This Saturday, the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos square off in a preseason contest, and with just 120 minutes of football remaining in the exhibition season, every snap is a big test for players on the middle and bottom of the teams’ rosters.
For the Packers, questions remain at a handful of positions. While a large portion of the roster appears set, there are still six or seven spots that appear relatively fluid and that will come down to the performances that players put on tape during the final two contests and the last few training camp practices.
Today, we examine five (well, actually six) players who we’ll be watching closely on Saturday as they try to make the 53-man roster or entrench themselves in a specific role on the Packers’ depth chart.
The rumors and speculation about Vince Biegel’s potential return are swirling, with one report indicating that he will be cleared next week. One thing is certain — his activity level has been ramping up in practice as he continues to do more and more work on the sidelines.
If Biegel is indeed cleared, that muddies the roster chances for Gilbert, the second-year pro who spent last season on the practice squad. By all accounts, Gilbert has been the most impressive edge rusher behind the top four of Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Jayrone Elliott, and Kyler Fackrell; he also is the only other player at the position aside from those four who is not in his rookie year. A big performance this week by Gilbert — whether in the second half or rotating in with the first- or second-string defenses — would go a long way to convincing the Packers to keep him around as a sixth edge rusher should Biegel return in time for week one.
For all of his struggles in training camp so far, Gunter has caught the eye of one set of football analysts in the Packers’ two preseason games:
The highest graded cornerbacks in the NFL through two weeks of preseason pic.twitter.com/PpmjoIJtPM— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 25, 2017
Interestingly, the two players who were on the final bubble for APC in our latest 53-man roster prediction from earlier this week are Gunter and Pipkins -- and the rookie Pipkins ended up getting the nod.
Gunter’s PFF grade probably got a big boost from a play he made against the Eagles in the first game, when he forced a fumble by tight end Trey Burton and recovered the football. Outside of that play, which goes down as a solo tackle, Gunter has just three assisted tackles and no pass breakups in 48 snaps.
In order to feel remotely safe about making the team next week, Gunter will need a very good performance against the Broncos.
Reports out of camp this week indicate that Gray, the undrafted rookie from Canada, has leapfrogged sixth-round draft pick Kofi Amichia to earn a spot on the second-team offensive line at guard. With Amichia struggling to adjust to the NFL, backup interior lineman Don Barclay still on the shelf with an ankle injury, and fellow guard Lucas Patrick primarily playing center at this point, Gray will have a prime opportunity to demonstrate his skills in front of Brett Hundley in Denver.
American football is quite a different game from the Canadian version, but Gray appears to be making the adjustment well in his first year as a pro. Here’s hoping he doesn’t have to use his old, busted printer again if he is offered a spot on the 53-man roster.
Oh, how quickly things can change.
A week ago, Packers fans were excited — rightfully so — about Davis’ special teams contributions. After all, he broke off a 68-yard punt return touchdown that gave fans hope for the return game. Then on Saturday, Davis muffed his first punt return attempt and generally looked uncomfortable fielding those kicks.
Even without a special teams gaffe, Davis has been less than impressive as a receiver so far, with just one catch for 12 yards on three targets over 43 offensive snaps. I’m not saying he has played his way off the roster, but he definitely needs a bounce-back game on Saturday.
Kyle Murphy/Jason Spriggs
I’m cheating a bit here, as this is a two-for-one and both players appear likely to make the 53-man roster anyway. However, Murphy and Spriggs appear to be locked in a battle for the backup right tackle job and both should see time with the starting offense due to Bryan Bulaga’s ankle injury. Even though head coach Mike McCarthy has said that both players have had good training camps, Spriggs took a thrashing last week in Washington from both opposing pass-rushers and fans.
Meanwhile, Murphy has quietly put together a solid camp of his own, and was the first player to jump in for Bulaga in Wednesday’s practice when he went down. These two second-year tackles will get a tough test against a fearsome Broncos pass rush that features All-Pro Von Miller, so it will be a trial by fire. If either or both can hold up well, that should allay some of the Packers’ concerns should Bulaga indeed miss time to start the regular season.