The Green Bay Packers conclude their 2013 preseason schedule on Thursday night with a trip to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
The matchup will mark the fourth straight season in which Green Bay has played Kansas City in the preseason finale. The Packers have won two straight meetings and hold a 7-6-1 advantage all-time against the Chiefs in exhibition play.
Here’s five things you could watch during Thursday’s fourth and final preseason game:
1. VY’s Extended Look
In this very game last August, the Packers were saved from looking elsewhere at backup quarterback when Graham Harrell finally put together an NFL-caliber performance against the Chiefs. After three straight uninspiring showings, Harrell was nearly flawless (13 of 15, 223 yards, two TDs) in the preseason finale. He has since been released, leaving backup front runner Vince Young to start in Kansas City. Young obviously doesn’t need to post a perfect 158.3 passer rating to win the backup job, but the Packers would like to see him continue taking steps forward, both in terms of the offensive playbook and the subtle fundamental changes the coaching staff is making with 30-year-old quarterback. A strong couple of quarters, in which Young flashes the same improvisational skills that helped lead a touchdown drive against Seattle last Saturday, should be more than enough for the Packers to declare him Aaron Rodgers’ backup to start the 2013 season.
2. Sorting the WRs
Randall Cobb (biceps), Jordy Nelson (knee) and James Jones (rest) are unlikely to play Thursday night, leaving the Packers with an opportunity to sort out the bottom of their receiver depth chart. Jarrett Boykin appears locked in as the No. 4 receiver, and he should get a majority of the early snaps with Young at quarterback. The four remaining receivers—Jeremy Ross, Tyrone Walker, Charles Johnson and Myles White—will take center stage opposite Boykin. Ross offers special teams value, but is he accomplished enough as a receiver to warrant a roster spot? Walker has caught everything thrown his way in camp, but is he a good enough athlete to consistently win against anything more than backups? Johnson has been nicked up all camp, leaving Thursday as his last opportunity to show he belongs, either as the No. 5 receiver or on the practice squad. White might be the biggest roster long shot of the bunch, although a spot on the practice squad still remains a realistic goal. The Packers should get the film they need on the bottom four receivers Thursday night. Whoever grasps the opportunity might put themselves on the fast track to a roster spot. Remember, Boykin caught five passes and a touchdown in the finale last year to secure his spot.
3. Keeping the Crosby Roller Coaster Trending Up
Mason Crosby all but wrapped up the kicking job Tuesday, making 14 of 14 kicks (or 13 or 14 if his one long kick actually did come up short) during the two-session practice while challenger Zach Ramirez missed 10 of his 16 attempts. The Packers sent the rookie packing a few hours later to get to 75 players. Giorgio Tavecchio might still be in play long term, but barring a mental and physical breakdown against the Chiefs, Crosby will be the Packers kicker in Week 1 against the 49ers. The coaching staff will once again want to see Crosby’s strong week translate to a live game setting, where he has been flawless this preseason. Crosby can still be an above average kicker in the NFL; he just needs to avoid having any one mistake snowball into a bigger problem. An uneventful Thursday night from the kicking game would be welcomed.
4. Decisions in the Return Game
Randall Cobb’s battle with a biceps injury could be a season-long affair, making the discovery of a replacement kick and punt returner all the more important. Ross has looked confident catching the football this preseason, and he leads the team with three kick returns for 77 yards. He is still the most talented returner on the team save for Cobb. However, Alex Green has put his name into the kick returning competition, and Micah Hyde is a natural for punt returns. Both players also have more security in terms of roster spots and roles than Ross, who is still fighting to be the No. 5 receiver. If Green and Hyde prove capable in the final preseason game, Ross could see his spot on the 53-man roster evaporate.
5. Position Battles
The fourth preseason game will offer a final battle ground for these positional groupings:
- Linebacker: Inside linebacker is especially jammed, with six players worthy of a roster spot. Can the Packers keep all six? On the outside, Andy Mulumba has become a favorite to win a backup role. But will the Packers keep four, and is Dezman Moses, who has struggled this month, still a roster lock?
- Backup offensive line: The starters are likely locked into place, but the backups are far from settled. The Packers will get a full game’s worth of film to decide who are the sixth, seventh and eighth offensive linemen to start 2013.
- Safety: Will Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings play? Maybe, but Thursday night might turn into the Chris Banjo show. He’s flashed in each preseason game, and another big night might lock up his spot as the team’s No. 4 safety.
- Tight end: The Packers were able to keep all seven tight ends for the preseason finale. The position is a muddled mess behind starter Jermichael Finley, which turns Thursday night into a major deciding point for the other six.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.