Green Bay Packers

Edge and Safety Depth Is Still A Concern For the Packers

Photo Credit: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said he wanted to wait out training camp and the preseason games before possibly adding more veterans. That’s an intelligent roster-building process. The team gave young players a chance to show their value, saw where the depth is good, and had a clear vision of where there are real concerns as the regular season approaches. Ultimately, there were some evident holes on the defense.

Namely, edge and safety.

The Packers have two really good edge starters in Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, but that is a position where rotation is necessary, and teams need at least four players in the regular season. Rookie fifth-round pick Kingsley Enagbare was a bright spot. He showed enough to secure a roster spot and probably to be the primary backup. But there was not much behind them.

The holdovers from last season — Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai, and La’Darius Hamilton — weren’t effective. Kobe Jones had shown some flashes against lesser competition but wasn’t consistent enough to give the front office confidence.

Green Bay will probably enter the season with Gary, Smith, Enagbare, and one or two more of their young edge defenders on the 53-man roster, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Gutekunst were interested in bringing external help. There are still some veterans on the market, like Jason Pierre-Paul, Trey Flowers, or Takk McKinley. Moreover, teams like the San Francisco 49ers have a depth surplus, so the Packers may find another piece on the waiver wire.

Safety isn’t as great of a concern because, in theory, teams can play their two starters every snap. Besides, the Packers appeared to have moved on from their idea of using a high number of three-safety looks, going more frequently with two inside linebackers. That’s why they drafted Quay Walker in the first round.

However, Green Bay is one injury away from being in trouble, and Darnell Savage missed most of camp with a hamstring issue.

It looked like Vernon Scott would be the immediate backup, but he suffered an injury as well. Shawn Davis might be the third safety now, although he’s better suited to play box safety than deep. Former USFL Micah Abernathy played at a good level and might be an option. However, seventh-round rookie Tariq Carpenter was a liability whenever he played defense, reinforcing the idea that he was drafted to play on special teams. Dallin Leavitt also got injured.

During the last week of training camp, defensive coordinator Joe Barry tested cornerback Rasul Douglas at safety with Keisean Nixon as the slot corner to see if that’s a realistic option. While it’s smart to have an emergency lineup, the Packers shouldn’t go into the season so thin at the position.

That’s the bad news, but there were plenty of positive developments in the preseason. Gutekunst used this time to find potential young depth pieces throughout the defense. While edge and safety are real concerns, the other positions should bring comfort to the personnel staff.

The defensive line is stacked. Starters Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, and Jarran Reed were solid in camp. T.J. Slaton, Chris Slayton, and Jack Heflin also proved themselves to be valuable. Even seventh-round rookie Jonathan Ford was disruptive in the preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, although he probably won’t make the team. First-rounder Devonte Wyatt didn’t play well, but he’ll obviously make the 53 for development purposes.

The linebacker group is usually an issue, but the Packers appear to have overhauled it correctly. De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker are the starters in base, plus backups Krys Barnes and Isaiah McDuffie had flashy moments.

The cornerback depth was also a concern behind a stellar starting group with Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, and Rasul Douglas. The quality of play is clearly worse after those three, but Shemar Jean-Charles was very effective during preseason games. Keiseon Nixon and Kiondre Thomas also showed they can eventually play. But it was clear that Rico Gafford, a converted wide receiver, is not ready to play defense yet.

The Packers are a top-heavy team, with star players at several spots. But the regular season is long, and depth is always essential for teams with championship aspirations. While wins and losses don’t count in the preseason, it brought Brian Gutekunst more clarity as to how to build the bottom of the roster. The next time the Packers see the field, the game will count, and there won’t be time for mistakes or misevaluations.

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