Preseason Week 4, Packers at Chiefs: Keys to the Game

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Chris Banjo
Banjo is among those who need a strong finish to the preseason

The Green Bay Packers will round out the 2013 preseason on Thursday as they take on the Kansas City Chiefs.  Despite being in different conferences, these teams are quite familiar with each other when it comes to the practice season.  This year marks the third in a row that these teams have squared off in August.

Shortly after Thursday night’s contest, the Packers will need to dwindle their roster down to the final 53 players that they will bring into week one of the regular season.  There are still quite a few players battling for their spot on the roster and on the depth chart.

Today, we started our “Initial 53-Man Roster Prediction” series in which our writers at ALLGBP.com predict who they think will end up on this year’s Packers team.  Be sure to check back regularly for each writer’s list.

This offseason and preseason has been an exciting one for the Packers.  With several veteran departures and with many new faces, the decision as to who stays and who goes will truly come down to this last game, in many cases.  Let’s take a look at some of those players who need to have a solid showing and some of the position battles as they come down to the wire.

Starks, Green or Both?

With this week’s news that DuJuan Harris will be placed on season-ending injured reserve, a huge door has opened at the running back position.  Just a few weeks earlier, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy had declared Harris the starting back, even though he had yet to take a single snap in training camp.  Just before camp started, Harris had undergone a procedure to remove a cyst near his lung.  Finally cleared, Harris appeared in last week’s game against the Seattle Seahawks but due to a knee injury, the Packers have decided to shelf him.

With Harris out of the mix, this now becomes an interesting decision for the Packers.  Rookie Eddie Lacy seems to have entrenched himself as the starting back and is a lock to make the final roster.  Johnathan Franklin is another rookie back who figures to be in the team’s immediate plans, whether on offense or special teams.  That leaves James Starks, Alex Green, John Kuhn and Jonathan Amosa battling for the last two or three spots at running back.

Kuhn will almost certainly be kept for his experience in the offense as well as his pass blocking acumen.  The Packers will likely cut Amosa with the intention to bring him back on the practice squad, should he clear waivers.

That leaves Starks and Green.  So who will it be?  Starks had a strong start to camp and in a practice environment.  Still, it was good to see that he has been healthy and seemed to have taken to heart that his job was on the line.  Starks has not dazzled, by any means, and there is always that question of whether or not he can stay healthy for a full season.  Green has also battled injuries over his two seasons but did rip off a 31 yard run against the Seahawks last week.

I think this one will come down to whether the Packers want to carry four or five running backs.  If they carry five, both Starks and Green should be on the final roster.  If they keep only four, I have to think that they lean towards Green, who was a third round pick just two years ago.   Starks’ injury past is likely too risky for the team to keep him over a player at another valuable position.  He needs a solid game to change the minds of the coaching staff.

Defensive Back Position Battles

At cornerback, the Packers return most of last year’s crop, minus Charles Woodson.  They have also added rookie Micah Hyde, via the draft along with two undrafted free agents in that of Brandon Smith and James Nixon.

Tramon Williams has missed nearly all of training camp with a knee injury but is expected to be ready for the season opener in San Francisco.  Incumbents Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, and Davon House will all return and in that order on the depth chart.  Hyde has been impressive and has seen extensive time on the field.  He has made the most of his opportunities on both defense and special teams and will most certainly be on the final roster.

The better question is whether Hyde may leapfrog House on the depth chart.  House had a rough preseason opener in which even he admitted it was one of the worst performances he has ever put together in his football career.  Expectations were high for House last season when he suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason opener that hampered his ability to play 100%.  House’s experience may keep him ahead of Hyde for now, but that could change quickly as the season goes on.

Both Smith and Nixon will likely be cut and one may end up back on the practice squad, depending on how they finish out the preseason.  One name I haven’t mentioned is Jarrett Bush.  This may be Bush’s curtain call with the Packers.  He’s a special teams ace but can the Packers afford a roster spot to a guy who is so one-dimensional?  Given the talent that they have to choose from all around the current roster, I’d have to say no.

At safety, it’s much of the same from last season.  Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings will be back.  The fourth safety spot was vacated by Woodson and is open.  Undrafted rookies David Fulton and Chris Banjo have been battling to make the final roster and at this point, it seems to be Banjo’s spot to lose.  Banjo has put together an impressive display of tackling and a hard-hitting style during the preseason.  He is the type of safety that can stick his nose in most any situation and he plays hard every snap.  With his special teams contributions, he can provide some great depth at the safety position.  Still, Banjo needs to finish strong and play well to give himself some momentum heading into the regular season.  I wouldn’t classify him as a “bubble” player, at this point, but guys in Banjo’s situation have found themselves heading home after a bad showing in the preseason finale.

Battle for Backup

The backup quarterback competition was refined this week when Graham Harrell was released earlier in the week.  That leaves Vince Young and BJ Coleman to duke it out.  Young has only had three weeks to integrate himself to the Packers’ offense and get up to speed.  Coleman was in camp with last year’s team and spent last season on the practice squad.  Coleman’s progress this preseason has not been what the Packers had hoped, prompting them to bring in Young.

With his experience in having started many NFL games already, I expect Young to edge out Coleman as Aaron Rodgers primary backup.  Coleman still has practice squad eligibility, whereas Young does not.  It seems like a pretty clear-cut decision, unless Coleman is lights out in Kansas City.  Even then, it still may be too late for him.

While Young does offer more experience and has won some games at the NFL level, we have to remember that he was out of the league entirely last season after being cut by the Buffalo Bills, whose quarterback situation was anything but solid.  Young was also a backup in 2011 with the Philadelphia Eagles.  It has been a while since he has been called on to come into live action and win a game that counts.  He’s a better option than Harrell or Coleman, but Packers fans should still hope that they don’t have to find out if Young can pull it off, if needed, this season.

Wide Receiver: Five or Six?

Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jarett Boykin are locks.  In the race for the fifth and, potentially, sixth spot, are Jeremy Ross, Tyrone Walker,  Myles White and Charles Johnson.

Ross has been the team’s biggest asset on special teams and as a return man.  As a receiver, Ross has had his struggles with drops and he has had ball security issues in the past as well.  He is extremely talented, and the Packers may choose to stick with the known entity in Ross versus giving a shot to either Walker or White.  His special teams contributions may be the ultimate push Ross needs to make the final roster.

Walker has been impressive in spots during the preseason.  He has been somewhat inconsistent and has been quiet over the past two games.  He will need a game much like this presason’s first when he caught five passes for 41 yards.  There has been much talk about whether the Packers may choose to keep a sixth receiver and have that guy be Walker.  Right now, I would have to say they probably allocate that roster spot elsewhere and hope they can sneak Walker on the practice squad.  His performance against the Chiefs will be crucial to that decision.

White has put together a few flashes, but he’s just not quite at Walker’s level and likely won’t make the cut.  He will quite a few snaps in this week’s game and he needs to stand out on most of them in order to garner more consideration for a final roster spot.  The odds are stacked against White and my guess is he is cut.

Traffic Jam at Defensive Line

Ryan Pickett, BJ Raji, rookie Datone Jones, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels will all be back.  That leaves CJ Wilson, Johnny Jolly, Josh Boyd and Jordan Miller left to battle for the final few spots.

Jolly just continues to make plays and has regained some of his 2009 form, after a three-year absence.  He has been a presence when he gets on the field and frankly, the Packers need that this year.  Jolly sticks.

Wilson has never really been a flashy end, but he does a decent job against the run.  His experience, along with the need for depth at this key position, may push him ahead and the Packers may keep one more lineman.

Miller is likely cut, barring a rock star performance on Thursday.  Boyd was a fifth round draft pick and for that reason alone, I have a hard time seeing Ted Thompson cutting him loose after his only training camp.  Still, Boyd has seen limited time and has not done anything noteworthy with those reps.  He will need to flash in this week’s game to get into the conversation for the final roster.  Worst case, Boyd is cut and can hopefully clear waivers to end up on the team’s practice squad.

 

With a little over a week left until the 2013 season kicks off, there are many big decision facing the Packers.  It can be a good problem to have this much talent to sift through and they may even add a body or two from other team’s scrap heaps as well.  Who will be this year’s preseason finale MVP?  Who will play themselves right out of Green Bay?  We will have most of those answers by day’s end.

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.com

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  • PatMc

    Well done Jason. I Agree with most. :)

    Since TT is a ST guy, I see Bush making the 53 because he is the ST captain. This might be his last year in GB but I think he makes it. He might re-do his contract to stay but stay he does.

  • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

    1 thing to watch:

    NO ONE GET HURT!

    As for the rest… meh. this is only the final piece of the puzzle. I’d bet the coaches have already ironed about about 50 spots.