The Green Bay Packers are set to open training camp later this month. This is the next in a series of articles previewing the Packers position by position, analyzing the talent on the roster and discussing key questions that are facing the Packers as they begin preparation for the 2023 season. Today we examine the edge rushers. For our look at the quarterbacks, click here, click here for the defensive line, here for running backs, here for inside linebackers and here for tight ends. We will examine another position each day until the start of training camp.
Packers Edge Rushers
Rashan Gary was on his way to his best season in 2022 before a knee injury ended his season in Week 9. Gary has improved each year since the Packers selected him in the first round in 2019. He was playing at a Pro Bowl level at the time of his injury.
There is no doubt Gary will be the team’s top edge rusher when he returns from injury. The big question is whether he’ll be ready to start the season on time as he continues his rehab.
The former Michigan star is playing on his fifth-year option this season and the Packers should be looking to sign him to an extension. Gary’s eventual return should improve the Packers pass rush although it may take him some time to return to his pre-injury form.
Preston Smith enters his fifth season with the Packers and is going to start on one side of the edge. Smith recorded 8.5 sacks last season and provided the team with a solid pass rush. He enjoyed the best even-numbered season of his career in 2022.
The former Mississippi State star is one of the few players on the roster who is 30 or older. The Pack needs him to get off to a strong start especially if Gary is not ready to start the season on time.
Battling for Backup Spots and a Place on the Roster
Kingsley Enagbare stepped into a starting role last year when Gary got hurt. He had a strong pass rush win rate and showed flashes of potential in his first NFL season.
The South Carolina alum recorded three sacks, eight quarterback hits and five tackles for loss.
Enagbare remains the favorite to start if Gary is not available to start the season. He showed a good work ethic and attitude as a rookie and hopes to make a second-year jump to become a consistent contributor to the edge rush rotation in 2023.
Lukas Van Ness
Lukas Van Ness has rare size and athleticism and hopes to live up to his billing as the team’s first round draft pick this season.
The key question for Van Ness will be how quickly he will adjust to life in the NFL and develop better technique and more pass rush moves.
Van Ness has a lot of potential, but we still don’t know how big a role he will play in his rookie campaign.
Jonathan Garvin enters his fourth training camp with the Packers and will be in a fight for a roster spot. Through his first three seasons, Garvin recorded 1.5 sacks. He has yet to establish himself as a consistent pass rusher in the NFL.
In 2022, Garvin played 23 percent of the team’s defensive snaps but made his biggest contributions on special teams. His prowess on special teams will be the key to him earning a roster spot unless he takes a significant step forward at rushing the passer and making plays on defense.
The Packers signed Justin Hollins for the final six games of last season after Gary was lost for the season. He provided the Packers with some pass rush push down the stretch, recording 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and three tackles for loss.
Hollins gives the Packers experienced depth at the edge position. The fight for roster spots is crowded so Hollins will likely need a good camp to ensure he makes the team. He also has experience playing on special teams which could help his chances.
La’Darius Hamilton spent 2022 on the Packers practice squad but was elevated to the active roster for three games. He played 24 snaps on defense and 26 on special teams in those games.
The North Texas alum faces an uphill battle to make the roster given the number of players fighting for a roster spot. He showed flashes of pass rush ability in 2021 but needs to show more in training camp and in preseason to earn a roster spot. A strong showing on special teams would also help is cause.
The most intriguing undrafted free agent on the Packers training camp roster may be Brenton Cox. Cox has good pass rushing talent but off the field issues got him kicked off the team at both Georgia and Florida.
If Cox can stay out of trouble off the field, he has the potential to give the Packers defense some more depth off the edge and some juice in the pass rush but that may be a big “if” based on his history.
The Packers signed Keshawn Banks as an undrafted free agent in May. The San Diego State alum recorded 13 sacks and 43 hurries in college.
He will need a strong training camp to stick with the team at this crowded position. Performing well on special teams will be vital if he hopes to make the roster.
Kenneth Odumegwu joined the Packers as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. The native of Nigeria will be eligible for a place on practice squad with a special exemption after training camp is over.
Odumegwu may see some action in the preseason but is primarily here to learn and develop his skill set. It is highly doubtful he sees a snap in a regular-season game.
Three Key Questions
Packers Edge Question Number 1: How soon will Rashan Gary be ready to play?
Gary is the team’s most dangerous pass rusher and getting him back will be a big boost to the defense. Of course, the worst thing the Packers could do is rush him back and see him injure his knee again.
The coaching staff may keep Gary on a play count early in his return which will give more chances to other players.
Hopefully, Gary can be back to his old self by the second half of the season.
Question Number 2: What can Lukas Van Ness provide in his rookie year?
Expectations are always high for a first-round pick, but the Packers are likely to bring Van Ness along slowly much like they did with Gary in 2019.
Van Ness has outstanding athleticism, but he also has a lot to learn to play in the NFL. How quickly he learns will determine how much he contributes this season.
The Iowa alum showed a good attitude but how long will it take him to play a major role in the defense?
Packers edge Question 3: Will Kingsley Enagbare make a second-year jump?
Too many experts are overlooking Enagbare this year. He showed potential in his first year in the league and is hoping for a bigger role in year two.
If Gary starts the season on the PUP list, Enagbare could have a major opportunity to prove what he can do in this defense.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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