After dodging the question yesterday, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur stated today that the Packers’ starters, for the most part, will not play in the preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday. LaFleur said, “It’s just the risk versus reward, knowing it’s a long season having 17 games. I think early on we get stressed with travel in the season as well.”
Only the offensive linemen and rookie linebacker Quay Walker, who have started the last two preseason games, will get the nod against the Chiefs. LaFleur did say that if rookie wide receiver Christian Watson can suit up in Kansas City, he will. Watson has yet to take a snap with the team this preseason, but was going through pregame warmups last week before the team’s matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
Here’s what you need to know about Tuesday’s practice:
The Packers made three moves before practice kicked off to get to an 80-man roster ahead of the NFL’s cutdown deadline. First, they traded offensive lineman Cole Van Lanen, who was expected to make the team if tackle David Bakhtiari started the season on the physically unable to perform list, to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a seventh-round pick. Then the team waived the injured safety Vernon Scott, who had been “starting” in the absence of the injured Darnell Savage, with an injured designation and moved running back Kylin Hill to the regular season physically unable to perform list. Hill will officially miss at least four weeks of the regular season.
Bakhtiari didn’t practice today according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Ryan Wood, though, it’s not a setback. The Packers’ stance is that they aren’t planning to practice with Bakhtiari three days in a row at this point in his rehab process.
Wood also reported that cornerback Rico Gafford (ankle) and tight end Sal Cannella (knee) were missing from practice on Tuesday, too. Gafford was playing a significant role on the starting special teams units in Week 1 of the preseason, but that went away in Week 2. He also started at cornerback in both games. We haven’t seen much of Cannella this summer, aside from third-team offense reps in the preseason.
Per Matt Schneidman of The Athletic, offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins and tight end Robert Tonyan have still yet to practice with the Packers in team drills. With the trade of Van Lanen and the Week 1 uncertainty of Bakhtiari, though, Jenkins should have to return to the field soon. We’re at the point now where the Packers can’t afford to roster two injured offensive line and only keep nine offensive linemen on their roster, the likely reality with Van Lanen now out of the picture.
According to Andy Herman of Packer Report, Green Bay opened practice with a 21 personnel offense that featured running backs AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones, receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs and tight end Marcedes Lewis as the team’s skill players. Offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich has mentioned frequently that the team wants to get Dillon and Jones on the field together, but we haven’t seen any two-back sets this summer on video, outside of a few reps on Family Night. It seems like the team is waiting to put these plays on video until the regular season.
On the offensive line, Yosh Nijman, Jon Runyan Jr., Josh Myers, Jake Hanson and Royce Newman were the players to take the first reps. This is the same lineup that has “started” in each of the Packers’ previous two preseason games. It will also be the one that will likely start against the Chiefs, unless Jenkins is fully healthy by then or rookie Zach Tom jumps up the depth chart.
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With the cluster injuries at safety, the expectation was that Shawn Davis, who began the summer as the team’s third safety but lost the job to the now released Scott, was going to overtake the starting job opposite of Adrian Amos until Darnell Savage is healthy. The Packers said gave us a Lee Corso “Not so fast, my friend” today by moving third cornerback/slotback Rasul Douglas to the position today, per Herman, which is the first time that Green Bay has done so in a practice open to the media this summer.
With Douglas at safety, Keisean Nixon was subbed in as the team’s nickel cornerback. In the first half against the Saints last week, Nixon had just 13 snaps on the defense, tied for third among participants behind Shemar Jean-Charles and the now injured Gafford and tied with Kiondre Thomas. Half of Nixon’s snaps were in the slot, as opposed to his 14 snaps (out of 14) in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers the week prior. Things are not settled at the cornerback position, especially if Douglas is now the team’s third safety.
The player of the day seemed to be tight end Tyler Davis, who has been recently pushed by futures contract player Alize Mack after Davis has struggled some in the preseason. According to Herman, he made two touchdown grabs in the end zone and an explosive play over the middle on Tuesday.