On the heels of a 28-26 win in the preseason opener over the Houston Texans, the Green Bay Packers have to feel at least a little excited about their first-year players.
Sitting many of their weekly starters in game one of the exhibition slate, the Packers were able to provide meaningful reps to a number of recent draft picks. Although an early injury to Oren Burks spoiled an opportunity for fans to watch for improvement from the expected backup to Blake Martinez at inside linebacker, it led to an opportunity for another draft pick in Ty Summers to step up. Outside of Summers, the Packers’ depth at multiple positions was on display throughout the evening after a roster overhaul over the past two seasons. Two positions in particular made the cut of three things that stood out after game one of the preseason.
The Packers’ last two draft picks of 2019 churned out promising results
When Green Bay made Dexter Williams its second sixth-round selection in April, the team did so knowing that they might have gotten away with theft. The Notre Dame product had less wear-and-tear on him than other prospects after breaking out as a senior for the Irish and was touted as a player that could see a hole in the line and quickly accelerate through.
That trait carried over to Williams’ first live action of the fall, rushing 14 times for 64 yards with decisive cuts behind what would be the Packers’ second-team offensive line. Williams also added an 18-yard screen pass to his total yards from scrimmage while helping slow a pass rusher just enough to allow Tim Boyle to connect for at touchdown pass in the second half. Without Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in the lineup, Williams shared backfield duties primarily with Tra Carson and showed the potential to help Green Bay in year one if he can continue to improve as a pass blocker.
The bright lights also did not appear to phase Summers, the Packers’ last selection of the 2019 NFL Draft. The inside linebacker trotted out with the first-team defense and tallied an impressive 66 snaps on an evening that saw him earn 10 tackles, including nine in the first half. Although Summers had some lapses in coverage in the second half and missed a key third-down tackle on a quarterback scramble, the former TCU middle linebacker logged some impressive time in game one, especially with Burks going down early with a shoulder injury. Depending on Burks’ health and development, Summers could continue to see the field with a high level of regularity over the next three weeks in addition to Curtis Bolton, who also fared well in his debut.
Without the heavy hitters, the defensive line still flashed
Those who were excited for their first dose of the Smith-Smith combo on the edges were disappointed, as neither Preston or Za’Darius took the field on Thursday night. Yet, the aftermath of game one left a positive taste for the front line of the defense.
Fans did get their first look at first-round pick Rashan Gary, who displayed the fast initial get-off seen on his college film. Gary routinely set the edge against the run and pass and mixed speed and bull-rush moves as a rusher during the first half using his hands well. Green Bay varied the way it used Gary, notably rushing him as a part of stunts and lining him up on each side of the defense. That kind of versatility should continue even when the Smiths eventually take the field.
On top of Gary, there were several instances of former third-day draft picks James Looney and Kingsley Keke contributing as pass rushers during the second half, and each made Pro Football Focus’s list of top players on the evening. In addition, the hype surrounding Montravius Adams’ growth in training camp was backed up with solid play in the first half. Adams looked to be in much better playing shape than when last seen in the 2018 season, and he had the same quick first step that he showed at times. Adams beat his blocker one-on-one on a few occasions as a pass rusher, a positive sign for a player looking to pair with Kenny Clark more frequently with the departure of Mike Daniels.
Green Bay has a number of wide receivers that will be battling until the final snap of preseason
There has been a lot of attention on the receiving corps without Randall Cobb and the maturation of its young pass catchers that were role players as rookies last year. But Thursday night showed that the training camp battles at the position are going to have to be thoroughly evaluated by Matt LaFleur and company.
First, the negatives. J’Mon Moore had had a solid camp, but struggled in live action for a second consecutive year at the start of preseason. Moore had an awful drop over the middle on a crosser and also dropped a fourth-and-goal catch in the end zone that was fortunately voided by a Texan penalty. Even Moore’s two catches, one a touchdown, were bobbled. Confidence needs to improve for Moore to make the final roster. Teo Redding, another player impressing this summer, fumbled away a late kick return and did not resume return duties. He also did not receive a target as a receiver.
The player who replaced Redding on kick return duties was Jawill Davis and his key to earning a roster spot must come from special teams, but he’s had flashes in camp as an offensive player. Jake Kumerow continued to work towards locking up a spot on the roster with a pair of catches for 27 yards on the first few drives and Allen Lazard pulled in a 27-yard touchdown later in the game. But the real winner was Darrius Shepherd, who twisted and turned to catch a 14-yard scoring strike in the end zone while taking a heavy blow from the defender. Shepherd’s catch added on to an exciting week for the undrafted rookie, who saw reps with the first-team and was a given a complement by Aaron Rodgers for his work in the slot. Shepherd’s ability to help the team on special teams will be something to watch for in the upcoming preseason games as he looks to build on a great training camp.
The positives and negatives from the first game should be taken with a grain of salt, but the numbers at wide receiver make this position one of notable competition heading into next week’s game in Baltimore.