Is Eight Enough? Eight Things I'll Be Watching this Preseason

Camp is open and the Packers are gearing up for the Hall of Fame game next weekend. As always, the most important outcome is that the players avoid the injury minefields and that the roster emerges as unscathed as possible. It seems like we're always losing a player or two before the season begins.

So as we begin the death march through five interminable preseason games, here's what I'll be paying close attention to as the Pack looks to reclaim its rightful place atop the no particular order. Most interesting to me, the vast majority of my preseason scrutiny falls on the offensive side of the ball, for undoubtedly the first time in a long time:

Jordy's Recovery--The news that Nelson 'tweaked' his other knee and is on the preseason PUP was the first blow of the preseason. But for now, I'll hold off on sounding the alarm. He was unlikely to see much, if any, preseason playing time, but as he recuperates from the ACL, the more time he can practice with #12 the better. He can come off the PUP at any time in the next month and take the field immediately. As long as that happens in the next 3-4 weeks, he should have time to get his timing and conditioning back and be a factor week 1. But we'll all be monitoring Twitter for daily updates, bracing for news that could alter our hopes for the offense in 2016.

Eddie's Commitment: Being in a contract year should be enough to motivate Lacy. So should this play from the playoffs--how do you not score here? By all accounts, he is taking his nutrition seriously for the first time in his life and you have to think he understands he is in danger of losing his job. Don't know how much we'll see of Lacy in the preseason, but I'll have my eye on his girth and will pay attention to what the coaches are saying. A bounce back by Lacy could mitigate the problems in the passing game.

Hundley's Development: One of the biggest storylines when it comes to this year's roster is Hundley's move from #3 to #2--he's now one play away from being the Pack's starting QB. We saw how quickly he emerged from one preseason game to the next and there's no doubt he'll get a ton of reps in these games. I have a feeling he is going to do enough to cause other teams to come calling Ted Thompson after the season. For that reason, I'll also be watching the other QBs in these games. Sounds like McCarthy is high on Joe Callahan. He may earn a spot on the practice squad, with an eye on moving up the chart next season.

Which Rookie(s) Will Shine?--The Packers are hoping top pick Kenny Clark is ready to step right up to the line to provide much needed beef, with the loss of BJ Raji. The next two picks, Spriggs and Fackrell will hopefully play mostly a redshirt year. If the Pack's veteran, top flight offensive line can stay healthy, Spriggs can learn by watching and potentially step in next season if Bakhtiari moves on in free agency. Fackrell can watch Peppers and Matthews (with Perry and Jones rotating in) and know that this group will likely look much different next season. Fourth round pick Blake Martinez will get the opportunity this preseason to get more playing time than any of the rookies. Dom Capers and his staff would like nothing more than to believe that he can be a three down linebacker for this defense.

Speaking of Peppers and Matthews--No one is exactly sure what to make of the Al Jazeera report, whose reporter has since retracted his story. Peyton Manning's been cleared, but the NFL wants to talk to the Packers linebackers. Both players maintain their innocence, which is what you'd expect. But until this story goes away and the NFL moves on from it, it will remain this dull itch in that spot on your back that you can't quite reach.

Wide Receivers, Step Right Up: This is a maddening group with what appears to be a ton of potential, but one that struggled mightily last season. With Nelson out and Cobb unlikely to get many snaps, there will be mad tussle to sort out the depth chart. Will Jeff Janis' post-season emergence continue? Will Davante Adams bounce back from a forgettable sophomore season? Will Jared Abbrederis stay healthy enough to remain on the roster, will Ty Montgomery get past the worst ankle injury in the history of mankind? Will rookie Trevor Davis continue to shine as he has early and make a case for playing time? We've got five games to enjoy what I hope is a spirited competition.

Can the Corners Take a Step?--Last year's rookies showed us flashes of their immense potential. With Casey Hayward's departure, they'll both be counted on to be on the field almost all the time, along with Sam Shields. If Randall and Rollins are as good as they flashed last season, the Packers could have their strongest secondary in years. Both youngsters should get plenty of reps over the next five weeks.

Will Tight End Provide Production?--Richard Rodgers made some big plays, but the production at tight end has been mediocre since Finley's injury. The signing of Jared Cook was encouraging, but his foot injury has tempered that excitement. We'll see how long it takes before he's on the field, learning the offense and getting on the same page with #12. In the meantime, the other Rodgers is reportedly in the best shape of his life, no doubt challenged that the team did a rare dip into free agency to provide him with some competition. Not sure how much we'll see of either guy in games, but I'm curious as to how the depth chart changes as we get closer to Jags week.

There are always other interesting battles: will Minneapolis native John Crockett hang on to the #3 running back spot? Will the Pack bring back John Kuhn? How do the backup linemen look? Two or three of them may be starting for the team at this time next year. How strong will the competition be at inside linebacker? Can Barrington bounce back and Ryan take a big step forward? Which return guys will step forward?

Lots to watch for, but the most important thing will be to dodge any serious injuries. The roster is built to contend for a Super Bowl. With the number of guys set to test the free agency waters next year, this might be the last run for a number of longtime contributors. There is urgency in 2016. So a little luck when it comes to preseason injuries is priority number one as we prepare for a promising 2016 season.


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