The fourth NFL preseason week might be the hardest to watch for most casual football fans.
Starters rarely play more than one series, leaving the majority of the four quarters in the hands of backups and bottom-of-the-roster guys who are fighting like mad for one of the final spots. It's typically a lower quality of football overall because of the players making up the game.
But these realities do not mean Thursday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs has no meaning for the Green Bay Packers.
Head coach Mike McCarthy mentioned Tuesday that players have made the final roster with impressive performances in the final week. Off the top of his head, McCarthy mentioned names such as Vic So'oto, Matt Flynn, Tony Palmer and Tyrell Sutton as those who have "made a statement" in the final preseason game.
As McCarthy put it when asked what roster bubble players can do this week: "Make a statement. Define yourself. Answer a question that's out there about you."
The Packers currently have a number of players who fit that description. Here's a list of those who still have something to prove in the final week:
QB Graham Harrell
There were offseason concerns about Harrell's ability to hold down the backup job, and he's done nothing to calm those fears through three preseason games. Problems on the second-team offensive line are certainly part of the equation here, but Harrell hasn't been sharp even when the protection is there. Thursday gives Harrell his last chance to make an impression before Friday's cuts. If he struggles during an extended look against the Chiefs, could the organization that has backed him without fail have a last-second change of heart?
QB B.J. Coleman
Calls for Coleman to be the backup quarterback were quickly silenced when he threw an interception on his one throw against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 of the preseason. He has all the physical skills—the frame, arm talent—but he's as green as the grass at Lambeau Field. He's probably not ready to be the backup. A strong showing against the Chiefs could make the staff a little worried that Coleman won't make it through to the practice squad.
RB Brandon Saine
Saine has missed most of camp and each of the Packers first three preseason games with a hamstring injury. He returned to practice Monday, and the fact that the coaching staff spoke so glowingly about him early on makes Saine likely to make the final roster. If he makes it through Thursday and shows that the hamstring injury is a thing of the past, James Starks could be in trouble.
RB Marc Tyler
Tyler leads the Packers in carries by a whopping 21 this preseason (Alex Green is second with 12 carries). Injuries have necessitated Tyler getting a big workload against both the Browns and Bengals, but has he shown enough to be practice squad worthy? Tyler pushes the pile forward on most carries, but he runs like he's stuck in molasses. There's very little upside here. A good performance against the Chiefs could stamp his name on a practice squad spot.
WR Diondre Borel
Once a minicamp star, Borel has fallen on his face during three preseason games. He has struggled with his hands on the second-team offense—dropping two sure-fire first downs from Harrell—and he fumbled a kickoff against the Chargers. At this point, Borel getting a spot on the 53-man roster looks like a long shot. The Packers will wonder if they can sneak him back onto the practice squad.
WR Tori Gurley
Like Borel, Gurley has done very little to put pressure on Green Bay keeping more than five receivers. His backers will point to the fact that the Packers don't have a option at receiver like the 6'4" Gurley, and he can contribute on several kick teams. But those attributes haven't exactly transferred over to live games. He needs a big performance against Kansas City to get back into the mix for the 53-man roster.
WR Jarrett Boykin/Dale Moss/Curenski Gilleylen
Thursday represents the final rehearsal for Boykin, Moss and Gilleylen, one of which will likely land on the Packers practice squad. Boykin is the favorite after a really strong camp. He could get picked up by another 53-man roster. Moss has potential but is still very raw. Gilleylen is a versatile player who has been a surprise in camp. A breakout performance from any of the three would go a long ways in deciding who stays in Green Bay beyond Friday.
Entire Second-Team Offensive Line
This is a unit that has been very poor for most of the 2012 preseason. I'm not sure anyone but Evan Dietrich-Smith would stick from this group in most years. The Packers can't realistically keep six offensive linemen, however, so another name or two will need to stay. Veteran Reggie Wells is listed as the backup guard and tackle. Don Barclay has had moments. Shea Allard almost has to be gone. Greg Van Roten looks like a practice squad guy. Andrew Datko (concussion) won't play. On Thursday, someone from the group needs to take a step forward. With Derek Sherrod's availability in question, the depth along the backup line is razor thin.
DE Lawrence Guy
Guy doesn't have a place on the 53-man roster, but he's still a candidate to land on the practice squad. The Packers don't have another defensive lineman who will have a chance at landing on the eight-man squad, so Guy can make a big impression against the Chiefs.
DE Philip Merling
The Packers have kept six defensive lineman in each of the last two initial 53-man rosters. As it currently stands, six defensive linemen are probably ahead of Merling: Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, Jerel Worthy, C.J. Wilson, Mike Daniels and Daniel Muir. Can Merling catch Muir? He needs to standout Thursday.
LB Vic So'oto
Time may have run out for last year's camp darling. So'oto couldn't be blocked 12 months ago, but he has done very little during camp and the preseason. He's now well behind Dezman Moses and Erik Walden at outside linebacker. It would take a big performance both rushing the passer and on special teams for So'oto to make the team in 2012.
LB Terrell Manning
Manning appears to be in danger of becoming just the third fifth-round pick of the Ted Thompson era to be cut before the regular season of his rookie year. Injuries to Rob Francois and Jamari Lattimore may ultimately save his tail, but Manning probably hasn't earned a roster spot. For the most part, he has been a ghost during camp. Manning will have a chance to show his worth in a bigger role with Francois and Lattimore out against the Chiefs.
CB Casey Hayward
Jarrett Bush has taken most of the first-team snaps at right cornerback over the last week, leaving Hayward to work with the second team. That order likely lasts into the regular season unless Hayward makes waves in what figures to be a long look at against the Chiefs. Even then, Bush might have the starting spot opposite Tramon Williams locked up for the Sept. 9 opener.
CB Sam Shields
Shields is no longer in danger of losing his roster spot, but he remains so hot and cold in his film. On one play, he's making an athletic interception. On another, he's falling over and nearly giving up a touchdown. And on even another, he's getting beat by an undrafted free agent receiver on a double move. Just one performance where Shields gives a consistent performance would be a breath of fresh air.
S Jerron McMillian/M.D. Jennings/Anthony Levine
The Packers have given each safety a legitimate chance to take hold of the job, but neither of the three has taken advantage of their opportunity. Thursday becomes the chance for a last impression before the Packers regular season opener. The player who grades out the highest against the Chiefs could ultimately end up as one of Dom Capers' safeties on Sept. 9.
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