Players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster bubble are dangerously close to running out of opportunities. The bulk of training camp is already over, the third preseason game is drawing near, and chances to make an impression are dwindling.
This year’s preseason has produced several intriguing position battles, ones which may not be resolved until the final snap of the exhibition schedule. Here are the players we think have the most to prove as the Packers head north of the border for their penultimate preseason matchup.
Evan “Tex” Western - Trevor Davis
The Packers’ wide receiver battle is one of the toughest positions to predict at this point, in part due to Davis’ absence in the first two preseason games. Though not running as a starter, Davis was getting playing time with the first-team offense at times in spring practices and early in training camp prior to suffering an injury on a kickoff return drill in the joint practice against the Texans.
In his absence, Darrius Shepherd has seriously impressed as a slot receiver with return ability, while Allen Lazard has flashed on the boundary as a receiver and a gunner. With Davis’ special teams abilities being critical to his making the team in the past, the team may feel that that area of his game is replaceable should he fail to take a step forward as a receiving option on offense.
Davis returned to practice this week looking to reclaim his spot on the depth chart above those two younger players, and he should get a hefty amount of playing time on Thursday against the Raiders as the Packers try to see if he can sustain his good practice performances into game action. Of course, that’s where Davis has struggled before, so it will be critical for him to put some good tape up if he wants to stake his claim for a bubble spot ahead of Shepherd and Lazard.
Shawn Wagner - J’Mon Moore
This is assuming Moore is able to suit up after being involved in a car accident this past week. After having a very up-and-down game against the Houston Texans to kick off the preseason in which he dropped a couple of passes and bobbled two others, Moore was not targeted against Baltimore. Despite having a good training camp overall, and being praised by Matt LaFleur at times, Moore has continued to struggle translating that success to game action.
With the battle at wide receiver shaping up to be a doozy as players like Jake Kumerow, Allen Lazard and Darrius Shepherd have grabbed the spotlight, Moore finds himself in a make-or-break position heading into the third preseason game. On the roster bubble only a year after being selected in the fourth round, one is optimistic that he can break out of his issues with concentration.
Kris Burke - Ty Summers
Everyone was going gaga over Summers’ performance against the Houston Texans but then he backed it up with a floundering performance against the Baltimore Ravens. Meanwhile, Curtis Bolton had a phenomenal game and is suddenly a very real threat to be a starter thanks to the injury to Oren Burks.
Summers is going to have to prove the Ravens game was just a fluke and bounce back against the Raiders if he has any hope of being in the rotation at inside linebacker. Inconsistency is to be expected of rookies but in the battle of Summers vs Bolton, it’s the latter who has been the steadier player. I don’t think Summers in danger of missing the roster unless he really stinks up the joint tomorrow night, but he’s got enough to prove to keep the Packers from looking outside to shore up the inside linebacker position.
Paul Noonan - Rashan Gary
Preseason games don’t mean much, but someone of Gary’s considerable physical gifts should be “flashing,” as they say, more than this. There is no shame in not immediately dominating NFL first stringers, and Gary has faced his fair share, but he’s also gone against some of the lower tier, and his production just hasn’t been there.
So far he has looked every bit the player he was at Michigan as the best athlete on the field, not producing at a high enough rate. Given the knock on him out of college, it is discouraging to see almost no growth thus far. Perhaps Gary is simply a project that will take time to develop, as raw players sometimes do, but it’s a bit of a buzzkill to get a raw player with such a high pick, if that is the case. I didn’t like the Gary pick at the time, and I’ll still wager he’s a bust. I have seen little to change my mind.
Peter Bukowski - The future No. 2 QB
I’m cheating here because we aren’t 100% sure who this is going to be. Right now, DeShone Kizer should be considered the favorite, but Tim Boyle had arguably his best week of practice as a Packer this week and if Aaron Rodgers sits, should get plenty of run against a soft Raiders passing defense. That bodes well for both QBs, which means if one or both perform poorly, that will be instructive to Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur. This is Kizer’s chance to take the job. A solid performance Thursday night puts to bed the discussion about who the No. 2 will be, while simultaneously puts pressure on Boyle to perform well enough just to make a crowded roster.
Don’t be surprised if each QB gets a chance with some composite grouping of starters to show what they can do, particularly if Rodgers doesn’t play. It’s not quite as simple as “whoever performs better Thursday night wins the job” but it could be if one of them excels well above the other.