The last time the Packers faced Chip Kelly in the preseason, we were given a strong reminder of why exhibition performances have to be taken with a huge grain of salt. The Packers’ ‘plain-vanilla’ defense was ripped to shreds by a Sam Bradford-led, no huddle attack, causing media analysts and fantasy players alike to throw parades for Philadelphia. Fast forward 12 months, and Kelly is now employed 2500 miles away from the City of Brotherly Love.
Now, in what may be his last shot in the NFL, Chip has taken his system to San Francisco with QBs Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick currently splitting reps. Irrespective of the results, the high tempo offense should be a good test for Green Bay’s young defensive players vying for roster spots.
What a difference a year makes. Remember when we were begging Ted Thompson to sign an inside linebacker just several months ago? Well, it appears the draft & develop approach prevails once again. Jake Ryan figured to be the only safe bet to start at one of the ILB spots coming into this season, but Sam Barrington and rookie Blake Martinez have emerged as a solid starting tandem with Ryan recovering from a hamstring injury. A strong performance by the pair in San Francisco could solidify their place atop the depth chart.
An even bigger surprise however has been the improvement of ILBs Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford, who are locked in a tight battle for the #4 job. They’ve been so good, in fact, that it’s fair to wonder how far Ryan would’ve slipped down the depth chart had he not returned to practice this week. What a difference a year makes, indeed.
With Demetri Goodson suspended for 4 games and now struggling in camp, coaches are probably hoping for someone else to step up behind the top four CBs (Shields, Randall, Rollins, & Gunter). Josh Hawkins, who looks like a clone of Sam Shields, made the first move by snagging an impressive interception last week. The battle could be coming down to him, Makinton Dorleant, and/or Robertson Daniel. “J-Hawk” does have the best nickname potential though (disclaimer: I should never be trusted with an NFL roster). They should both have opportunities to make plays against <insert SF QB>, and coaches will be watching them closely on Friday.
It hasn’t all been good in the trenches for Green Bay, however. OLB Jayrone Elliott needs to start turning “potential” into “production” ASAP, as he’s been outperformed by every OLB on the roster (including special teamer Lerentee McCray). Early reports on first rounder Kenny Clark have also been less encouraging, and his status for Friday’s game is in question with a back injury. With Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion locked into the starting lineup, it looks like the third DE spot could be a full rotation between Clark, Dean Lowry, and even Christian Ringo, unless someone separates from the pack.
Barring a last minute change of heart by the coaching staff, Aaron Rodgers will make his 2016 debut for the Packers. Rodgers was asked what he wants to see from himself in this game to show he’s ready for the regular season, and his response was simply “nothing,” according to Bleacher Report’s Ryan Wood. Tough to argue with that. Nonetheless, this is the first time Rodgers will be throwing passes to TE Jared Cook and taking snaps from newly-appointed starting center JC Tretter in a live game, so these will be valuable reps.
With Janis injured and Trevor Davis struggling to make plays outside of special teams, the WR3 battle is down to Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, and…Geronimo Allison. At this stage, it’s fairly clear what skills and shortcomings the first three bring to the table. A more compelling question right now is how much playing time will Allison get?
If he gets snaps with Rodgers, it could be a sign the coaches envision him making the roster and want to build their chemistry for the regular season. If not, it could be an attempt to “conceal” him from other teams in an effort to sneak him through waivers and onto the team’s practice squad.
News of Corey Linsley’s hamstring injury means he is likely headed for the PUP, opening the door for Don Barclay or Josh Walker to make the team along with Lane Taylor. I give Barclay the slight edge, due to his ability to play Center. RB John Crockett had a strong second half vs. Oakland, but Brandon Burks continues to flash as well. The battle for RB3 is still in Crockett’s favor, but could come down to the wire.