The Green Bay Packers host the Kansas City Chiefs in the annual Bishop's Charities Game, the preseason finale at Lambeau Field at 6:00 p.m. CT on Thursday, televised regionally on the Packers TV Network.
The Big Picture: What's at Stake?
The fourth and final preseason contest is the yearly "Don't Get Hurt" game in which the starters either play sparingly or not at all. The game isn't so much for the first-stringers as it is the players on the roster bubble that have one final opportunity to prove they're worth keeping on the regular season 53-man roster.
If nothing else, Thursday's game will be an opportunity to see how former Packers executive John Dorsey is doing building his own franchise as general manager of the Chiefs. In his first year on the job, Dorsey was named the NFL's Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America.
What to Watch When the Packers Have the Ball
A) Corey Linsley working with the starters: After previous starter J.C. Tretter suffered a knee injury in the Packers' last game against the Oakland Raiders, the Packers have nowhere else to turn at the center position but to their fifth round draft choice.
The starters typically don't play much in the last preseason game, but Linsley is the exception to the rule. As a rookie, he needs the work and learning opportunities more than most as the Packers get ready to face the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in the regular-season opener just a week later.
It doesn't appear as if the Packers are highly motivated to see Aaron Rodgers play in the final preseason game, but it's the only opportunity to get some work with his new center in a game environment before the regular season begins.
B) The final opportunity for Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien: Even if Rodgers does happen to play on Thursday, it won't be for long. The vast majority of the playing time will go to Flynn and Tolzien, especially after the Packers cut fellow quarterback Chase Rettig earlier in the week.
Two questions still have to be answered for the Packers: A) Who will the backup quarterback be? And B) Will the Packers keep two or three quarterbacks on their regular-season roster?
Thursday is the last chance for Flynn and Tolzien to help the Packers come to a conclusion, and both figure to get long looks.
C) All wide receivers after the top three: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin have locked up the top three spots on the wide receiver depth chart. Beyond the top three, the rest of the wideouts need all the work they can get.
Second round draft choice Davante Adams might have a roster spot locked up, but he needs to takee advantage of every opportunity to get a better handle on the team's offense.
Meanwhile, Jeff Janis, Kevin Dorsey, Myles White and Alex Gillett are left to fight for one, maybe two, roster spots. A good showing on Thursday could sway the decision makers.
What to Watch When the Chiefs Have the Ball
A) Anyone lining up at nose tackle: After B.J. Raji tore his biceps in the Packers' last game against the Raiders, the Packers are looking for replacements, whether it will be one guy they'll rely heavily upon or several players on a rotational basis.
When the Packers practiced on Monday, it was reportedly Josh Boyd lining up with the starters at nose tackle, but by the time Wednesday came, it was free-agent addition Letroy Guion seeing time with the first-string defense despite coming off the team's Non-Football Injury (NFI) list just days earlier.
Undrafted rookie Mike Pennel has also been one of the pleasant surprises of training camp for the Packers this summer, and he may be able to lock up a roster spot with a solid showing against the Chiefs.
B) Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington: Although his quadriceps injury isn't expected to be as bad as Raji's, linebacker Brad Jones will not play in Thursday's game, according to head coach Mike McCarthy.
Lattimore, who replaced Jones in the starting lineup for four games last season, is expected to do so once again versus the Chiefs. The burden is on Lattimore to do more than flash occasionally solid play and start to become more consistent.
Second-year player Sam Barrington will also use the final preseason game as a platform to show that he's deserving of a bigger role, perhaps ahead of Lattimore.
C) Where Carl Bradford and Nate Palmer line up: With so much depth at the outside linebacker position, the Packers finally started to give some practice-time snaps to Bradford and Palmer on the inside this week.
What remains to be seen is whether the Packers are merely experimenting or a full-fledged transition is in effect.
The Packers have plenty of experience shifting linebackers from the outside to the inside. Jones, Lattimore and Rob Francois have all done so under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. But whether Bradford or Palmer will play there on Thursday is unknown.
What to Watch on Special Teams
The bubble players: So often fans watch the specialists: the kickers, the punters and return men instead of the other 10 players on the field. But the Packers will be looking at those players on the roster bubble to do the dirty work on special teams when tehy put together their 53-man roster: those doing the blocking and the tackling.
For example, the two players who led the team in special-team play-time percentage in the last game against the Raiders were Bradford (20 plays) and Dorsey (16 plays), neither of whom is expected to play a large role on defense or offense respecively this season.
The Packers will be paying special attention to players on the coverage and blocking units in order to find out who can help them when the games count.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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