After the Packers’ best preseason performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, they now turn to Monday’s 4pm EDT deadline to reduce their roster by 10 players followed by an August 31st (one week from now) deadline to reduce to 53. It’s typically at this point that most teams will base many of these cuts on player health. There are quite a few names currently on the roster whose chances of cracking the final 53 are and were slim-to-none coming into training camp. The team released 5 players Friday, most notably Anthony Hargrove, who was signed during the offseason and is set to serve an 8 game suspension to start the year. While I don’t expect any surprises or big names to get a pink slip on Monday, let’s examine 3 guys who have either boosted or lowered their chances of sticking on the 2012 squad.
Jamari Lattimore – Lattimore was on last year’s team and played primarily on special teams. He added some weight during the offseason and has moved to ILB. He has seen increased time due to the injury to Desmond Bishop during preseason game 1. He has made the most of those reps, especially this last game against the Bengals. Playing like a man possessed, Lattimore was seen around the ball all night long. His most impressive play came near the end of the game when he very calmly stepped in front of a Jordan Palmer offering and took the rock in for a score. He was seemingly waving “goodbye” to the fans as he ran the ball in which, to some, may seem cocky. But to a guy who needed to solidify himself with so much competition at the LB position, it was a welcome sight to see him step up. The Packers have led the NFL in takeaway’s the past 2 seasons and the coaching staff is hoping to continue that trend in this season. With the team’s LB’s having struggled in pass coverage the past few years, it was good to see them staying with the Bengal pass catchers. It was only one play, but that one play was likely enough for Lattimore to order his locker name plate.
Dezman Moses – Dez Moses entered camp as a UDFA and quickly created some buzz with superb play in practice. He continues to play with a high motor and is never far from the ball. Moses made several sure tackles in this latest game, which has been a weak point in the team’s defense over the past few years. With a virtual log jam at LB, the Pack are looking for standout’s to grab the final few spots on this year’s team. Moses has seemingly moved himself off the bubble and at this point is a favorite to survive final cut downs.
Erik Walden – Walden’s only highlight play of the night was a sack of starting QB Andy Dalton when he was left unblocked at the snap. While it was “uncontested”, Walden still kept Dalton at bay and finished the play. It was the first sign of the player we saw emerge at the end of the 2010 season. It was the first sign of the player who took Jay Cutler down twice in a crucial week 17 game to catapult the Pack into the playoffs and an eventual Super Bowl. That Erik Walden had to emerge in order for him to make this year’s team. I had Walden as a roster casualty heading into camp given all of the bodies the team had added during the offseason. Then he was slapped with a 1 game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy which further decreased his chances. Like Lattimore, it was only one play but it was a play, nonetheless. Look back on any random 5 of the most memorable games you can recall and chances are you can also recount 1 or 2 plays that stood out in those games. It’s a performance-driven league and that one shining moment tends to stick out in the minds of those who make the decisions as to who stays and who goes. Walden just took a big step toward staying.
Graham Harrell – Harrell has seemed to have a strangle hold on the back up QB spot throughout camp and after previous back up Matt Flynn departed to Seattle. He has been given all of the 2nd teams reps in practice and during the first 3 preseason games so he’s had his chances. With those chances, he has done little to nothing. His inexperience shows and he still plays with “happy feet” in the pocket. Many of his throws are off the mark. He has shown some improvement in his ability to move around and extend plays, but has not been able to pull the trigger and turn those into big plays or points. With teams about to drop up to 20 players over the next week, it remains to be seen which QB’s are let go and become available to a team in need of another field general. One such name that has been tossed around is backup QB Tavaris Jackson in Seattle. Russell Wilson is duking it out with Matt Flynn for the starting QB which would then mean that Jackson earns a very expensive seat on the bench. With more options about to present themselves, Harrell has plenty of motivation to do whatever he can in week 4’s game to keep the coaching staff’s confidence in him. With the better part of 2 seasons spent on the team’s practice squad, he has had plenty of time to study the team’s offense. I can recall Matt Flynn’s stuggles early in his career and he eventually turned it around. Harrell’s “now” needs to be. . now. He has 7 days to make his case.
Diondre Borel – Borel’s game at Cincinnati was something right out of a tragedy on the big screen. With a 6th WR spot not a guarantee and with a boatload of talent vying for that hypothetical spot, Borel was a front runner. He had remained healthy and out-performed favorite Tori Gurley through the first 2 weeks of camp. In this game, Borel was clearly not the same player we had seen. He was very hesitant on punt return, often hanging onto the ball and standing still trying to decide what to do with the ball. Borel averaged a paltry 4 yards in the return game. He had 2 balls thrown his way, both of which were catchable. He dropped both. With drops such a big culprit during last year’s stretch run, they are an unacceptable sight this year. Gurley had one ball thrown his way, which he caught. Now that probably wasn’t enough for him to leap frog Borel alone, but by virtue of his being the leading challenger, he stepped ahead in the race. It will likely come down to health with both players suffering some recent dings.
James Starks – Starks wasn’t even in game 3 but his absence at this point is crucial with the team having just added veteran back Cedric Benson. Benson was solid with his few carries and 2nd year man Alex Green appears to be recovering well from his ACL surgery last year. Last year’s starting back, Starks has run himself into a competition for the team’s 3rd RB position. He may survive thanks to the health issues of Brandon Saine, who was penciled in as the team’s 3rd back before Benson was signed. Starks is battling turf toe, which is a painful and slow-healing injury. However, he has had his problems staying on the field in the past and if you can’t play, you can’t help. If Saine can’t improve and the team is forced into a corner, they could IR Saine or put him on PUP, thereby keeping Starks as the 3rd down back. This one, much like the WR race, will likely come down to health. With the investment the team has made in Starks over the past 2 years, I expect to see him on the final roster when the time comes but he’s on watch and needs to stay healthy and available all year long.
With backup’s likely to play most, if not all, of this upcoming week’s game it’s time to sink or swim for many of them. A few surprises could emerge that weren’t discussed here (Anthony Levine for example). The level of competition this year seems to be at its strongest in several years. That’s a good problem for the Pack to have heading into their next chance to bring the Lombardi Trophy back home to Green Bay
Jason Perone is a guest contributor to AllGreenBayPackers.com.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: