Long rumored to be a possibility, training camp with no preseason games now seems to be a reality. For fans who loathe the often sloppy, rarely exciting contests, this is a relief. For players fighting for their professional careers, though, this could be a big setback.
Even before it’s reduced to 80 players, the Packers’ roster is full of players who could have really benefitted from some preseason action. Here’s our list of players we think are hurt the most by eliminating preseason games.
Paul Noonan: Rashan Gary
Projects need work to develop. They need practice reps, and they need live game reps as much as possible, which is why this season could very well be a complete disaster for the Packers’ 2019 first round pick. Gary figured to use this season to refine his exceptional toolset into positive NFL production, and he showed a few flashes late last season, but with no live preseason action, he will miss out on crucial development after the long offseason. Given the significant possibility that the actual season may be shortened or cancelled, it’s entirely possible that Gary will find himself back at square one for training camp in 2021.
The Packers never could have foreseen something like the Covid-19 pandemic, but projects are always risky for this very reason. If a project suffers any kind of major injury it can set them back years, and, injuries being what they are in football, projects are as risky an investment as you’ll find. Gary may still turn into something, but on a normal developmental curve, it will take awhile, and maybe not in Green Bay.
Rcon14: Jordan Love
In a normal year, Jordan Love would be getting almost all of the snaps in the pre-season. With no pre-season at all seeming very likely, the Packers may go into 2021 without seeing their first round pick play a snap of any kind. Considering that Green Bay may look to move on from Aaron Rodgers sooner rather than later if they can get a strong trade offer to offset the cap pain it would cause, going in basically blind with Love would be incredibly risky.
Shawn Wagner: Equanimeous St. Brown
There are a lot of players that are going to be impacted heavily without preseason snaps and Christian Kirksey was a close second as he takes over in the middle of the defense. But I think a few wide receivers might take the biggest hits from these changes.
This spot could have gone to incoming veteran Devin Funchess, who is trying to carve out an integral role as the number two or three receiver on this team. But I think the most hurt is St. Brown in trying to come back from a missed season. Prior to being placed on injured reserve at the end of last August, St. Brown looked like an emerging trusted slot target for Aaron Rodgers. Not only did the Packers feel the effects of that injury in the slot, but they struggled to find any consistency at the receiver position. With a full training camp and preseason, St. Brown could have been expected to regain his pre-injury form and fill an important spot in the Packer offense. But at this point, St. Brown might be the fifth or sixth receiver on the depth chart and will have a long way to go in catching back up to playing speed and earning consistent reps.
Jon Meerdink: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
MVS is the other side of the same coin inhabited by Equanimeous St. Brown. While EQ’s lost season came due to injury, Valdes-Scantling lost a whole year due to inconsistent play and a corresponding decrease in snaps. Over the Packers’ final seven regular season games, he played more than 20 snaps exactly once and compiled a grand total of six offensive snaps in the entire postseason.
Watching his limited 2019 snaps, it seems to me that MVS’s problems weren’t a question of ability or playbook mastery. He clearly has great physical tools and (as much as can be determined without primary knowledge of the Packers’ schemes) seemed to at least be where he was supposed to be. He just didn’t follow through when given opportunities, and thus those opportunities dried up.
MVS needs live game reps to solve what ails him. If he’s got the yips, they’re not going to go away on the sideline. To mix in an analogy from a different sport, if he’s to hit himself out of the slump he’s in, he needs plate appearances. A preseason with no actual games won’t give him that chance.
Tex: Every linebacker not named Kirksey
Tackling is one of the skills that is difficult to practice or reinforce without actually doing it at full-speed in a game, and perhaps no position is more reliant on pure tackling ability than linebacker. The Packers are turning over the keys to the Mike linebacker position to Christian Kirksey this year, but with no sure-fire options at the other off-ball spot, the preseason was supposed to be an extended audition for the young players on that unit.
Oren Burks won’t get a chance to show that he’s mentally ready to take on a starting job (though as a silver lining, maybe he won’t get hurt in the preseason this year). Curtis Bolton and Ty Summers will have no chances to back up impressive rookie preseasons with big games this August. And rookie fifth-round pick Kamal Martin probably doesn’t end up having a chance to take the starting job himself in camp by putting any good reps on tape.
This probably all combines to force Mike Pettine to use a lot of Raven Greene at linebacker once again this year instead of inserting one of the young true linebackers and letting him run with the job.