The Green Bay Packers host the Kansas City Chiefs tonight in their final game of the 2014 preseason. This is the last opportunity for players to lock in their spots on the depth chart and for some, secure a roster spot at all.
Most of the established veterans won’t see action this week and are typically held out to avoid injury and afford them some additional rest before the regular season begins. Once the real games start, players get limited opportunities to rest throughout the season and with the Packers’ fortunes when it comes to health, they are best not to tempt fate and put any of their guys at unnecessary risk.
This week’s list is restricted to guys who are on the roster and fighting for their spot on the depth chart in the “more to gain” section or those who are truly on the bubble of making the roster in the “more to lose” section.
This will be the last installment of “What’s At Stake?” and we will resume with “Keys to the Game” next week for the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Please provide your feedback, as always, regarding this new format for preseason and any other comments as well.
More to Gain
DT’s Josh Boyd, Mike Pennel, Letroy Guion and Khyri Thornton
Calling all defensive tackles, calling all tackles! With the loss of B.J. Raji, all four of these players likely make the final roster so the fight is on for depth chart position.
Based on experience in the Packers defense and build, Boyd would seem to get the nod as the starter in the base 3-4. Some tab Boyd as a 3-technique as well but earlier this week, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy seemed to indicate that they plan to use Boyd at nose. He can’t likely hurt his roster spot chances too much with a poor performance, but with Guion in the mix, Boyd could slide down the depth chart if he struggles.
Guion was finally activated and practiced with the team this week. He was said to have showed well in his limited time on the field and I have to wonder if he was being held back from joining the team for reasons other than the injured hamstring that was reported. Regardless, Guion is a veteran and could offer some valuable depth at the nose, if kept. At this point, I would expect the Packers to keep him, but he could use a boost by carrying some of that freshness to the playing field.
Pennel is this year’s undrafted rookie sensation. He came on early in training camp and has played well in the first three games. Even with Raji in the mix, Pennel was likely to make the roster, but he’s a virtual lock now, barring injury. It’s easy to get excited about this player but remember, he has no game experience against starting-caliber competition. He is depth at this point, but he could make a case for more playing time with one last burst.
Thornton has been disappointing, in a word. The third-rounder has been very pedestrian in camp and during preseason games thus far. He seems out of place and nothing more than a body on the field. For a third rounder, that doesn’t bode well for the team nor the player. It’s possible that Thornton may improve as he spends more time with the team, but I see him as a guy they keep because of his draft position and who is likely inactive on most game days. It’s possible that he could burst onto the scene with some eye-popping play in this game against the Chiefs, but I wouldn’t count on it. That said, his roster spot is safe so he can really only improve from here.
LB Jayrone Elliott
Speaking of undrafted rookie sensations, here we have Elliott. He, like Pennel, has continued to perform consistently well on game days. Still, there’s more questions about Elliott’s roster status than there is about Pennel’s. Linebacker is a crowded position right now, but a few recent changes have opened a big door for Elliott.
Fourth-rounder Carl Bradford was seemingly moved to inside linebacker earlier this week, as was Nate Palmer, in the hopes that it’s a better fit for their build and skill set. That opens a potential spot for Elliott at outside linebacker. Elliott is now competing with Nick Perry, and Andy Mulumba at outside linebacker behind Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. I could add Mike Neal into that equation but he seems to be spending more time at defensive end so that could mean an even better chance for Elliott.
Elliott had three sacks in four snaps against the St. Louis Rams in week two and had another last week against the Raiders. Sure, it was against some guys who won’t be in the NFL in a week, but making a play is still making a play. If these are the snaps the Packers are giving him, that’s all they can evaluate him on. It may not be enough for him to crack the roster, but Elliott doesn’t seem to be a guy who the Packers would easily be able to sneak through to the practice squad, if they were to cut him.
I think Elliott makes it and is a welcome addition to a linebacker group that desperately needs more playmakers, so he is on the “gain” list this week.
LB Sam Barrington
Barrington is on the team this year, no doubt about it. He’s in a battle for some playing time with Jamari Lattimore also behind starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. A quad injury to Jones may open a door for both Barrington and Lattimore to see the field early this season. Jones has had issues staying healthy over the past few seasons and throughout his career so additional insurance is needed.
Barrington was coming on and gaining the attention of the coaching staff last season before an injury ended his season. He has had a decent preseason and with an standout performance this week, he could leapfrog Lattimore as a primary backup. It’s unknown how long Jones is expected to be out and McCarthy said he didn’t expect him to miss any regular season time, but that story could change come next week as they begin practicing for Seattle.
More to Lose
CB’s Jarrett Bush & Jumal Rolle
The Packers can’t keep both of these corners and I think it’s time, once again, to ask if this is finally the season they move on from Bush and bring in some new blood. Rolle has performed well in practice and is worthy of a discussion, but practices aren’t games. Rolle hasn’t had many great plays in game and that could be the difference between his staying or going.
Corner is a crowded and talented group so the Packers have to make sure they’re keeping the right guy. Bush’s value on specials teams is unquestioned and he’s a long-term veteran of the system. That alone may give him the edge over Rolle, if cuts were due today. Rolle needs to make the most of the extended time he’ll probably see in this game and stay around the ball at ever chance. Any mental lapses or mistakes in coverage could seal his fate.
LB’s Carl Bradford & Nate Palmer
We talked about these two a bit earlier. Both have seemingly been moved to inside linebacker to better utilize what each offers the Packers’ defense. The Packers won’t keep both. Bradford was a fourth round pick this season and general manager Ted Thompson hasn’t let a fourth rounder go in the same year since 2006 (WR Cory Rodgers). Palmer was with the team last year but did next to nothing in limited playing time.
Will the team opt for the veteran with a year under his belt or the rookie who may just need more time to evolve into a new role? Right now, I’d lean towards Palmer but the Packers have to be wondering if they’d be able to get Bradford back on the practice squad. This one could come down to a coin flip unless one really stands out in this last game. Both should see extensive time.
TE Jake Stoneburner
The Packers are keeping Richard Rodgers, Brandon Bostick and Andrew Quarless. They’re probably also keeping Ryan Taylor for his special teams contributions, but that’s not a complete certainty.
If they do keep Taylor, Stoneburner could become the odd man out unless they opt to keep five tight ends. The Packers released Stoneburner last year at the end of the preseason and signed him to their practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster late in the season. Stoneburner had a good week of practice last week and is making a nice push to force a tough decision for McCarthy.
If he can make a nice play or two and find the end zone in this game, I think the Packers keep Stoneburner, but he still needs this one game to make that case
WR’s Myles White, Kevin Dorsey & Alex Gillett
One of these three may stay or they may all be sent packing after this week. The Packers seem to have their top five receivers and could elect to stop there. If they’re going to keep a sixth, he hasn’t emerged and separated himself yet.
White is the only one of the three who has spent any time with the team during the regular season. He has had a decent preseason and has put on some weight as well. If the Packers are definitely keeping six receivers and if I had to make the call right now, I’d say White gets the nod.
Dorsey was on injured reserve last year and has had and up-and-down preseason. His struggles with drops in practice and during games has me concerned that the team can’t rely on him as a receiver. Is he valuable enough on special teams to get the nod? Right now, I say no but if we remember back to 2012 when Jarrett Boykin come on strong in the last preseason game, it’s possible that Dorsey could have an all-world performance that creates debate in the coaches room.
Gillett is only on this list because he made a great touchdown grab during the game against the Raiders. So what, it’s one catch, right? Well, if you couple that with this being his second stint with the Packers during preseason, there may already be some wondering whether he has more where that came from. He would seem to be the type who could contribute on special teams, which would be a must. I stand by that White is the sixth guy right now, but as a receiver, Gillett gets my nod over Dorsey. That could allow him to steal a roster spot if White falters.
Veterans Michael Hill (RB), Aaron Adams (T), and Garth Gerhart (C) likely won’t crack the roster unless they have an absolutely lights-out performance in this game. Even then, the deck is just too stacked against them.
If you don’t see an undrafted rookie’s name above, chances are that I see that player getting cut as well. I’m not even about to try and determine who makes the practice squad because, well, I simply don’t know. Players who are released during the final cut down will have an opportunity to sign with any other team or join another team’s practice squad, if they so choose. They can also return to Green Bay’s practice squad, if they get an offer, but exactly who Green Bay will be able to retain is still a huge question mark.
Check back soon at allgbp.com for our final roster predictions!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: