As the NFL preseason heads into the final stretch, the Green Bay Packers have some looming decisions to make on their roster.
One player who will make the Packers’ final cuts easier is Reggie Gilbert, who has made significant strides from last season and had such a dynamic game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Thursday that he is almost guaranteed a spot this year. A team searching for pass rushers certainly saw a glimpse of impact potential in Gilbert.
Elsewhere, another key position battle this week will be at linebacker, where Greer Martini and Ahmad Thomas continue to compete for a backup inside position. An up-and-down preseason for Martini has allowed Thomas to move back into serious consideration with his coverage skills. The two young players figure to get plenty of snaps tonight against the Oakland Raiders as fans and coaches alike look for one individual to separate from the other.
Here are three other bubble players to watch.
Robert Tonyan, TE
At the beginning of training camp, it was Emanuel Byrd who stood out as an intriguing bubble tight end after two solid games to close the 2017 season. Fast forward a few weeks into the preseason and Tonyan has been the one to steal the show.
The former wide receiver and all-time leader in touchdown receptions at Indiana State had a breakout performance against Pittsburgh, complete with an impressive touchdown on a fade route. Tonyan also found himself open over the middle for a nice gain as part of a three-catch, 20-yard performance. With 17 offensive snaps, Tonyan worked his way onto the field and quickly grabbed attention.
After being re-signed in January after a late four-week stint on the practice squad, Tonyan has had extra time to digest the Packers’ playbook and develop his blocking skills. And with Marcedes Lewis and Lance Kendricks in contract seasons, it is not far-fetched to think that Green Bay could stash a fourth tight end on the roster for the future, especially if he can showcase potential on special teams. With receiving talent and Mike McCarthy’s affection for tight ends, Tonyan could help solidify a more permanent role against Oakland this week.
Dillon Day, C
Green Bay does not have a clear-cut second-string center on the roster. Undrafted rookie Austin Davis has gotten a share of snaps in preseason and Lucas Patrick and Kofi Amichia may also be able to chip in at the position. But no one earned more snaps on the offensive line against Pittsburgh than Day, who tallied 54.
Aaron Rodgers hinted in mini camps that Day had progressed since his late arrival last season and that there was spot for a true backup center. Day has looked the part in preseason, catching the eye of one APC writer who commented during the Steelers game that Day’s snaps in shotgun formation arrived to the quarterback extra quick.
Day plays with some grit and has been sound in live action after being a mainstay starter at Mississippi State and bouncing around Denver and Green Bay as a rookie. While he will not have the same positional versatility as others along the offensive line, Day has provided enough stability to warrant a final roster spot and could win his spot without any hiccups against the Raiders.
James Looney, DL
While many draft picks - notably the wide receivers, cornerbacks, and specialists - have caught daily headlines thus far, the seventh-rounder Looney has not.
Part of the reason is the position he plays. The defensive line is as strong as any other unit on the Packers’ roster. With the addition of Muhammad Wilkerson, ascension of Kenny Clark, moderate growth of Montravius Adams, and continued strong play of Dean Lowry and Mike Daniels, the Packers have a great deal of talent. Still, they kept six defensive linemen on the initial roster in 2017 and could have room for another this year. As a draft pick with the ability to play various roles along the line, Looney has just as good a shot as the likes of Connor Sheehy, Joey Mbu, and Tyler Lancaster to secure a final spot.
Like Day above, Looney totaled the most snaps of his position group against the Steelers with 26, but has yet to really stand out in two preseason games. In a few ways, Looney reminds of Lawrence Guy, a former Packers seventh-rounder that failed to impress in his first preseason but has gone on to have a solid NFL career because of his versatility. Pro Football Focus noted that Looney was getting “pushed vertically” against Tennessee in game one and must tighten up his game in order to have a shot at the 53-man roster. More firmly a practice squad candidate at this time, Looney has a chance to begin reversing that notion in his return to California.