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New Position Battles Emerge Following Packers' First Preseason Game

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New Position Battles Emerge Following Packers' First Preseason Game


Several of the Green Bay Packers' most intriguing positional battles were established well before the team took the field for the first time in 2014. 

Competition was always going to be evident at the end of the WR depth chart, outside linebacker behind the four locks, inside linebacker alongside A.J. Hawk and safety. 

But Saturday night's preseason opener in Tennessee helped highlight a few other positional battles that are worth watching throughout the rest of training camp and the exhibition schedule. 

Here are the four emerging competitions:

 

Backup QB

Many stamped Matt Flynn, who all but saved Green Bay's season a year ago with two wins and a salvaged tie, as the team's backup quarterback, with Scott Tolzien—who made two starts himself—fighting to convince the Packers to keep three quarterbacks on the opening 53-man roster for the first time since 2008. That may still be the case, but Tolzien tightened the competition for the backup job against the Titans. His live arm cut through the unrelenting downpour with little problem. Mike McCarthy also praised the way he ran the hurry-up offense. Meanwhile, Flynn was wildly inaccurate and struggled to drive the football down the field. How much can really be taken away from a preseason opener in monsoon-like conditions? Who knows. Probably not much. But Tolzien was clearly the better quarterback when the lights came on Saturday night.  

 

No. 4 RB

The unexpected loss of Johnathan Franklin to a career-ending neck injury appeared to lock-in the Packers for just three running backs and one fullback on the first 53-man roster. Rajion Neal may have other ideas. The undrafted rookie out of Tennessee was impressive over his 11 snaps against the Titans. He rushed five times for 39 yards, forcing three missed tackles and averaging 3.0 yards after contact (15 total yards after contact). Neal also finished his 12-yard touchdown with authority, bowling over the Titans defender at the goal line. He's a big back who moves better than you'd expect him to, but a knee injury suffered in Tennessee could hold him back. He needs to return as soon as possible. The Packers don't believe the issue is serious. 

 

No. 6 DL

The continued injury issues facing Jerel Worthy (back) and Letroy Guion (hamstring) make it possible that the Packers will only keep five defensive linemen. But injury opens up opportunity, and those who make the most of opportunities can force a change of plan. Luther Robinson (25 snaps), Mike Pennel (23) and Carlos Grey (18) all saw significant action against the Titans. Pennel, a 331-pound undrafted free agent, looks like a strong (pun intended) candidate to crack the roster as the sixth lineman. Twice he blew up Tennessee's plans on the ground with power and penetration. While the Packers got smaller and more athletic along the defensive front this offseason, Pennel can provide some of the same qualities that made Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly assets over the years. 

 

No. 6 CB

The consensus to open camp was that the Packers would keep veterans Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Davon House and Jarrett Bush and fifth-round pick Demetri Goodson. Drafted rookies usually make the 53-man roster in Green Bay, but Goodson could be one of the exceptions. Raw in coverage, he has struggled in practice and then didn't impress in Tennessee, despite breaking up a deep attempt late in the game. Jumal Rolle, who spent time on the Packers practice squad and active roster (Week 17), continues to turn heads. He wasn't targeted against the Titans, but he delivered a strip-sack that was recovered by the Packers. A day later, he made a difficult interception during the team period of closed practice.  Maybe the Packers will decide to keep five corners (considering Micah Hyde can play cornerback in a pinch) and attempt to stash Goodson on the practice squad, but it's equally possible Rolle will play his way onto the final roster. 

 

Thoughts on the other positional competitions: 

WR: Chris Harper looks the part, but his two drops against the Titans need to be caught. Consistency is the name of the game at this level…Myles White can play the slot but you'd like him to contribute more on special teams. He's been underwhelming as a returner…Jeff Janis is still the great unknown. 

TE: Brandon Bostick has run-after-the-catch ability similar to that of Jermichael Finley. A touch slower, but he's a big man who is going to be difficult to bring down….Richard Rodgers can both catch and block. He's the best combo tight end the Packers have. He'll start a bunch of games in 2014, if healthy.

OLB: Nick Perry was playing snaps into the second half with the third team defense, while rookie Carl Bradford had an empty eight-snap debut…Jayrone Elliott and Adrian Hubbard saw only six snaps. That fourth preseason game will be huge for the undrafted pair.

ILB: Brad Jones made a few plays, but he also got lost and then took a terrible angle on Shonn Greene's touchdown run…Sam Barrington and Jamari Lattimore love to mix it up and hit. You'd like Barrington to make the tackle short of the sticks on Charlie Whitehurst's circus play, however…It's too bad Joe Thomas will miss time (knee). He looks like one of the team's one or two best undrafted free agents, along with Pennel. 

Returner: DuJuan Harris looks like the best option returning kicks. Who knows at punt returner, as Saturday's conditions failed to provide a great stage for really understanding who can do what. Davante Adams couldn't have asked for a more difficult start.

 

Zach Kruse contributes to Cheesehead TV. He is also the Lead Writer for the NFC North at Bleacher Report. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (11) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

I can't believe i'm going to say it (and I hate to take too much away from 1 pre-season game), but I'm starting to lean toward keeping both Flynn and Tolzien.

RCPackerFan's picture

I think there is a possibility that they keep 3.
Tolzien really has a great arm. I am looking forward to seeing him more in the preseason games.

RCPackerFan's picture

Maybe not great. But I would say very good. His arm is a lot better then Flynn' s and he seemed to have good control of the offense. Flynn though has proven to be able to win games for the team whereas Tolzien hasn't. But maybe in the next 3 preseason games he will prove it.

White92's picture

Funny how when Tolzien was coming out, he didn't have a strong arm. Either he did a lot of work, or "experts" were wrong.

Bear's picture

Jones responsibility is to read the play........he didn't.

Bear's picture

Played LB at the college level, coached at the college level.........you sound impressive but in reality are full of hot air!

Evan's picture

Just whip them out, guys, and get it over with.

MarkinMadison's picture

None of the bottom receivers have won a job yet. Janis has a clear shot to come out this weekend and do it.

Tolzien over Flynn. Keep Flynn on speed dial.

Pennell before any 4th running back. Good big men are hard to find, and Raji shouldn't be playing more than 75% of the defensive snaps. Plus they will probably need a replacement for him for next year.

Bear's picture

Worthy is gone.......traded to New England

RCPackerFan's picture

Kind of an interesting thought, in the off-season the top 2 UDFA' s everyone was talking about was Lyerla and Hubbard. Now that we are going through camp the top 2 are Neal and Pennel. I think there is a good chance that both make it.
Neal showed why I have said he was a dark horse to make the roster in the first preseason game. Hopefully his knee injury doesn't prevent him a chance from making the roster.
Pennel has surprised me. I didn't expect him to come in and play as well as he has. I hope to see him continue to get better and play well because he has something you can't teach. And that is size.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Whether to keep 2 or 3 QBs on the roster has always come down for me to two questions: 1) who do we have to cut in order to keep that 3rd QB; and 2) will any other team sign Flynn (or Tolzien) if cut by GB? We will have to wait to see in order to answer question 1. If we are talking about cutting (or trying to stash the player on PS where applicable) say, Janis, R. Neal, Pennel, Bradford, Mulumba, Goodson, Bush, Kuhn, Rolle, R. Taylor, or some other player who in the next few weeks stands out (maybe Elliot, Thomas, Hubbard, Lyerla, etc.), that would give me pause about keeping 3 QBs. I am sure TT has a better idea about what other teams might do than I do, but many on this site have suggested that Flynn in particular, if cut, would not be picked up by another team.

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