The Green Bay Packers will open up their 2013 preseason schedule when the Arizona Cardinals pay a visit to Lambeau Field Friday night.
Overall, the Packers have won six straight preseason games over the Cardinals and hold a 16-6 mark in the exhibition series all-time.
The game will be televised over a 14-station network, with kickoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CT. Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon of CBS will handle the television broadcast, with Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren calling the action for the Packers Radio Network.
Below, we list five things you could watch during Friday's preseason opener:
1. Injuries Open the Door
A season ago, the Packers opened up the preseason in San Diego with 18 players on the sidelines. They might begin 2013 with a similar number wearing shorts and t-shirts at Lambeau Field Friday night.
The following players are either hurt or unlikely to play against the Cardinals: receiver Charles Johnson, receiver Kevin Dorsey, running back DuJuan Harris, cornerback Casey Hayward, cornerback Tramon Williams, tight end Andrew Quarless, tight end Ryan Taylor, receiver Jordy Nelson, safety Sean Richardson, offensive lineman J.C. Tretter, tackle Andrew Datko, tackle Bryan Bulaga, defensive end Jerel Worthy and tackle Derek Sherrod.
Also, running back Eddie Lacy has sat out the last two practices with a hamstring issue, while guard T.J. Lang suffered a back injury during Wednesday's practice that caused him to miss Thursday's session. It's possible neither will play. Randall Cobb returned from a biceps ding and may also be held out for precautionary reasons. Same for Mike Neal, who is just getting back into the flow after an abdominal injury landed him on the PUP list to start camp.
In all, the Packers could be without upwards of 18 players, which should open opportunities for a number of players to see increased reps. Those at receiver and along the offensive line could be the biggest beneficiaries of the injuries heading into the preseason opener.
2. Quarterbacks in the Spotlight
On Thursday, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy expressed an interest in playing all four of his quarterbacks against the Cardinals. As is the case with most established starting quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers will likely get one or two series to open the preseason. From there, McCarthy will have to split the remaining reps between Graham Harrell, Vince Young and B.J. Coleman.
Young has been running as the No. 3 quarterback behind Harrell and ahead of Coleman this week, making it plausible we see a similar rotation Friday night. The 28-year-old Harrell has clearly taken a convincing lead in the race to be Rodgers' backup, but a full slate of preseason games does provide the other two quarterbacks a chance to start making up ground.
Signed on Monday, Young is still in catch-up mode with the offense, but he's also looked uncharacteristically sloppy—especially for a veteran with 50 NFL starts—with simple quarterback tasks. Coleman, a second-year quarterback who was expected to legitimately challenge for the backup job, has taken a serious nose dive since his disappointing appearance in the Family Night scrimmage. It's telling enough that he's been relegated to running the scout team while Young has handled the No. 3 reps.
Both Young and Coleman need to impress starting Friday, or Harrell could make this a no-contest competition.
3. Bakhtiari's First Test
There's no question that Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick of the Packers in April, has impressed the coaching staff and exceeded all expectations during his first training camp. Few foresaw him developing into a major contributor in his rookie season.
But just as Bakhtiari was becoming a serious candidate to displace Marshall Newhouse as the starting right tackle, Bryan Bulaga suffered an ACL tear during the intrasquad scrimmage that will require season-ending surgery. Instead of making the easy decision and moving Newhouse back to left tackle, McCarthy and the Packers are rolling with the stand out rookie on Rodgers' blindside. So far, Bakhtiari has passed the eye test with flying colors.
However, the lights come on for real Friday night, and his $110 million quarterback will no longer be wearing an off-limits red jersey. From the obvious-decision department, McCarthy said Thursday that he plans to give his rookie left tackle an extended look at the position against the Cardinals. Is he up to the challenge? A performance from Bakhtiari that parallels what we've seen from him so far in camp would go a long ways in calming some of the panic Bulaga's season-ending injury has produced.
4. Finding Separation for the Five RBs
Holding Lacy out of Friday's contest would appear to be the Packers most sensible decision, even if his absence would rob Green Bay of seeing its second-round pick in a live-game scenario for the first time. There's really no reason to unnecessarily risk turning what is said to be minor hamstring problem into a lingering issue that could impact the regular season.
But even if Lacy can't go against the Cardinals, the Packers should get a good look at their revamped running back position. Veterans James Starks and Alex Green have each made a case for both sticking around and receiving carries, while fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin has an ideal skill set to be an asset on third downs right away. Undrafted free agent Angelo Pease also had a strong debut in the Family Night scrimmage and should see later carries.
Lacy has taken a big step towards being the primary running back to start the season, but his competition is likely to get the first crack at creating a role for themselves in the preseason opener. Expect Franklin to get a long look if Lacy is held out.
5. Avoiding Injuries
The preseason obviously provides an ideal working environment for a respected talent evaluator like Ted Thompson. Facing an opponent in a game setting gives a more revealing and complete look at the entire roster, from top to bottom.
But even a football junkie like Thompson understands that being healthy ahead of Week 1 trumps all other advantages the preseason offers. He reiterated this week how important it was to "get your horses to the starting gate," which is the perfect metaphor for a team that has already been stung hard by the injury bug this summer.
Keep in mind, the Packers had originally thought they escaped the intrasquad scrimmage with no major injuries, but that turned out not to be the case. Also, in last season's preseason opener, Green Bay lost starting linebacker Desmond Bishop to a season-ending hamstring injury. For as much as the Packers brass can learn in four quarters of a preseason game, the most important ending to Friday night will still be limiting the names added to an already impressive list of injured players.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].
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