The third week of the preseason usually means a game that is most like a regular season contest. Most starters play the first half and sometimes, even start the third quarter. This week brings the Oakland Raiders to Lambeau Field for the Packers preseason home opener. Besides being the best litmus test for this year’s Packers team, they also get to see a few old friends.
Former Packers Charles Woodson, James Jones, C.J. Wilson and Brandian Ross will be in the house, all wearing silver and black. In the NFL, familiarity is highly important to some. Raiders general manager and former Packers director of player personnel Reggie McKenzie brought all four of them to Oakland when the Packers moved in a different direction.
The Packers have just under two weeks left before they will begin preparations for their regular season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. They also will need to cut their roster down to 75 players by 3pm Central time on Tuesday, August 26th. That means several players spots are soon in jeopardy.
As I have been doing the past few weeks, I’ll be looking at what is at stake in this game for some of the bubble players whose roster spots or depth chart positions aren’t quite set. I’m going to break from the usual format and start with some of the guys who will most likely get cut regardless of how this week’s game goes. From there, I’ll break down everyone else who has more to gain or lose this week.
This happens every year and is no surprise. The Packers invite 90 men to their program throughout the offseason and training camp and then slowly chip away until they’re down to the final 53. The following are players that I see as very likely not to survive the first round of cut downs. Keep in mind that the team can still try to sign some of these players to their practice squad after releasing them.
WR Alex Gillett
Gillett was with the Packers and on their practice squad last season. He returned to compete for a roster spot this year but unfortunately, will become victim to a numbers game. Rookies Davante Adams and Jeff Janis appear poised to take the fourth and fifth receiver spots. Behind them are Myles White, Kevin Dorsey, Chris Harper and Gerrard Sheppard. With White and Harper having spent time on the active roster last season, they would seem to have a leg up on some of the others
OL Garth Gerhart
Gerhart is likely looking at another year on the team’s practice squad, if the Packers can manage to re-sign him. Rookie Corey Linsley will likely be one of three back up linemen this season and is a true center. That leaves no room for another who hasn’t found his way onto the roster without major help from injuries.
WR Gerrard Sheppard
Sheppard was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens a few weeks ago and Packers general manager Ted Thompson admitted, at the time, that a few of the other receivers were dinged up and he didn’t want to get too thin at the position. Sheppard has made a few nice plays during practice, but has not separated himself enough in a crowded position battle to give me hope that he stays on the roster. He’s another candidate for practice squad, should the Packers elect to sign him over any of the other eligible receivers.
Among Others. . .
CB Antonio Dennard, CB Ryan White, DE Luther Robinson, DT Carlos Gray, FB Ina Liaina, LB Korey Jones, S Charles Clay, OL John Fullington, OL Jeremy Vujnovich, OL Andrew Tiller.
The Packers won’t likely have to cut that many players, as they have already made some roster moves that will help get them to the mandatory 75 players by the deadline.
More to Gain
QB Scott Tolzien
Good to see Tolzien jumping to this side of the equation this week. After a solid outing against the St. Louis Rams last week, Tolzien is making it near impossible for the Packers to cut him loose. Matt Flynn is still the backup quarterback but I maintain that they keep three quarterbacks this season.
Tolzien’s work ethic and ability to be a student of the Packers offense makes him a real asset. His arm strength doesn’t hurt either. While he’s not ready to fully run the system and make the necessary checks at the line, Tolzien is likely only a season away from taking over the number two quarterback spot and letting the team explore some other options besides Flynn.
With Aaron Rodgers likely playing most of the first half, Tolzien may not see the snap count that he has in recent weeks, but he’ll get plenty in week four when Rodgers likely won’t suit up at all. If Tolzien can maintain his consistency and show even slight improvement, he could at least create a discussion over whether he’s the primary backup.
WR Jarrett Boykin
The only thing Boykin stands to lose is his spot on the depth chart. Boykin is reliable but has had a quiet preseason. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Last season, Boykin was thrust into a contributing role when James Jones and Randall Cobb both went down at receiver. Boykin started off slowly, but finished the season strong.
If he can fly under the radar again, he could benefit from favorable matchups and his year’s worth of experience in the offense to become a favorite target of #12. Battling Boykin for playing time is rookie Davante Adams. If Adams shows some progression and playmaking ability sooner than later, he could creep up to being the team’s third receiver. Boykin has had some issues with drops in practice so he needs to tighten it up and have a strong finish to the preseason.
CB Jumal Rolle
Rolle didn’t show much during the Rams game, but his name seems to pop up every day in practice. Still, it’s games that matter most and Rolle has two more to convince the coaching staff to look at him over incumbent veteran Jarrett Bush.
Rolle has shown an ability to stay with speedy receivers deep into their routes, but can he be trusted when it counts? That’s a question Rolle has to answer over the next 10 days.
RB Michael Hill
With the knee injury to rookie Rajion Neal, Hill saw quite a few carries against the Rams. He had a few nice runs and his time with the Packers last season seemed evident in his comfort level in the backfield. DuJuan Harris is likely the team’s third back but Hill could make a case for the team to consider keeping a fourth, even with their also keeping fullback John Kuhn.
With backs like Eddie Lacy and James Starks, it’s inevitable that the Packers will need to rely on their depth at running back at some point during this season. If Neal can get back and push for a spot or if Hill has another solid second half this week, that benefits everyone. Regardless of whether it’s against third and fourth teams, the Packers are also using their third and fourth team offensive lines as well. What Hill did last week and can continue to do shouldn’t be discounted.
TE Jake Stoneburner
With Brandon Bostick out for a few weeks with an ankle injury, Stoneburner saw more reps in practice earlier this week. Even a few with the first team. He won’t be a starter, by any means, but he was promoted to the roster last season and has a year in the system.
Stone is a valuable special teams contributor and that’s key for him on Mike McCarthy’s team, as he loves tight ends and linebackers on his special teams units.
Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless are already locks at tight end and atop the depth chart. Stoneburner is battling with Ryan Taylor and rookie Justin Perillo for the fourth. Perillo is likely on the outside looking in and with a strong showing this week against the Raiders, it could thrust Stoneburner back into the discussion at tight end. More on Taylor later.
More to Lose
LB Nick Perry
Perry isn’t getting cut so we can end that suspense and drama now. While many say he should be, there’s no way. He’s a first rounder from two years ago and the Packers aren’t giving up this soon. Perry is, however, working with the third team as of late and is no longer a starter. Health issues kept him off the field for much of the spring and the coaching staff alluded to the disappointment in his not being able to work with the team.
With Julius Peppers, Andy Mulumba and rookie Jayrone Elliott all having decent preseasons, there are plenty of other options at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews. Perry is no longer a lock and needs to stay healthy and active. He hasn’t made any plays in the first two games. Perry has tended to show up in bunches in the past and a multiple sack performance or an eye-opening play or two can springboard him back into the conversation as a regular. Any continued struggles and the questions will start to fly again about whether it was too much of a reach to take a college defensive end and turn him into an outside linebacker.
LB Carl Bradford
I can’t lump Bradford in with Perry because his situation is so different. A fourth round pick this year, Bradford would seem safe based on where the Packers invested a pick in him. Still, he hasn’t spent much time on the field in game action and he hasn’t done much on the practice field either.
The scouting and coaching staff were adamant that Bradford would be an outside linebacker for the Packers. He just doesn’t seem built for it and the team’s best option is to move him inside. Bradford would be third on the depth chart at either middle linebacker spot with Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington behind starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. It could, however, afford him a year to spend with the team learning the defense and building on whatever strength he can to better prepare to be a pro linebacker.
Bradford will likely see a good amount of time in next week’s game so expect to see his name on this list again. It’s possible that Bradford doesn’t survive final cut downs and the team tries to add him to the practice squad. That would entail other teams passing on him and his being available for that option.
WR’s Chris Harper & Kevin Dorsey
Dorsey had a big drop on Saturday and Harper didn’t do much either so they’re back on this list for the second week in a row. We’ve already talked quite a bit about receiver so it boils down to a crowded position battle for a sixth spot that may or may not exist. Right now based on these two, it doesn’t. They both need to change that.
TE Ryan Taylor
Rookie linebacker Jayrone Elliott lined up at Taylor’s right tackle spot on the punt team in practice this week. A small gesture but still one that was noticed by media covering the session. Taylor’s value on special teams is unquestioned but he has shown time and time again that he’s not a reliable tight end, the position he’s listed at.
The injury to Bostick likely means Taylor is safe, but the few subtle signs I have read about lead me to believe it’s at least worth asking if Taylor is in any danger. I won’t be surprised either way, as it relates to Taylor, but he could help himself by making a few smart and bigger plays and spending less time on camera for pushing after the whistle. That’s something I have always taken issue with when it comes to Taylor.
CB Jarrett Bush
Is this finally the season that the Packers move on from Bush? He’s such a gamer that it’s always the million dollar question. He’ll always be a trivia question: who had the Packers “other” interception in Super Bowl XLV? “The” interception returned for a touchdown, of course, belonging to former Packers safety Nick Collins.
Bush is a hard worker and a good, veteran presence, there’s no doubt about that. He’s also, like Taylor, more valuable at his special teams spot than he is as a defensive back. Bush lasted just one game as a starter in 2012 when he had apparently won a starting job before the coaching staff realized he’s just Mr. August.
We talked about Rolle earlier and while I’d stick with Bush if it were me, it’s not me and the Packers may decide to inject some more youth at the cornerback position. Bush needs to find a way to do something that forces the Packers to keep him. Back in 2011, he had an interception in the fourth preseason game that seemed to seal his roster spot. Can he come through with some more August magic?
Bush hasn’t done anything on defense and would be seeming to get by on his special teams acumen, once again, this season. I wouldn’t argue against his staying or going at this point. Eventually, the Packers need to move on and find a player who can offer more versatility while hoping that when they reach the Super Bowl again, Bush is available and can be signed for a cameo.