After months and months of waiting, we’re finally close to seeing something approximating actual football. And with a new head coach, a revamped offense, a ton of free agent signings, and a exciting crop of rookies, there will be plenty to watch.
But while it can be tempting to try to take everything in at once, it’s sometimes better to single out a couple of noteworthy things to keep an especially close eye on. Here’s what the APC staff will be watching as the Green Bay Packers take on the Houston Texans Thursday night.
Zach Rapport - Tony Brown and Ka’dar Hollman
Jaire Alexander is a given, but between 36-year-old Tramon Williams and the oft-injured Kevin King, there are obvious questions beyond #23. That’s why I’ll be watching Tony Brown and Ka’dar Hollman.
Returning after a mostly positive 2018 season, Brown has picked up where he left off — with consistent play and an attitude that has caught the attention of beat writers. He even reportedly held his own against DeAndre Hopkins during a pair of joint practices against the Houston Texans.
Ka’dar Hollman — a 6th round pick out of Toledo — has been a pleasant surprise at camp. Like Brown, Hollman plays fast and excels in man coverage, and early indications are that he’s picking things up well.
Tramon Williams and Kevin King staying healthy and productive would help bring Brown and Hollman along at a reasonable pace. But in case of emergency, it’d be nice to know that the two young corners are up to the task. As such, I expect them to get a lot of work in on Thursday, and I’ll be watching them closely.
Shawn Wagner - The backup quarterbacks
A lot of attention will be on the defensive acquisitions in the first preseason game. A lot of the spotlight will also be on Aaron Rodgers and his adjustment to Matt LaFleur’s offense. But I am interested to see Rodgers’ backups as well.
The news has not been the most positive surrounding DeShone Kizer’s growth during the early stages of training camp. Tim Boyle and undrafted rookie Manny Wilkins also appear to be in a significant competition for third-team reps, which does not bode well for assessing Boyle’s development over the past year on the Packers’ scout team.
The backup quarterback is becoming less and less of a stranger to the Green Bay fan base over the past several seasons as Rodgers’ health has been a question mark at times. And when the star quarterback has gone down, the results have been disastrous. So far, my confidence remains low on the depth behind Rodgers and I’m hoping that a few moments from this week’s game, one that should involve the backups plenty, can relieve at least some of that distress.
Jon Meerdink - Offensive flow
One of the most consistent and most frustrating recurring features of the Mike McCarthy era was the offense’s inability to get in and out of the huddle quickly. Last year alone, getting to the line slowly cost the Packers an estimated (and possibly exaggerated) 236 timeouts.
That’s why I’ll be watching something very simple during the first preseason game: how smoothly the Packers get in and out of the huddle and get their plays off. This should be a smooth operation for any professional football team, but with Matt LaFleur already questioning the offense’s effort and execution, it bears watching.
Evan “Tex’ Western - Offensive line depth
I mentioned this in a piece earlier today, but the recent release of Jason Spriggs puts a significant burden on the Packers to find a reliable backup tackle in a group of undrafted and largely untested players. We should get a long look at the quartet of Alex Light, Adam Pankey, Gerhard de Beer, and Yosh Nijman on Thursday, and I’m hoping at least a couple of them look solid against the Texans’ twos and threes.
The interior is interesting as well, though. Can Lucas Patrick and Justin McCray show signs that they are taking steps forward again this year, especially after a year when McCray in particular struggled? I’m also excited to see Cole Madison’s and Elgton Jenkins’ Packers debuts, as that will help us get an idea of just how soon one or both players might be able to help this team. And then there’s Billy Turner as well, whom I will be watching closely (if he plays) to see if he looks as solid as he has been described recently.
Outside of Turner and maybe a little bit of playing time for Lane Taylor, I don’t expect the Packers to play any of their starters this week, so there should be ample opportunities for the reserves to stake an early claim for a roster spot.
Paul Noonan - Cornerback Depth
The big glowing Achilles Heel on defense is the depth behind Jaire Alexander and most notably, Kevin King. It’s nice that Tony Brown has excelled in camp so far, but to compete in the modern NFL you need to have a deep bench at this position, and the Packers mostly have UDFAs, old men, and question marks. Since backups get the majority of the snaps in preseason games, this is one area where you can actually get a read on how the regular season defense may perform.
Kris Burke - The running backs
Matt LaFleur says he wants to marry the run with the pass. Starting tomorrow we will find out if that marriage is going to be a true partnership or a one-sided affair.
Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams have all the looks of a solid if not very good RB1/RB2 combination but there are still some red flags regarding both. Can Jones stay healthy? Can Williams produce in the passing game? Will the famed Shanahan-style offense lead to great things for either or both of them?
You’re not going to get the answers in the first preseason game obviously, but seeing LaFleur’s plans for them will be interesting to watch.
I’m also looking forward to seeing Dexter Williams for the first time. I loved the pick and he could be a very interesting RB3 in LaFleur’s system.
Mike Vieth - Offensive Line
The poor offensive line play was a big contribution to the mediocre season by the Packers last year. Any team that wants a shot at winning a Super Bowl needs those five working at peak performance to have even a chance.
Can David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley continue being two of the best at their positions throughout the league? Will Billy Turner step in and fill the void at right guard? Can Bryan Bulaga and Lane Taylor stay healthy? Will we have competent backups in case of injury and will everyone fit the zone scheme implemented by Matt LaFleur?
We’re not going to get all these answers on Thursday but we will begin to see where the pieces of the puzzle will fall for the offensive line. For me, these are the most important questions for the offense and will dictate the overall success of the team this season.