The Green Bay Packers will play their final exhibition game of the preseason in Kansas City tomorrow night, and the Packers have a bevy of players who are competing for a spot on the team’s 53-man regular season roster.
“The emphasis will be to let the younger guys play the majority of the football game," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said regarding his Thursday gameplan. “For guys like (wide receivers) Jordy (Nelson) and Randall (Cobb), it’ll be important for them to play."
Nelson (knee) and Cobb (biceps) have been out with injuries throughout training camp this past August and are both questionable for Thursday. Both receivers haven’t played in the preseason, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers said it would be beneficial if both receivers see live-game action before the regular season opener in San Francisco.
“It is important for us to find some reps with guys who haven’t been around," Rodgers said referring to Nelson and Cobb. “We have to find that connection in the next couple of weeks."
Whether Rodgers plays one, two, or three offensive drives in the preseason finale, Rodgers said he is ready to play, but knows it McCarthy’s call regarding how much he will play Thursday. Rodgers most likely won’t get the chance to throw the football to a plethora of receivers vying for a roster spot.
“I think there are a lot of guys with something to prove this week," Rodgers said about the wide receiver competition. “Jeremy (Ross) adds another dimension to special teams, Tyrone (Walker) had a good start to camp, and Myles (White) has been consistent. These guys have to know though they aren’t just playing for one team, but for all 32."
McCarthy said Rodgers has been “very sharp” in camp and he is confident in his starting quarterback heading into the regular season. McCarthy said he wants to see more consistency in the preseason finale from his backup quarterbacks, Vince Young and B.J. Coleman. “We have two quarterbacks here, and the number two spot hasn’t been answered," McCarthy said.
Coleman said he has been focused on earning a roster spot the entire offseason. “You just have to continue to stay the course," Coleman said earlier this week. “I have to continue to get more familiar and comfortable with this offense. Kansas City is a good football team, and we’ll see what happens."
Young said he has become more comfortable with the offense since the beginning of camp. “I really feel like the coaches appreciate all the hard work I’m putting in," Young said. “It is about taking it one day at a time."
The Packers placed starting running back DuJuan Harris (knee) on the Injured-Reserve List Wednesday, thinning the position group. Rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin are likely roster locks, and one of the final spots will most likely come down to running backs James Starks and Alex Green.
“I think you have to be excited about (Starks’) camp," McCarthy said Tuesday. “He has practiced every single day, and his availability is the highest of his career. He runs very hard, and he has made steps forward through training camp."
In three preseason games, Starks and Green have been subpar at best, recording 15 carries for 42 yards, and 14 carries for 62 yards, respectively. Green also has one catch for 14 yards.
Green’s 4.4 yards/carry average may look impressive, but one of Green’s 14 preseason carries was a 31-yard rush. Subtracting his one big run, Green has 13 carries for 31 yards—averaging 2.4 yards/carry. Despite the poor rushing numbers, McCarthy said he is impressed with Green on special teams.
“Alex (Green) has heightened his productivity on special teams," McCarthy said. “He is very useful there, and those are the things you look for. Both guys (Starks and Green) have had good training camps."
McCarthy said the majority of the starting offensive line has been established, excluding the right tackle position, which will come down to Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay. “I feel very good about both Newhouse and Barclay," McCarthy said. “We’ll see how this game shapes out, but I feel we are in good shape at right tackle."
The Packers released kickers Giorgio Tavecchio and Zach Ramirez this past week, leaving veteran Mason Crosby the lone Packers kicker heading into Kansas City. McCarthy though said he has not yet claimed Crosby as his starting kicker for the 7th consecutive season.
“I’m not going to say whether (Crosby) sealed the job or not," McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday. “I was very impressed with his last two kicking opportunities lining up with the competition in practice, and he has had a very good week. The right decision will be made at the right time."
“There are all kinds of scenarios," General Manager Ted Thompson said about the possibility of bringing Tavecchio back to replace Crosby. “There is no way of predicting how this things works out, and hopefully we do the right thing."
Defensively, the Packers will be without a trio of defenders with hamstring injuries on Thursday: cornerback Casey Hayward, inside linebacker Brad Jones, and safety Morgan Burnett. Defenders Andy Mulumba, James Nixon, and Loyce Means have one final chance to make the team’s 53-man roster.
One player McCarthy said has stood out since arriving in Green Bay is safety Chris Banjo, who signed with the Packers earlier in training camp. “He has made plays since he has arrived," McCarthy said. “I’m very pleased with what he has shown so far, and Thursday will be a big game for him."
NFL teams are required to cut their roster from 75 players to 53 by 5 p.m. (central-standard time) on Saturday. Thompson said it is always tough to release young players looking for an NFL opportunity.
“It’s awful, I often times get physically sick," Thompson said. “It is a hard thing to do, to make a roster and compete against grown men. Maybe I’m a little sensitive to it, but it is hard saying goodbye."
Thompson and McCarthy’s jobs though are plain and simple—do the right thing for the Green Bay Packers.
“As long as we stay centered and focused, we usually make the right decisions," Thompson said. “You don’t always know what the right thing to do is, and it is gut-wrenching, but it is our responsibility to do what is best for the guys in the locker room."
Kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City is Thursday at 7 p.m. Check your local listings for television coverage of the game.
Other News and Notes: Former Packers quarterback Graham Harrell signed a contract with the New York Jets on Wednesday. The Packers released Harrell after completing 6/13 passes for 49 yards in a 17-10 loss on Friday to the Seattle Seahawks.
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