the kind of guy who will light up one-on-ones or knife into the backfield constantly to blow up team periods. But when the game starts, he’s so well scouted, so disciplined, so polished, that he can win his matchup with a regularity that belies his draft status as Jason points out.
Still, LVN has the talent and the draft pedigree. He will get every opportunity to win the starting job. But if the question is who will be more impressive in camp and not who do you expect to be the Week 1 starter, then my answer is Van Ness.
Who has more at stake during this camp: Jayden Reed or Tucker Kraft?
JBH: Considering the realities at both wideout and tight end, Tucker Kraft probably has the wider range of outcomes as a rookie and therefore has more at stake during training camp.
While Jayden Reed doesn't have a guaranteed role either, the Packers seem intent on using him extensively as the slot receiver in 11 personnel. Conversely, Kraft will open camp behind Luke Musgrave in the pecking order and could also see Josiah Deguara play ahead of him in two tight-end sets.
For Kraft, carving out a real role on offense this season probably comes down to his blocking. The coaches will find ways to get Musgrave on the field even if he struggles to hold up against NFL defenders, and Deguara's versatility and experience provide a critical edge. But if Kraft demonstrates the ability to move guys in the run game, the Packers won't have a choice but to play him.
If that doesn't happen, Kraft will probably see most of his action on special teams this season. And even in that phase of the game, Reed could hold a larger role given his return ability.
PB: This is fun because I get to go the other way for two questions in a row. It’s Jayden Reed because Reed being a starter in 11 personnel means such a huge difference in playing time. Green Bay likes to use 12 personnel more than some of Matt LaFleur’s counterparts in the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, but it’s still far less than three-receiver sets which will likely be over 50% of snaps.
Luke Musgrave opened spring ball as TE1. Given his impressive start, that feels unlikely to change barring a vertiginous glow-up from Kraft. Kraft doesn’t have the sort of sexy speed game Musgrave can bring, much the same way LVN’s tools will show out in camp more than the nuance of the lesser draft pick.
Kraft will have to play meaningful snaps. But he’s behind someone in line to play something close to 60% of snaps or more, whereas even on the high-end, Kraft can expect something like 25-30%.
It wouldn’t even be that surprising if Reed and Kraft wound up with a similar amount of catches because of a cluster of schemed-up looks where each guy gets 30 passes. But the opportunity for Reed as someone on the field most of the time outstrips what Kraft is reasonably battling for in camp.
Alex McGough: camp body or true challenger?
JBH: Though Alex McGough's late arrival to Green Bay could lead one to believe the team just needed a fourth arm for training camp, the composition of the quarterback room paints a different picture. Of the four signal-callers, only Love has attempted a pass in a non-exhibition NFL game. Sean Clifford's professional career includes little more than rookie minicamp, some work during organized-team activities, and June's mandatory minicamp, and Danny Etling has spent time with five NFL teams over the previous two seasons. More to the point, the backup competition doesn't look like an overwhelming challenge for McGough
And while McGough has no more pelts on the wall than the Packers' other backup QBs, he appears to have taken some meaningful strides since his last stint with an NFL team. The 27-year-old led the Birmingham Stallions to back-to-back USFL championships, taking home the league's MVP award earlier this year. The USFL has put plenty of players on NFL rosters since returning to play, including 2022 Pro Bowl returner Kavontae Turpin. The league has talent, and McGough had the most impressive season of anyone involved.
From a physical standpoint, McGough has plenty to offer. He moves around quite well for the position, consistently making accurate throws while on the run and providing a genuine threat in the ground game. He also puts enough zip on the ball to handle most NFL throws. Though Clifford and Etling have decent athletic profiles, neither has played as well as McGough over the past 24 months.
That doesn't mean McGough has the inside track for a roster spot. The Packers rarely cut drafted rookies like Clifford and Etling has a full year in head coach Matt LaFleur's offensive system. Still, given the landscape, McGough has to feel good about his chances.
PB: True challenger to a practice-squad spot. The move for the Packers remains to bring in a veteran backup just to be a nice guy for Jordan Love to bounce ideas off of during the game. Coaches simply can’t cover everything.
Love doesn’t need anything holding his hand or “showing him how to be a professional.” He’s past that. But someone who can be a reliable ear to listen and provide some immediate feedback would be useful. Sean Clifford might be the right age, but he’s not an actual NFL quarterback yet. It’s a tall ask to suggest that of him.
That leaves Veteran X, Clifford, and Love which puts Alex McGough on the outside looking in. That’s where the practice squad comes in. Based on what we saw in the USFL, McGough boasts more tools and upside than Danny Etling, and that’s the point of having practice squads.
And who knows, maybe there’s something even more there and he can beat out Clifford. Considering the draft consensus on him, the Packers could probably sneak him onto the practice squad. Don’t rule it out, though early returns from camp are (surprisingly?) positive.
How did you spend the final days of the NFL offseason?
JBH: Cracking dumb jokes on the internet.
PB: Talking to a former Packers front-office man and trying to find questions to get stories we hadn’t heard before.
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