The wait is over the Pack is back. Tonight, the Eagles come to Lambeau and Packer Nation gets its first look at the 90 man roster in action. Probably the biggest story-line this week has been Brett Hundley who has been taking first team reps in preparation for tonight. While the defense has really showed something during training camp, Packer Nation is excited to see how the offense operates with the second running back position still in flux and plenty of rookie talent in the stable. Here are the priorities and players that I will have my eye on tonight. There are too many to name so feel free to add to this list back on our Facebook Fanpage.
The Packers’ priority one will not change now or throughout the entire season. We all saw last year what happened when Sam Shields went down on the defense in the 4th quarter of week one against Jacksonville. The Packers added defensive help in the backfield and they will be called upon early and often. But carry-overs Brice, Evans, Hawkins, et al will also factor in. On offense, the Packers start the pre-season with a stable of running backs and hope to avoid the crisis that losing both Eddie Lacy and James Starks (0verlapping for a time) brought on and will likely carry an extra running back. With Eddie Lacy exiting to Seattle, the Packers’ 5 rookies will have plenty of reps. Here are priorities one, two, and three for me.
Stay healthy – Goes without saying. Well…it goes with saying for Packer Nation (and I am not the only one saying it) but as described above, the Packers have brought in some help, keeping them available is and will continue to be job one.
Fix the field goal unit – It is no secret that Mason Crosby went 5-11 just a few days ago, he did it in front of 63,000+ fans after all. But Crosby has been money in training camp other than that rather public showing. All eyes will be on Hart, Vogel and Crosby when they set up. But keep an eye on the protection as well as this is the first real pressure the unit will practice under. We know Crosby has ice in his veins but the field goal/extra point unit definitely needs fine-tuning.
Find a pass rush – It remains to be seen how many, if any reps Clay Matthews and Nick Perry play tonight. Behind those two are a load of young players and question marks. Elliot and Fackrell need to show they can take significant reps, Biegel won’t play but will be needed, but don’t sleep on Reggie Gilbert or Johnathan Calvin, who play the one position that is fairly wide open on this entire team. The Packers must have consistent pressure and presumably that means one or more of the above must perform.
Critical at Quarterback
Brett Hundley starting tonight is critical for several reasons. For starters, he is risking himself so Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have to, second, he is fighting for the number two spot with Joe Callahan who had a fantastic pre-season last year while Hundley was injured, and third, he is playing for a possible chance to fight for a starting job next year though it won’t be in Green Bay.
Many writers this week have called attention to Hundley’s performance numbers in 2015, including myself. But many have forgotten that in the “dress rehearsal” game against the same rival Eagles, Hundley started off shakily, lowering his eyes too often and relying on his feet, and throwing a pick six. Hundley needs to continue to improve and also prove that his first year was no fluke if he wishes to show that he can start in this league. In the second half of the Eagles game in ’15, Hundley got his eyes up where they belong and started to look more like Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. He should be even better now.
I will make no bones about it…Packer Nation should want Brett Hundley to out-shine all comers this pre-season. The possibility of a trade goes out the window if Hundley can’t show he is starter material. But that takes nothing away from the importance of Callahan and now Taysom Hill as well. If Hundley is traded, those two become the incumbents next year and duke it out for the position that Hundley needs to hold this year. While Callahan is a bit of a fan-favorite, I am intrigued by what the Packers’ coaching staff might be able to do with a big, fast prospect like Hill.
Player to watch: Taysom Hill
Where will the pressure come from?
We all expect a healthy Clay Matthews and Nick Perry to be able to bring pressure, and have above discussed the opportunity for a young OLB to make a move up the depth chart. But the Packers’ defense has a couple of guys that can get pressure from the interior line as well. Most notable, of course, is Mike Daniels. But the Packers’ coaching staff has been moving Dean Lowry further outside which may signal that they have high hopes for his pass rush ability. Lowry showed some ability last year recording sacks in back-to-back games. Now, with an off-season to process the defense, Lowry seems primed for a very good season. This is to take nothing away from Kenny Clark who also is positioned well, but Lowry’s length is better suited for an outside pass-rush.
Player to watch: Dean Lowry
There is no need to reiterate the Packers’ woes in the defensive backfield. The fact of the matter is that tonight is a big part of the solution. Getting Kevin King and Josh Jones significant reps will be priority and critical for the Packers to improve their rank as a defense. I am a big fan of Josh Jones already and see this Packers safety group as one of the deepest and best on the entire team. But I have been of the mind that the development of Kevin King will be the critical component if this defense is going to shine. While I think Jones will see more playing time earlier and I am very excited about what he adds, the safety position as mentioned already has some depth and I think the perimeter play will be critical to our pressure packages getting home. King has had some struggles of late and tonight is a good time for him to implement corrections.
Player to watch: Kevin King
Running back battle
One of the most intriguing aspects of this year’s training camp is the running back battle. Not just the rookie draftees, but the progress of Ty Montgomery has been of note as well. In particular, there have been reports that Jamaal Williams might be pushing Monty for the starting spot. As I have said in the past, I am not concerned with the label “starter” at the running back position (though I know it matters to the players). Two running backs will be featured with a third used perhaps situationally and regardless of who rises to the surface, the competition is better for all involved. Not to be forgotten are rookies Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. Jones is explosive and disciplined and Mays is exactly the same proportions as Eddie Lacy when he came out of college.
Player to watch: Aaron Jones
Tonight’s game is highly anticipated not just because Packers football is back, but also because there are so many young players looking to show they belong. The Packers, as a draft and develop team, rely on these games to parse out which young guys can play/start on the team. Coach McCarthy made it clear that this is the most important time for the coaching staff and young players and it all starts now. The evaluations will not be so much the result of simple individual play but the ways in which the players fit in combination with others, in certain situations, and how they respond when thrown into uncomfortable positions.
The result is yet to come but as of tonight, we will be one step closer to a 2017 Packers 53 man roster.
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