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Packers-49ers Preview: What roles will Ryan, Starks, & Montgomery play in 2016?

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In this week’s 5 players to watch, we examine a few players in the running for starting jobs or at least looking for big workloads this season.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers will kick off late this evening in another preseason game, and both teams are expected to play their starters for a significant portion of the contest. We know (or think we know) what to expect from Aaron Rodgers, but there are plenty of question marks about how the team will line up around him this evening.

In this week’s 5 Players to Watch, we examine a few players who have played key roles for the Packers in the past and whose jobs are in jeopardy - which could involve anything from lining up as a starter, getting a significant workload over the course of a season, or just making the team outright.

(And yes, the punting competition between Tim Masthay and Peter Mortell will be worth examining as always, but that almost goes without saying at this point.)

ILB Jake Ryan

While Ryan sat out for about two weeks with a hamstring issue, Sam Barrington returned from his own injury and promptly took Ryan’s place in the starting lineup beside rookie Blake Martinez. Now, even though Ryan is back, he has yet to take a step forward back into the number one defense. One way or another, Ryan will surely play significant snaps for the Packers this season, likely both on defense and on special teams; however, if he wants to regain a starting spot, he’ll need to be impressive against the 49ers’ starters this week.

OLB Jayrone Elliott

Where is the Elliott of yesteryear? Much has been discussed this week about Elliott’s disappearing act - he was the superstar on defense of the last two preseasons, but has all but vanished this summer. Is it a case of him playing well but simply not getting the results that he did previously? Keep an eye on #91 not just to see how he plays but also when he lines up at outside linebacker - if he sees no snaps on defense in the first half, that could be a sign that his tenure in Green Bay is in jeopardy.

WR Ty Montgomery

With Jordy Nelson likely still sitting out tonight’s game, the Packers will probably turn to Montgomery as a replacement, starting opposite Davante Adams in the Packers’ three-wide sets. This should be a great opportunity for the second-year player to continue to show that he can be a playmaker on the boundary, and not just from the slot or the backfield. You could make a similar argument for Jared Abbrederis, but the hunch here is that Abby will get fewer snaps split wide than Montgomery will with Aaron Rodgers throwing the football.

RB James Starks

It seems like we have seen very little of Starks in the first two preseason games. Eddie Lacy was the bell cow on the first drive of each contest, and plowed his way to solid first drives. Tonight, Starks should get more of an opportunity to get into the flow of the game and make an impact. With Lacy running more like he did in 2014 than 2015, Starks may be relegated to a lesser role than he played last season, when he took over as the feature back for significant stretches. But with a big performance (and one that includes holding on to the football), Starks can state his case that he deserves closer to 150 touches than the 100 or so he got in Lacy’s first two seasons.

OL Don Barclay

Barclay is the only player available to back up JC Tretter at center who has any experience at the NFL level. He also has played basically every position on the offensive line at one time or another. And he could be in danger of not making the final 53-man roster due to a pair of draft picks and a re-signed restricted free agent being surer bets to make the team. Can Barclay play well enough to force the team to keep at least nine offensive linemen?