Green Bay Packers: What We've Learned Through Week 2 of Preseason
The Green Bay Packers have three weeks of training camp and their first preseason game of the year behind them.
The matchup against the New England Patriots on August 13 in particular was eye-opening; some players who had been quiet or unimpressive in camp came on once faced with a game situation. The game also proved how deep certain areas of the Packers' roster are, which is essential for a team looking to play through January.
The Packers will get another chance to explore their roster depth and try out different personnel groupings on Sunday when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
Here, we'll break down five big takeaways from the Packers' second week of preseason action and what ramifications they could have as the first round of cuts on September 1 looms.
Brett Hundley Is Improving Quickly
Opinions of rookie quarterback Brett Hundley were not high prior to the Packers' first preseason game on August 13 against the New England Patriots.
The rookie had been taking No. 4 reps behind journeyman quarterback Matt Blanchard to start training camp, as Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin reported at the time.
"At this point, street free agent Matt Blanchard has outplayed Hundley, and it's not even that close," ESPN.com's Rob Demovksy wrote on August 5, citing Hundley's shoddy footwork that led to a Morgan Burnett pick on the second practice of camp.
Everyone knows rookies need time to find their way, however, and something clicked for Hundley in the Packers' first preseason matchup. Hundley finished his night 4-of-6 for 60 yards and a touchdown. He looked transformed from the player who had entered camp two weeks earlier.
"Hundley stood tall in the pocket and made strong decisions," wrote Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of Hundley's preseason performance. "He threw passes into tighter windows and trusted his reads. The perfect back-shoulder throw to receiver Jimmie Hunt along the sideline? Hard to imagine Hundley could have done that three weeks ago."
This likely means that despite how well he has performed in camp, veteran Blanchard is out. Even keeping three quarterbacks on the final roster would be a lot for the Packers.
But Hundley's progress is encouraging, even if he's behind Scott Tolzien on the depth chart in 2015.
The Secondary Is Deep, Talented
During training camp, it has sometimes seemed as though the Packers' possible combinations at both cornerback and safety have been endless.
At corner, veteran starter Sam Shields has been the constant outside, but the Packers have more talent than they know what to do with to rotate in on the perimeter spot across from him.
Veteran Casey Hayward, who missed practice on Monday with a quad injury per Pete Dougherty of Press-Gazette Media, is the most likely Week 1 starter along with Shields so long as he's healthy.
However, the Packers have also rotated rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in that spot, and both have displayed promise. Per Dougherty, Rollins worked outside with the No. 1 base defense as Hayward sat out, even though he has played inside more frequently this offseason.
Rollins had a fantastic outing against the New England Patriots on August 13. The second-round rookie had four total tackles and two passes defensed and was in position for two near-interceptions on Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Shields, Hayward, Randall and Rollins is an impressive enough group, but the Packers also have to find a roster spot for another offseason star, undrafted rookie LaDarius Gunter.
Gunter had four total tackles, a pass defensed and an interception returned for 28 yards against the Patriots, putting an exclamation mark on a solid offseason showing. Second-year player Demetri Goodson will also compete for a roster spot.
At safety, Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have the starting spots locked down. But the Packers have a jack-of-all-trades in defensive back Micah Hyde, who can man the slot or play at free safety.
Then there's Sean Richardson, a strong safety who can play a linebacker-type role near the line for Green Bay and whom the team had to fight to retain this offseason when they matched the Oakland Raiders' offer for him as a restricted free agent.
Safety Jean Fanor also put together a "nice offseason program," per Wes Hodkiewicz of Press-Gazette Media, with multiple interceptions.
The Packers have more talent than roster spots in their secondary, which is a good problem to have, even though it will make the first round of cuts on September 1 difficult.
Summer Injuries Continue to Plague Packers
Another year, another spate of injuries for the Packers.
Unlike years past, the Packers have not yet placed anyone on season-ending injured reserve due to injuries suffered in training camp. However, the amount of starters who have missed time is still unsettling for a team preparing to make a deep playoff run.
On Monday, five starters missed practice, per Pete Dougherty of Press-Gazette Media: left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), defensive tackle Mike Daniels (ankle), cornerback Casey Hayward (quad), outside linebacker Nick Perry (groin) and defensive lineman Letroy Guion (hamstring).
However, by Wednesday, the news was better: Hayward, Perry and Guion participated, per Bob McGinn and Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Clay Matthews, who has been dealing with an elbow injury, was limited in team reps but participated in individual drills, and Bakhtiari remained out with a knee injury. Per McGinn and Cohen, Bakhtiari is likely to miss the Packers' preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
All the Packers' projected starters may very well be healthy and good to go by Week 1, which will make the summer's rash of injuries forgettable. However, there's no denying that every year, multiple players don't get as many practice reps as they could because of injuries.
The Packers have been trying to address that issue; last summer, head coach Mike McCarthy changed the team's practice schedule ahead of games.
"The Packers had a brief, brisk practice on the day before games," per Ryan Wood of Press-Gazette Media, after a walk-through the day prior (for example, on Friday for Sunday games).
It appeared to work, in the short time it was implemented: Every player participated in practice the week before the NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Packers "Willing to Wait" for Jared Abbrederis
Though wide receiver Jared Abbrederis has yet to return to practice after suffering a concussion on July 30, the Packers don't appear to be giving up on the second-year player just yet, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovksy.
"At this point, it appears Packers coach Mike McCarthy is willing to wait even though it's been nearly two years since Abbrederis last played in a game," Demovsky wrote on Tuesday.
It's unclear when Abbrederis will return to practice, though Demovksy notes that he has been attending meetings, and therefore should have progressed through the NFL's concussion protocol.
However, even though McCarthy may still have faith in the receiver he recently called "a very good football player," per Demovksy, it's hard to see how Abbrederis could make a last-ditch push for a roster spot.
Some writers, including Demovsky, think the Packers will likely keep five, not six, receivers on the final roster. If that's the case, there's essentially one open spot after Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery.
It means, as of right now, Jeff Janis, Myles White, Abbrederis and undrafted rookies Larry Pinkard, Javess Blue and Ed Williams would all be competing for that one spot. Many of those players, even the rookies, have had more opportunities to flash and prove their worth in games or practice than Abbrederis.
DE Datone Jones Is Picking up the Pace
2015 is a crucial season for defensive lineman Datone Jones.
The 2013 first-round pick is under his rookie contract through 2016, but he hasn't quite lived up to his draft selection. In two seasons, Jones has played in 29 games but started just three. He has just five career sacks and two passes defensed.
In 2014, Jones was 39th of 47 3-4 defensive ends in run defense, per Pro Football Focus, but 13th in pass-rushing. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has utilized Jones more as a situational pass-rusher, but if he wants to start opposite Mike Daniels in the base defense, he'll need to prove he's a more complete player.
His suspension for the Week 1 game against the Chicago Bears doesn't help matters, but if anything, it appears to be motivating Jones. "There was no reason to appeal," Jones told ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky on August 3. "I did it to myself."
Jones stepped it up in practice on Wednesday. "Jones was one of the top performers in the half-line drill Wednesday, chipping in two plays that resulted in negative yardage for the offense," observed Bob McGinn and Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Jones had a tackle for a loss after beating undrafted rookie guard Matt Rotheram, and he then beat Fabbians Ebbele to get into the backfield.
Jones likely won't get many opportunities to flash in the Packers' preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, given that he'll be out Week 1. He did get 30 plays against the New England Patriots, per Pro Football Focus, but with first cuts looming on September 1, the Packers need to give as many reps as possible to the linemen on the bubble.