Now the real games begin.
The Green Bay Packers wrapped up their preseason Thursday night in a 17-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers closed the exhibition with a 3-1 record, which means absolutely nothing in the long run (remember, the 2008 Detroit Lions went 4-0 in preseason only to finish 0-16 in the regular season).
While the preseason is largely meaningless for entrenched starters, of which the Packers basically have at all 22 spots, there is a lot of insight to be gained from watching players fighting for backup spots who could suddenly be thrust into real game action in the eventuality that a starter gets hurt.
Therefore, here are five things we learned about the Green Bay Packers at the close of exhibition season:
1. The praise of Jared Abbrederis is legitimate
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy made it no secret during the preseason that Abbrederis had a very impressive camp. Rodgers even went so far as nicknaming the former Wisconsin wide receiver "Magic," which speaks volumes coming from an all-pro quarterback like number 12.
Heading into camp, it was assumed Abbrederis would be in for the mother of all fights for a roster spot with him, Jeff Janis and rookie Trevor Davis all trying to make the final 53-man roster. As long as Abbrederis stayed healthy, many thought he’d have a shot but ultimately would be the odd man out when roster cut time came.
Abbrederis got a boost from Janis’ hand injury and now potentially Davis’ shoulder injury that he suffered in the final game against the Chiefs, but one could argue that even without those injuries Abbrederis outplayed both of them. He showed clean, crisp route running (a constant knock on Janis) and also rarely dropped a ball.
Given the struggles the Packers had at receiver last year, this was a welcome change for Rodgers and the fact he went public about it speaks volumes to the trust he has in Abbrederis. It would be stunning for him not to make the roster at this point, given his solid closing performance against the Chiefs. He had only two catches, but he made a beauty of a grab on a 40 yard pass from Joe Callahan. Again, it’d be stunning if Abbrederis were let go. Then again, Ted Thompson can’t be predicted.
2. Jared Cook could have a monster year
The Packers brought in Cook as a veteran free agent (gasp!) to add an element to their offense they have not had since Jermichael Finley went down with a neck injury in 2013.
While it’s far too early to make any declarations about a free agent, one can’t help but be strongly encouraged about the early returns on the Cook signing. He was a player who always had the "potential" label slapped on him but never could fully realize it. Many blame that on the fact that he played with a laundry list of mediocre quarterbacks for most of his career. If Cook only had a better quarterback throwing him the ball, he would excel.
At last check, Rodgers is a better quarterback than Vince Young, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles, and the rest of that list.
Cook and Rodgers only had two series together in the preseason, but from what many saw at practice Rodgers seems hell-bent on developing chemistry with Cook as he constantly looked his way.
As for those two series, Rodgers hit Cook for a 19 yard gain in the third preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers that got every Packer fan salivating. Once again the Packers had a tight end that could stretch the field like Finley did. Nothing against Richard Rodgers, who is a red zone threat no doubt, but Cook could potentially bring the spark that re-ignites the Green Bay offense to its previous form.
3. The defense is better than ever
Many fans over the past few years have considered the Green Bay defense a bit of a liability, but there is no doubt that the defense was key in the Packers making the playoffs a seventh consecutive season last year after the offense fell apart in the wake of injuries and inconsistent play.
The goal for 2016 was for the defense to develop into a championship-caliber unit. While no one will mistake the 2016 defense for one of the best in NFL history, they showed tremendous promise from the starters to the reserves. They allowed 50 points in four games (an average of 12.5 per game) and were never consistently beaten badly.
Again it’s preseason, but with depth issues rampant along the line this was good news for the Packers. Mike Pennel will be serving a four game suspension to begin the season, making a thin line even thinner. That said, the defense has to be pleased with the growth shown by Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins which will make the Green Bay secondary one of the best in the NFL.
4. Datone Jones could be a revelation at outside linebacker
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Packers are trying to convert a defensive lineman to an outside linebacker.
The last time the team tried this was with Mike Neal, a promising yet underperforming defensive lineman. Neal had all the physical gifts, but he could neither stay healthy nor grasp the role of standing up instead of having his hand on the ground.
The Packers decided to try again, this time with Jones - their 2013 first-round draft pick. Like Neal, he was talented but he also underwhelmed. Jones was not developing into the powerful player Green Bay envisioned when he was drafted.
After the failed Neal experiment, many were wondering how Jones would do. That skepticism turned into intrigue at the end of last season as Jones was moved in certain packages to the outside and showed a knack for the pass rush. So the Packers decided to make the move full-time this year and it seems to be paying dividends.
Clay Mathews and Julius Peppers are entrenched as the starting outside linebackers, but Jones will definitely have a role as a blitzed on passing downs and if he continues to develop could be the heir apparent to Peppers whenever he decides to hang it up.
Thompson’s record with first round defensive picks has been shaky. For every Matthews and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, there is a Justin Harrell. Jones was on track to be another disappointment, but this moves gives his career new hope.
He just has to capitalize on it and all indications are that he will in 2016.
5. Punter a la mode
Not soon after the draft, the Packers signed undrafted Green Bay native Peter Mortell to challenge Tim Masthay for the punting position. The thought was Mortell would either supplant Masthay or would be the Giorgio Tavecchio to Masthay’s Crosby and give the red headed punter’s career a kick in the pants.
Well, Mortell was released and McCarthy declared that Masthay was "in the driver’s seat" for the job.
Then Masthay was released.
Green Bay signed Jacob Schum to replace Masthay and he punted well in the preseason finale against the Chiefs with a couple of punts with a greater than five second hang time, a marked improvement over Masthay and Mortell.
That’s only one game however and it can’t be ruled out that Thompson may have had a Derrick Frost 2.0 moment. Anyone who remembers the Packers releasing Jon Ryan in 2008 and signing Frost realizes what a colossal mistake it was. While a punter can’t make or break a football team, it sure can make things complicated for a defense. Here’s hoping that’s not the case with Schum.