The Green Bay Packers will host the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night for their last preseason game of the year. With the final roster cuts just days away, this will certainly be a game filled with competition among numerous different positions.
Davon House’s shoulder injury has opened up the flood gates for Jarrett Bush, Casey Hayward and Sam Shields to fight for the starting right cornerback position opposite Tramon Williams. House was the heavy favorite to be the starter until he injured his shoulder in the first preseason game against the San Diego Chargers. Now he must wear a protective harness that could restrict his ability to make plays.
As of right now, it looks like Bush has earned the starting job, which may come as a shock to many fans who have not been following the preseason closely. Bush has done everything asked of him and looks like he can handle the role. The only worry is if he will be able to handle himself in coverage against the NFL’s top wide receivers.
“One thing about J.B., he’s one of the hardest-working guys we have on the team,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “You have a hard time telling on the practice field whether it’s game day or practice, he goes out and busts his tail every day. Guys like that, when they’ve been there awhile and work as hard as he does, they get better. He’s certainly a physical player, and he’s worked hard at trying to improve his coverage. He’s had a good camp and is probably playing (his) best football since I’ve been here.”
Shields could have been the starter, but his diminished play last season has really hurt him. Also, he did not look prepared to earn the job in training camp, which did not sit well with the coaches. His inability to make fundamental tackles is the biggest knock on him and the Packers coaching staff have made it clear that they will not tolerate that this season. Shields, the fastest player on the team, was at risk of being cut until House suffered the injury.
“[Shields] didn’t play well,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “But that was two days. Then he came back, played well, and got hurt. Everybody’s going to have a good practice; everybody’s going to have a bad practice. He had two [bad practices] early on. No, he didn’t take [being the starter] for granted.”
Second-round draft pick Hayward has shown plenty of promise as to why Green Bay was so enthusiastic about drafting him. He is the best coverage man among the three of them and has the speed to keep up with the best of them. The only problem is that Hayward is still learning, which leaves him prone to mistakes.
“I think [Hayward] has represented himself well on the outside,” Whitt said. “He’s given up a play here or there, but he’s still growing and he’s learning the position. The more football he plays, the better he’s going to get. I’ve been pleased with what he’s done out there. He’s a different-type player than some of the other guys, but I understand what he is.”
The battle for the nickel safety position is also something to look forward to. Charles Woodson will be the starter and will play the last line of defense role for most of the snaps with the exception of when the team is in the nickel. Woodson will then move back to his natural position and play cornerback, covering the slot receiver. This means someone must play safety opposite Morgan Burnett in this defensive package.
Jerron McMillan, M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine have all shown potential to be the starter, but no one has solidified themselves quite yet. Levine may have had the most productive preseason of the three as he leads the team with 11 tackles, 10 of which were solo. The greatest part about this competition it is still up for grabs, which means all three players will be playing their hearts out Thursday night.
Jennings might be considered the favorite for the position as he had a hand up on the other two coming into camp. However, Levine and McMillan have played up to their abilities, which means Jennings is definitely not a lock. The rookie McMillan has made more plays in the three preseason games then Jennings.
Another important position battle is for the role of backup left tackle. Marshall Newhouse will be the starter, but the No. 2 spot on the depth chart is most definitely up for grabs. Herb Taylor got the start against the Cleveland Browns but was unable to block his assignments, which resulted in Aaron Rodgers getting hit a few times. Taylor has been released and the Packers signed Reggie Wells to compete with Andrew Datko after the rookie did not fare well either.
This backup position battle is critical because if Newhouse went down with an injury, Green Bay could be in way over their head. The left tackle is the most important position along the offensive line because it is their job to protect Rodgers’ blindside. The reigning MVP does a good job of moving in the pocket and getting rid of the ball quickly, but one bad hit could put the season in jeopardy.
Wells and Datko will have an equal opportunity to win the job, but they must show the coaches Thursday night why they deserve it. It is certainly a role the Packers will not take for granted and they will do whatever it takes to get someone dependable. I personally believe Wells has the upper hand due to his veteran experience–10 years in the league–which puts Datko at a disadvantage.
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