What I'll Be Watching For on Thursday & Other StuffPosted:Aug 15th, 2012 3:58 pm
Before we get to storylines for the Packers' second preseason game, the Lambeau opener against the Browns, let's examine some of Ted Thompson's offseason moves as he shapes what will be the initial 53 man roster.
Rather than overpay Scott Wells, he brought in Jeff Saturday. While a bit long in the tooth (he's Donald Driver's age, for goodness sake), he's a multiple Pro Bowl winner and was clearly the best available short-term solution. His signing guarantees there will be no drop-off at a critical position for the league's most potent passing attack.
A couple of weeks ago it was clear that depth on the offensive line was a concern. There was very little proven ability beyond the starting five. So Thompson plucks veteran Reggie Wells, the longtime Cardinal and last year, Panther. A solid, if unspectacular veteran, Wells provides depth at both guard and tackle.
Finally, Thompson saw the alarming injuries that were hitting the backfield. He also noticed how uninspring James Starks played last Thursday night. So he brought in the best available free agent running back, Cedric Benson. At 29, he's reaching the outer-reaches agewise, but he doesn't have a ton of mileage on his body. He was kind of a late bloomer between the ears: after being a knucklehead with the Bears, he seemed to mature during his three years in Cincinnati. He knows this might be his last shot and he knows he has a great opportunity to contribute on a title contending team.
So, three anti-Thompson moves. Gone are the days of being the youngest team in the league. I'm 100% on board with that. I've been harping for the last two years that it's one thing to develop young talent and build a deep roster through the draft. But once you're a title contender, you need to add some veteran depth here and there--to not always rely on every draft pick hitting a home run. Wells and Benson may end up being blips on this season's radar, but I feel good that they're wearing green and gold right now.
As for the Browns game, we'll get another healthy dose of Graham Harrell. In my mind, he needs to show what he showed in the two minute drive last week: composure, leadership and poise. I'm still not sold that he's the best option as a backup (Colt McCoy still interests me). If he looks solid on Thursday night, he might lock up the spot. If he's shaky at home against a lousy team, the Pack might bring in some competition.
The backfield is a mess. As of this writing, only Alex Green and Mark Tyler are healthy. Green will get a lot of action, but the team still wants to be careful with him and not push him too much as he bounces back from knee surgery. Tyler has a golden opportunity to show what he's got and try to erase the memory of his fumble last week.
At wide receiver, Greg Jennings remains sidelined from a concussion two weeks ago. That has to have everybody concerned. With Diondre Borel out with a groin injury, Tori Gurley will get a chance to take the lead on winning the sixth WR spot, assuming Thompson keeps six this year. I'm still not sold on Driver making this roster. He counts $1.8 million against the cap. If he hadn't won DWTS, I think he'd be a goner. Now he's the team's most famous player among the marginal and non-football fan set. It's going to be a really tough call for TT and MM.
The rash of injuries across the board will make this a game featuring a whole lot of guys who won't make the roster. But the team's top three draft picks will all get plenty of action and we all want to see progress from last week. DJ Smith will play his first game as the official starter at inside linebacker replacing Bishop. A great opportunity for him, but a huge challenge for the defense, to step it up without Bishop.
I really want to see improved play from the young safeties. These next two games will be their best chance to get real game experience before we start playing for real. Let's get through this one with no major injuries and then get set for the following game in Cincinnati, where the regulars will play a half and Benson will suit up for the first time for the Pack, against his former team.