Four Biggest Battles of Packers OTAs: Defense, Special Teams (2024)

GREEN BAY, Wis. – With the start of Green Bay Packers OTAs this week, it’s go time for new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley.

The first day of organized team activities is Monday. The big public reveal will come on Tuesday, when reporters get their first look at the schematic changes.

“Play style’s important to me and how fast we play and physical and attacking the ball and all that stuff,” Hafley said recently. “But the only way to do that is they’ve got to know what they’re doing. So, you teach all those things we talked about, then you learn the scheme and then you let them go play.”

Scheme is important but it’s the players who will win or lose games. Here are three battles on defense and one more on special teams worth watching during Packers OTAs.

Cornerback: Eric Stokes vs. Carrington Valentine

This is the biggest position battle on the entire roster. Jaire Alexander will start at one cornerback position. Keisean Nixon will man the slot. Who will be the other corner?

If not for a rough day at the office against Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and a few too many dropped interceptions, Eric Stokes might have been an all-rookie selection in 2021. As a first-round pick, Stokes started 14 games and allowed only a 46.2 percent catch rate with three touchdowns allowed, one interception and 13 passes defensed, according to Sports Info Solutions. The last two years, he started 11 games and allowed a 73.3 percent catch rate with three touchdowns allowed, zero interceptions and zero passes defensed.

Obviously, Stokes is a highly talented player. He’s proven he can play high-level football. After a significant foot injury ended his 2022 season and hamstring injuries limited him to 110 defensive snaps in 2023, can he re-emerge as a quality starter?

Injuries to Alexander and Stokes meant Valentine started 12 games as a seventh-round pick. He allowed just a 51.1 percent catch rate with one touchdown allowed, zero interceptions and 10 passes defensed. He played with predictable rookie inconsistency but showed considerable potential.

Whether it’s Stokes, Valentine or rookie Kalen King, it’s not hyperbole to say the Packers’ season will depend on finding another strong starter.

“We’ve got a lot of talent in that room, got a lot of guys competing,” defensive passing-game coordinator Derrick Ansley said. “This group works like none I’ve been a part of. It’s very consistent work. It’s a healthy competition in the room. Lot of different skill-sets, and it’s been a joy to work with those guys so far.”

Linebacker: Isaiah McDuffie vs. Edgerrin Cooper and Ty’Ron Hopper

There’s one sure-fire thing at linebacker: Quay Walker will be an every-down player.

How about the other two spots in the base 4-3 defense? Presumably, second-round rookie Edgerrin Cooper will grab one of those positions. How about the other? Fourth-year player Isaiah McDuffie, who emerged as a solid performer with Walker and De’Vondre Campbell in and out of the lineup last year, is the obvious front-runner. Can rookie third-round pick Ty’Ron Hopper challenge for that spot?

RELATED STORY: Biggest OTA battles on offense

Of course, the Packers (like every other team) will line up in their base defense about 20 percent of the time. So, who will join Walker as an every-down player? A tandem of Walker and Cooper would cover a lot of ground but they’ve got to prove they can work well together and be on the same page.

Defensive End: Depth

The Packers are rolling the dice that Kingsley Enagbare can play through his ACL injury without surgery. If he can, that would provide a huge lift. Of his 27 pressures last season, 19 came during the final six regular-season games and the two playoff contests.

It’s a huge gamble, though. The Packers neither drafted nor signed an edge defender during the draft. So, that puts all the eggs into the baskets of Enagbare’s knee and the growth of the likes of Brenton Cox and Keshawn Banks. If Enagbare is unable to rehab play through the injury, there is no obvious No. 4 behind Rashan Gary, Preston Smith and Lukas Van Ness.

Don't dismiss the No. 4 at the position. Last year, that was Van Ness; he played 21.5 snaps per game. That is a lot of playing time.

“I really, really love those two guys,” defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich said of Cox and Banks. “I think they’ve matured extremely well in their period of time being here. The depth that we have, really, talks to our personnel department was able to get those guys here. I’m really looking forward to those two guys. JJ [Enagbare], obviously, being here and being around is a huge plus and a bonus for us. Depth is huge. We all know that, especially in this scheme and system.”

Kicker: Anders Carlson vs. Greg Joseph vs. Jack Podlesny

If cornerback is the biggest battle, then kicker is an easy No. 2.

In football, there’s an adage that goes something like, “If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have done.” Is the same true with three kickers?

As a rookie last year, Anders Carlson made 81.8 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 53.9 percent from 40-plus yards, and 87.2 percent of his point-after tries.

Kicking for the Vikings last year, Greg Joseph made 80.0 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 53.9 percent from 40-plus yards, and 94.7 percent of his point-after kicks. In three seasons kicking in Minnesota, meaning most of his action came in the great indoors, Joseph made 82.2 percent of his final goals (65.3 percent from 40-plus yards) and 90.3 percent of his extra points.

The third wheel is Jack Podlesny, who went undrafted in 2023 and was cut during training camp without getting a shot in the preseason.

However it works out, the Packers can’t afford to go with the best-of-the-bunch kicker. They need to enter Week 1 with a reliable kicker.

“It’s all on film. It’s all being graded,” special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia said. “They know they’re in a competition. I think they can feel that amongst themselves every day in practice. It’s been good conversation with myself.”

What did Kitan Oladapo's college position coach, who played for Rich Bisaccia in Tampa Bay, have to say about the rookie #Packers safety?

"He has an appetite for the physical demands of the game. He is all about that." ⬇️https://t.co/7fjfIp8Yws

— Bill Huber (@BillHuberNFL) May 19, 2024

More Green Bay Packers News

Packers OTAs: Battles on offense | Projected depth charts | NFC North roundtable | Record predictions

College coaches: Edgerrin Cooper | Javon Bullard | MarShawn Lloyd | Ty’Ron Hopper | Evan Williams | Jacob Monk | Kitan Oladapo | Michael Pratt | Kalen King (coming)

NFL schedule: Make-or-break moments | Favored in how many? | Bye-week blues? | Predicting every game | Here it is | Game previews | Toughest stretch | Preseason | Schedule for every team

Four Biggest Battles of Packers OTAs: Defense, Special Teams (2024)

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