The teams: The Green Bay Packers (1-2) vs. the Kansas City Chiefs (1-2).
The time: 7 p.m. CDT Thursday.
The place: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
The TV coverage: WTMJ (Ch. 4) in Milwaukee, WGBA (Ch. 26) in Green Bay and WKOW (Ch. 27) in Madison. The game will also be broadcast in Spanish on Telemundo Wisconsin, which is available on Time Warner Cable in Milwaukee and Green Bay and on Charter Cable in Madison.
The announcers: Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon, with Rod Burks reporting from the sidelines. In Spanish, Andy Olivares and Kevin Holden.
The Packers injury report: The Packers placed four players on season-ending injured reserve and four players on the in-season physically unable to perform list on Tuesday: Running back DuJuan Harris (knee) and left tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) were placed on IR and will remain there for the rest of the year; wide receiver Kevin Dorsey (toe, hamstring) and linebacker Jarvis Reed (ankle) were waived/injured, meaning they’ll be on IR until an injury settlement is negotiated. Safety Sean Richardson (neck), offensive lineman JC Tretter (ankle), offensive tackle Derek Sherrod (leg) and defensive end Jerel Worthy (knee) were placed on PUP. Of the injured players still on the 75-man roster, cornerback Casey Hayward (knee), safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) and inside linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) are out. Cornerback Jarrett Bush (ankle) and cornerback James Nixon (knee/ankle) are doubtful. Outside linebacker Dezman Moses (toe) is probable.
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Dear Johnathan: Johnathan Franklin sent out some ambiguous Tweets earlier this week – well, ambiguous to his followers, if not ambiguous to the Packers rookie running back. After attending church on Sunday, Franklin posted, “I've been down but I had to realize my God isn't football but my God is awesome and as long as I have him I have peace.” Considering the first roster reduction to 75 players was looming, it made one wonder if he’d gotten pink-slipped. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. “Man, y’all have to stop overthinking,” Franklin said with a laugh a few days later.
Even though Franklin’s camp hasn’t been very impressive, as a fourth-round pick, his roster spot probably wasn’t in peril even before Harris’ season ended because of a patellar tendon injury in his right knee. That said, Franklin hasn’t shown much running the ball (13 carries for 24 yards, a 1.8-yard average) in the first three preseason games, and so far he hasn’t proven that he deserves the third-down back role that the Packers currently fill with fullback John Kuhn.
Now, with Harris sidelined, the Packers need Franklin to accelerate his development, and perhaps his come-to-Jesus Twitter moment will prove timely.
“I feel a lot better,” Franklin said. “Just letting go and not forcing things so much, not worrying about the pressures or what people are saying or what’s going on on Twitter, just relaxing and putting it all in God’s hands and living for one audience. (I need to) finish strong, make plays and just be relaxed. Not overthinking, not trying to do too much, just be Johnathan. Not being who they’re saying I am, just being me.”
Bouncing back: Andrew Quarless hasn’t felt this good since it happened. The veteran tight end, who hasn’t played in a regular-season game since a major knee injury on Dec. 4, 2011 against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, saw his first action of the preseason last week, playing 16 snaps. (If you’re not the squeamish type, you can watch the video of Quarless’ injury here.) And there’s no denying he was rusty.
“It was good to see him out there, it was good to finally get him with his pads on and thumping people,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said this week. “He has a ways to go. He’s not where I want him to be, obviously, he’s definitely got some room for improvement as far as his leg strength goes and really being a dominant blocker like he was in the past – the guy I saw on film.”
Quarless was on his way toward becoming arguably the team’s most complete tight end, developing as a pass catcher (even though he had only three receptions in 2011 before getting hurt) and had become the team’s best blocking tight end at the time of his injury.
“I definitely think it’s rust,” Fontenot said.
Quarless doesn’t deny that he’s rusty, but he firmly believes he can get back to where he was before his injury. The preseason finale is vital because he must not only show the coaches progress toward that goal, but that he deserves a roster spot. The tight end position is utterly undecided at this point behind starter Jermichael Finley, and Quarless, Matthew Mulligan, D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor all have questions to answer. Quarless’ challenge is that he missed the first two preseason games with a quadriceps strain that was unrelated to his knee injury.
“I think this last game is real important. Any rep I get is going to mean something for me moving forward. So getting into more live action this week is going to just keep me going and from there we just keep rolling,” Quarless said. “I feel good. This past game, it really was a test but I think it held up pretty good.
“It’s not just getting back to where I was, it’s going above and beyond. I think when I got hurt, the coaches – you know, they don’t really tell you too much until after the fact – but the coaches were like, ‘Man, you were going up, climbing that mountain.’ So I definitely want to get back to hwere I was and then go beyond that.”
Hey, I know you: Coach Mike McCarthy was deliberately vague this week when he was asked about Aaron Rodgers and whether the quarterback would play in this game. The guess here is that he doesn’t, but McCarthy suggested both wide receivers Randall Cobb (biceps) and Jordy Nelson (knee) will see a little bit of action. Nelson has missed all three preseason games after undergoing a nerve-release procedure on his knee on Aug. 6, while Cobb has also missed every exhibition game because of a biceps injury that has bothered him since the Aug. 3 Family Night Scrimmage. While McCarthy and the coaches seemingly have forgone some of the preparation of the starters in favor of evaluation of players competing for roster spots, it appears Cobb and Nelson will at least get one series of work.
“Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, it’s important for them to play and get back on the field,” McCarthy said.
Even if they don’t play long and don’t play with Rodgers – No. 2 quarterback Vince Young would likely get the start if Rodgers sits – both players feel there’s value in the work, even brief work.
“I can play. If it’s up to me, I’ll be on the field,” Cobb said. “But we’re going to be smart about the situation. We know what we’re dealing with, we know what we’ve got going forward. So we’re going to be smart about it.”
Added Nelson: “If we do, it’ll be good; if we don’t then it won’t be a big deal. I don’t think it’s going to matter because if I do play, I don’t think it’s going to be much. I think that little bit of work is not going to make a difference if I get it or not, but we’ll see. If it was a regular-season game and stuff, we definitely could be going. But we’ve still got to be smart and see what happens.”
Wide open: After Cobb, Nelson and James Jones, the Packers entered camp with some decisions to make at wide receiver. The team kept six coming out of training camp last year, and the player that forced them to keep six – second-year wideout Jarrett Boykin – is now solidly at No. 4, according to the guy who’ll be throwing him the football.
“After kind of a slow patch there in the middle of camp, I think really stepped up, especially the last two weeks, and solidified his spot in this locker room,” Rodgers said of Boykin. “And I think you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for the stuff he’s done on special teams as well, from what I hear.”
Without question, Boykin has raised his game, and it goes beyond his six receptions for 63 yards in preseason play. The problem is that the Packers want to keep at least five wideouts, and the next man up isn’t as clear cut. Jeremy Ross, who would seem to be the ideal replacement for Cobb on returns, has been up-and-down as a receiver. Tyrone Walker, an undrafted free agent from Illinois State, started camp like gangbusters but has been quiet lately, although he did have a great catch in Monday’s practice. And Myles White has been the most consistent rookie but hasn’t made a lot of splash plays.
The club already cut three wide receivers – Alex Gillett, Omarius Hines and Justin Wilson – and one of their two seventh-round picks at the position, Kevin Dorsey, was waived/injured in the cutdown to 75 players and won’t be back. That leaves seventh-rounder Charles Johnson to battle Ross, White and Walker for one or perhaps two spots.
“I think there’s a lot of guys with something to prove this week,” Rodgers said. “Obviously Jeremy adds another dimension with what he does on special teams, Tyrone had a real good early start to camp. Johnson (hasn’t) really played a lot of snaps at all with a lot to prove. Myles White has had a consistent camp and done some good things on offense and special teams for us. So I think the reminder you tell a lot of the guys this week is, ‘Just remember you’re playing for all 32 teams, as is the case around here. If you don’t make this roster, there’s usually a lot of teams that are looking to pick up the guys that don’t quite make our team.’”
For Ross, who played better against Seattle on Friday night than he had in the previous two preseason games, showing he can be a viable receiver is secondary to catching the ball cleanly and gaining yardage on returns. He’s averaging 10.5 yards on two punt returns and 25.7 yards on three kickoff returns.
“I think you have to tighten in and focus a little bit more. Really nothing changes preparation-wise, I think you always prepare the best that you can. I think going out in this last game and just trying to lay it all out there,” Ross said. “I definitely want to make the 53. That’s a goal of mine, that’s a goal of everyone. I’m going to do whatever I can to be a part of that 53 and be out there Week 1, and being whoever they need me to be out there.”
Centers of attention: The Packers’ run game has struggled in two of the three exhibitions, largely due to poor blocking up front. Guard T.J. Lang acted like his dog had died during Friday night’s loss to Seattle, taking the blame for a ground game that went nowhere even when the starters were on the line. So imagine how bad the second group looked.
The biggest issue is at center, where starter Evan Dietrich-Smith hasn’t had a particularly strong camp, but the two candidates to back him up – second-year man Greg Van Roten and undrafted rookie free agent Patrick Lewis – both played poorly against the Seahawks. Van Roten, who was promoted off the practice squad last season and was supposed to seize the No. 2 center job and work as a jack-of-all-trades inside reserve, was trashed on a pair of running plays that led to running backs being thrown for losses, and in practice this week, he sent a worm-burner of a snap back in the shotgun.
Asked if one of them would be able to start at center if Dietrich-Smith went down, McCarthy replied, “They better. We’ve given them plenty of opportunity to get ready. Greg has been given the majority of it, so he needs to clean some things up. He had one or two things going (in practice) that he needs to clean up particularly and he had some things (against) Seattle that needed to be cleaned up. but that’s definitely the direction we’re leaning.”
In truth, unless one elevates his game, it’s hard to imagine the Packers not moving Lang to center with the starters if something happened to Dietrich-Smith. When asked if the Packers would have to move one of the other starters to center if something happened to Dietrich-Smith, offensive line coach James Campen replieod: “I’ll answer it this way: We’ll be ready if that something were to happen.”
Later, Campen added that both have struggled with shotgun snaps – “Greg’s are a little low. Patrick’s were high,” Campen said, referring to Lewis’ bad snap to Young in the game.
But the most important aspect of the center’s game is cerebral, and neither player has been as solid as he needs to be in terms of declarations and line calls.
“At that position, it’s almost like that movie –Top Gun. If your wing man isn’t there because you’ve told him to go do something else, then you’ve severely hurt your opportunities to show your physical presence as a center,” Campen said. “You need your wing man, and too many times they let their wing man fly somewhere else.”
– Jason Wilde