The Green Bay Packers open their preseason schedule in 2014 with a trip to Tennessee to play the Titans Saturday night.
The Packers and Titans once faced off in the preseason every year from 2002 to 2009, but Saturday will mark the first time since '09 that the two teams have played an exhibition contest.
Here's five questions to ponder ahead of the opener:
Is JC Tretter ready to win the center job?
Mike McCarthy has been unwavering in his support of JC Tretter, the second-year former tackle who is transitioning to center. During camp, the Packers head coach has given Tretter every opportunity to nail down the starting center job. His early camp performances can only be considered so-so, and one could argue rookie Corey Linsley has been more impressive in 1-on-1 drills. Tretter is essentially a rookie himself. A significant ankle injury suffered at OTAs last spring robbed Tretter of most of last season, so Saturday night will actually represent his first ever preseason game. He needs the live reps, and he needs to show that he's capable of handling the job as the starting center for an offense that expects to be very good. Tretter is still the favorite to win the job, but he can't afford too many hiccups during these exhibition games.
Will the second and third string offense be watchable?
Aaron Rodgers isn't likely to play more than one or two series, so it'll be the Matt Flynn-Scott Tolzien-Chase Rettig show at quarterback for most of Saturday. In recent preseasons, the Packers offense has been mostly unwatchable once the starters have left the field. The likes of Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman and Vince Young struggled mightily behind a shaky second and third team offensive line. The assumption here is that the Packers will be much better once Rodgers leaves during this preseason, given the fact that Flynn and Tolzien both have starting experience at the NFL level. The offensive line depth took a hit with Don Barclay's season-ending injury, but there's still attractive receiving options—at both receiver and tight end—for the two quarterbacks. These reps are important, too; nothing is decided at backup quarterback. Yet.
How will the young safeties fare?
No Morgan Burnett (oblique strain) means Micah Hyde and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will start and play extended time, likely much more than the rest of the starting defense. Hyde is transitioning from cornerback and needs the snaps, and Clinton-Dix is a rookie preparing to play in his first ever NFL preseason game. Hyde has been running with the first-team defense with Burnett healthy, but the job hasn't been won. What the two put on film during the exhibition season will help determine who is starting in Seattle Sept. 4. And don't sleep on Sean Richardson, who McCarthy said Thursday is having a "hell of a training camp," and Chris Banjo, an unlikely member of the final 53-man roster last season who has had some standout plays in this camp. The four will play the majority of the snaps Saturday, as Burnett and Tanner Miller (ankle) have already been ruled out. Undrafted free agent Charles Clay is the team's only other safety.
Who will stand out at the depth positions?
McCarthy said Thursday that he's looking for players to "stand out," which applies to all positions but especially to the few flooded with depth. Receiver and outside linebacker are arguably the deepest two positions on the team, with five receivers (Chris Harper, Kevin Dorsey, Jeff Janis, Myles White and Alex Gillett) fighting for one or maybe two rosters spot and a hoard of edge rushers (Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Carl Bradford, Jay Elliott and Adrian Hubbard) attempting to find a spot on the final roster. Some have had moments at camp, but jobs will be won between the white lines of preseason games. Inside linebacker is another position to watch, as undrafted rookie Joe Thomas attempts to make the roster and Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington fight to steal Brad Jones' starting job. Injuries to Letroy Guion and Jerel Worthy have opened up a potential roster spot along the defensive line, Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins have flashed at running back and an extra offensive lineman will need to be identified to replace Barclay's roster spot. And don't forget about the tight ends, where little is settled. Colt Lyerla (knee) is no longer a factor, but guys such as Brandon Bostick and Richard Rodgers could make a big impression in this setting. Playing with a competent quarterback will help their chances of making an impact.
How will the medical situation look post game?
Preseason is all about talent evaluation, but the only way the Packers leave Tennessee as winners Saturday night is if the injury report post game is a short one. It's the nature of the business; teams need exhibition games to work out kinks and judge young, untested players in a new, unfamiliar environment. Bottom of the roster players can win jobs by impressing during the preseason, but teams can also be devastated by an injury to a starter at a premium position. It's the balancing act all teams face in a physical sport like football. These games need to be played, but the risk of injury is always present. The Packers will feel good about the opener if the first-team offense and defense play a healthy series or two and then depart to the sidelines for the rest of the night.
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