Our long national nightmare — better known as the NFL preseason — is about to come to a close tonight with all 32 teams in action. The Green Bay Packers will host the New Orleans Saints and there is a lot on the line for some players hoping to earn more playing time or a roster spot. Let’s just hope Mike McCarthy doesn’t run Randall Cobb or Eddie Lacy out there for 50 snaps. Here are some interesting things to look for tonight:
Which Wide Receivers Step Up?
There doesn’t seem to be much competition as to which wide receivers will be on the roster, as it looks as if Myles White has a strong hold on the fifth spot after a very good performance last week and a solid camp overall. However, with Jordy Nelson injured everyone will be looking at Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis to see what they can bring to the table. Obviously, you should take whatever they do tonight with a grain of salt due to the competition, but every game is an opportunity to improve. Last week, Janis caught a touchdown on a fly route down the seam and Montgomery took a screen 52 yards, which is what you would expect from them considering their strengths. The biggest problem for Janis remains that he hasn’t earned the trust of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Third Tight End Battle
Kennard Backman seems to have the edge here since he’s a draft pick, has the most potential athletically and has come on strong towards the end of camp. The Packers want to see guys like Backman develop, and he’s certainly better than he was when OTAs first started. Justin Perillo and Mitchell Henry have both battled injuries in camp and either will need a strong game to leap over Backman, but it’s still certainly possible. Perillo had a concussion and a broken finger has limited Henry to blocking.
The Don Barclay Watch
Barclay has certainly been an adventure thus far in the preseason, and his poor performance coming off his ACL surgery has left him on the roster bubble. He was certainly better against Philadelphia, but still had issues. The pressure that was in Brett Hundely’s face on his interception was after Barclay got beat. He will need to improve off last week’s performance if he wants to stick. Lane Taylor has improved from last year, Josh Walker has played well enough to earn a spot and J.C. Tretter is all but guaranteed a spot. The only thing working for Barclay is that none of those three players may be able to play tackle either, and he does have experience there — albeit not a very effective stint.
Last Stands for Kyri Thornton and Carl Bradford
If Kyri Thornton and Carl Bradford have anything to offer it better come out tonight, because it’s likely their last hope. It’s pretty embarrassing for Thornton that he’s unlikely to make the roster with two defensive linemen suspended, and the Packers not having a very good group overall there to begin with. Bruce Gaston has outplayed Thornton by a lot and should make the roster over him. Bradford is in competition in a deep linebacker group and has not done anything to distinguish himself either.
The Rookie Corners
Ladarius Gunter, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have all flashed and been impressive at various points all camp. Pro Football Focus named Gunter its top rookie of the preseason thus far with a +6.8 ranking. He has a passer rating of 20.6 on passes thrown to him this preseason, and he even locked down Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, quite possibly the quickest and best route runner in the NFL. Not bad for having the slowest 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Rollins has a +2.7 overall grade and Randall a +1.1. All of them have been better than Casey Hayward, who has a -0.3. It will be interesting to see how much action Hayward gets tonight. The fourth preseason game usually all the starters sit — but the Packers might want Hayward to prove himself more — as he has been slow to transition to the boundary corner spot. Green Bay’s best secondary might be with Hayward in the slot and one of the rookies outside. Everything should still be in play.
Tim Masthay’s Slump
As Zach Kruse tweeted earlier today, Tim Masthay’s average of 39.9 yards per punt ranks dead last among 50 NFL punters this preseason. This is a huge concern since it has carried over from last season. Punting is pretty underrated in the game, since field position is so critically important. If Masthay has another poor night the Packers should act fast with plenty of capable punters out there to replace him.