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 nears its conclusion.
Several young players stood out during the Packers’ 13-6 exhibition loss to the Oakland Raiders, though not all in a positive manner.
The Packers’ top draft pick hasn’t produced as many splash plays as the other corner the team selected, but he came up with his first interception of the preseason Friday night. Playing in man coverage, Alexander initially allowed Oakland wideout Dwayne Harris to slip past him. However, the rookie cover man quickly closed on Harris and leapt high into the air to snag Connor Cook’s pass. The play came after Alexander gave up a large gain during the first drive of the game, a sign that he doesn’t let mistakes stick with him for long.
Additionally, Alexander made two heads-up plays as the punt returner. On his first attempt, Alexander threw a well-timed block to keep the Raiders from downing the ball before the goal line. On another, he drew a penalty for interference (subsequently and incorrectly picked up). The Packers still need to see more from Alexander in that role, but he appears disciplined enough to handle the job.
Last week, Josh Jackson showcased his ball skills via a second-half interception returned for a touchdown. While Jackson registered another pick-six (wiped out by an unrelated defensive penalty), he also showcased his improving coverage skills. Left in one-on-one man coverage, Jackson broke up a deep strike from Cook to Martavis Bryant. For a corner dinged for playing in a zone-heavy defensive scheme at Iowa, Jackson has made huge strides in that area.
Jackson didn’t finish the night without any negatives. He drew a defensive pass interference penalty on the final play of the first quarter that offset an illegal-use-of-hands flag on the Raiders. Still, Jackson has performed like a starter the past two weeks, a great sign for any rookie defensive back.
Two games into the preseason, J’Mon Moore had fallen behind fellow drafted rookie wideouts Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. Though the pecking order might remain the same after Friday, Moore probably put any talk of missing the final cut to bed with Green Bay’s biggest offensive play of the night.
Moore’s 27-yard haul during the fourth quarter not only quieted his critics, it ranks as one of the most impressive catches of the preseason. Running a fly route, Moore leapt to catch a DeShone Kizer pass moments before two Raiders defenders collapsed upon him. Despite the crushing blow, Moore hung onto the ball. That type of play made the wide receiver an early Day 3 pick, and someone the Packers can’t risk cutting.
JK Scott - Though JK Scott’s punting has drawn considerable acclaim in practice, his work during the Packers’ first two preseason games hasn’t lived up to expectation. That changed Friday when the rookie punter averaged 45.7 yards on seven punts, several with nearly five seconds of a hang time. Those numbers should put any concern about his ability to perform under the NFL spotlight.
Through no fault of his own, Oren Burks had a bad night in Oakland. The rookie linebacker suffered a shoulder injury during the pregame warm-ups, and suddenly his Week 1 availability appears clouded.
The Packers started Greer Martini in Burks’ place, and the fellow rookie didn’t embarrass himself. Still, neither Martini nor Ahmad Thomas possesses Burks’ coverage skills. If the shoulder injury proves serious, Green Bay will have to seriously consider finding a veteran on the open market.
After a disappointing performance last week, Kyle Murphy hit rock bottom against the Raiders. The third-year offensive tackle gave up multiple sacks and drew penalties throughout the first half. His troubles persisted into the third quarter when his failure to hold up in pass protection blew up the Packers’ first offensive series.
Even in the context of Green Bay’s razor-thin depth behind David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, Murphy continues to trend to the wrong side of the 53-man cutdown. He’ll have one more week to state his case. Still, barring an injury, he’ll probably need to find another team come Sept. 1.
While Marquez Valdes-Scantling remains the Packers’ most impressive rookie wideout, he has plenty of room for improvement as a returner. Valdes-Scantling fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half out of bounds, forcing the offense to begin the drive at its own 10-yard line.
Ultimately, kick returns will not make or break Valdes-Scantling’s chances at the roster; by all appearances, he has already sealed a spot. However, the Packers need someone to step up in that area to make the still-injured Trevor Davis expendable. It remains unclear whether anyone will.