The preseason is less about the win or loss and more about player evaluation and shaping the team roster.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the offensive players who improved their stock with the team and the players who hindered their stock with their performances Friday night. With the preseason finale only a few days away, we’ll also take a look at what these players need to do to improve their chances of making the 53-man roster.
Vince Young – Young did very little on the field to impress in the first two preseason games, but Young single-handedly won himself a roster spot with an impressive 80-yard drive for a touchdown in Friday’s game against the Seahawks. Young showed he can make things happen even when a play breaks down. The veteran quarterback had a 21-yard and an 18-yard run after feeling pressure and breaking from the pocket. Young also had a nice bootleg throw for 16 yards to Andrew Quarless, and capped the drive with a touchdown throw to fullback Jonathan Amosa in the flat.
The Packers liked what they saw in Young’s limited look Friday night. So much so they released quarterback Graham Harrell on Saturday, making Young the favorite for the top reserve spot behind Aaron Rodgers. Granted, Young still has a lot to work on and learn, but he brings experience and an affinity to make plays – something the Packers haven’t had at backup quarterback for some time.
Alex Green – Green’s performance against Seattle was pretty quiet. He has had an uneventful preseason so far. However, Green had a really impressive 31-yard run off a toss play on Friday night. After getting the ball in the flat, it looked like Green would be swallowed up by a few defenders for a short gain, but he made a hard cut to his right and showed a good burst to turn it upfield for a big gain. Green didn’t cut that well or show that kind of burst last year. It appears Green is full healthy this year. Something he couldn’t claim at any point last season.
Green also added to his value to the team by taking some special teams reps as a kick returner. Green took his only return Friday night 27 yards, and the third-year back has been taking a majority of the first team kick returning reps in practice this week. This doesn’t mean he’s taken the job from Jeremy Ross. I’m sure the Packers are just experimenting with Green and want to get a good look at him returning, but if Green can prove to be valuable in the return game then that puts him far ahead of veteran running back James Starks for the final roster spot in the backfield.
Lane Taylor – On a day the offensive line failed to open running lanes and the second unit struggled with pass protection, guard Lane Taylor might have been the only reserve lineman who was consistent and reliable. He didn’t get pushed back by his man in the running game, and he didn’t get beaten in pass protection. Taylor did a lot in Friday night’s game to earn himself one of the reserve offensive line roster spots. The Packers need a lineman who can back up guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, and maybe even provide depth at center down the road. With another solid performance this Thursday, Taylor could be that player.
Greg Van Roten – The Packers offensive line as a unit did a terrible job Friday night opening up running lanes for the Packers backs. This problem only got worse when the second unit entered the game. You could pick any number of the young linemen and find plays where they whiffed on their blocks or got overpowered by a Seattle defender, but the most disappointing culprit in the third preseason game was backup center Greg Van Roten. On numerous occasions, Van Roten was either overpowered or beaten by a quicker defensive lineman at the point of attack. He was completely beaten on one play that led to Jonathan Franklin getting tackled eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, and a few more where Lacy was hit behind the line for a loss.
Van Roten is a better pass protector than run blocker, but he has to do much better in the running game than he performed Friday night to earn a roster spot. Going into the third preseason game, it seemed Van Roten had all but won the backup center job, but now with his poor performance against Seattle, he has left the door open for undrafted rookie Patrick Lewis to make a push for a roster spot.
James Starks – Starks didn’t do anything in Friday night’s game to hurt his stock with team. That’s because Starks didn’t touch the ball all night. He didn’t have any carries or receptions, and only played a few plays toward the end of the game. Considering Starks was the Packers starting running back in the preseason opener, he has fallen far in a matter of a couple of weeks. Against St. Louis he only had a few carries, and after fumbling, he hasn’t had a carry in a game.
In practice, Starks has been getting reps behind all the other backs on the roster. This does not bode well for the veteran back’s chances of making the team. He’ll need a strong performance Thursday night to even have a chance at cracking the roster.
Charles Johnson – The rookie seventh-round pick made his NFL debut on Friday, but the young wideout didn’t do anything to stand out. He didn’t have any catches and had one drop. Johnson has also had a few drops in practice this week, and it looks unlikely he will make the final roster. He’ll need to play well on Thursday and show the team something if he even wants a chance at being brought back to the practice squad. Unfortunately, injuries have severely hindered the wide receiver.
Jake Stoneburner – The undrafted rookie tight end had an impressive touchdown catch against St. Louis, and just as Stoneburner was beginning to make a push for the final roster, he fumbled near the goal line against Seattle late in the game. It’s these types of key turnovers that drive coaches nuts. The rookie tight end cost his team points, and he possibly cost himself a roster spot. Stoneburner could still land on the practice squad, but he’ll have to play the game of his life in Kansas City to make the final 53.
Tyrone Walker and Brandon Bostick – After having a strong start to training camp, both Walker and Bostick have been quiet as of late. Walker had a breakout game in the preseason opener against Arizona, and Bostick has made plays in practice and had a few nice catches against St. Louis. However, both players disappeared against Seattle Friday night. Walker has had only one catch since the preseason opener, and Bostick has had some key drops in practice this week.
After being favorites as “longshots” to make the roster, the two have simmered. However, undrafted rookie receiver Myles White has been steady and may move past Walker for a roster spot. He made a few key blocks Friday night on Green’s 31-yard run. Look for Walker and White to battle it out Thursday for a roster spot at wide receiver.
Andrew Quarless – Quarless had his first game action Friday night in over a year and a half. The tight end sat out all of the 2012 season and some of the 2011 season because of a severe knee injury.
Quarless had one catch for 16 yards and was a bit rusty run blocking, but he has been out of action for a long time. Quarless will have to show improvement on Thursday and give his coaches a glimpse at the player he once was to have any chance in making the team at a position with a lot of uncertainty.