Five Things I'll Be Watching in Pack's Preseason Opener

Finally, the fake games are almost here. The NFL preseason is upon us; that annual rite of passage when football fans hold their collective breaths until the games end and we find out who got injured and how long they'll be out.

Of course, there's also the fun of watching a lot of young players take advantage of their opportunity and try to earn a spot on the team's 53 man roster or practice squad. And when the Packers take the field Thursday night at Lambeau against the Titans, there will be a lot of chances for guys buried deep on the depth chart to show their stuff.

That's because the Packers will likely rest key veterans (Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams, Davon House) and will be forced to rest a number of injured players they'd really like to see play: Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson, Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Aaron Jones. Other injured guys, like David Bakhtiari, Randall Cobb, Nick Perry and Bryan Bulaga would likely have been given the night off even if they were healthy.

So what does that leave us with? Here's what I'll be paying close attention to:

1. The backup QB battle begins; It sounds like Brett Hundley will get the start as he begins what will likely be a monthlong battle with DeShone Kizer for the prized backup spot. I expect the Pack to keep only two QBs on the 53, so this should be fun to watch all summer. You have to figure it's Kizer's job to lose, since the new regime just traded for him. But if his presence lights a fire under Hundley and a light bulb goes off, maybe it becomes a real tough decision come cutdown day.

2. The WR competition: If you believe that Adams, Cobb and Allison are assured roster spots, that leaves three or four spots for the group that includes Trevor Davis, DeAngelo Yancey, J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Adonis Jennings and Aaron's boy, Jake Kumerow. If they decide to keep seven, those seven guys are fighting for four spots. Maybe one or two could end up on the practice squad, but this game will provide the opportunity for a couple of guys to separate themselves. With all of the raving about Kumerow, I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do. I'll also be watching Davis closely. He has the advantage of being the incumbent returner, but it would sure be nice to see him take a step in year three and earn the #4 receiver job.

3. Who will step up at outside linebacker? This is probably the Pack's most worrisome roster spot on paper (granted, inside linebacker is thinner, but Matthews can always be asked to play inside on early downs). We all know that the starters will miss some games. Barring a trade for Khalil Mack, um, no I don't see that happening, the Pack will be counting on a batch of unproven guys to step in and get after the quarterback. This is probably Kyler Fackrell's last rodeo. He needs to take a major step in his third year or else he may be out on the street. If Reggie Gilbert can build on his strong play in December, he could be a guy that gets the first look in the regular season. Former Badger Vince Biegel is coming off a lost rookie season and will get a chance to show how far he has come in year two. He should get plenty of opportunities against the Titans. Rookie Kendall Donnerson should get some run late in the game--he seems like a candidate for the practice squad, but you never know.

4. The Pettine Effect: I'm in the camp that believes the biggest addition the Packers made in the offseason was bringing in Mike Pettine to resuscitate the defense. This will be our first look at what Pettine likes to do, though he will obviously be a lot more devious once we get to the regular season. I'm anxious to see how the veterans react to the new scheme, in particular up front where I believe the unit is strongest--at the line. Sounds like the Pack has five guys they love, with Dean Lowry and Montravious Adams getting lots of love this summer. They should get plenty of snaps against the Titans. I'm also anxious to see how Ha Ha Clinton Dix takes to the new defense--feels like a bounce back year for him. The battle to replace Morgan Burnett, between Kentrell Brice and Josh Jones should be fun to watch in these preseason games. Both guys have a chance to be difference makers.

5. The big leg: The Pack invested a fifth rounder in punter JK Scott and the early returns have been strong. Of course, he hasn't kicked in a real game yet, so this will be our first look at the kid under the lights. He played in many of the biggest games in college football over the past few years, but this is obviously a whole new game. If Scott can change field position with one boot from his right leg, it will boost the Pack's coverage ability and the defense.

It feels like the Pack, as usual, has already had more than its share of injuries. Outside of Ryan, they've escaped major ones so far. And Bulaga's quick recovery has been the pleasant surprise of camp. Now, let's see if we can get through Thursday night relatively unscathed as we inch closer to the opener on September 9th.


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