The first taste of the Green Bay Packers’ 2019 season will come tonight as the organization hosts its yearly Family Night Practice amid the Lambeau Field faithful. Fresh off the first NFL preseason game last night, the Packers will take the field for the first time in a new era under Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
While the new Aaron Rodgers-led offense and high-end free agent defensive signings will garner most of the headlines during the evening, there are plenty of position group battles and schematic questions waiting to be answered.
As Packer fans eagerly await Family Night, here are three areas to keep a close eye on this evening.
Will the Packers utilize “12 personnel” sets and how effective will they be?
One of the more surprising aspects of the Green Bay offense in 2018 was the ineffectiveness of two tight end, “12 personnel,” sets in the midst of adding Marcedes Lewis to a tandem of Jimmy Graham and Lance Kendricks. The arrival of LaFleur and Nathaniel Hackett hopefully will restore the threat that this set can bring.
During Family Night, it will be intriguing to see how often the Packers practice this set and what the results will be. They added raw receiving weapons to the position in the form of Jace Sternberger and Pharoah McKever, while retaining Graham, Lewis, and Robert Tonyan. Will any of these players be able to stretch the hashes from the slot or create chunk plays through LaFleur-staple crossing patterns?
Conversely, how will this group of tight ends run block? Lewis’ strength in this area is well-documented, but Graham, Tonyan, Sternberger, and McKever all are rather unrefined or below-average in this area. For the Packers’ new offense to be effective as a whole, they will need their tight ends to hold up as blockers. They will undergo their first eye test tonight.
Will another under-the-radar receiving target step into the final roster conversation?
It was right around Family Night last year when Rodgers praised Jake Kumerow’s improvements without prompting. Kumerow then went on to have a stellar preseason that won him a second look for a roster spot despite three rookie receivers. This year, Kumerow, along with Allen Lazard and Teo Redding have received similarly glowing remarks from the Packers’ franchise quarterback.
Lazard in particular is a strong candidate to emerge during this year’s Lambeau festivities. The second-year player spent most of his rookie season on the Jacksonville practice squad in the offense utilized by Hackett. However, Lazard has had some time to adjust to Rodgers and the Green Bay offense since being signed to the active roster in mid-December. The Iowa State product presents a 6’5” frame that fits in well with a receiving unit composed of size-speed weapons.
Redding and Lazard may be two underrated players to watch on a night that figures to see other second-year targets like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J’Mon Moore, and Equanimeous St. Brown hoping to impress.
Will a reserve edge linebacker stand out?
Much has been said this offseason about the newcomers to the Packers’ linebacker group - Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, and Za’Darius Smith. But how about the depth behind all of these players? While contact is limited in this practice, one-on-one battles against the Packers’ offensive tackles will be interesting to watch.
On the edge, it starts with Kyler Fackrell, who had several breakout performances in 2018 but now sees himself in a backup role. Will Fackrell continue to take a step forward in 2019 as a role player and spot pass rusher? Now in his third season, time is ticking for Reggie Gilbert to make an impact or he will find his way out of 1265 Lombardi Avenue. He enters training camp on the bubble of a 53-man roster slot. Even last year’s seventh-round draft pick Kendall Donnerson hopes to draw attention after an offseason of development and will compete against undrafted players Greg Roberts and Randy Ramsey for Family Night reps, if all are healthy enough to go.
For the first time in a long time, the outside linebacker room is filled with a handful of both proven players and promising up-and-comers. Tonight should be an opportunity to see what the Packers have in all of their edge rushers.