With only one preseason game remaining on Thursday evening before the cutdown to 53 players occurs on Saturday Aug. 31, it’s the final opportunity for players to impress as their roster lives hang in the balance.
For a variety of circumstances, the players listed below are among the biggest question marks on the team and would appear to be on the roster bubble.
They’re all in need of boffo showing against the Kansas City Chiefs, which would boost their chances of sticking around in Green Bay beyond the weekend.
Running Back James Starks
From all accounts, Starks has had a terrific training camp, and better yet, has stayed largely healthy. A clean bill of health has always been the biggest stumbling block for Starks, but kudos to him for holding up his end of the bargain in that department.
Starks had worked with the starters for most of the summer, in particular the Family Night scrimmage and the team’s first preseason game. While he wasn’t spectacular, he didn’t do anything to hurt his stock either. And then came the team’s second preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.
Following a rush of negative-two yards, Starks fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Rams. It was the only glaring blemish on Starks’ record this summer, and to be fair, he didn’t get much blocking in front of him on that particular play.
The next week against the Seahawks, Starks didn’t see any action until the final minutes of the game. Perhaps he was in the doghouse, or perhaps it’s because the coaching staff already knows what they’re getting in Starks, now in his fourth season, and want to see more from the younger players on the team.
With DuJuan Harris lost for the season with a knee injury, a door may have been opened for Starks, but he’s no lock for a roster spot. Behind Eddie Lacy, he’s competing with Johnathan Franklin and Alex Green for playing time, and the odds aren’t good that the Packers have four halfbacks active on regular season game days.
Wide Receiver Jeremy Ross
Mike McCarthy has said on multiple occasions that he’d like to relieve Randall Cobb of his special teams duties so as not to be exposed to injury, and he can concentrate on offense. But the Packers aren’t going to take Cobb off returns just for the sake of doing so. They need to trust the player they trot out on the field to handle kicks and punts.
In an ideal world, the Packers would like Ross to be that player. But Ross also needs to needs to show consistency and a sure pair of hands. Fair or not, a cloud still hangs over him as a result of his muffed punt return in the loss to the 49ers in the playoffs last season.
It’s perhaps surprising that the Packers haven’t shown more faith in Ross, at times having him work behind Micah Hyde on punt returns and behind Alex Green on kick returns during practice. Maybe it’s just a case of keeping him hungry and not wanting to hand the job to him outright.
There’s a spot for Ross on the roster if he can fill a dual receiver/returner role for the Packers, but he’s also competing with other promising young receivers like Tyrone Walker, Charles Johnson and Myles White. None of them are going down without a fight.
Tight End Andrew Quarless
The uncertainty surrounding Quarless has less to do with his talent and more about his ability to come back from injury.
After suffering a severe knee injury with multiple torn ligaments in 2011, his comeback was delayed by a quad injury early in training camp that kept him out of the team’s first two preseason game. Quarless is now back healthy, but is there a roster spot for him?
What might be perceived as Quarless’ weakness could actually be a strength. He’s not as good as receiver as Jermichael Finley and definitely not as fast or fluid. And he’s probably not as good a run blocker as Matthew Mulligan. Those grim realities will make it a challenge for the Packers to find playing time for Quarless.
But Quarless might be the most well-rounded tight end on the team. He’s a better blocker than Finley and a better receiver than Mulligan. When Mulligan is on the field, it might indicate that the Packers are going to run the football. With Quarless, he’s a dual threat. The Packers may not be tipping their cap when he’s on the field.
Offensive Lineman Greg Van Roten
Simply from an experience and size standpoint, you’d like to see Van Roten become the Packers’ primary backup interior offensive lineman. He’s entering his second season in the NFL, and according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he’s 6-3 and 314 lbs.
Van Roten, however, is a converted college tackle. He just doesn’t have the experience at center that a guy like Patrick Lewis provides.
The mistakes have been evident from Van Roten both in practice and in preseason games, either popping snaps over the quarterback’s head or not getting them high enough. An NFL center should only be allowed to have one of those mistakes an entire season, not once every game.
Lewis, meanwhile, has been the center for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M in 2012 and now Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill before that. He’s comfortable at center and it shows.
While Lewis isn’t huge at 6-1 and 305 lbs. (again, according to McGinn), the Packers were in good hands with a center of similar size in former Pro Bowler Scott Wells. Van Roten is going to have to be be reliable with both his snapping and his blocking if he’s going to gain the Packers’ trust.
Outside Linebacker Dezman Moses
A year ago, Moses was the darling of training camp, coming in as an undrafted rookie and winning a roster spot after exceeding expectations in just his first year in the NFL.
One season later, Moses has been largely invisible thus far through training camp and hasn’t separated himself from this year’s rookies. That’s a scary prospect considering that Moses was thought to be the No. 3 outside linebacker on the team behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, just an injury away from being a starter.
There’s perhaps two jobs available between three players––Moses, Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba. Moses has the edge in experience but both Palmer and Mulumba have shown flashes that the can be good defenders.
Who makes the roster could literally come down to who plays the best on Thursday evening, or who stays healthy.
Inside Linebacker Jamari Lattimore
Is special teams enough to keep Lattimore on the roster for the 2013 season? Remember, this is a player that was voted a playoff captain by his teammates last season in just his second year in the NFL.
Lattimore was out for the coin flip in the postseason last year along with the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. He’s respected that much.
While Lattimore might be a core special teams player, for my money, he’s probably the sixth best of six inside linebackers on the team with Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk, Robert Francois, Terrell Manning and Sam Barrington all ahead of him.
Lattimore actually entered the NFL as an outside linebacker, where he spent his rookie season. Perhaps he might have more value if he got back to his roots and became a hybrid inside and outside linebacker, able to back up either position in a pinch.
Certainly, Mason Crosby is an enigma too, but right now, he’s in a category all his own.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.
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