The teams: The Green Bay Packers (1-1) vs. the Oakland Raiders (1-1).
The time: 7 p.m. CDT Friday.
The place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
The TV coverage: WDJT (Ch. 58) in Milwaukee, WFRV (Ch. 5) in Green Bay and WISC (Ch. 3) in Madison.
The announcers: Jim Nantz and color analyst Phil Simms in the booth and Tracy Wolfson reporting from the sidelines.
The injury report: Packers – Five players will not play: Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee); tackle/guard Don Barclay (knee); tight end Brandon Bostick (leg); linebacker Joe Thomas (knee); and running back Rajion Neal (knee). Defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring) is on the non-football injury list and ineligible to play. Tight end Colt Lyerla (knee) is on season-ending injured reserve. Cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) and guard Jordan McCray (shoulder) are not expected to play.
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Center of attention: There wasn’t a whole lot of doubt about first-year center JC Tretter entering training camp. But whatever concerns there might have been have evaporated. He had a rocky moment or two when the pads came on early in camp, but he quickly adjusted and has had smooth sailing ever since. Rookie Corey Linsley and former practice-squadder Garth Gerhart never really had a chance to mount a challenge to him after he started camp with it his job to lose, and now it’s about fine-tuning his rapport with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, and getting ready for the Sept. 4 regular-season opener
Rodgers, for one, isn’t surprised.
“I think ‘surprise’ would be disrespectful to JC,” Rodgers said. “I think he's done a great job. I have no worries about him, no reservations with him starting the season as the guy and moving forward in that direction. He's a smart guy. He's done everything the way that we want him to do it. He's gained the trust of T.J. and Josh, which is hard to do, and myself. I think the three of us are important for the center because it's his two sideboards and the guy that's in his ear the most in myself. I'm really proud of JC. He's done a great job and he gives us absolutely zero cause for concern at the position.”
So why has Tretter been able to hit the ground running the way he has? He spent what turned out to be a medical redshirt year – prompted by the broken ankle he suffered in the first OTA practice after he was drafted – and knowing every inch of the playbook.
“He knows the offense inside-out from a mental standpoint,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “It’s allowed him to accelerate faster with his fundamentals, of the physicality of playing the position. That is a huge benefit for him because he doesn’t have to think. He can make the call or go with somebody else’s call and he can go ahead and work on his trade after the ball’s snapped. That always helps a player accelerate what they’re doing when they know exactly what they’re supposed to do from a mental standpoint.”
Flag day: Rodgers made his irritation readily apparent after Saturday’s game, when the officiating crew threw 30 penalty flags – 22 of them enforced for 171 yards – on the two teams in a game that was part-and-parcel of how the preseason has gone. He didn’t back off during the week, either.
“I believe, and this is my own opinion, but I believe that there’s a message being sent this preseason with the number of flags,” Rodgers said. “But I don’t see how you can continue to ref it the same way because as we’ve seen, there’s so many different calls that can be called on every single play. Whether it’s offensive holding or illegal contact or what have you, some of the areas of emphasis.”
Those areas of emphasis handed down from the league to its officiating crews has been to call more illegal contact penalties, offensive and defensive pass interference penalties and illegal hands to the face penalties. The Packers had two touchdowns wiped out by illegal hands to the face flags – one on No. 1 left tackle David Bakhtiari, and one on Linsley, the No. 2 center. You can bet the players and coaches will be watching carefully to see if Friday nights’ crew keeps throwing the flags and whether it continues through the opener.
“The spirit of the hands-to-the-face rule I think needs a second look,” Rodgers said. “Because if a guy is blocking and a defender ducks his head, or vice versa, a guy is rushing and an offensive lineman ducks his head, I think just a hand that gets taken off quickly to the head or face mask, the intent is not to harm or to cause a safety [concern], that I know they want to cut back on.
“The numbers were definitely up from last year’s regular season. But that’s what they usually do, they emphasize things, they call them, and then you get in the regular season and you usually don’t see as many of those plays called.”
Bouncing back: One week, Derek Sherrod and Aaron Adams had the Packers’ backup tackle positions in safe hands. The next week, Armageddon. Reality is somewhere in between, for as McCarthy said last week, “the sky’s not falling.” Nevertheless, after Sherrod gave up one sack and one quarterback pressure and Adams surrendered a sack, two hits and one pressure during last Saturday’s game at St. Louis, both young tackles must show they can recover from subpar performances.
Both McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen insisted that Sherrod settled in and was OK for the remainder of his 40 snaps – “He had a couple plays that he obviously wished he could have back, but I think we’re progressing fine there,” McCarthy said – but it’ll be vital for his confidence that he respond with a solid performance on his home turf with a supportive crowd. Sherrod, the team’s 2011 first-round pick, is penciled in as the top backup at each tackle spot following Barclay’s season-ending knee injury. He has to play better than he did against the Rams, and Campen believes he will.
“There’s no excuse to go out there and give up hits and that kind of stuff. There’s none,” Campen said. “I’m not going to make one up for him. But the fact of the matter is, the guy is playing his first game on turf, he’s playing against a good front, he’s playing a faster game, and he got out of his fundamentals. What happened to him was something he did to himself, getting out of his fundamentals. After he got that corrected and reminded himself what he was supposed to do, he went out and played well after that.”
Backup battle: After he played Rodgers only played one series in last year’s third preseason game against Seattle, McCarthy said he will play Rodgers more than that Friday night. That might only mean one or two more series, or it might mean giving him until halftime. Whenever Rodgers calls it a night, the competition between Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien will begin anew.
Through three weeks of camp and two preseason games, the race is tight. The feeling is that Flynn still holds a slight edge given what he did last season, when he went 2-2-1 in five appearances following Rodgers’ broken collarbone, but both have had wonderful camps and appear deserving of a roster spot. McCarthy opened training camp saying that he wasn’t opposed to keeping three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for the first time since 2008,
“You’d like to get them equal amount of reps with each group to get a better evaluation of where they are,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “I would guess Scott might have 10 or 12 snaps right now than Matt, so we’re trying to keep snaps equal with the guys.”
Indeed, Flynn has played 44 snaps and Tolzien 52. Flynn has completed 7 of 13 passes for 93 yards with one touchdown (102.4 rating) while Tolzien has completed 18 of 27 passes for 231 yards with no TDs or INTs (93.3 rating). Flynn didn’t get help from the rain in Tennessee or the Packers’ lead when he went in third against St. Louis, but the coaches don’t plan on calling more passing plays for him to get him more in-game throws.
“I think opportunities will come and I expect that there will probably be some more in the next couple weeks,” Flynn said. “You don’t know what situation you’re going to be put in or what’s going to happen, so you just go out there and try to execute what you can.
“I focus on big-picture things. I focus on trying to score points, I don’t focus on ‘I’ve got to get better throwing this route or doing this or that.’ Playing quarterback involves a lot of things, so you’ve got to think about a lot of things, so you have to think about getting yourself in the right situation, you’ve got to think about moving the chains and putting up points.”
Run to daylight: With many other coaches, DuJuan Harris would have landed in witness protection after his fumble against St. Louis, but not with running backs coach Sam Gash. Harris got the call immediately after the fumble, and while such a play doesn’t help your roster chances, it didn’t devastate Harris’ hopes the way it might have with, say, Mike Holmgren.
“It’s bad, but it’s not in his history,” said Gash, pointing out that Harris has never lost a fumble during his NFL regular-season career. “It happened. He’s a very conscientious player. Obviously if it happens once, shame on you, don’t let it happen again. But you give yourself a mulligan. That’s the way I think about it. You got yourself a mulligan for that one. That’s it. Nobody’s perfect.”
The Packers’ competition for the No. 3 running back job isn’t perfect, either. Harris is the leader of the pack, especially with Neal’s knee injury sidelining him for a second straight game after getting people’s attention in Tennessee. Rookie LaDarius Perkins and steady second-year man Michael Hill are still in the mix, but it’s Harris’ job to lose given what he did in 2012 before missing last year with a knee injury and his current status as the team’s No. 1 kick returner.
With starter Eddie Lacy and No. 2 man James Starks not expected to play a lot, those contestants figure to get ample work.
“It’s tough to say right now. Obviously we’re two preseason games in, and I can say that all the guys are playing hard and they’re showing good things,” Gash said. “It’s not up to me to make any decisions on who’s here and who’s not here, all I can do is help them put it on tape.”
– Jason Wilde