What We Think We Know, Halfway Through the PreseasonPosted:Aug 21st, 2018 3:08 pm
Two games down, two to go in this interminable preseason and we have a better idea of what the 2018 Packers will look like, but there are still plenty of questions to be answered. Here's what I think we know...
With the return of Aaron Rodgers and to a lesser extent Joe Philbin, the offense should be ready to take off. But a couple of things could slow it down. When healthy, the Pack's offensive line is a strength, with two terrific pass protecting tackles and solid interior play. This obviously presumes the return to health of Bryan Bulaga in time for the opener, as well as left guard Lane Taylor. What the line doesn't appear to have is an abundance of quality depth behind the starters.
This is not a unique trait, as most teams struggle to field five quality linemen at any given time. But if the starting tackles go down, there is a very real question whether Spriggs, Murphy, Bell and Pankey can fill the void. These last two preseason games will gem them plenty of opportunities to show their growth, but for now, the line looks like a fragile house of cards.
The running game is concerning, as neither Jamal Williams nor Ty Montgomery have shown much of an ability to break tackles and put up productive numbers. Part of that is due to the backup linemen struggling to create holes. Aaron Jones has yet to get on the field, but should see his first action Friday night in Oakland. I maintain he'll be the Pack's workhorse back by Halloween, but he needs to show he can stay on the field. Two young backs were brought in over the weekend and if one of them shows something, he'll probably land a roster spot--since second year guy Devante Mays appears headed out the door, either via release or IR.
The crowded wide receiver room has not really come into focus yet. After drafting three of them, you have to believe the team expects to keep six or seven. Three are locks: Adams, Cobb and Allison. After that, it's wide open. Trevor Davis' value as a returner is the only reason he's still in the hunt, since he's been injured. So far, it doesn't appear the team has anyone suitable to replace him. These next two games could reveal that person--if so, Davis could be headed out.
Jake Kumerow has sewn up a roster spot in my opinion, provided that his 'minor' shoulder injury is just that. That would leave two or three spots for the three drafted rookies. The spotlight will be on fourth round pick J'Mon Moore these next two weeks. If he continues to drop passes, I don't know how the team can afford to keep him. The other two rookies have shown that they have the potential to be playmakers down the road, but only injuries would cause them to be factors on offense this season. If they can help on special teams it will surely help their cause.
On to the defense where we know that strength of the unit is up front. Kenny Clark is off to a great start and Muhammad Wilkerson showed in his brief stint that he will be a tremendous addition to the rotation. We haven't seen Mike Daniels on the field yet, but there doesn't sound like there's any concern that he won't be ready when it matters.
Meanwhile, there should be plenty of concern at linebacker. The team is a Blake Martinez injury away from disaster on the inside, with little proven depth behind him. The team is also counting heavily on rookie Oren Burks to be a three down linebacker right out of the gate. I still have to think the Pack will look long and hard at adding a veteran here, if one is sent packing when teams make their cuts. On the outside, only Reggie Gilbert has stepped up and looked like a legit pass rusher. Guys like Fackrell and Biegel need to flash in these last two games or their spots on the roster could be in peril. The team better hope that Perry and Matthews do the unthinkable: stay on the field for 16 games.
Maybe the most encouraging development through two weeks is the play of the cornerback group. The two rookies appear ready to contribute immediately and Tramon Williams is the veteran leader the team needed back there. Only Kevin King's paper mâché shoulders are the primary concern for this unit. If he can keep them in place, the team could have five solid guys in coverage--something the team will need, especially if the pass rush is less than stellar.
The safety group is concerning as starters Ha Ha Clinton Dix and Kentrell Brice struggled mightily against James Conner and the Steelers. When you see a guy like George Iloka cut by the Bengals, or Eric Reid still sitting by his phone, you just want to shake Gutey and say, 'there's legit help out there.' These next two games will give those guys, along with Josh Jones, a chance to redeem themselves. At this point, I'd have to think the team will consider getting outside help before rosters are finalized.
Rookie punter JK Scott has been a disappointment, but it's too early to panic (Jon Ryan, anyone?). All we hear during the week is how he's pounding them for distance and with great hang time. In the games, he's mostly sputtered. He's young, working with two long snappers and his head is probably swimming. But it sure would be nice to see him get his act together in these final two warmups. And as I mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see if someone impresses as a returner, putting Trevor Davis out of a job.
We're 19 days away from the opener at Lambeau, and there are still plenty of things to learn about the 2018 Packers. These next two games will go a long way in determining which young guys fill out the back half of the roster--and who might be poised to grab a feature role if needed.