On a rainy Wednesday morning this past week, the longstanding “Dream Drive” took place as the Green Bay Packers players made their way to practice with a fan and their bike. Fans filled the bleachers of Ray Nitschke Field as the Green Bay Packers training camp kicked off their 2023 season.
There were plenty of things to be excited about among the fans, from having a fresh face at Quarterback for the first time in nearly two decades to the young and upcoming offense and the veteran-led defense; every fan had their own things to be excited about.
Here are my main takeaways from camp this past week. Both are positive signs as well as things to continue to watch when the pads come on Monday morning for practice number five of training camp.
While having one of the youngest offenses in the league, don’t sell these guys short because of age. Right from the get-go on day one, Christian Watson led his Wide Receiver room over by the stands and instantly started to fire up the crowd alongside Rookie Wide Receiver, and a second-round pick, Jayden Reed. After everyone had split off into individual group drills, it was time for the first team time of the season. As the new starting Quarterback Jordan Love, broke the huddle for the first time in front of the public eye, you could feel the excitement in the stands.
Love had a rocky start, to begin with on day one, but on day two he showed up and showed out. A notable play that had the crowd going was a touchdown throw to the back right corner to Jayden Reed in the Redzone drill and a throw that couldn’t have been placed any better to Christian Watson, just out of the reach of fellow teammate Rasul Douglas. Watson described it as the “perfect pass” which is high praise from a guy who started his career in the NFL catching balls from Aaron Rodgers.
Speaking of offensive weapons, as well as Watson and Reed, Romeo Doubs has been really involved in the action through the first week catching some nice passes in traffic from Love as well. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon both looked great behind an offensive line that struggled on day one to open some nice holes, but just as Love did, the offensive line bounced back and has been great besides a few communication mishaps that led to sacks. Overall, the offense had a slower start on day one, but each day is gaining momentum the more snaps that they get together, which is great. With the pads coming on Monday, we will see just how well this offense progresses.
Now that we took a look at the young, potential filled offense, let’s take a look at the veteran-led Packer defense. This week, while there were no pads present so a lot of plays weren’t full-contact hitting. That being said, the defense showed flashes of who they can be when all on the same page.
The defense has won all three public practice days where the offense had to do punishments, but some bigger highlights of those winning days would be how dominant Cornerback Jaire Alexander has been, as well as the coverage from Rasul Douglas.
The defensive line has also been a very nice bright spot this far, with multiple sacks and pressures. The leaders behind a lot of those pressures have been Kenny Clark, Preston Smith, and De’Vondre Campbell, who, with the veteran leadership, are bringing along guys like Quay Walker, Devonte Wyatt, and Lukas Van Ness, who just started being with the first team in Saturday morning’s practice.
Another defensive player who has shown some nice flashes that I noticed was defensive lineman Jonathan Ford. Ford has taken a leap so far in camp, making multiple tackles for loss in these first few practices. Overall, this was a great week for the Packer defense, but we will see what is in store when the pads go on for Monday morning’s practice.
Players to Watch For
This is a list of five players that really caught the eye of the crowd this first week. They’ll be guys you want to keep your eye on as they push to make the 53-man roster or who have already made the 53-man, but are showing very good improvements.
Wide Receiver, Malik Heath (UDFA 2023 Draft, Ole Miss)
At spot number one it was a pretty clear choice as far as I see it. Malik Heath, despite a few drops to start off, has been someone who makes that “one play a day” type of guy that if he can keep consistent with pads on, might just land him a spot on the roster. His best play thus far has been when quarterback Danny Etling floated a ball up into double coverage towards the back left corner of the end zone, and Heath jumped higher than both the corner and safety on that side to highpoint the ball and come down with it for the touchdown. That was just one play, but if he can consistently do that with pads on, this could be a 53-man roster candidate and defiantly is someone who you should be watching for.
Cornerback, Carrington Valentine (7th Round Pick, 2023 Draft, Kentucky)
Valentine, who has a nice frame at six foot even, and 193 pounds, has been showing out when given his opportunities thus far into camp. His best play so far has been on an out route from Clifford thrown to Watson that Valentine read the whole way and got his hand in front of to knock it down. While it seems that Valentine will already make this roster, he will also do for them on special teams, he has shown early on so far that he can make the right reads and react to those reads as well.
Cornerback, Kiondre Thomas (UDFA, 2021 NFL Draft, Kansas State)
With another cornerback on this list in Kiondre Thomas, that room will be fun to watch when the pads come on. Thomas, just like fellow teammate Carrington Valentine, has been all over the field this week knocking down passes such as his best play so far where he covered running back Tyler Goodson on a swing pass that he read and jumped to knock it down. Thomas, who has spent time with the Browns in 2021, the Chargers in 2022, and now Green Bay for the rest of the 2022 season until now, will look to continue his nice start and find a place to stick on this roster.
Defensive Lineman, Jonathan Ford (7th Round Pick, 2022 NFL Draft, Miami (Fla.))
While Ford, who was drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft, was a healthy scratch for all seventeen games last season, he has come back so far in the first week of camp and has shown improvement, especially in the run game. While there are no pads, and this could change when they do put the pads on, Ford has stuffed multiple runs or pushed them to the other side of the defensive line to get cleaned up. If Ford can continue this type of play on the defensive line with pads on, he could find himself on the 53-man roster, but with the defensive line room that has quite a bit of talent in it, Ford will need to be consistent.
Wide Receiver, Bo Melton (7th Round Pick (Seattle), 2022 NFL Draft, Rutgers)
To finish out this list, another standout this week has been wide receiver Bo Melton. Melton’s best day came on day number two of camp, where he and Quarterback Alex McGough were on fire together. They connected for two touchdowns on the day in which Melton had been all over the field making plays. This wide receiver room definitely has some battles that will be going on when the pads come on. Even with the top spots solidified, this room will be one to watch.
Special Teams Report
You couldn’t possibly think that I would forget the Special Teams report. With that being said, XFL-signed punter, Dan Whelan has shown he can boot it this week. He stood out and was the first punter on film getting reps pre-practice on day number two. Pat O’Donnell has also been punting the ball nicely as well, so I could see even a little punter competition going on here soon.
As far as kickers, there is just one. The one would be rookie, sixthth-round draft pick, Anders Carlson out of Auburn. Carlson started camp very nicely through the first three days, going five for six on field goals. Day four would have different plans in mind as Carlson ended up going just one for six on-field goal attempts for the day. His lone make was from fifty yards out, so we will see if he can bounce back this week.
Transactions and Injuries
Now, let’s go over the transactions and injury list that was shared this week. On the transaction side of things, the Packers made two additions and waived two others. The two players signed include Cody Chrest, out of Sam Houston State, and claimed center James Empey originally out of BYU, from the Titans. As for the two waived, it included wide receiver Jeff Cotton and outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin.
Now for the injuries we learned of. Eric Stokes and Rashawn Gary both are recovering from their respective injuries from last season but are both moving forward in a positive direction. Rookie receiver, and seventh-round draft pick, Grant DuBose, has been dealing with a back injury and doesn’t have a return date yet. Fellow teammate and rookie receiver Dontayvion Wicks suffered a concussion and was placed in protocol after Wednesday’s practice, but was seen watching practice on Saturday, which is a great sign.
Overall, the first week of Training Camp was positive. It was great to see players flying around making plays again, and it will only start to ramp up now with the pads coming on here soon. If you enjoyed this article, consider checking out these top guys listed with momentum going into training camp.