The Green Bay Packers first preseason game is in the books. Yes, it was a rough one for the Packers, to say the least. However, there are plenty of things we can take away from it.
Let’s take a look at the players who improved their “stock” on the team and which players took a step back after Friday night’s action. This will help us determine the players doing the necessary things in the preseason to win a roster spot and push for playing time, and the players failing to impress on the field.
David Bakhtiari - Bakhtiari is faced with a tall task this season. He must replace veteran lineman Bryan Bulaga at left tackle, and for the Packers to realize success this season, he must not skip a beat. Well, to much of the fan base’s pleasure, Bakhtiari held up well in his first NFL action. He was exceptional in pass protection. Bakhtiari did not give up a sack or quarterback hit for the 38 snaps he was in the game. According to Bob McGinn, Bakhtiari did have four bad run plays where he got beat by the defender, so this will be an area he’ll have to show improvement. However, the rookie tackle also had quite a few good run blocking plays, and he took the right steps toward being the Packers left tackle this season.
Tyrone Walker – With the Packers long list of talented receivers, it was undrafted rookie Tyrone Walker who really shined in Friday night’s passing game. The undersized receiver led the team with five catches for 41 yards and was a reliable target for the Packers quarterbacks. On third down Walker had an impressive catch over the middle of the field where he broke two tackles and turned it upfield for a gain of 22 yards. Walker’s performance on game day has put him a step ahead of the other young receivers pushing for the final roster spots at wide receiver.
Robert Francois– The inside linebackers were relatively quiet on Friday night; however, Francois impressed me with his play. He did fail to bring down Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton for the sack on a key third down, but he still showed good burst into the backfield on the play to pressure the quarterback. A few players later, Francois was successful in sacking Stanton, coming around the edge of the line as the pocket collapsed. Francois also had some nice run stops and looks to be the Packers top reserve inside linebacker at this point.
Jarrett Bush - The Packers “deep” secondary was underwhelming in the preseason opener. I wrote a piece just before the game that discussed the possibility of Bush being cut due to the young depth at cornerback; however, I may be changing my tune after Friday night’s game. Bush was one of the only Packers defensive backs that showed up and demonstrated consistent tight coverage on opposing receivers. Bush had three really nice pass breakups —two coming on key third downs. Granted, Bush was largely facing the Cardinals’ second and third team offense, but still, the veteran defensive back once again showed why he is so difficult to send to the street corner of this time of year.
Don Barclay – I’ll be honest, Barclay’s play at right tackle didn’t really jump out at me Friday night, but in his press conference on Saturday, Coach McCarthy said that after reviewing the game tape, Barclay was perhaps the most impressive player on the field. Hey, the Coach’s word is good enough for me. Barclay is clearly a better run blocker than Newhouse, but Barclay still needs to make progress in his pass blocking to overtake Newhouse at right tackle. So far in camp Barclay has been moved all over the line, but with Bulaga’s injury it seems the Packers will keep Barclay at tackle. Maybe this will give Barclay a chance to hone his skills as an offensive tackle and push to start on the right side of the line.
Davon House - Prior to training camp, I had House pegged as one of the players on the team that would really surprise people this year and make a big jump as a player. Well, in the Packers first preseason game, House was a huge disappointment. He looked out of place and a step behind in coverage. He got beat deep on a number of occasions in man coverage, including a 38-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He also got turned around on a few occasions when his man would run an out route toward the sidelines. Heading into camp House said he wanted to compete for a starting cornerback spot. He’ll have to do a lot better than his performance Friday night to surpass Williams, Shields, or Hayward on the depth chart.
Graham Harrell – I had some hope Harrell would play much better this preseason than last year. At times, Harrell looked more comfortable in the pocket and running the offense than he has in years past, but the two turnovers were killers. On his first drive he threw an interception right to cornerback Patrick Peterson. He stared down his route and wasn’t on the same page as the receiver. On the next drive Harrell fumbled around midfield when defensive end John Abraham hit him from behind. After the two turnovers, Harrell just couldn’t get anything going. His performance in the preseason opener won’t cut it if he wants to win the top backup quarterback job.
Alex Green – Green’s performance was difficult to judge Friday night. He didn’t enter the game until late in the second quarter and was running behind the second team offensive line. He had seven carries for an unimpressive 16 yards. He did have a nice eight-yard run, but his other six carries were pretty rough. There were a few attempts where the line opened a nice hole for him to burst through, but then he was brought down by an arm tackle. Green flashes good cutting ability at times, but it never seems like he breaks tackles to get extra yardage. That’s what Green Bay will need from their running backs this season. Green definitely took a step back in the backfield competition after the first preseason game.
Marshall Newhouse – At times, Newhouse looked pretty good in clearing out space on the right side for the Packers backs. He had a nice block to seal the edge for a Jonathan Franklin four-yard run to get a first down. However, Newhouse seemed to struggle in his pass protection and also whiffed a few times in blocking his man on running plays. According to Bob McGinn, Newhouse had seven minus plays on Friday night, and he was also beat really badly when Abraham came around the corner almost untouched to sack Harrell and force a fumble. With Barclay pressing for the starting right tackle job, Newhouse will have to do better than his subpar performance against the Cardinals.
James Starks – Starks had some nice runs in the game and looked like the Packers best back of the night. He is cutting well and running hard. His performance bodes well for making the final roster.
Johnny Jolly – For being out of football for three years, Jolly really didn’t look too bad. He played better than I thought he would. He consistently got a good push off the line, and just missed on a sack when Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton dodged his arm tackle. Jolly’s most impressive play, however, was on a third and long. Jolly pushed his man into the backfield, collapsed the pocket, and Francois was able to pick up the sack. Jolly has a ways to go to make the roster, but his first outing was a step in the right direction.
Chris Banjo – Banjo was one bright spot in the young Packers secondary. He had a couple of really nice tackles on the field. In the third quarter, on a third and short in Packers territory, Banjo broke through the line of scrimmage and tackled the Arizona running back in the backfield for a two-yard loss. This was a big stop for the defense that forced the Cardinals to settle for a field goal.
Tim Masthay – If I had to pick a player of the game for Green Bay, I would have to say Masthay. OK, that was a joke, but at least we know we have a guy who can punt. The Packers first three offensive series ended with a failed fourth down conversion near the goal line, an interception, and a fumble. Their remaining offensive possessions ended with eight straight punts. Yeah, it was ugly.
We’ll see which players take step forward in this Saturday’s preseason game against the St. Louis Rams, and which players fall behind in the team’s roster competition.