The teams: The Green Bay Packers (2-1) vs. the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2).
The time: 6 p.m. CDT Friday.
The place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
The TV coverage: WTMJ (Ch. 4) in Milwaukee, WGBA (Ch. 26) in Green Bay and WKOW (Ch. 27) in Madison.
The announcers: Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon, with Rod Burks reporting from the sidelines..
Packers injury report: The team placed six players on injured reserve this week: Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee); tackle/guard Don Barclay (knee); nose tackle B.J. Raji (biceps), linebacker Joe Thomas (knee); guard Andrew Tiller (calf); and running back Rajion Neal (knee). Defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring) is off the non-football injury list and should make his debut. Tight end Brandon Bostick (leg) and center JC Tretter (knee) will not play.
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Center of attention: If you bought a ticket hoping to see all the stars of the Packers galaxy, you should probably save yourself the trip to Lambeau Field. While coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t come right out and say that he’d be benching most – if not all – of his starters for the preseason finale the way Kansas City’s Andy Reid did, it’s hard to imagine he plays many of his front-line guys when the Sept. 4 regular-season opener at Seattle is exactly a week away. McCarthy dropped plenty of hints with his comments this week about the focus being on player evaluation and not preparation for the Seahawks.
“We have 63 opportunities that are available,” McCarthy said of the 53-man roster and 10-man practice squad. “We’re going to make sure everybody gets an opportunity Thursday night against Kansas City to show what they’ve got.”
There is one opening-day starter who will play and likely see a fair amount of work: Center Corey Linsley, who was thrust into the starting lineup when Tretter suffered an impaction fracture in his left knee against Oakland last week. While McCarthy won’t play quarterback Aaron Rodgers just so he can get a series of in-game experience with Linsley, you can bet Linsley will get his share of work.
“He’ll be fine,” offensive line coach James Campen said of Linsley. “I feel obviously bad for JC, but he’ll be back. He’ll be back and he’ll be stronger and better than ever. I’ve said it to you 100 times: When guys get hurt, I really don’t care – I mean, I do care who’s out there obviously – but if you’re wearing a G you’re expected to block, pass block and not only that your play style has got to represent that G. You’re going to go out there and you’re going to play that way, that’s just the bottom line.”
Decisions, decisions: While the final preseason game doesn’t – or, shouldn’t – count more in the roster analysis than the previous three games, and practice time, meetings and potential also factor in, the bottom line is that this is players’ last opportunity to make an impression.
“It’s important. Somebody shows up, they can change the rating,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said of the preseason finale. “But you obviously have to be cognizant of the fact that this is a long-term decision. You have to think this through.”
There are still too-close-to-call races as the bottom of the depth chart at tight end, wide receiver, cornerback, safety, linebacker and on the defensive line. Two draft picks – third-round defensive lineman Khyri Thornton and fourth-round linebacker Carl Bradford – may make the roster based solely on their draft status but neither has done much to impress this summer. A strong finish would seal their roster spots. Thompson must decide whether to keep for example, six wide receivers or five tight ends, and there’s a plethora of roster permutations on the defensive side of the ball, too.
“It’s a busy time for those of us scouts upstairs and trying to do the right thing and make the right decisions,” Thompson said. “It weighs on you pretty good because it’s important. It’s important to these young guys who have done a good job and some of them are not going to be able to survive past the weekend. That’s the hard edge of NFL football, I guess.”
Quarterback quandary: The most intriguing competition, of course, is at quarterback, where the duel between Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien is too close to call. In fact, no one even seems to know whether they’ll keep one backup quarterback or two after the release of fourth-stringer Chase Rettig this week.
“I really have no idea,” Flynn said. “I don’t know what their plans are.”
The Packers probably have a better idea, but if they are only going to carry two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster – they haven’t come out of camp with three quarterbacks on the 53 since Rodgers’ first year as a starter in 2008 – then Flynn and Tolzien have made it very difficult on them.
“It’s very close. I think they’ve both done an outstanding job,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Both are doing everything you ask of them. Both run the system very well. It’s been a tough competition and it’s a credit to both of those guys.”
Although offensive coordinator Tom Clements called it Flynn and Tolzien’s “last opportunity,” he also quickly added that it’s “not the only thing that you make the evaluation on. You make the evaluation based on everything – meetings, practice time and the entire preseason.”
And while Thompson disagreed with the idea that last year’s quarterback carousel would make him more likely to keep both players, there’s one guy hoping he does.
“I do play quarterback and not GM. I have guys you pull for, and obviously spending so much time with Scott and Matt, you pull for both of those guys because you see how hard they work and how much it means to them,” Rodgers said. “Scott’s a gym rat. He really puts a lot of time into it. He’s great at preparing. And Matt has got that moxie, that ability to make plays in game situations like we saw last year when he’s had little to know preparation during the week. Him and I have a good relationship over the years, being friends and working together. Obviously I would love to see both of those guys stick around.”
Special education: If you’re looking for some tells on which players fighting for spots might make the roster, keep an eye on the special-teams units. If you see certain players on punt coverage, punt return, kickoff coverage and kickoff return groups early in the game, it may tip you off to which ones are in better shape for a roster spot than their counterparts at the same position. For instance, wide receiver Kevin Dorsey is battling for one of the spots at his position, but because he’s been on most of the special teams groups, there’s a good chance he’ll win the No. 6 receiver job if the team decides to keep six.
“You want as many four-down players as possible. Obviously, the definition of a four-down player is someone who plays offense and defense on first, second and third down and plays special teams on fourth down,” McCarthy said. “Special teams is extremely important. It goes down to the first meeting that you have with your team. The first meeting in the rookie orientation, it’s probably the top three things you talk about. The vehicle onto our football team is through special teams. It definitely is a big factor in a lot of decisions.”
Growing up fast: Rodgers has not held back in publicly pointing out that some of his young teammates have yet to rise to the occasion, saying last week that he didn’t want certain players on the field if he doesn’t know where they’re going to be, and saying this week that certain youngsters need to “catch up” before the games start to count.
While Rodgers didn’t name names, you can bet he’s talking about some of the young pass-catchers that need to be ready because they could be called upon early in the season. Rodgers’ comments seemed applicable to rookie wide receiver Davante Adams, who’s had a quiet summer, and rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, whom Aaron Rodgers likes but still isn’t a finished product.
This is their last dress rehearsal before the opener, and you can bet both Rodgers and McCarthy are hoping to see them take a positive step.
“If you ask Richard and Davante, they probably think they’re preparing more than they ever have before. They think they’re probably doing a heck of job and the reality of it is being a rookie, it’s never enough. It’s just not enough,” McCarthy said. “Once you’re able to catch your breath and things slow down for you, you realize there’s a whole other level of learning that goes on.
“Right now, the younger guys are trying to do the right thing. Get the timing within the system with Aaron in particular, but once again you have a system of football. We refer to the cheat system or the system of experience. All of the little things that go on on a daily basis aren’t things written down in a book. They’re not things you can just tell someone. There’s a process you have to go through and every rookie has to go through it.”
– Jason Wilde