The Packers hardly looked like recent world champions as they fell 35-10 to one of the league’s least talented clubs in their second preseason game of 2012. It is, of course, the preseason, with ample opportunities to tune up for the games that matter. Two positions that can help keep the team in its winning ways are running back and cornerback. The question is figuring out which players will start in those spots.
Ted Thompson stunned the football world with the signing of Cedric Benson after James Starks injured his toe in the preseason opener. Benson’s addition comes as a surprise for two reasons. First, five-year Packer Ryan Grant remains unsigned and second, the Green Bay backfield without Benson boasts respectable, young talent.
James Starks’ injury not only opened the doors for Benson but also for second-year back Alex Green and, to a lesser extent, Brandon Saine. Green has been treated as the starter both in practice and games but has yet to turn heads the way some had hoped. Saine has barely been tested this preseason with his third down back role being more or less set in stone.
Will Benson get a shot as the Packers’ every down back or will he accept a role similar to Ahman Green’s in 2009? His guarantee-free contract indicates that he must first make the roster. Benson has a history of fumbling the football and, while his burst inside the tackles would be welcomed on offense, it will be difficult for the Packers to keep four running backs.
The final two games of the preseason will explain a lot in who gets the bulk of the carries against San Francisco in three weeks. With such an offensive emphasis on passing, it is in the Packers’ best interest to keep only three running backs on the active roster. Could Green Bay keep Benson in favor of a promising young option like Starks or Saine?
More questions remain on the other side of the ball. Nick Collins’ career-ending neck injury last season has caused quite the shuffle in the Green Bay secondary, starting with Charles Woodson’s move to safety. Woodson’s move has the coaching staff eyeing several young options to fill the void at cornerback across from veteran Tramon Williams.
Third year speedster Sam Shields has followed up his disappointing 2011 season with further poor play in training camp. Shields has battled injuries during camp and has let younger names like Davon House and Casey Hayward pass him up on the depth chart. While I don’t expect Shields to be cut, the value he offers to the Packers’ secondary seems to be shrinking each day.
Perhaps the most concerning thought in fans’ minds is that of defensively inept Jarrett Bush getting the nod at starter. Bush is a proven disaster in coverage and has stuck around solely for his special teams play. With Davon House nursing a shoulder injury from the preseason opener, the coaching staff has given real thought to Bush as a starter.
Fans and coaches alike know that the raw Hayward lining up as a starter in Week 1 is a far reach. Still, Hayward’s NFL-ready skill set will likely push the Packers to use him in nickel and dime packages early in the season. For now, the starting job at cornerback looks to be House’s to lose if he can recover in time for the regular season opener.