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The Packers should stop wasting reps on players who clearly can’t help them

Mike McCarthy’s prioritizing of veterans could be stunting the growth of players who might actually have a future in Green Bay.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers
DeAngelo Yancey has shown little to this point in his career, yet continues to get prime playing time.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing we’ve seen on the football field from former fifth-round pick DeAngelo Yancey suggests he’s capable of being a contributor to the Green Bay Packers, yet when the starters came out for Family Night, and each preseason game, there he was with them.

Despite the fact all three rookie receivers seem to make plays more consistently, and nevermind Jake Kumerow’s breakout performance, there he is.

Ditto for Quinten Rollins, out there playing safety ahead of Marwin Evans and returning punts over Jaire Alexander or Josh Jackson for reasons that remain fully untethered from reality. If they’re going to move anyone around to try and help him make the team, it should be Lenzy Pipkins, who has shown talent as a blitzer off the slot and remains the Packers’ most reliable tackling corner.

There’s an important difference between making young players earn their spots, and wasting reps on players who simply aren’t going to help your team win.

Jason Spriggs had been running with the first team at right tackle throughout the offseason and into training camp, but when the preseason opened Byron Bell slid into his spot. Despite playing poorly, he continued to be out there running with the ones. Kyle Murphy, against all logic, was playing backup left tackle and Spriggs is now third-string on the right side.

Of course, the run of play sorted this out, as Bell continued to struggle. Murphy proved he doesn’t have the feet to play left tackle and the Packers eventually had to swap the two against the Steelers. There had been a logic to it initially. Bulaga may not be ready for training camp, so get Spriggs in there at right tackle because he’s going to have to play.

Sliding Bell ahead of him for heretofore undisclosed reasons felt weird at the time and looks like a demonstrably bad move now. But sliding Murphy in as the second left tackle with Spriggs still on the team never made sense from the jump. If Spriggs isn’t the second right tackle, he’s clearly the best suited to be the second left tackle.

Let’s not even re-hash the Hundley/Kizer issue. Hundley shouldn’t be in Green Bay for the regular season, so why waste time letting him work with the starters?

The Packers can’t spoil reps like this. There are too many close position battles, too many spots up for grabs, and all of this on a team that fancies itself a Super Bowl contender.

All the machinations with Rollins changing positions reeks of desperation. It’s time to mark the former second-round pick a sunk cost. Ditto for Yancey who probably shouldn’t be any better than WR8 on this team, but he’s getting reps with Aaron Rodgers. How does that make the team better in 2018? It should be Kumerow and the trio of rookies in that spot getting work for when the games actually count.

Mike Pettine has successfully found a way to balance getting the young corners into the rotation during training camp and it’s paid dividends already with the rookie Jackson snaring a pick-six against the Steelers. He’s been the Packers’ most impressive defensive back through two preseason games, acquitting himself against the Titans starting offense as well.

Jackson has been rotating in with the 1’s, and Kevin King’s injury opened the door for more reps. Jaire Alexander used those rotation snaps to earn more playing time and seemed to have leapt Davon House in the rotation. Green Bay doesn’t have to worry about stunting their growth so long as they’re getting playing time and House doesn’t flatline. But House is at least one veteran who has looked good enough to prove he should actually be playing despite an up-and-down training camp.

As a team, the Packers need to do a better job of finding a way to balance giving their more veteran players the benefit of the doubt, while also making sure the young players get a chance to grow. It appears Brian Gutekunst hit this offseason out of the park and into Lake Michigan, but only if these young players get a chance to prove their should be playing.

We already know Rollins can’t help them. He’s proven it. Ditto for Yancey, and to this point Bell as well. Given how well Oren Burks has played, it’s fair to wonder if this was going to happen with the limited Jake Ryan at linebacker as well.

Few teams have been more adept at managing and developing their young players. It often takes until the regular season for McCarthy and Co. to throw them into the fire and maybe there’s a methodology there. But this team also has a nasty habit of loyalty to limited veterans. A.J. Hawk is somewhere nodding.

The Packers need these young players to contribute, and giving away their snaps to older players who won’t play simply out of some perceived virtue is cutting off the team’s nose to spite its face. Let the young players get in the kitchen and cook. It’s the only way to get them ready to eat once the season starts.