Ten Things I'll Be Watching This PreseasonPosted:Jul 17th, 2013 8:31 pm
August football is a beautiful thing. Everyone is full of hope, excitement and anticipation. Not to mention dread; the fear that a franchise guy could go down and flush all that hope down the toilet.
We'll focus on the positive and look at ten things to pay attention during training camp and preseason games. It goes without saying that observing Aaron Rodgers in a baseball cap on the sidelines as much as possible will be a good thing. We can be fairly certain he won't be wearing the cap of another NFL team, like a certain ex-Wisconsinite.
10. Unsigned Wonders: It's an annual rite of late summer. The Packers will keep a couple of unsigned rookies on the 53-man roster, and add a few more to the practice squad. Who will emerge as this year's Sam Shields or Dezman Moses? It's always fun to see guys pop during preseason games, and then hear coaches gush. Here are a few guys we could be hearing more about in the next month: LB Andy Mulumba (E. Michigan), RB Angelo Pease (Kansas State) and DT Gilbert Pena (Mississippi).
9. Mason vs. Giorgio?: Will there be a real placekicker battle this summer, or was the former Cal kicker brought in as nothing more than a threatening goon, hanging around in the shadows, with no real chance to unseat Crosby? As inconsistent as #2 was last season, you have to think Tavecchio will be given a long hard look. The fact that he went to Rodgers' school and that he's wearing Don Majkowski's old number work in his favor.
8. The Back-Up Plan: Like it or loathe it, Ted Thompson's blueprint behind Rodgers is to draft and develop a back up. The team didn't need one for the Favre era and Rodgers has proven to be very durable. But the fact is, if #12 goes down, so goes the Packers' season. Would I prefer to see Matt Hasselbeck at #2 when the team is set up to be a contender? Yes. But I don't run the team. So we'll all hope that either Graham Harrell looks more polished and ready in year three; or that second year guy BJ Coleman emerges as clearly the better guy. Either way, they should both get a ton of screen time, especially in the first and last preseason game.
7. A Johnny Jolly August? Some were surprised that the Packers brought back problem child Johnny Jolly, who's three years removed from playing in the league. His legal problems behind him, he's being given what is likely his last shot to resurrect what was a very promising career. Jolly was emerging as a core member of the defensive line, when he threw it all away. Now he's back and I'm interested to see how he looks early and if he gets some playing time in the first couple of games. The defensive line remains a question mark: hopefully Datone Jones establishes himself and BJ Raji plays hard for a new contract. Ryan Pickett is likely in his final year. There's room for Jones, if he still has it. And if he wants it this time.
6. Who Will Be Right? The Packers rarely go into a season these days with a lot of jobs up in the air. But with the changes on the offensive line, the right tackle job is up for grabs. Expect Marshall Newhouse, the displaced (thankfully) left tackle will get every opportunity to win the spot, but don't rule out rookie David Bakhtiari, who appears to be a quick study and will get a lot of reps in practice. You can't rule out Don Barclay, either. He was impressive when he was brought in to replace the injured Bryan Bulaga last season, more than holding his own most of the time.
5. Starting Safety Still a Sore Spot: Thompson ignored this gaping hole in the defense on draft weekend, passing on first round talent to draft Jones and then filling other holes and adding depth everywhere else. Right now, the battle at safety is between Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings. In a perfect world, one of them will step up and grab the job and never look back. The Pack really needs a stopper back there alongside the newly paid Morgan Burnett. I'm still not convinced the team won't add a veteran who wants to prove something. There are a few proven guys on the market, waiting for someone to get hurt.
4. No Return For Cobb: Randall Cobb has a chance to leap into super stardom this season--sure to get more opportunities in the Packers' offense. As dangerous a weapon as he has become, he's too valuable to keep on special teams. Come playoff time, go for it. Put him back there because, hey, it's the playoffs. But here's hoping the team finds a guy who can return kicks and punts. Logically, that would be Jeremy Ross, who flashed late last season, before fumbling in the red zone in San Francisco in January, an unforgivable sin. I'm all for second chances, though. He'll need to prove he can be a #5 receiver though. With little proven depth behind the big three, he should get a chance. A few other guys will likely get an opportunity. Don't sleep on rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, as a kick returner.
3. The Ones: The Packers will have what amounts to two #1 picks joining the defensive front seven. Datone Jones has Dom Capers drooling; he'll be plugged in as a starter on the defensive line and should cause enough havoc to make Clay Matthews more disruptive than usual. What will also help is a threat of a pass rush on the opposite side. That's where last year's #1 steps in. Nick Perry's rookie season ended in October in Indy, just when he was starting to get comfortable at his new position. If he takes another step forward the Pack could have two quick, tough pieces to a defense that needs to get a lot better if the team wants to play deep into January.
2. A Shift To The Left: The most surprising development of the offseason was the shifting of the Pack's best two offensive linemen from the right side to the left. Bulaga faces the most pressure, protecting the blind side of the best QB in the league. You have to assume the hip injury is behind him and he's up to the challenge. Josh Sitton also slides over to stay next to his buddy. August will be the time for these guys to get comfortable with their new spot. The 49er game comes early again this year and we'd all like to see a different outcome than last season's opener and closer.
1. Run, Rooks. Run: I mentioned earlier that Ted Thompson had ignored safety in the draft. The good news is he paid attention to running back for the first time in forever and watching Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin is what I'm most interested in this summer. A dream scenario: they're exactly as advertised and become a thunder and lightning duo, like Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. Even something short of that should have a dramatic impact on Mike McCarthy's offense. If they stay healthy and look ready, it means the end of the line for two of these guys: Alex Green, James Starks and DuJuan Harris. Third and short no longer means cue up the Kuuuhn chants. Lacy should provide some much needed inside toughness, with breakaway ability. Franklin is a polished all purpose back, a bit time receiver threat who can handle blitzes. Can't. Wait. To watch these guys.