The third game is usually when the starters see the most snaps of the preseason, but with injuries already starting to pile up, that may not be the case on Saturday night for the Green Bay Packers as they take on the Philadelphia Eagles.
We all know by now that Jordy Nelson is lost for the season, but other key injuries on the offense may result in Aaron Rodgers being a fan on the sideline as well. Three offensive linemen, tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and guards Josh Sitton (ankle) and T.J. Lang (concussion), are all expected to miss the game as well. With 60% of the line missing, do not be surprised if Mike McCarthy decides not to trot Rodgers out there with a first-string defense gunning for him.
With that in mind, we have chosen five positions to keep a close eye on as the Packers look to avoid any more catastrophic injuries before the regular season begins.
We have already touched on the fact that Rodgers is unlikely to play. Beyond that, backup Scott Tolzien has yet to clear concussion protocol and will join Rodgers on the sideline. This will give both rookie Brett Hundley and journeyman Matt Blanchard considerably more snaps than they have seen through the first two games. It will be interesting to see how McCarthy divides their playing time. Will they each get one half, or will they rotate each series so both can get action against the Eagles' top defense?
While it is assumed Hundley has the upper hand on the third quarterback job, McCarthy has yet to make it official. If there is still competition for a roster spot, this game will have a huge impact on the final decision.
Who will step up in Nelson's absence? Randall Cobb and Davante Adams now become the clear 1-2 combination in the offense, but questions remain after that. Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis appear to be the next in line, but how they will be used has yet to be seen. Janis has the advantage of regular season experience over rookie Montgomery, but he caught just two passes in his first season last year.
There has been a buzz around Montgomery throughout camp in regards to his athleticism and high football IQ. Janis' straight-line speed makes him a legitimate deep threat, but this detail-oriented offense requires much more out of the Packers' receivers than running go routes. These last two preseason games will provide a great opportunity for these two to solidify a spot in Green Bay's frequent 3-receiver sets.
As was mentioned earlier, only two starters, center Corey Linsley and tackle Bryan Bulaga, are expected to suit up for this game. This will give tackle Don Barclay an opportunity to prove he is better than the poor display he put on in both New England and Pittsburgh. With Barclay's struggles at left tackle thus far, one has to wonder if he is the top choice at the position behind Bakhtiari. While another option would be to slide Bulaga to the left and insert Barclay at right tackle, it is hard to imagine the coaching staff taking away Bulaga's snaps on the right side until absolutely necessary.
Another name to watch on the line is Josh Walker. He is slowly emerging as a top backup option at four of the five spots, minus center. So far this preseason he has seen time at both the tackle and guard position, and has yet to surrender a sack in 75 snaps. It will be interesting to see where he is used, and how much time he sees at each spot.
Letroy Guion's three-game suspension was upheld earlier this week. Combine that with the one-game suspension to Datone Jones and a big, albeit temporary, hole needs to be filled. The chance is there for guys like Mike Pennel, Bruce Gaston, Christian Ringo and Khyri Thornton to solidify a roster spot.
The good news is Mike Daniels, the team's best interior pass rusher, returned to practice this week and is expected to see his first action of the preseason. It will be important for him to get up to game speed ahead of the season opener in Chicago.
Clay Matthews' absence in games so far leaves a lot to be figured out for both the outside and inside linebacker spots. It has been established that Matthews will again see time on the inside next to Sam Barrington, but how much is unknown at this point. It will be key to get him on the field alongside Barrington and working as a unit. Thankfully, his season debut should be this game. If he is called on to slide back outside in the base defense, someone needs to step up in the middle. Nate Palmer and Jake Ryan are the top two options for now, but they need to be ready to fill in on short notice.
As for the outside spot opposite Julius Peppers, no clear answer has been given as to who the primary beneficiary will be. Andy Mulumba has shined while Mike Neal and Nick Perry have missed time. Much like the last preseason, Jayrone Elliott has once again been an unstoppable force, but has yet to see time against a top offense. The good news here is that with Neal and Perry healthy, there are plenty of options. Chances are one of these guys can be an adequate replacement for Matthews when he moves inside.