10 Things I'll Be Watching in the Preseason OpenerPosted:Aug 9th, 2013 2:30 pm
OK, here we go. Finally, some real football. OK, some semi-football. Hey, it's a game and it's at Lambeau so we're all interested. Here are the ten things I'll be focused on:
1. Bakhtiari's debut: For me, everything else is an afterthought at this early juncture. If the rookie is as promising as advertised, he could seal an "A" on Ted Thompson's draft report card, no matter what Jones and the backs end up doing. Bakhtiari will likely only have to keep Aaron Rodgers upright for a series or two, but the microscope will be on him as long as he's out there. In his first test, he'll have to hold up against the likes of Darnell Dockett and Sam Acho.
2. Crosby's tenuous future: Let the competition begin. The Packers' suddenly lost field goal kicker inspired no confidence in the friendly setting of Family Night. Things will quickly get nasty if he misses his first attempt tonight. As of right now, it's entirely possible the Packers 2013 place kicker is not currently on the roster. That's a bit scary. Let's hope Rodgers and the offense become red zone specialists and keep the field goal attempts to a minimum.
3. The backup QB Derby: This one doesn't mean as much in the grand scheme of things, because we all know the team will only go as far as #12 can take them. The addition of Vince Young muddles the picture a bit, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Harrell and Coleman got the message. I think Young is a long shot to make the team and we certainly can't expect much tonight from him. I doubt he knows more than 20% of the playbook at this point. They all have four games to state their case; let's see who fires the first salvo.
4. Jones and Perry: It feels like the defensive front seven has two #1s this season, since Perry exited so early in his rookie season. The early returns on Jones have been fantastic--though the illness that kept him out this week may impact his reps tonight. If Perry shows he's more comfortable in his second year as an OLB, he could have a dramatic effect on the pass rush, along with the addition of Jones. I'm guardedly optimistic that the defense will take a big step this season. If it does, it will be because of these two guys.
5. The rookie backs: As I write this, we don't know if Eddie Lacy will play, after straining a hammy this week. That would be disappointing, since he'd be slated for a lot of work, with DuJuan Harris still sidelined. With or without Lacy, we'll get our first taste of Johnathan Franklin and I'm looking forward to see how he handles his first test. Alex Green and James Starks need to impress tonight, because one of them is unlikely to last past the final cutdown.
6. Returner steps up: With Randall Cobb's returner days done till the playoffs, Jeremy Ross gets another shot to try to get us to forget how he muffed a punt in the red zone and completely shifted the momentum of the Pack's playoff game against the 49ers (I'm over it. Really, I am). Ross has a big opportunity these next few weeks, with Nelson sidelined and Cobb likely to get limited action. He and Boykin are locked in a battle for the #4 receiver spot (I think Boykin wins it), and a fifth spot could be his if he proves his chops on special teams. The fact that the seventh rounders can't get healthy improves his chances.
7. Young WR stands out: To dovetail on the previous one, with camp injuries hitting this spot, along with the offseason defections, there is opportunity here for a number of youngsters. I'll be watching guys like Omarius Hines, Myles White, Tyrone Walker and Alex Gillett and see if any of these guys look like the real thing. Hines looks the part physically, the former Raven is 6'2" 215, and played some tight end at Florida. White is another guy who could flash. Rodgers has endorsed him and he has a ton of speed--something that's a bit lacking at this spot.
8. Who wants to play RT?: Ordinarily, a Super Bowl contender does not have questions at both tackle spots as the preseason open. But that's where we find the Pack right now. If Bakhtiari proves up to the challenge on the left side, the right tackle spot comes down to a battle between Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay. Let the competition begin and let someone grab it and not let go.
9. Let a safety emerge: I was disappointed that the team ignored this spot in the draft, so the team needs one of the two hold overs to step up. Right now, MD Jennings is listed first on the depth chart; but Jerron McMillain will be given every chance to win the spot. The second year guy is expected to take a major step this season and the team desperately needs him to. A better tackler than Jennings, he also provides some much-needed nastiness to the unit and will be needed against the new wave mobile QBs the team will face early.
10. All the corners: I'll stay in the secondary because it looks like the competition is fierce at this crucial position. With Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward sidelined, a lot of youngsters will get a chance beginning tonight. We know what we have in Shields and Bush, but guys like the oft-injured Davon House, rookie Micah Hyde, FA pickup Loyce Means and youngsters like Brandon Smith and James Nixon have gotten off to good starts. You can't have too many corners so the depth is nice to have. Here's our first chance to see how many of these kids have a chance to stick.