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Packers vs. Chiefs: 5 Quick Things You Could Watch But Certainly Don't Have To

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Packers vs. Chiefs: 5 Quick Things You Could Watch But Certainly Don't Have To

Those who like watching starters play significant snaps should probably tune away from Thursday's preseason finale between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs.

A vast majority of teams, including the Packers, play their starters just a few snaps—if that—before giving way to the backups and bottom of the roster players. It's a week to rest and protect important players, while also evaluating the men who will and won't make up the last names on the final 53-man roster.

Head coach Mike McCarthy made it clear Tuesday that roster spots can be and often are won during the final preseason game. So many factors go into evaluating a single player, but this final exhibition is clearly an important tool for McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson.

Here's some things to watch in the finale Thursday:

1. Last chance for offseason stars

Remember when all the offseason talk centered around releasing veteran Donald Driver to pave the way for Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley, two promising but completely unproven practice squad receivers? Those screams have all but died in the August heat.

Borel has struggled in games with the second-team offense, dropping two sure first downs and fumbling away a kickoff in San Diego. Gurley missed time early with a hamstring injury and hasn't put any real pressure on the Packers keeping more than five receivers, despite a unique frame. Thursday night is both receivers' last chance to make an impression on the staff. Can either do enough to make the final 53-man roster?

Crazier things have happened, but it's looking more and more like Gurley and Borel are only staying in Green Bay if Thompson can sneak them back onto the practice squad.

2. Shufflin' secondary

The No. 2 cornerback and starting safety spot opposite Morgan Burnett have both been rotating doors, with a number of players getting a shot at proving worthy a starting job.

At this point in the race, it certainly looks like Jarrett Bush will start at corner and Jerron McMillian at safety when the Packers open up the season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 9. But in this race, change has been constant, and McCarthy isn't naming a cemented starter before Thursday. A poor performance could re-open the race, especially at safety. M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine need to make their case. Same with Sam Shields and Casey Hayward.

3. Harrell's next look

There's no need to re-hash the struggles Harrell has had this preseason. Most are well aware of the protection issues and Harrell's inability to extend drives and score points. But the continued stance from up-and-down the organization has been 100 percent backing Harrell, so there's no reason to think Thursday's extended look against the Chiefs will be his last in a Packers uniform.

However, with Aaron Rodgers not likely to play more than a couple of plays (or less), Harrell might get his longest look of the preseason. An improved performance—not necessarily even a solid one—would help Harrell get some of the outside heat off his back.

4. Running to the roster

Second-year running back Alex Green remains on a snap count, but he should get the biggest workload of his short Packers career Thursday night. He'll be the backup to Cedric Benson to start the season, but that doesn't mean his role will be a small one. The Packers are expecting Green to play a role in 2012. He could use a bounce-back performance against the Chiefs after a shaky start in Cincinnati.

Brandon Saine will make his preseason debut after missing time with a hamstring injury. He's on the roster bubble, but an encouraging performance Thursday should lock him in. The staff has always been high on Saine. And if both Green and Saine remain injury free? James Starks could be looking at a trip to IR or flat out release. His recovery from a turf toe injury has been slow, and the Packers have to be wondering if a once promising player will ever be healthy enough to play a serious role. Starks won't play Thursday night.

5. Bubble battles

If there's really anything to watch Thursday night, it's how the players on the roster bubble handle a stressful environment. Some embrace the moment, some crack.

Here's some battles to watch:

  • Daniel Muir/Philip Merling: The Packers haven't kept more than six defensive linemen in either of the last two cutdowns. As it stands currently, five are roster locks: B.J. Raji, Jerel Worthy, Ryan Pickett, Mike Daniels and C.J. Wilson. Neal is suspended for the start of the season and won't count against the 53. Muir and Merling lead the pack to be the No. 6.
  • Terrell Manning/Brad Jones: Jamari Lattimore has locked down a spot on the 53-man roster after seamlessly transitioning to inside linebacker. Robert Francois is a solid bet, too. But both are hurt ahead of Thursday's game, so Manning and Jones will get long looks inside. Jones, because of his versatility and special teams play, is likely ahead of Manning, a fifth-rounder. Thursday will be important to decide if Manning is the third fifth-round pick to be released during final cuts in the Thompson era.
  • Second-team offensive line: The five starters and Evan Dietrich-Smith are locks. The thinking here is that tackle Derek Sherrod will be back sooner rather than later, in hopes of avoiding the PUP list. That's seven linemen. Who is No. 8, or even No. 9? Don Barclay has come on strong as of late. The rest have all had individual struggles. Thursday could be a huge factor in the final decision.
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (14) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Dan Collins's picture

Muir is a big guy with a good motor and speed in space who plays angles and gets tackles. Definitely has a leg up on Merling.

Ryan's picture

I got caught up in all the Gurley hype...he's 6'4! I just looked it up though - Jordy is 6'3 and Finley is 6'5.

So, why exactly has everyone been acting like he would give us some sort of threat that we don't already have?

packsmack25's picture

Well, he has a freakish wingspan that makes him play much taller than even Finley. I am not one of the ardent supporters though.

Jersey Al's picture

6/4", 35 inch arms and 33.5" vertical jump. That's why I was intrigued by the possibilities...

MarkinMadison's picture

I think what got everyone going during the off-season, myself included, was the fact that TT ponied up roster money for two practice squad guys late last season. Why pay them if they were "just guys?" It's not that anyone knew they were good, it's that everyone assumed that TT knew that they were going to be good (well, Gurley had a few great plays last pre-season). We assumed that one or both would be on the roster, one way or another. Some thought DD would be forced out. I wondered if JJ might be cut due to his drops issues (and the stats are there, so let's not go back over it). But at the end of the day these two Borel and Gurley have blown their opportunity.

Evan's picture

There is where I was, and I'm man enough to admit I wrong. Gurley and Borel just didn't show up this camp.

Chad Lundberg's picture

Gurley not only has potential as a receiver, but he has a lot of potential to become a special teams star. He blocked five punts in practice last year, and was close to blocking a punt multiple times in the preseason last year.

And everybody knows that three tall guys is better than two, lol.

FourEyesBrewing's picture

I'd really like to see Harrell play with the starters. Let Rodgers take a break and let's see what Harrell can do when he has talented receivers and a better offensive line.

MarkinMadison's picture

+1

Redlights's picture

I know you're knowlegable, Zach, but why do you perceive Sherrod as being eligible for PUP? PUP is only for a player that didn't practice at all, IIRC.

Given the uncertainty, I'd like to see even 9 OLinemen and at least 7 Dlineman (which you have).

I think Borel and Gurley are like Hawk: a miscalculation by TT. I've moved on and am hoping for Dale Moss to emerge next year.

packeraaron's picture

Sherrod is currently on the active / physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He is eligible to be placed on reserved / physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Redlights's picture

Got it. Thanks!

Ihappydirt's picture

I agree with much of what is said in this article but I don't believe Starks is on the bubble. If Benson were younger and had a bigger GB body of work, maybe, but Starks is young with enough potential that his injuries haven't reached the tipping point, yet, IMO.

Historically, GB seems to keep 5+ RB. There has been a shift to more TEs and LBs, but IMO 5 still make it. Last year's 4 on the cut-down was a rarity, and Saine was added later.

Chad Lundberg's picture

Wow, someone who agrees with me. That I was the only one hadn't given up on Starks yet.

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