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Insider: Thumbs up to o-line, down to Benson

Aug. 30, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Graham Harrell looks to make a pass in the second quarter of Thursday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette

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Thumbs up

The second-string offense finally gave backup quarterback Graham Harrell a chance to show what he could do.

All preseason, Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers had implored the No. 2 offensive line to protect Harrell better. Until Thursday’s preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field, they hadn’t come close. Seemingly every time the ball was snapped in the first three preseason games, Harrell was running or ducking defenders, making it difficult for the Packers to evaluate him.

Against the Chiefs, Harrell finally got the pass protection he needed. The Chiefs never sacked him and rarely got much pressure. Harrell was able to take time in the pocket and go through his reads. When he needed to leave the pocket, he had time to set his feet and throw.

Playing behind a line that, from left, consisted of Shea Allard, Greg Van Roten, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Reggie Wells and Don Barclay, Harrell completed 13 of 15 passes for 223 yards, led three scoring drives, including two touchdown passes, and didn’t throw an interception to finish with the maximum passer rating of 158.3.

Coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that he didn’t think Harrell needed to play with the No. 1 offensive line in order to prove he’s worthy of being Rodgers’ backup. But McCarthy did give Harrell the luxury of playing the second quarter with starting tight end Jermichael Finley.

On Harrell’s first series, he hit Finley down the seam for 27 yards to convert a third-and-12 from his 18-yard line. There’s probably not another tight end on the roster that makes that catch. On the next play, Harrell made his biggest play of the preseason when he hit Tori Gurley for 54 yards on a deep ball to the 1-yard line to set up a touchdown.

Thumbs down

The biggest knock on running back Cedric Benson is his ability to hang on to the football.

He fumbled 12 times the last two seasons combined, losing seven of them.

In his second preseason game with the Packers, Benson coughed up the ball on his first touch, although Finley recovered it. A week after an impressive six-carry, 38-yard debut against the Cincinnati Bengals, Benson never got much going against the Chiefs. He carried four times for 11 yards with a long run of 4 yards.

The Packers like Benson’s ability to run between the tackles out of a single-back formation when they spread out defenses with their three- and four-receiver sets, but he has to hang on to the ball. McCarthy has little tolerance for fumblers, and Benson has a history of it. He has 19 fumbles in his seven NFL seasons, losing 11 of them. Only once in his career, in 2006, did he go an entire season without a fumble.

Did you notice?

• The Packers had trouble getting their defensive substitutions in on time when switching from base to dime in the first half. They had to use a timeout when safety M.D. Jennings was late coming on to the field and were penalized for having 12 players on the field when linebacker Brad Jones failed to come out.

• Defensive end Mike Neal, who on Monday will begin serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, finished his best preseason with a strong showing. On a third-and-1 play in the second quarter, he destroyed left tackle Jeff Allen and stuffed running back Nate Eachus for no gain.

• Rookie safety Jerron McMillian made up for his protection error when he picked up a live ball on a blocked punt and ran 22 yards for a first down in the third quarter. A blocked punt that doesn’t cross the line of scrimmage can be advanced by either team.

rdemovsk@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.

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