The Green Bay Packers take on the Tennessee Titans in the preseason opener Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m. CT on the regional Packers TV Network.
The Big Picture: What's at Stake?
It's the preseason. The games don't count in the standings, but this is the evaluation tool the Packers use to fill out their 53-man roster, particularly for the young players on the roster.
The first preseason game is the one the players further down the depth chart will see more playing time than at any other point during the season, at least before rosters are trimmed down to 75 players.
"My goal, frankly, for play time—I do know this—is you want all your young guys to play," said McCarthy. "I'm not interested in getting on the plane, coming back home and we didn't have a young player that didn't get in the game. I'm looking for every young new player that's come in through our doors has an opportunity Saturday night to show what he's got."
What to Watch When the Packers Have the Ball
A) The center position: Saturday evening will be the first opportunity to see both J.C. Tretter and Corey Linsley in a Packers uniform in a game environment, and one of them almost assuredly will come away with the starting center job by the end of training camp.
Even though Tretter is in his second year in the NFL, he never played a down last season after suffering a broken ankle in the offseason. He's getting first crack at the job in the starting lineup, but he's not a lock to win it just yet.
Rookie Corey Linsley will have his say in the center battle, although he's going to start by making an impression with the second-string offensive line.
B) Tight End: The starting job and, indeed, all roles on offense at the tight end position are up for grabs, and anyone that wants to assert themselves will have a chance on Saturday evening.
Andrew Quarless might have the inside track on receiving the most playing time as the longest-tenured veteran at the position, but he's far from the only candidate to play a major role in 2014.
Third round draft chocie Richard Rodgers is making a name for himself with a strong training camp campaign, but Bradon Bostick, Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner will all get a chance to prove themselves too.
C) Derek Sherrod's role: After Don Barclay was likely lost for the season with a torn ACL earlier in the week, the need for Derek Sherrod to emerge as a reliable and versatile offensive lineman was ratcheted up a notch.
Even though he has experience playing other spots on the offensive line, the Packers had been using Sherrod primarily at left tackle with the second-string during team drills the first two weeks of training camp.
The need to prepare Sherrod at both tackle spots has been exacerbated by Barclay's absence, and it bears watching where the Packers use Sherrod on Saturday night.
What to Watch When the Titans Have the Ball
A) The safety position minus Morgan Burnett: The incumbent starter on the Green Bay defense has been ruled out of the preseason opener with an oblique strain, opening the door to Micah Hyde and first round draft choice Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to very likely work as the starting safety tandem against Tennessee.
Normally the Packers don't play their starters for long in the first preseason game, but they may go a little longer than usual with Hyde and Clinton-Dix, both of whom will be playing safety for the first time in a professional game environment.
Low on depth at safety position, at least temporarily, Sean Richardson—who's been having a strong training camp—should also get a long look Saturday night, as will Chris Banjo and Charles Clay.
B) Clay Matthews coming off his thumb injury: Matthews said earlier in the week that he doesn't expect "any limitations" with his twice-broken thumb.
Throughout training camp, Matthews has not worn the cast he played with last season to protect the thumb. It will be interesting to see if that will change in a game environment.
It will also be the first opportunity to see Matthews paired with new free agent acquisition Julius Peppers in a game, although their appearances are likely to be brief.
C) Young defensive linemen: Veteran starters like B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels don't figure to play for long on Saturday, while Letroy Guion and Jerel Worthy won't play at all because of injury.
Once Raji and Daniels exit the game, young players like Josh Boyd and third round draft choice Khyri Thornton—guys fighting to be part of the defensive line rotation—should see ample playing time.
Keep an eye on 330-plus pound Mike Pennel, who flashed during Family Night in Green Bay, and the rest of the rookies on the defensive line. They'll see lots of time in the second half.
What to Watch on Special Teams
Mason Crosby and the NFL's extra-point experiment: A year ago at this time, Crosby's job was in jeopardy, coming off a horrendous 2012 season and a spotty start to 2013 training camp.
Crosby, however, turned his performance around and had a solid season. His job is now safe, but he's worth watching the first two weeks of the NFL preseason as the league experiments with extra-point attempts spotted at the 15-yard line.
It's a response to the chip-shot point-after-touchdown conversions that have become near automatic. For now, the 33-yard extra points are only temporary, something the league will evaluate before making any changes during the regular season.
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@example.com.
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