As the 18th annual Packers Family Night came to a close Saturday evening, all ears awaited an update on the health of left tackle David Bakhtiari, who was carted to the locker room with an apparent ankle injury. The concerns outweighed the highlights in an evening that otherwise celebrated a new football season in Green Bay with a slew of Packers making their first Lambeau Field appearance.
With positive news on the injury front, a relieved Packers faithful can look back to a weekend that provided several attention-grabbing moments for individuals in three different position groups.
1. J’Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown looked the part at WR
Heading into Family Night, the rookie receivers figured to receive a bountiful number of targets. That proved to be the case, as J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling each hauled in several passes. The night for St. Brown was exactly what Packers fans wanted to see - consistent hands, fairly precise route-running (on a variety of routes), and some early built-in trust with Aaron Rodgers. Peter Bukowski further detailed ESB’s performance here, and we saw an up-and-down evening for MVS.
But Moore also stood out on two particular plays. The first was a 50-50 ball in the corner of the end zone in which Moore out-jumped veteran Josh Hawkins for a touchdown grab. Moore’s use of his 6-foot-3 size in the red zone was a welcome sign of his potential and helped offset a deep ball earlier in practice in which he gained separation from Jaire Alexander but was unable to complete the catch.
On a second play, Moore displayed the run-after-the catch ability that made him a dangerous threat as a collegian. On a quick pass to the boundary from Tim Boyle, Moore made a move toward the sideline, before picking on Hawkins once again with a stiff-arm for around a 15-yard gain. I wrote about that particular type of play in the offseason as one that could help Moore find the field as a rookie, and this was an excellent first impression at the pro level.
2. The secondary has legitimate competition, especially from overlooked veteran defensive backs
With the hyped additions of Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Tramon Williams, the Packers’ cornerback unit seemingly received an offseason facelift. But it could also get a boost from a veteran corner that did not see the field for Green Bay last season: Herb Waters.
Waters particularly impressed, winning a one-on-one battle early in the period against DeAngelo Yancey. Yancey attempted to fake a double-move and then break off his route toward the sideline, but Waters read it brilliantly and even under-cut Brett Hundley’s throw to break up a pass he probably should have intercepted. Waters then jumped a route during the second “Move the Ball” session for a near interception that prompted a big smile from Mike Pettine on the sideline.
Great close on the football from Herb Waters. I finally have tape of Waters playing cornerback and I’m very happy. pic.twitter.com/V4BO2bMkA5— Andy Herman (@SconnieSports) August 5, 2018
The former college receiver has ball skills and the athleticism that Joe Whitt, Jr. has always coveted in his prototypical cornerbacks. Unfortunately for Waters, his bid at a roster spot was cut short in 2017 after a shoulder injury shut him down on the first day of training camp. If he keeps making plays during the preseason, Waters could be one of the surprise “keeps” in a crowded defensive backfield.
Whereas the cornerback position is stocked with numbers, the safety unit would appear to be on the lookout for even one of its members outside of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice, and Josh Jones to have a standout camp and prove worthy of a roster spot.
One of the players who took a step forward during Family Night was Jermaine Whitehead, who saw plenty of snaps a season ago. Whitehead’s name was heard twice as a blitzer on the evening, and he would have gotten home to the quarterback if allowed to make contact. Overall, the defense’s aggressive nature and ability to free up a blitzer was an exciting piece of the night and Whitehead played a role from the slot. The former Auburn Tiger also lined up in the dime as an extra cornerback, displaying the kind of versatility that wins roster spots.
3. The defensive line only continues to improve
Nothing made me smile more in reviewing Family Night than the play of the interior defensive linemen. Many have called Kenny Clark a budding star and that notion was seconded after a night that Justin McCray will have nightmares about. In addition to getting into the backfield with frequency, Clark manhandled McCray in the video below and would have sacked Rodgers in live action. Clark’s athleticism, along with his brute strength and use of leverage will make him a Pro Bowler as soon as this year.
Kenny Clark is a monster who's not even old enough to rent a car. pic.twitter.com/EevzHVGAYv— My name's Matt, but call me Matub (@CallMeMatub) August 6, 2018
Second-year jumps are important in Green Bay, but perhaps no one has needed to prove himself with a second-year leap than Montravius Adams after a rocky rookie season slowed by a foot injury. In the early going, Adams is on pace to do that.
Adams had a stellar Saturday summed up beautifully by Zach Kruse of Packers Wire. Not only was he penetrating the backfield in the running game, he was slipping by offensive linemen as a pass rusher. Although Dillon Day was playing out of position as a guard in the clip below and Adam Pankey looked lost at left tackle, Adams’ hands helped win him a surefire sack. He then continued McCray’s rough outing by creating pressure up the middle with a rip-and-swim move.
Some standouts from last nights practice:— Andy Herman (@SconnieSports) August 5, 2018
And some who struggled:
Completely Jeckyl & Hyde:
If Clark and Adams sustain this level of tenacity up front, they will make a group that includes Mike Daniels, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Dean Lowry among the league’s best this year and beyond. Not only should they collectively stop the run at a high rate, but the line should help prevent quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket on pass rushing downs.