Yesterday we took a look at which offensive players on the Green Bay Packers roster have advanced or hurt their chances at earning a roster spot with their recent play on the field. Now it’s time to take a look at the players fighting for roster spots on defense.
With their performance in the second preseason game, a few defensive players positioned themselves to be key contributors on the team this year, while others took a step back. With the third preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks quickly approaching, the window for some players to make their case for the team is rapidly closing. Players will need to make the most of their remaining opportunities on the field.
Now let’s see which defensive players improved their stock on the team and which players hindered it with their performance in St. Louis.
Micah Hyde – Hyde has been one of the most talked about players in Packers camp this week. The rookie fifth-round pick has put together two strong performances in the preseason, and he has climbed up the depth chart as he’s gotten more opportunities at cornerback. Against St. Louis, Hyde got beat deep by Chris Givens on a go route, but the rookie defensive back did make a touchdown-saving tackle.
A few plays later Hyde had an impressive goal line tackle to prevent receiver Tavon Austin from scoring. The rest of the game Hyde made plays all over the field playing in the slot. He pressured the quarterback, broke up passes, and made open field tackles. So far, the Packers have a steal in the fifth-round pick. Hyde is even handling punt return duties in practice this week.
Johnny Jolly – Coming back from a three-year suspension, Jolly was a long shot to make the roster this season. However, he has played better than expected and had a big game against St. Louis. He got good push up the middle of the pocket; he batted passes down at the line; and he had that key interception in the red zone. Not to mention Jolly held up well against the run. If Jolly was a few years younger, he’d be a lock to make the final roster. Jolly is doing everything he can to earn a roster spot, and he’s already proved doubters wrong with his great play on the field.
Andy Mulumba – Mulumba was one of the most impressive players on the field in Saturday’s game. He got consistent pressure on the quarterback and recorded a sack after completely beating his man and bursting into the backfield to bring down the quarterback. The following play Mulumba came free and hit the passer to force an incomplete.
The undrafted rookie linebacker also made plays in the run game, doing a great job getting into the backfield and getting his hands on the ball carrier. Mulumba moved ahead of Dezman Moses on the depth chart at outside linebacker this week in practice. This could be telling for Mulumba’s chances for making the final roster.
Robert Francois – Francois had another solid preseason game. The veteran linebacker had one of the better performances in the preseason opener for the Packers, and he continued his strong play by being a force in the middle of the second-team defense. When St. Louis was near the goal line in the third quarter, Francois burst into the backfield to bring down the back for a one-yard loss. The next play Jolly came up with the interception and the Packers defense kept the Rams out of the end zone. Francois also recorded a sack and seems to have the top reserve spot at inside linebacker locked up.
Dezman Moses – Moses had a rough game on Saturday. He missed an open field tackle in the flat that should have been automatic for an NFL linebacker. Moses also got lost in coverage and gave up a 37-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook.
The second-year linebacker got the occasional pressure, but hasn’t made the plays this preseason he did last year. Mike Neal and Mulumba have been getting looks with the second-team defense at outside linebacker, meaning Moses will need to have an impressive third preseason game on Friday and win back some playing time as the top reserve outside linebacker.
Brandon Smith – Smith is at the bottom of the depth chart at a deep cornerback position, and the former college wide receiver did little on Saturday night to help his cause in making the team. Smith’s rough night started when he wasn’t paying attention on a punt return and the ball bounced off his body near the sideline. This led to a fumble, which St. Louis recovered deep into Packers’ territory.
Things really fell apart for Smith on the Rams’ last offensive drive. The corner gave up a 19 and 11-yard pass for first down. He was then called for pass interference on a fourth-and-6 that gave the Rams a first down and kept their drive alive. A few plays later Smith bit on a play fake and was beat deep for the touchdown. At this point, Smith is still a project at cornerback.
Sam Barrington – So far in the preseason, Barrington has made some plays in run defense, but on Saturday the rookie linebacker was terrible in coverage. Not only was he called for a holding that negated a Jordan Miller and Jarvis Reed sack on the Rams’ final drive, but he also allowed way too many receptions over the middle of the field when he dropped back into zone coverage. Barrington seemed lost out there in pass coverage. He’ll need to show he can do more than just deliver a hit to make the team.
Josh Boyd and Nate Palmer – Rookie defensive players, Boyd and Palmer, have been pretty quiet in camp so far. The fifth- and sixth-rounder seem a bit behind in their peers in processing the game, but they did finally show up toward the end of the game on Saturday. Late in the fourth quarter, St. Louis was running their hurry-up offense and both Palmer and Boyd got good pressure on the quarterback, even bringing him down for a combined sack. Both Palmer and Boyd have a ways to go to even make the final roster, but it’s nice to see a little life from them in the preseason.
Mike Neal – Saturday night gave us our first look at Neal playing outside linebacker, and so far, the results seemed mixed. In the base defense, Neal was inconsistent rushing from the outside and holding the edge against the run. On one play he’d seal off the edge and close off any running room, and then on another play, he’d get caught inside and leave the left side of the field wide open for the opposing running back to break it outside.
Neal was much more effective at linebacker when he rushed the passer in the nickel and moved to the line in dime packages, but Neal still has a ways to go dropping back in coverage effectively. Hopefully, in the next two preseason games Neal’s transition to linebacker will go more smoothly.
Davon House – House had one of his worst performances in the Packers preseason opener against Arizona, but on Saturday, House redeemed himself. He worked on the outside in the nickel and played cornerback in the base with the second-team defense.
He had a few nice pass breakups on key third downs, and what was seemingly a quiet night for the third-year cornerback, House didn’t allow a single catch all game. With Casey Hayward returning to practice this week and rookie Hyde ahead of him on the depth chart, House will need another strong performance this Friday against Seattle to get back in the fold at cornerback.