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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 zachkruse2@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (17) 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.

RC Packer Fan'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.

Stroh's picture

I don't think I would go so far as to say he has a great arm. Good, better than Flynn, but certainly not great. I'm not convinced enough to move him ahead of Flynn after one preseason game. He played pretty well. Flynn has proven he can win games and protect the ball, Tolzien hasn't.

RC Packer Fan'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.

Stroh's picture

I don't consider preseason games proving you can win in the NFL. I give him credit, he played well. Tho it was noted by several Packer writers that Flynn actually played during the torrential downpour, while it merely rained or had stopped for most of Tolziens snaps. Last year Tolzien showed he could move the ball well enough (between the 20's) , but he couldn't get into the end zone nearly enough, threw too many bad INT's and didn't win.

They'll probably switch the order of Flynn and Tolzien this week to even up the snaps overall and against quality of opponents players, but don't read too much into that.

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.

Stroh's picture

Sorry author but you need to go back and watch the replay again. If you did you would notice the player that made the mistake on the TD run was Daniels. On the snap, if you watch the play closely and the replay of the game clearly shows it, Jones takes a step forward upon reading run. That clearly indicates that Jones is stepping to his gap, as he's supposed to. Daniels, instead of maintaining gap integrity, over-reacts and collapses inside. Daniels allowed the huge hole to open up to his outside shoulder. Jones gets trapped inside after he stepped to his gap (which he is taught to do) and then has to try to recover to make up for Daniels mistake. Daniels collapsing inside and Pepper (the OLB) moving upfield creates the huge alley for the RB.

The Defensive integrity is vital for the Defensive play call to work. Each player has to maintain his responsibility. Daniels certainly didn't play his responsibility and Peppers may not have (he allowed the LT, who showed a pass set to entice Peppers upfield) depending on who he should be reading on the play, the QB and backfield or the LT. The mistake wasn't Jones', he stepped to his gap upon reading run, it was Daniels and possibly Peppers.

Bear's picture

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

Stroh's picture

LB have gap responsibilities too... Apparently you dont' know much about football. LB have responsibilities and don't have complete freedom to just run to the ball. Is it Jones' fault that Daniels didn't maintain his gap responsibilities? Hell no. Jones played it exactly like a LB w/ gap is supposed too.

The Defense is dependent on EVERY player playing their responsibility for the Defensive call to work. Jones did and Daniels didn't. Even Peppers possibly didn't. Go read and learn or maybe ask a football coach. Even a HS coach would be able to clue you in...

See unlike you I actually talk to a friend who played a little college LB and educate myself. Matt Bowen writes a lot of articles on football, most of which I've read to educate myself. Maybe you should give it a try.

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.

Stroh's picture

"For instance, he (Peppers) was a big reason Titans running back Shonn Greene scored so easily on a 13-yard touchdown run that was the final play of the No. 1 defense's night. Peppers got too far up field and turned his back to the sideline, which opened a huge hole for Greene to cut inside and go for the score. There might have been a defensive mix-up, because defensive lineman Mike Daniels barreled too far inside also."

Per PackerNews.com's Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.

Game... Set... Match... I guess I sound REALLY impressive now.

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

RC Packer Fan'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.

GoldFinger's picture

Excellent points Great Reynaldo. As far as the qb's go, I think TT keeps two qb's and the backup will be Scott Tolzein. Cleveland wanted him bad last year and the Packers paid him a lot of money to stay. You can tell MM loves this guy and his huge potential which we are just starting to see. To me he's one of those guys you talk about that takes that "jump" from one year to another. Tolzein is a keeper and a damn good one. He's further along in his play than Rodgers was when he first started out.

Flynn is Flynn. He's the luckiest guy on the face of the earth. Sorry Lou but it's true. The guy has made an absolute killing financially off of one game three years ago. Amazing. Flynn amazingly keeps regressing year by year yet he's still hanging in there but the rope is starting to tighten finally. He couldn't beat out Wilson, he lost to Pryor in Oakland, Buffalo lets him go and now he's losing out to Tolzein for a backup position.

Is this the year lady luck finally runs out for Matt Flynn? I say yes. Green Bay lets him go and nobody will pick him up. He'll be available if they need him. If they let Tolzein go, he's picked up in two seconds. That's the difference between the two in my opinion.

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