Top 10 Things I'll Be Watching This Preseason

It goes without saying that the number one goal throughout the interminably long preseason schedule is to get through it without any major injuries to key players. We've already seen ten guys pop their achilles tendon and other season enders like the injury to lions rookie running back Mike LeShoure.

No one knows how much the veterans will play in these four games, so most of my attention will be on the competition for starting spots, rookies and returning injured players.

1. First look at rookie WR/PR Randall Cobb. He was on my Packer draft wish list and one of the two I guessed correctly on (along with CB Davon House). I love Cobb's versatility on the field and his obvious intelligence and understanding of the game. He will give the offense a new wrinkle and I can't wait to see how McCarthy uses him. With Jennings and Driver expected to see very little action, Cobb will line up as the #3 WR for much of the preseason.

2. New look D-line. Once again, I don't know how much we'll see of these guys, but the move of Ryan Pickett back to his natural position, nose tackle, will give B.J. Raji the chance to blossom into the star we began to see as the 2010 season wore on. Raji will play Jenkins' old spot and that should give him a chance to be more of a playmaker. Double digit sacks is possible for him this season.

3. The return of Ryan Grant. Even if his workload is limited this preseason, it will be nice to see #25 back out there.

4. The other running backs. James Starks gave us a tantalizing taste of his talents in the playoffs and I have a hunch he will emerge as the Pack's top running back as the season goes on. Rookie Alex Green looks great on tape and has a chance to grab the third down role as well as the kick returner spot. Let's see how he handles his first pro games under the bright lights.

5. Morgan Burnett: It's rare that a rookie is handed a starting spot coming out of his first preseason, but the Pack liked what they saw. An early injury ended his rookie season almost before it began and now he's fighting Charlie Peprah to reclaim his starting spot. Anxious to see if he looks 100% healthy--he'll need the full preseason to get comfortable and confident again.

6. The outside linebacker competition: It's a dogfight between Erik Walden, Frank Zombo and Brad Jones and all three should get equal opportunities with the #1 unit to see who shines. The guess here is Walden wins the job--his explosive performance against the Bears in Week 17 is still fresh in my mind.

7. Flynn and Harrell. Since Aaron Rodgers is unlikely to break a sweat, the other two guys will get most of the action. Flynn is playing these games for a possible shot at a starting job somewhere else next season. He's in the last year of his deal and if Rodgers stays healthy all season, this will be the only tape teams have to study him (besides that impressive performance at New England last season). Since Graham Harrell couldn't take advantage of McCarthy's offseason QB program, this will be his big chance to show that the Pack is covered at backup, should Flynn leave. If he's shaky, the Pack may have to go the veteran backup route, if Flynn leaves after 2011.

8. The competition for the LG spot: Rookie first round pick Derek Sherrod has the inside track early, but TJ Lang has been waiting for this chance to find a spot and I expect him to give the rook a run for his money. Whoever wins this job needs to mesh with a solid unit that is expected to do its job and allow Rodgers to work his magic.

9. The return of J-Mike: It took a while for the Pack's offense to find its sea legs after Finley went down in the Redskins game last season. He was poised for a breakout season and a chance to be an elite tight end, mentioned in the same breath as Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Dallas Clark. Now he has his chance, in a contract year. Yes, Rodgers has lots of receiving options, but Finley represents a mismatch against most defenses--that's why he was targeted most often by Rodgers when he was on the field last season.

10. Development of Sam Shields: The emergence of Shields as a nickel back was one of the main reasons the Pack brought home the Lombardi. From undrafted rookie to dependable nickel, Shields made fans forget about Al Harris and negated a potentially thin CB position. With Woodson likely resting most, if not all of the preseason, Shields will get valuable reps at starting corner. If he and rookie House show they're up to the task, it might ease Woodson's eventual transition to safety.


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