This usually happens in the lead-up to the final preseason game: The starters and scout teams switch roles for a practice, because many starters will sit out the preseason finale, while the usual scout-teamers will play extensively. So it was Tuesday in the Packers' preparation for Thursday's preseason finale against New Orleans, and it was a good reminder of what Aaron Rodgers brings to an offense that most quarterbacks don't.
It was most obvious on back-to-back plays in a red-zone period, with Rodgers running the Saints' offense against the Packers' backup defense. On a third down from the 4, Rodgers faced rush pressure from his right, took a few quick steps to his left, then snapped off a throw to tight end Harold Spears for the touchdown.
On the next play, a first down from the 2, the defense sent a big blitz. Rodgers saw it coming and while backpedaling, quick-released a throw to the empty left side of the end zone. He lofted the pass, and tight end Richard Rodgers chased it down on an out pattern and made a reaching, falling catch for the score. You never see the other quarterbacks in camp complete throws like those.
"He puts pressure on defenses because he can extend the play as well as anybody in the league," said Dom Capers, the Packers' defensive coordinator. "That's part of his game. You have him covered up and covered up, and all of a sudden he comes out of there, the receivers uncover and he can put the ball on the money. It's great work for our young guys."
Tuesday was the Packers' final training camp practice open to the public, so the final numbers are in for one-on-one pass blocking. Keep in mind the scoring is highly subjective.
The offensive linemen with the lowest winning percentages were center-guard Garth Gerhart (7-7) and undrafted rookie tackle Vince Kowalski (5-5), both at .500. Next were guard-center Andy Phillips (12-11, .522) and tackle Jeremy Vujnovich (11-8, .579).
On defense, Mike Pennel probably has been the Packers' best run defender in preseason games, but he's the only pass rusher with no wins (0-13) in one-on-ones. Khyri Thorton was next (2-15, .118), followed by Josh Boyd (4-15, .210). One-on-ones are just one measure of ability, and sometimes a player uses a rep to try something new or work on a technique to the detriment of winning that snap. But the drill still matters.
"It puts you on a stage by yourself," said James Campen, the Packers' offensive line coach. "In the most critical of times you have to beat your guy when it comes right down to it, one-on-one. It's not going to be a super-exciting twist or a stunt, you have to win your one-on-one battle. It puts a lot of pressure and a lot of fundamental things: hand placement, foot speed, all of that."
The top records for offensive linemen belonged to tackle Bryan Bulaga (12-1, .923), T.J. Lang (11-1, .917), JC Tretter (15-3, .833) and Corey Linsley (10-2, .833). The best rushing records were Mike Daniels (6-5, .545), Bruce Gaston (8-7, .533) and Julius Peppers (5-5, .500). Two starters never took a one-on-one to help preserve their health: guard Josh Sitton and linebacker Clay Matthews.
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• Rookie cornerback Damarious Randall made the play of the day, even if it would have gone for naught in a game. In a red-zone period, Rodgers as scout-team quarterback drew the defense offsides on a first down from the 18, which gave him a free play. He went for a touchdown on a go route to receiver James Butler, but Randall ran with him, turned and made a leaping, reaching-back, one-handed interception. Said Capers: "The first thing I said was, 'That's what a first-round draft pick looks like,' to be able to jump up there and make that kind of play."
• Running back Rajion Neal worked as the No. 1 kickoff returner Tuesday with the usual returner, Ty Montgomery, sitting out because of a sore hamstring. Neal still might have a shot at sharing that role if he makes the roster, because the Packers might want to take some of the workload off Montgomery now that he's becoming a bigger part of their offense in Jordy Nelson's absence.
• Undrafted tight end Mitchell Henry finally was able to practice Tuesday without a cast protecting the injured finger on his hand. He still had a splint on his finger, though his hand was covered by a glove. "Catching everything fine," he said. "Cut a hole in my glove so I can stick my finger through. It feels normal."
• Tretter, who primarily plays center and occasionally works at guard, took a few snaps at left tackle with the backup offense. That suggests he might get a few snaps there Thursday against New Orleans as preparation for emergency duty.
• Tuesday's final practice featured the smallest crowd of camp, with little more than half the bleachers filled on the east side of Ray Nitschke Field and only a few fans along the fence at the north end. After practice, the players went to the stands to thank the fans.
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