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Packers bubble watch, final edition: Critical position battles in the preseason finale

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We break down five positions to watch and the players battling for roster spots in tonight’s game.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers The Post-Crescent-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers close out the 2017 preseason on Thursday evening against the Los Angeles Rams, and a handful of roster spots should be decided on the field this evening. With much of the 53-man roster decided, there should remain just a few battles for roster spots, along with a few players on the roster jockeying for position on the depth chart.

Here’s a look at a few of the spots that should be decided tonight.

Cornerback

Bubble players: Josh Hawkins, LaDarius Gunter, Lenzy Pipkins
Long shots: Donatello Brown, Raysean Pringle

The Packers’ top four corners are locked in. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins are healthy and are showing glimpses of the potential that got them drafted in rounds one and two of the 2015 draft. Davon House is back to provide veteran leadership, returning to a man scheme that suits his skills. And top rookie draft pick Kevin King probably will not crack the top three immediately, but he is obviously a lock to make the team and should be in the rotation.

After that, the picture gets quite murky.

Hawkins has probably had the best camp of the bubble players, with consistently good work in practice and a pair of solid games coming after a mediocre performance against the Eagles. Gunter has an edge over the rookies given his experience and size, which might be enough for him to overcome a lack of speed once again. Pipkins has graded out well in preseason games, though, and he’s not much smaller than Gunter but is significantly faster.

The bet here is that the Packers still elect to keep six corners, which means two of the bubble players make it. Watch the second and third-string defenses closely, as a single big play or blown assignment could make all the difference.

Defensive Line

Bubble players: Christian Ringo, Brian Price

With Dean Lowry back and practicing, the Packers’ top four linemen are all ready to go (that’s also including Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, and Ricky Jean Francois). With Montravius Adams likely to land on the active roster (but be unable to play early in the season with a broken foot), the Packers quite possibly would keep a sixth lineman for depth. Ringo and Price are the two players to pick from, with Ringo impressing last Saturday and Price having a better start to camp.

Here’s a sneaky suspicion I have, however; I’m guessing that the Packers keep just five linemen (including Adams) on Saturday, then send Adams to injured reserve on Sunday to preserve his eligibility as a designated for return player later in the season. Then, if Ringo and/or Price clear waivers — and it seems likely that at least one of them would — the Packers can sign them back onto the 53 on Sunday when sending Adams to IR.

Interior Offensive Line

Bubble players: Don Barclay, Lucas Patrick, Kofi Amichia, Geoff Gray, Justin McCray
Long shot: Adam Pankey

The backup situation on the interior of the Packers’ line is, quite simply, a mess. Second-year tackles Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy are solid to make the team. If not for Barclay’s ankle injury, his positional versatility and experience would make him a lock as well; as it sits now, he’s likely to make the team (especially if the medical staff feels good about his potential to return soon) but is far from a sure thing. Luckily for him, nobody behind him has stepped up in his absence. McCray might be a sneaky pick at this point, as he has played center with both Barclay and Patrick (concussion) on the shelf.

The Packers probably roster two of these players, bringing them to a total of nine offensive linemen. If any one of them can show anything significant tonight, that might be enough to pull him ahead of the pack.

Wide Receiver

Likely to make the team: Trevor Davis
Bubble players: Jeff Janis, Max McCaffrey, DeAngelo Yancey, Malachi Dupre
Long shot: Michael Clark

With Geronimo Allison suspended for week one, the Packers can realistically keep three of the remaining wide receivers on Saturday’s initial 53-man roster — and one of them will play against Seattle in week one as the team’s de facto WR4.

Davis’ recent performances put him squarely in the “comfortable, but not too comfortable yet” category; he would need to really screw up tonight to lose a spot, but it’s not impossible. Both Janis and McCaffrey bring size, speed, and special teams ability, but Janis has the edge as the more experienced player. In reality, it is most likely to be McCaffrey battling with Yancey and Dupre for a sixth spot, if the team even decides to keep six — there is no guarantee of that, and given some injury concerns on defense the team may need to keep numbers down elsewhere. It’s up to those three players to have a night to remember against the Rams and force the issue.

It’s hard to imagine the team keeping Clark on the 53 right now, and with just about every team cutting wideouts it’s also difficult to imagine another team claiming him for their active roster. He is as raw as they come, and other teams’ front offices will recognize that. He’ll have a job by Monday on somebody’s practice squad, but I’ll be legitimately shocked if he’s on a 53-man roster.

Running Back

Likely to make the team: Aaron Jones
Bubble players: Devante Mays, Joe Kerridge

This question is mainly about how many backs the Packers think they can keep on the roster. Like with the wideouts above, the team simply may not be able to keep four tailbacks or two fullbacks to start the year. Jones has been improving of late and is the likely 3rd back; however, the team seems to like Mays, who has shown a willingness to run between the tackles and some unexpected ability as a receiver.

Kerridge’s value is primarily on special teams; in a way, his fate may be tied a bit to Jordan Tripp’s injury, as the inside linebacker plays a similar position on coverage and return units. A big tackle or two on a punt or kickoff might give Kerridge the edge he needs to find his way onto the team.