If the preseason is more about individual players than the team as a whole, the final preseason game takes that concept and cranks it to 11. With most roster spots all but accounted for, it’s left to the players on the bottom end of the roster to show up and show out in a big way, either to convince the Packers to give them one of those final precious spots or to put something on tape that gets them a call from somewhere else in the league.
That occasionally (okay, usually) leads to some pretty sloppy and uninspiring football in the last week of the preseason, however heroic the individual performances may be. Nevertheless, amidst that sloppy football, month-long training camp competitions will be decided. Here are the battles we’ll be watching the most closely.
Shawn Wagner: Inside Linebacker
While the decision at kicker between Mason Crosby and Sam Ficken intrigues me, the inside linebacker position catches my attention most. With Oren Burks progressing towards a return from injury sooner rather than later, optimism is a bit higher than where it was only a couple weeks ago. Still, if Burks cannot return for week one action, Green Bay’s depth must step up next to Blake Martinez.
Not only is there a battle for regular season playing time shaping up, but there is also a battle for mere roster spots. Ty Summers, Curtis Bolton, and James Crawford find themselves in a tight race to make the final 53 and special teams play could be the deciding factor, especially for Crawford. Summers burst onto the scene against Houston only to take a step back the following week. Meanwhile, Bolton has been “bolting” up the depth chart as he gains trust in the middle of the defense more and more. How all three inside ‘backers fare in their final exhibition showcase against Kansas City will be what I watch most.
Paul Noonan - Running back
Dexter Williams has had some setbacks after a nice first game, and if any back-of-the-roster players are likely to contribute in the regular season, this is the position where it happens. Tra Carson is boring in a Jamaal Williams sort of way, and will probably make the team, but Keith Ford is sneakily athletic, and not too shabby in his own right. We know Aaron Jones has been injury-prone in the past, we know running backs, in general, get beaten up badly, and we know that occasionally stars emerge at the position from out of nowhere.
Most of the final battles will be backups to backups attempting to hang on for dear life. The running backs are the most likely to matter. Even though, of course, individual running backs don’t really matter.
Jon Meerdink - Also running back
Like Paul, I’m intrigued by the battle unfolding in the Packers’ offensive backfield. Williams, Carson, and Ford each do have their own interesting merits, but what intrigues me about this battle is that it could quite easily extend beyond the present roster.
We know two things to be true about Brian Gutekunst: he values athleticism at every position on the roster and he isn’t afraid to churn a position group until he finds the configuration he likes. Running back is the perfect confluence of those two traits. Athleticism is always in high demand, and it seems like there’s a never-ending stream of available players worth trying out at the position for however long.
In that sense, at least, it’s the widest-ranging position battle on the roster right now. Williams, Carson, and Ford are competing against each other, yes, but they’re also attempting to show the Packers that they’re better options than some other thickly built, 5-10 individual with 4.5 speed or better in the 40-yard dash. Should they falter, it may just turn out that none of them is the Packers’ number three back by the end of the weekend.
Kris Burke - Backup quarterback
Tim Boyle versus DeShone Kizer: the final showdown.
Given the number of injuries Aaron Rodgers has suffered over the past few seasons, the need to have a solid backup behind him is as strong as ever. Boyle and Kizer both have shown improvement over last season but neither has been able to fully seize control of the job and it will come down to the final preseason game.
As of now, Kizer seems to have the slightest edge but Boyle has been able to supply ample pressure after his performances the last two weeks. Both quarterbacks have started slow only to get into a groove as the game progresses. The one who is most consistent from start to finish in this game may very well walk away with the QB2 job though it’s still very possible the Packers will choose to keep three quarterbacks.
It’s not quite a battle for the starting job, but any quarterback shootout is usually worth tuning in for despite otherwise very vanilla and very terrible football in the fourth preseason game.
Evan “Tex” Western - Defensive back
Since a lot of the really interesting options are taken, I’m hoping to see some extensive tape on the defensive secondary players fighting for spots on the roster. At safety, the Packers have just three players locked in. Keeping a fourth safety seems likely, but has anyone really earned that spot yet? For now, I think Will Redmond has the best shot, but even he has had his issues. Natrell Jamerson’s tackling has been a constant struggle this preseason, while Redmond has at least been more reliable in bringing down ball carriers.
Still, the Packers are no lock to keep a fourth safety, especially if they feel that they can get by with extra cornerbacks. It’s all but a sure thing that they will hold on to at least six, with rookie Ka’Dar Hollman and former Eagle Chandon Sullivan fighting for that spot. But if both players show out on Thursday night against the Chiefs, I could see the Packers keeping them both and rolling with a 7 corner/3 safety defensive backfield. Tramon Williams would provide emergency insurance at safety in that case, and the team would get to hold on to both a promising rookie and another young corner who has made a ton of exciting plays in August.
Mike Vieth - Back end of Offensive Line Depth Chart
I think there are only three slam dunks to make the team from last year. David Bakhtiari, Corey Linsley and Bryan Bulaga are almost certain to return to their starting roles. New players that are, most likely, guaranteed a spot are Billy Turner who was paid a good amount of money to shore up the guard position and 2019 second round pick Elgton Jenkins. After that I think it’s a toss up.
Lane Taylor isn’t a total surprise to being on the chopping block. His play has regressed over the past couple years and his style of play doesn’t ideally fit the zone scheme implemented by Matt LaFleur. Taylor’s saving grace might be that he can flip to tackle in case of an emergency but that, by no means, gives him a guaranteed spot.
Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick, Cole Madison and Alex Light probably have the inside track on making the team over the others but they have had their struggles through the pre-season. That’s not too surprising for Madison as he is just getting back into the game after the year off but McCray and Patrick have been around long enough where they need to start taking their play to another level or face looking for a new team. Light has shown some promise this preseason and looks like he can be a good backup at the guard or tackle spot. One of these players will end up on the chopping block so it will be intriguing to see where they are inserted in the game against Kansas City.
Outside looking in are Gerhard de Beer, Yosh Nijman, Adam Pankey and Anthony Coyle. I think de Beer, Nijman and Pankey have some good potential but will need time on the practice squad to shore up some technique and strength issues for playing at the NFL level. The Packers usually keep two on the practice squad and I’d go with de Beer and Nijman as my top choices.