Players can’t win jobs in the first preseason game, but they sure as hell can lose them. Just ask Quinten Rollins. After the Green Bay Packers drafted two cornerbacks in consecutive picks this spring, Rollins sat squarely on the bubble coming off an Achilles injury last season. His 2018 started with a 38-yard catch-and-run completion to a Titans fourth-string receiver. Then he muffed a punt.
For whatever else happened during the 31-17 win at Lambeau Field Thursday night, Rollins’ job will be on the line every snap he takes from this point forward. It’s fair to wonder how many more snaps he’ll even get with as scarce as practice reps can be with 90 guys vying for playing time.
Meanwhile, two of the rookie receivers showed out, the backup quarterback battle could wage all August, Davante Adams could be an All-Pro this season, and Oren Burks can flat out fly sideline-to-sideline. Beyond that, there’s not much worth in taking away anything from the first preseason game of 2018.
Brett Hundley looked sharp on his opening drive, leading the Packers down the field for a touchdown in their first possession. His 48-yarder to Adams on a gorgeous route to torch free agent prize Malcolm Butler may assuage the disappointment from Green Bay faithful who wish Brian Gutekunst had ponied up for the former Patriots cornerback.
After an up-and-down season last year in nine starts, Hundley showed decisiveness and accuracy on the run, but still lacks pocket presence. He failed to recognize pressure off the edge, leading to a pair of strips, the second of which turned into an interception. Hundley, in a do-or-die training camp, finished 9/14 for 108 yards, 1 touchdown and the pick.
Byron Bell and Kyle Murphy each gave up those critical pressures and struggles much of the night with the Tennessee pass rush. Bell made the surprise start in place of Bryan Bulaga after Jason Spriggs got most of the right tackle snaps in training camp to this point. The ex-Cowboy struggled with speed to the edge and looked more like a guard than a tackle in his first-half action.
DeShone Kizer took over for Hundley and showed the pocket presence Hundley lacks, but also some inconsistency with his accuracy. That said, he made a number of nice throws to the rookie receivers, as well as picked up yardage on the ground. It shouldn’t be at all surprising to see him get a chance to run the second team offense in the second preseason game as this backup quarterback race pushes forward. The final numbers (10/19 134 yards 0 TDs 0 INTs) won’t grab your attention, but Kizer showed some of the reasons Gutekunst willingly gave away the team’s most consistent cornerback last season in a trade for the Browns second-round pick.
Solid play by the quarterbacks allowed these young receivers a chance to show off. Each had at least one play they could point to as indicative of their ability to contribute. The biggest play came from fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep shot from Kizer where he skied over a defender to make the play for 51 yards. He also showed the ability to create separation underneath, but had a few drops on plays he should have made. MVS continues to be the high-upside receiver of the rookie group, ending the night with five grabs for 101 yards, and a beautiful catch on a contested throw from Tim Boyle for a 15-yard touchdown.
Camp standout Jake Kumerow got off to a slow start, but hauled in this 52-yard dime from backup Tim Boyle late in the fourth quarter:
Each of his other two catches went for first downs en route to a three-catch, 76-yard night with the score. Equanimeous St. Brown once again looked like the most consistent young option, hauling in a beautiful corner route from Kizer and finishing with four catches for 61 yards on the night.
The highest draft pick had the worst night of the young pass catchers. J’Mon Moore struggles to finish catches, allowing the defender to knock the ball out of his hands on several occasions, including in the end zone for a would-be touchdown. The ex-Missouri receiver could have redeemed himself by hauling in a beautiful deep shot from Boyle, but the ball ricocheted off his hands for a bad drop.
On the other side of the ball, Reggie Gilbert and Oren Burks stood out on the Packers defense with Gilbert consistently getting into the backfield and Burks showing outstanding speed. He led all defenders in tackles in the first half, displaying explosiveness and awareness in space. In his first NFL game, he acquitted himself well as the replacement for injured Jake Ryan.
Beyond that, there wasn’t much standout play from Packers defenders. Montravius Adams got good penetration early, but also drew an offsides call and failed to make several plays in the backfield when he disrupted early. Rookie Josh Jackson looked comfortable in coverage despite a ticky-tack holding call and should earn more playing time as Mike Pettine phases Rollins out of the cornerback rotation — something that appeared to have already happened in practice before Rollins started in the slot Thursday.
Perhaps most importantly, the Packers escaped without major injury problems. Josh Jones, vying for playing time at safety, left the game in the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. Jermaine Whitehead also left the game with apparent back injury, potentially leaving the Packers thin at safety behind starters HaHa Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice.
Overall, a sloppy game from the Packers should be taken with a grain of salt. This is the first live action they’ve seen, the first time they’ve played together, and Green Bay did it without a number of key starters.
For the most part, the young players whom the Packers need to step up flashed as potential impact players. In fact, Burks may end up being an upgrade over the athletically limited Ryan inside. With these rookie receivers putting up numbers and creating big plays, Mike McCarthy doesn’t have to worry about where someone like Kumerow fits, or if Trevor Davis can get healthy.
Moving forward, the key will be to stack success, as McCarthy loves to say. What will the rookies look like with Aaron Rodgers under center? What will Burks do with his usual starting defensive line in front of him? Can Josh Jackson earn more playing time with the 1s?
The first preseason game sets the table for the days and weeks to come. It wasn’t pretty, but the food is now out. It’s time for players with something to prove to go eat.