Traditionally, week 3 of the preseason is where the starters get the most playing time. Historically, most teams have treated it almost as a regular season game for the first three quarters, in an attempt to get their first units on the same page before letting them rest in week 4 to save their energy for the season opener. This has changed quite a bit, however, as teams grow more and more tired of losing players to injuries in meaningless games, as evidenced by the Packers losing Jordy Nelson to an ACL tear in last week’s game against the Steelers. So, while I would normally tell you to prepare for the most entertaining game of the preseason, instead I tell you to go into this game with an open mind.
Aaron Rodgers is not expected to play at all in this game. If he does, it’s likely for no more than the opening drive. He feels that he’s had enough reps with his receivers this camp and is prepared for opening night, leaving no reason to expose him to injuries. Scott Tolzien is also planning to sit this game out as he recovers from a concussion suffered in Pittsburgh. Perhaps he should take a swig of Russell Wilson’s magic recovery water. The quarterback position is still the most interesting one to watch this week, with Brett Hundley and Matt Blanchard getting all the reps. Both players have been pleasant surprises this camp. Hundley gets a huge opportunity to convince the Packers to carry three quarterbacks on the roster (something they like to avoid if at all possible). Meanwhile, Blanchard, who’s likely to be stashed on the practice squad, is trying to catch the attention of another team that might view him as a valuable backup.
A huge part of whether the two young quarterbacks succeed on Saturday night will depend on the performance from the offensive line. This unit has done little to impress this preseason, and the injuries have been piling up. The only regular starters who are likely to suit up for this game are Cory Linsley and Brian Bulaga. This creates great opportunities for guys Don Barclay – who has struggled mightily this camp – Lane Walker and JC Tretter (among others) to step up and solidify their roles with the team for this season.
Defensively, we know who the starters will be. But with defensive linemen Datone Jones and Letroy Guion facing 1 and 3 game suspensions respectively, now is the time for guys like Mike Pennel and Bruce Gaston to solidify their roster spots. Then there are guys like Khyri Thornton and Josh Boyd, who need to prove if they’re worthy of a roster spot at all.
The linebackers have been fun to watch this preseason. They’ve been getting to the quarterback regularly, and have done pretty well against the run. It’ll be tough for Ted Thompson to decide who gets the axe when the roster has to be cut down in a couple weeks. Guys like Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, James Vaughters and Adrian Hubbard have been better than expected. They’ve provided excellent depth, which would come in handy during the season…if they’re able to perform in the real games, that is.
In the secondary, it’s obvious what to watch for: look for the young guys, LaDarius Gunter, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins to knock down passes, jump routes and make plays. This young trio has been impressive in the exhibition games so far. Paired up with vets like Casey Hayward, Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett, they could be a big part of a very talented secondary this year.
Who are you watching the closest this week? Comment below and make sure to head over to the TTSO Forum during the game for some awesome, live game chat and anlysis.