For the first time in two years, the Green Bay Packers will run out of their tunnel at Lambeau Field to an energized Family Night crowd on Saturday evening. For some fans, it will be their first time at the legendary stadium, while many others will return to the friendly confines after a year-long hiatus.
Each year, Family Night represents the first opportunity of the NFL season for a majority of Green Bay fans to get their first glimpse of this year’s team and its newest faces, even if it is in a limited capacity with starters’ reps closely monitored. After an offseason filled with twists and turns for the Packers organization, the past two weeks have offered much more excitement and that continues with the annual practice event.
On the eve of Family Night, here are three areas to watch closely as the Packers take the field.
After Blake Bortles was released last week, just three quarterbacks remain on the Green Bay roster and it is safe to say that Kurt Benkert will not be the position’s main focus.
Aaron Rodgers will surely get at least a few practice possessions with the offense during the evening, but the intrigue is not focused as much on Rodgers’ on-field play as his reception from the fans. Will he receive a positive ovation from the Packer faithful after returning to the team or will there be a mix of booing and jeering? Unlike preseason games, Family Night is not expected to announce any sort of starting lineups to begin the night and that bodes well for the Packers and their franchise quarterback. However, the night will still offer a first look at the crowd’s feelings toward Rodgers only two weeks into his return.
On the other end of the quarterback spectrum is Jordan Love. Without Family Night or preseason games last year, Love will get his first chance to impress the fan base on television Saturday night. Regardless of Rodgers’ long-term outlook in Green Bay, it is an important first step for the former first-round pick Love and there is certainly some curiosity to watch his command of the offense. After getting meaningful reps this offseason, Love’s performance and poise during the 11-on-11 period, while just a practice, will be analyzed heavily over the next week.
The Slot Positions
Offensively, the slot receiver position got a lot more interesting the past two weeks with the addition of Randall Cobb. His re-acclimation into the Packers’ offense, as well as the Matt LaFleur offense, will be of some intrigue Saturday night. So too will his slot role with third-round selection Amari Rodgers in the fold. Despite Cobb’s wealth of NFL experience and close ties to the rookie, there was some part of this writer that felt concern after the trade that Rodgers may lose valuable developmental snaps to the veteran. Although Family Night may not provide the same glimpse into the Packers’ possible receiver rotations that game action will, the evening might give an indication of whether the two players can coexist together on the field in certain packages. Either way, it will be a great first opportunity to see Rodgers’ skillset up close and gauge his ability to be used in the Tyler Ervin role out of the backfield and on jet sweeps.
On the defensive side of the ball, the slot matchups in 11-on-11 drills against Cobb and Rodgers should also be intriguing. Last year’s nickel corner Chandon Sullivan has continued to take on the lion’s share of those snaps so far in training camp, but Jaire Alexander earned his first look at those reps in practice late this week. During Family Night, each cornerback may get an extended look. But will the rookies — Eric Stokes and Shemar Jean-Charles — add a wrinkle to the night and also get an opportunity from the slot? So far, the first-rounder Stokes has primarily been an outside cover corner, and he will certainly have a spotlight of his own in his first action at Lambeau, even if he remains on the boundary.
The 1-on-1 Pass-Blocking Battles on the Outside
For both the offensive linemen and edge rushers, this training camp is one filled with several newer players fighting for limited roster positions.
On the pass-rushing side, the Packers lost one of their outside linebackers Randy Ramsey to what appears to be a significant injury earlier this week. A sparingly-used member of the defense last season, Ramsey was one of several players highlighted throughout the offseason as a candidate to break through as a depth contributor this season beyond special teams. His injury provides long-term uncertainty and puts more emphasis on the similar players in his position group — Jonathan Garvin, Delontae Scott, and Tipa Galeai — to establish themselves as worthy of a roster spot. Family Night this weekend will go a long way for those specific players to start putting themselves on the radar heading into preseason by winning some of the night’s one-on-one rushing drills. Otherwise, the Packers may have to search the waiver wire with more urgency for depth options behind their top three edge rushers.
From a pass protection standpoint, Dennis Kelly’s recent signing gave the Packers a seasoned offensive tackle with starting experience, much like the addition of Rick Wagner last year. The move provided a bit more relief to fans that the tackle position, specifically the left side, will be in capable hands if David Bakhtiari indeed misses time to begin the season. Kelly will be one player to watch during Family Night at tackle, but the event is another opportunity for players like Yosh Nijman, Cole Van Lanen, and Elgton Jenkins to showcase their pass-blocking abilities. The one-on-one drills themselves should be of interest to fans, but how those battles shape up in 11-on-11 snaps may be a better indicator. For Jenkins, a lock to make the roster, the televised snaps at left tackle will be particularly interesting to watch after starting two seasons at left guard. With Jenkins having earned an extended look at left tackle during camp, Family Night could either be reassuring or concerning when imagining Jenkins in that role to begin the season.