The Green Bay Packers have their starting lineup essentially set for the start of the 2018 season. Although a few injuries here and there may affect the specifics of who takes the field on the first snaps of the team’s week one game against the Chicago Bears, the general structure of the lineup is set.
The back end of the roster, though? That remains very much in flux, with plenty of question marks to be answered. The last chance for players to audition for the roster comes tonight, with the Packers in Kansas City for their preseason finale against the Chiefs.
Here are four positions that should have roster spots decided by the play of those Packers who will get significant playing time on Thursday evening.
It’s probably obvious, as the receiver battle seems to get more attention than any other position battle on the Packers’ roster this year. However, Thursday is the last chance for the three rookies and Trevor Davis to audition for the 53.
In week one, Marquez Valdes-Scantling exploded and Equanimeous St. Brown had a very solid game. The second game saw the arrival (and injury) of Jake Kumerow. J’Mon Moore finally broke out last week. Whoever impresses most tonight will likely sew up a spot, but an awful game for any of these players could result in a surprise roster cut. Kumerow’s expected absence probably leaves him hoping that a rookie drops the ball (literally and figuratively) in order to make the team.
Then there’s Davis, who has yet to play this preseason. His contributions to the team would likely come on special teams, so a game-breaking return or big tackle on punt coverage could get him on the team again for a third year.
With Jamaal Williams locked in as the starter, Ty Montgomery banged up, and Aaron Jones suspended for the first two games, the Packers will probably need to keep a third tailback on the 53 to start the year, at least until Jones’ return. Who will take that job is anyone’s guess.
Devante Mays finally returned from an injury this week to get some game action and show that he deserves the spot. Can Joel Bouagnon show more burst and explosiveness than he did through three games? Perhaps LeShun Daniels builds on a brief but intriguing performance last week. Alternately, If none of these players impress, they could all be left off the roster, with the Packers instead looking outside the organization for another body on the waiver wire this weekend.
Jason Spriggs is the primary backup tackle, while Lucas Patrick appears to be a top option at all three interior spots. Behind them, however, myriad questions plague the reserve group.
Just how bad is Kyle Murphy’s injury, and does the team trust him to play well enough if he gets healthy to deserve a roster spot? Is Byron Bell just washed up? Can Adam Pankey hold up against starting-caliber players if called upon? Is Dillon Day just a center, or can he add some good reps at guard to make him more useful overall?
The Packers probably need at least two of those players on their final 53, and tonight will help decide which players make it.
What do the Packers do at the linebacker position? The only sure things are starter Blake Martinez and third-round rookie Oren Burks. For one thing, Burks’ shoulder injury will probably keep him out of the game and it has him questionable at best for week one. Who will start in his place and who will play the critical backup and special teams roles?
There are three realistic candidates, all of whom are fighting with each other and with players at other positions for roster spots. Ahmad Thomas is the rangy coverage linebacker who has seen action with the first-team defense on passing downs. Run-stopper Antonio Morrison will likely get significant playing time, having just arrived from Indianapolis on Sunday. And undrafted Greer Martini is probably the best special-teamer of the bunch but could be the odd man out if Morrison impresses.
Watch this group closely — if the team feels good about Burks, they could keep as few as three players, but that number could just as easily be five instead.