The week preceding the third preseason game is traditionally the time in camp where you see the team make decisions on who their starters will be heading into the season. This way, the third preseason game can serve as a dress rehearsal for the regular season and the first-team unit can build chemistry together before the season gets underway.
However, McCarthy said he was not ready to declare any winners at the open starting positions, and he’d still like to get more information from his players this Friday against Seattle.
So let’s take a quick look at where the Packers are currently at with some of the key position battles on the roster.
It’s pretty clear at this point in camp the Packers starting running back will be either Eddie Lacy or DuJuan Harris. Lacy had an impressive preseason debut against the Rams. He rushed for 40 yards on 8 carries, and demonstrated the power and quick feet the big back showed in his time at Alabama.
However, McCarthy has made it clear that Harris is still the team’s starting running back. Harris took a majority of the first team reps today in practice, despite Lacy’s strong performance last week. We should get our first look at Harris this season on Friday against the Seahawks. It will be interesting to see how Harris and Lacy compliment each other in the backfield.
The starting right tackle position is still between second-year lineman Don Barclay and last year’s starting left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse began camp holding down the right tackle position with the ones, but Barclay has come on strong as of late.
Barclay started at right tackle against the Rams, but Newhouse also got some looks with the first team. Barclay seems to have the inside track for the starting job at this point, but it will be close, and this week’s preseason game may determine a winner at the position.
The starting strong safety spot has been a two-horse race between M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian. Heading into camp, most suspected that McMillian’s athleticism and natural ability would outperform Jennings’ discipline and smarts.
However, at this point, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Now we’re in the fourth week of camp and Jennings is still starting with the first team defense. Jennings may not make the splash plays McMillian is capable of, but Jennings hardly ever gets beat deep and is a sure-tackler. Jennings may be the safer choice at this point.
Backup quarterback may be the most undecided position on the roster at this point in camp. That’s a scary thought only a few weeks away from the season opener. Neither Graham Harrell, Vince Young, nor B.J. Coleman has really distinguished themselves in the preseason. All three have been underwhelming so far in game action.
Harrell seems to be the safest choice, and he knows how to help Rodgers dissect defenses on the sideline (an underrated skill for a backup quarterback). Young still needs to show he can make plays, and most of his throws downfield have been well off target. Coleman has the team’s only passing touchdown so far in the preseason. It was a pretty impressive throw on the run to tight end Jake Stoneburner in the end zone, but Coleman didn’t really do a lot else in the game to move up the depth chart.
Backup Tight End
Beyond starter Jermichael Finley, the tight end position still remains unsettled. Matthew Mulligan is out with an injury. D.J. Williams has been inconsistent in his extended role on the field. Andrew Quarless and Ryan Taylor are just returning from injury, but have done very little in camp so far. Practice squad holdover Brandon Bostick has really raised his game another level and looks like a legitimate receiving threat in the passing game. Jake Stoneburner had an impressive touchdown catch against St. Louis, but hasn’t done a lot else. Right now, I like Bostick for making a push for one of the top backup tight end spots.
Backup Outside Linebacker
The backup outside linebacker position is one of the more underrated position battles going on in camp right now. Entering camp, Dezman Moses held down the top reserve spot at outside linebacker, but he hasn’t had a great camp so far and undrafted rookie Andy Mulumba has really come on strong as of late. Defensive lineman Mike Neal may also get more looks at linebacker, and sixth-round pick Nate Palmer didn’t look too bad against the Rams.
4th and 5th Wide Receiver
Jarrett Boykin seems to be a lock to make the final roster at this point. I don’t perceive anyone surpassing him for the fourth receiver spot on the depth chart. Where this gets complicated is with Jeremy Ross. He began camp looking really good at wide receiver, and with his return duties, he seemed to be a good bet to make the final roster.
However, Ross has been unreliable in the passing game as of late. He’s had quite a few drops in practice and has been nearly absent in the preseason games. He also hasn’t done anything to secure the top returning job. To add to this, undrafted rookies Tyrone Walker and Myles White have been making plays the past couple of weeks and may be better receiving options than Ross.
The cornerback picture is very unclear at this point. With Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward missing a lot of time with injuries, it’s been Sam Shields and rookie Micah Hyde starting in the base. Davon House has been coming in on nickel and dime, and Hyde has moved over to the slot.
Hyde has really pushed himself up the team’s depth chart with his strong performance in the two preseason games, and House rebounded in St. Louis from a poor performance in the opener. With Hayward returning to the lineup this week, I’m not sure what will happen at cornerback. How will this picture look when the team gets Williams back? This will be something to watch closely in the last two preseason games.
The kicking competition remains close between veteran Mason Crosby and newcomer Giorgio Tavecchio. After an abysmal performance on Family Night, Crosby had a good showing in the team’s second preseason game. He was a perfect 3 for 3, including one from 48 yards. Tavecchio was 1 for 2. In today’s practice both kickers went 8 for 9, both missing 50-yard attempts. Early in camp it looked like Tavecchio had the edge over Crosby, but Crosby has been coming on strong as of late and looks to have gained his confidence back. Good news for Packers fans.