With tonight's game starting at 7:00 p.m. Central time, here's three quick things to watch in each phase of the game:
- Offense – Offensive line: The play of first-round draft choice Bryan Bulaga will be foremost among many observers' viewing plans this evening both at left guard and at left tackle. Will Bulaga be able to hold the edge if or when Chad Clifton gets hurt this year? It will be imperative that Bulaga is able to handle speed moves by defensive ends and linebackers while trying to protect the quarterback's blindside. And how will he be able to handle two positions in one game? Bulaga can't look overwhelmed. Elsewhere on the offensive line, the absences of Jason Spitz and T.J. Lang will open the door for others. Breno Giacomini has had a really good training camp so far, and he figures to get even more snaps at right tackle if Lang doesn't play. A good showing will only help his chances. With Spitz out, guys like Evan Dietrich-Smith and Nick McDonald should get more playing time on the interior of the line.
- Defense – Making up for a lack of depth at inside linebacker: Nick Barnett and Alex Joseph most likely won't play, so others are going to get a chance to prove themselves. In the past week, A.J. Hawk has shown improvement in pass coverage after struggling the past couple years. Has he been getting lucky or can he continue his solid play? Desmond Bishop has been known for making big plays in the preseason and should have plenty of opportunities this evening. Can he excel in pass coverage and can he get after the quarterback on the blitz? Beyond the starters, two-way player Spencer Havner should get some playing time on defense tonight. If the Packers go with only three inside linebackers on the 53-man roster, he'll have to be ready to play at a moment's notice. Robert Francois was flashing at outside linebacker before being switched to the inside. Will he continued to make strides? And it should be fun watching Maurice Simpkins get his first taste of NFL football.
- Special teams – Where fringe players must make their living: The types of players who are fighting for a roster spot should be watched carefully. Cornerback Sam Shields has done a good job on defense but will have to make an impact on special teams to stick around. He should get an opportunity to return some kicks and punts, but he must provide versatility elsewhere as well. Using his speed to his advantage can really help him get downfield on kickoffs and punt coverage. Quinn Porter has a legitimate chance to become the third-string running back. If he shows he's just as quick returning kickoffs as he is on offense, that will only increase his chances. And for tight end Tom Crabtree, his blocking is going to help him as much on special teams as it will on offense.
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