For veteran (read: good) teams like Pittsburgh, Philly, New England, or Dallas, the preseason is a chance to get the two-deep roster in order and maybe find a diamond in the rough who can return a punt or play the nickel.
For a young (read: bad) team like Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, or the New York Jets, the preseason is an exciting time to see who can emerge as a playmaker. Fans want to see their rookies play well, a new scheme, or something to get excited about after a dismal year.
The Packers are somewhere in between. They were a young team last year, but they were young in 2007 as well and won 13 games. There are plenty of positions where there can be no argument who the starters will be. In fact, it could be easily argued this team has far more answers than questions heading into the preseason.
To determine what we can look for this preseason from Green Bay, let’s first take a few things off the board.
First, and most importantly, don’t under any circumstances get too excited over anyone you see do anything for any reason whatsoever.
Sorry to be a buzz kill, but the bottom line is the preseason just doesn’t mean very much. Teams go undefeated in the preseason and win four games in the regular season, while teams win one game and end up with 12 or 13 victories in the regular season.
Every year a couple players go through the preseason like gangbusters and wind up middling on the second or third team during the regular season because they were playing in the third and fourth quarters of games when most of the players on the field are lucky to have a jersey in a day or two. So don’t get too jazzed.
Starters won’t play big minutes, little injuries will mean rest a regular season game wouldn’t warrant, and the systems are normally so vanilla that it is difficult to really gauge anyone’s performance accurately.
Except in one case. Much like the NBA Summer League, doing well is not necessarily a harbinger of success, but struggling in the preseason can be a sign that things aren’t going to go well.
There are certainly exceptions to these rules, but by and large, players who can make an impact right away aren’t going to struggle all preseason. A player might have a bad game, or a bad series, but if they struggle the entirety of the preseason, you can probably cancel that ticket to Hawaii in February.
As far as the Packers are concerned, it is difficult to know who will play what role.
Cheeseheads are stoked to see the new 3-4 defense, and rightfully so. However, expect it to be basic in most cases, with only occasional wrinkles. What fans can be excited about are the players they’ll see.
Cullen Jenkins has been a man on a mission since returning from injury. No one in practice can block him, and that includes first-team offensive lineman. He is a great fit with the 3-4 defense, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him quickly become one of the best 3-4 ends in the game.
Sticking with the defense, it will be interesting to see what happens at outside linebacker. We know Aaron Kampman wasn’t psyched about making the transition to playing the 3-4, but his pass-rushing skills are not in doubt. We will see how his pass drops are, his coverage acumen, and his overall comfort with the defense.
On the other side, the battle for the starting spot continues. Jeremy Thompson has been outstanding, showing great agility and fluidity for someone his size. A hamstring injury has slowed Clay Matthews, but if he is healthy, that battle should be something to keep an eye on.
You really can’t have too many pass rushers.
On offense, there will be plenty to watch as well.
Jermichael Finley has been a standout in camp and if he can replicate his practice success in games, he will give Aaron Rodgers a deadly weapon both down the seam and inside the red zone (where the Pack was awful last year).
The offensive line must develop some continuity. We know Chad Clifton will play left tackle, Daryn College is likely the man at left guard, and Jason Spitz will play… somewhere. Scott Wells has been working with both the first and second teams, as have Allen Barbe, Josh Sitton, and Breno Giacomini. The first depth chart of the year has Clifton, College, Wells, Spitz, and Barbe as the first team, but that could certainly change over the course of the next four games. Expect to see them all get some first-team run.
As far as skill position players, the running back battle is one to watch. Ryan Grant obviously will start, with Brandon Jackson right behind. After that it looks like Wynn, Lumpkin, and Sutton will battle it out, although I doubt Sutton really has a legitimate chance of making the team. That means it will be down to Wynn and Lumpkin, and Wynn has really looked slimmer and more focused this offseason.
Finally, and I can’t emphasize this enough, Jake Allen is going to look great. He’s been great all offseason, in minicamp, in training camp, everywhere. He’s 6’4”, can run, and would be a great red zone guy. There are just too many receivers in front of him for him to bust through.
Allen is an ideal practice squad player and is great insurance in case one of the top five guys go down. Unless he shows he can be an asset on special teams, I can’t see the Packers carrying six receivers on the roster, not with the need now for extra linebackers, and the depth and offensive line.
Enjoy it Packer fans. This team is talented and focused. With no distractions (read: no Brett Favre), camp has been crisp and physical, even a little chippy at times. We should find out if the players have any idea how to play the new defense, and maybe catch a glimpse or two of an offensive wrinkle the Packers are working on.
Like I said, don’t get too excited and don’t get too down. The games mean something, but they don’t count. Pick a favorite player on the third team, and root for him every game. When you have that first roster that seems like it has 300 names on it, learn your favorite names and see if they make the team (Mine is Cyril Obiozor, too bad John Madden isn’t around to pronounce that one).
And as always, Go Pack Go.