Rookies off to promising start to Packers training camp
Romeo Doubs stole the show during the first week of Packers training camp, but Jordan Love has quietly shown progress since last season.
The first week of training camp didn't disappoint. Already, the Green Bay Packers have generated considerable hype around one of their rookie receivers. Meanwhile, other rookies and inexperienced players have stepped into bigger roles while a few of the team's injured stars continue their rehab. We cover those developments and more in today's newsletter.
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Rookie receiver Romeo Doubs has been an early standout in training camp. How would he fit with some of the veterans we believe already have defined roles in the offense?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: As I wrote this past Friday, Romeo Doubs' fast start at training camp matters considering the state of the Packers' receiving corps and the need to begin earning Aaron Rodgers' attention and trust as early as possible. Turning multiple "50-50" balls into situations the four-time MVP quarterback can reasonably expect his receiver to win more often than not has the power to forge a valuable connection despite Doubs' inexperience.
But context still matters, and Doubs won't have his first NFL practice in pads until Tuesday at the earliest. One of his signature moments featured the rookie "Mossing" second-year pro Eric Stokes, a long cornerback who predicates his game on physicality as much as his speed. As camp moves into the next phase of contact, Doubs won't so easily beat Stokes for jump balls. The same should apply to Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas, Green Bay's other top corners. Doubs might still have big moments during practice and the preseason, but they almost certainly won't come as easily or as frequently.
All of which should inform any projection for Doubs. His vertical speed made him dangerous in college and should translate to the NFL, and the ability to battle through contact creates opportunities for back-shoulder throws and red-zone targets. But Doubs still has to prove effective on his releases and create separation off his breaks, skills he could develop but didn't need while playing for Nevada. Those could take time to cultivate, possibly years.
So at least until Doubs demonstrates those abilities, the Packers shouldn't anticipate the rookie, say, pushing Allen Lazard for work as the X or taking significant snaps away from Randall Cobb in the slot. Doubs can still carve out a niche as the Z, the role in which the receiver often runs deeper routes to manipulate the geometry of the defense or get behind the secondary. Given that Sammy Watkins hasn't proven he can stay on the field for a full season, Doubs will probably have to fill that void at times anyway.
Still, the fact that Doubs has forced his way into such discussions underscores how impressive his play has looked. The Packers have to feel mightily encouraged by his performance thus far.
Peter Bukowski: He’s exactly what the offense needs next to Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb. He’s a boundary receiver who can play in the slot who can win vertically with speed and underneath with route running. Doubs can open up space for Cobb and Lazard to work the middle of the field by keeping safeties honest, while also being able to win his own matchups with his explosiveness and body control.
His early flashes as a ball winner underscore his ability to play on the outside, which allows the Packers to slide Lazard into the slot where he got more than 50% of his targets last year.
It’s not a coincidence the two top receivers Green Bay drafted showed deep threat ability in college. Doubs, along with Christian Watson, can not only do some of the things Marquez Valdes-Scantling did the last four years as a field stretched, but also work underneath. The pieces fit.
Speaking of rookies, fourth-round offensive lineman Zach Tom has been getting first-string reps at left tackle with David Bakhtiari out. Meanwhile, the Packers are looking at Royce Newman at tackle as well as guard. What about the offensive line shuffling is standing out to you so far?
JBH: The moving parts actually stand out less than those that have remained static through the first week of training camp. While most expected Josh Myers to continue as the No. 1 center after a promising (though injury-shortened) rookie campaign, many assumed Jon Runyan Jr. would have to compete to stay in the starting lineup. A lot can change over the course of August, but the early returns suggest Runyan has a substantial grip on the left-guard spot. That development follows an impressive 2021 campaign that saw him develop from the "temporary" starting guard to the most reliable interior offensive linemen down the stretch.
As for those aforementioned moving parts, it seems the Packers' coaching staff believes more strongly in Royce Newman than many outside the organization did following a highly inconsistent 2021. Newman hasn't held down one spot as Runyan has, but Newman also hasn't left the No. 1 offense despite the team's significant investments during the 2022 NFL Draft, Sean Rhyan and Zach Tom. Tom seems poised to garner a serious look as the swing tackle -- at least while both David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins remain sidelined -- while Rhyan has spent most of his time running with the backups. That can and probably will change over the coming weeks, but Newman holds the inside track over both for playing time at the moment.
PB: Tom getting early reps as a tackle is the eyeball emoji. Cross-training Newman makes sense considering he lost his job last year to Lucas Patrick in the playoffs. He might not be a starting guard and could have to offer value as a swing tackle. Sean Rhyan sticks at guard where he has a chance to win the right guard spot as a rookie.
But Tom getting first-team reps at left tackle tells us Green Bay thinks he has a real chance to play some tackle in the NFL. Where does that leave his future? Until he proves he can actually do it, we don’t know, but this opportunity is, in itself, noteworthy.
There’s also some foreshadowing in it. If David Bakhtiari can get healthy for Week 1, the team still needs a right tackle. Yosh Nijman is the third-best tackle on the team, so while he was likely the best option to pick up for David Bakhtiari, if Bakh is going to play, he has to play on the right side, where he didn’t play at all last season.
In other words, Nijman is likely to be the starting right tackle until Elgton Jenkins can get back to health. If Tom proves he’s an NFL tackle though, this whole “best five” concept could suddenly get even more interesting.
What we're hearing/seeing
JBH: With Doubs taking the spotlight as the darling of training camp's first week, Jordan Love's play has gone largely overlooked. Love, after all, threw some of those passes that Doubs turned into highlights, including a deep bomb for a touchdown early in Saturday's practice. Whereas past camps have revealed the quarterback's flaws, this one has showcased a more consistent, confident passer, at least to this point.
Love's future in Green Bay has never seemed cloudier, especially in the wake of Rodgers' latest contract extension. But the 2020 first-round pick has arguably more at stake now than at any point in his young NFL career. Even if Rodgers sees more action during the preseason, Love will play far more snaps, including reps with most of the starting offense. If Love's promising start to camp flows into the exhibition games, the Packers could find themselves with a useful trade chip on their hands. General manager Brian Gutekunst doesn't seem in a rush to deal Love, but the still 23-year-old signal-caller could quickly develop a market if he balls out later this month.
PB: If the 2022 Packers draft put Amari Rodgers on notice, he answered the challenge by getting into what Matt LaFleur deemed as better shape. As a rookie, Rodgers looked slower and less explosive than he did at Clemson and appeared to be carrying more weight.
My assumption, based partially on his own admission he believed some teams would want him to play running back, was Rodgers bulked up last offseason to give teams a chance to scout him as a back instead of a receiver. No doubt he had Deebo Samuel on his mind. But the added bulk didn’t suit him and while it didn’t inhibit his ability to successfully field punts presumably, it did limit his effectiveness as an after-the-catch weapon which was one of his central selling points as a prospect.
LaFleur signaled Rodgers is in better shape now—though Rodgers might argue it’s not “better,” just different—and making some plays early in camp. For now, he’s still the favorite to be the long-term slot option on this team, but Lazard’s presence as a big slot and the development of Doubs and Watson could end that experiment prematurely if there’s not a real Year 2 jump.
PB: It’s “Dahbs” like Dobby the elf, not “Dubs” or “Dah-ohbs.” Romeo Doubs addressed the correct pronunciation of his name to reporters in the spring, but throughout his college career, just about everyone publicly pronounced it like something Jameis Winston wanted to eat.
Even the local beat in Nevada wasn’t entirely sure how to pronounce it, and Doubs was too shy to correct anyone, including his own sports information office. So, Fox Sports and CBS announcers went along pronouncing his name incorrectly. In last Friday’s Locked on Packers, I spoke with Kirsten Moran who covered Doubs and was one of the closest to him among the local media and even she had been saying it wrong without him speaking up.
In fact, in his press conference with Packers media, the rookie specifically added the caveat that although it’s pronounced with the long “o” sound, it was fine with him if people made it a “u.”
It’s “Dahbs.” The end.