In the vast majority of cases, one preseason game will not make or break a player’s chances for a contributing role or a spot on the season-opening roster. However, their performances make up part of the larger picture, something the Green Bay Packers’ coaches will consider as the preseason progresses.
After the Packers’ 51-34 exhibition victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, several young players stood out, though not all did so in a positive manner.
Reggie Gilbert ended any debate about whether he’d earn a roster spot or a regular role in the Packers defense. At this point, it has become abundantly clear that the former undrafted free agent will serve as the top backup edge rusher behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Gilbert cemented that status with Thursday’s 2.5-sack performance.
Given Gilbert’s upper trajectory -- practice squad in 2016, a late-season elevation to the active roster last year -- the question now becomes whether he can develop into more than a backup. Matthews’ contract expires next offseason, and Vince Biegel has shown little this offseason. Gilbert has a golden opportunity to build a long NFL career if he continues on this path.
Though the second of the two cornerbacks the Packers drafted in April, Josh Jackson possesses the best ball skills at his position in the 2018 rookie class. Jackson delivered a mostly solid debut a week ago and built well upon it on Thursday.
Early in the third quarter, Jackson jumped a Josh Dobbs pass and returned it 22 yards for his first professional pick-six. Just a few minutes later, the Packers sent Jackson back to return his first punt, something he sparingly did during his college career. Despite Steelers punter Jordan Berry booting the ball 56 yards, the rookie corner managed a 41-yard return. With last year’s punt returner Trevor Davis still sitting out with an injury, Jackson could earn another role for himself and potentially free up a spot in Green Bay’s receiving corps.
Jake Kumerow continues to push for a spot on the 53-man roster. He hauled in one of DeShone Kizer’s passes on a deep-out route and turned it loose for an 82-yard score. Granted, Pittsburgh safety Nat Berhe should have stopped the wideout after just a short run, but Kumerow deserves credit for the quick acceleration and juke that led to the whiff.
Kumerow left the game following his long touchdown for the medical tent and did not return. However, it appears the wideout only had a stinger and could have returned to action during a more meaningful game.
DeShone Kizer - Following an uneven debut with the Packers, Kizer put his big arm on display. He fit passes through tight windows, including a dart outside the numbers to Kumerow on what would become an 82-yard touchdown.
Robert Tonyan Jr. - Though he started training camp behind the Packers’ three veteran tight ends and second-year man Emanuel Byrd, Tonyan has worked his way into the discussion for a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad. He caught several difficult passes on Thursday, headlined by an impressive touchdown on an end-zone fade during the second quarter.
Entering his fifth year and already 29 yards of age, Demetri Goodson faces long odds at a roster spot. While one of the Packers’ top contributors on special teams, Goodson has shown little during training camp and the preseason opener to suggest he could emerge from a crowded secondary and win a job.
Goodson’s outlook took a turn for the worse against the Steelers. He gave up multiple receptions, including a touchdown in the back of the end zone that the veteran corner could have easily batted away. With roster spots already earmarked for veterans Tramon Williams and Davon House as well as recent early draft picks Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, and Jackson, Goodson would have to play lights out the remainder of the preseason to garner serious consideration for the 53-man roster.
Though not his natural position, Kyle Murphy struggled mightily with speed rushers when protecting the quarterback’s blindside. Unfortunately for the third-year offensive lineman, he didn’t fare much better at right tackle. Murphy gave up pressures on both sides of the line, including a sack to Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree.
Given the lack of faith the Packers coaching staff has placed in Jason Spriggs, Murphy’s shortcomings suggest the front office will look long and hard at veteran options to add depth during final cuts.