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Wednesday Walkthroughs: Packers are on right track with starters’ preseason playing time

APC’s contributors approve of the amount that Aaron Rodgers and company are expected to play this August.

NFL: Preseason-Houston Texans at Green Bay Packers
“Wait, three whole quarters? I haven’t played that much in the preseason since 2007!”
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers’ second preseason game is coming up on Thursday, and with it will come fans’ first chance to see Aaron Rodgers taking live reps in 2019. Head coach Matt LaFleur said that he wants to play the starters for about a quarter in Baltimore this week, prompting APC to think about whether that playing time is reasonable.

Should the starters play more in the exhibition season? Should they play less, more akin to Mike McCarthy’s approach in recent years? Or is this a happy medium? Let’s see how a few APC writers fall.

Evan “Tex” Western: Matt LaFleur’s plan is just right

Right now, it sounds like Matt LaFleur plans to play his starters as follows:

  • Game 1: not at all
  • Game 2: one quarter
  • Game 3: first half
  • Game 4: not at all

If you ask me, this is just about perfect. I think games one and four of the preseason should be exclusively about player evaluation. The first week should be about letting young players, particularly rookies, get as many reps as possible to get used to playing in the NFL game. That also allows them to put mistakes and successes on tape to correct or build on over the final three weeks of training camp. Game four then needs to be about finalizing the back end of the roster, letting players make their final say for a spot on the 53.

But in between, I think there are plenty of reasons to give the starters a few quarters of game action, particularly this year. First relates to the depth chart, specifically at positions where the starter has not been determined. I would want to give all players under consideration for a starting job a few series with the rest of the starting lineup to make my determination on as even a playing field as possible. There is also the need to get players in sync, particularly new additions who are getting familiar with new teammates. And finally this year the added factor of a new offense means that the starting offense needs a little bit of real game action to try to settle into a rhythm.

Of course, balancing all that is the need to keep those players in one piece, so the amount of playing time has to be scaled back. But all told, three quarters of game action seems like it’s a reasonable goal as the minimum amount of playing time needed to accomplish the goals above.

Kris Burke: New system means a new thought process

In a year with a new offensive system with a rookie head coach, the answer could be “as much as possible” but you really have to balance the risk versus reward. Even if defenses are going full tilt, there’s always the risk of the dreaded non-contact injury (see Jordy Nelson in 2015).

As Tex said above, Matt Fleur seems to have hit the Thanos Zone, one that is perfectly balanced. The second preseason game is when the starters can dip their toes into the water for a quarter, then they’re waist deep for a half in the third game which has traditionally been the regular season dress rehearsal.

When you’re a team like the Packers and your fortunes are strongly tied to the quarterback, you do have to be smart especially as Rodgers gets older. He does need to get used to LaFleur’s system and gameday play calling but if he goes down, the team’s chances go down with him. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing DeShone Kizer with the rest of the starting offense a bit against both the Baltimore Ravens and the Oakland Raiders.

So in short: LaFleur nailed it, but there’s always going to be some risk involved.

Paul Noonan - Barely at all, some against opposing scrubs.

I think something like three quarters total is about right. You do need tome live game action to work on timing, chemistry, etc. Some things can only be practiced live. That said, it should be, and generally is properly limited. Since the Packers have a new offense this year I could see the temptation to play the starters a little more. If I were in LaFleur’s shoes, I might give them an extra series or two against the opposing fourth stringers so they can get in some work in a low-risk environment, but that’s as far as I’d go.