At the start of training camp, I wrote about some rookie stories that I was going to keep an eye on with Packers Training Camp: Five Rookie Stories to Watch. Lets take a look at where these guys stand and which previously unmentioned rookies have opened some eyes.
Admittedly, the five rookies I started with have lacked any real drama so our recaps will be brief.
RB James Starks injured hamstring from the first day of training camp (an apparent lingering injury from OTAs) has prevented him from participating at all in the preseason.
I was very anxious to see what skills he could bring to the Packer backfield but appears at this point he's scheduled to land anywhere from IR, the PUP list or the practice squad and would not expect much contribution in 2010. He's still an intriguing enough prospect for the Packers to figure out someway to keep him around.
TE Andrew Quarless has shown little in preseason but appears to have a good shot at solidifying a roster spot based purely on his upside (making practice squad a bit risky). Possibly at the expense of veteran Donald Lee especially when comparing salaries and upside to other younger TEs Crabtree & Havner while Finley has clearly taken over the starting role.
Our rookie defensive lineman haven't really made a big splash either. Second round pick Mike Neal seems NFL ready with occasional push and stout against the run. While seventh round pick, C.J. Wilson, who was ready to prove the whole world wrong for not drafting him, could also be a practice squad option to be called upon if needed.
The punting competition remains virtually even at the midway point of preseason between Masthay and Bryan. Their reps have been evenly split with results being just about equal.
This competition will go down to the wire with my vote for Chris Bryan due to his unique style as a former Australian rules football kicker being able to backspin a kick inside the 20. Either option certainly appears capable of improving on 2009's punting.
The other rookie was safety Morgan Burnett. With veteran Atari Bigby sidelined for the first part of the season following ankle surgery, it's clear Burnett will be the starter. While he hasn't demonstrated any big play ability yet, he hasn't made any glaring mistakes either which is encouraging.
There are three rookies who are making some noise that wasn't necessarily expected.
Despite being a first round pick, Bryan Bulaga wasn't expected to do much besides backup Chad Clifton at left tackle. However he's shown enough skill to be given reps at left guard and has looked very capable there.
A hip flexor injury has slowed Bulaga this week but otherwise is now pushing to be the starting left guard. I say go for it. Incumbent Daryn Colledge has been steady at best while also providing a fair shair of gaffes in his career. Give Bulaga a shot as it would be difficult to do worse in terms of pass protection than the Packers provided last year.
Undrafted free agents Sam Shields and Frank Zombo are pushing for serious playing time beyond just simply securing roster sports. Most fans expected a raw Sam Shields, CB from Miami, to be a possible spark to the return game.
Turns out he's shown enough as a CB in training camp to garner work as the nickel back going into tomorrow's matchup against Peyton Manning and the Colts. In addition has shown flashes on coverage units demonstrating his ability to get downfield in a hurry.
On the other hand, he has plenty of trouble fielding punts and kicks and has seen a drop in his reps for those duties.
Lastly, another undrafted free agent Frank Zombo, OLB Central Michigan, will also be getting reps with the first unit. The former DE at Central Michigan will now, just months removed from being undrafted and from a smaller school, line up across from four-time MVP Peyton Manning at Lambeau Field on ESPN.
Both Shields and Zombo are getting these opportunities primarily due to resting injured starters. But still it seems the Packers will have plenty of new faces on their roster this year. The question then becomes, what familiar faces will be making their way out of Green Bay with the first roster cuts just about one week away.
Game three of preseason is about as good as it gets this time of year. Keep an eye on these rookies while Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers face off at Lambeau Field tomorrow night. It should make for some good football with the regular season right around the corner.
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