Here’s a preview of what to watch for when the Packers travel to Jacksonville for a noon kickoff on Sunday.
1. Lane Taylor’s third professional start: Back when the schedule came out in April, general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy probably didn’t think the starting left guard spot would draw much, if any, scrutiny in Week 1. Their decision to jettison Josh Sitton on cutdown day, just over a week until the Packers travel to Jacksonville to take on a revitalized Jaguars defensive front, has ensured that no player will be more scrutinized than Taylor on Sunday.
McCarthy has tried to paint Taylor as a player who can be a mauler in the running game and one that is improving in pass protection. A viewing of Taylor’s two starts in 2015, one at right guard in Detroit against the Lions and one at left guard in the Week 17 game against the Minnesota Vikings, shows an inconsistent player who shows promise, but brings nowhere near the level of play that Sitton did to the Packers’ offensive line.
Complicating the perception of Taylor is his poor showing in the team’s final preseason game. The Packers can win with the Taylor they saw in limited time last year. They will be hard pressed to win with the version of the player they saw play against the Chiefs.
2. Can the Packers stand the heat? Mike McCarthy told the media Tuesday that his team is “better prepared” for the Florida heat it will encounter in Jacksonville on Sunday than the last two times his team traveled to the Sunshine State.
McCarthy said Packers nutritionist Adam Korzun went through a presentation with the team that illustrated the cauldron they will be walking into Sunday.
Many players undoubtedly remember the team’s last trip to Florida when the Packers took a commanding early lead and then seemed to wilt in the second half after a rash of injuries and uninspired play before scoring a comeback victory.
While it’s true that both teams will play in the same conditions (an old football coaches adage), the Packers’ starters have played precious few live snaps this preseason. It’s one thing to play for a few first-quarter drives on a temperate San Francisco evening. It’s quite another to play four quarters of football in heat that is expected to be into the 90s on Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers has referenced a few times this summer how his offseason workouts were designed to maintain or even improve his conditioning. He’d better hope his teammates were thinking along the same lines.
3. Blake Martinez gets the start and makes the calls. The fourth-round draft pick has had a solid camp and it was confirmed Tuesday that the Packers will have a rookie starting at inside linebacker for the season opener.
Martinez has been given the defensive radio headset pretty much since the start of camp and has been the one getting the defensive signals and relaying them to his teammates.
It’s a lot of responsibility for a rookie, and early returns have been positive on Martinez’ ability to handle not only his assignments but his acumen in getting his teammates into the right call down in and down out. No, his play hasn’t always been pretty this preseason, but he’s shown the ability to bounce back and learn from mistakes.
The Jaguars were a high-powered offense in 2015 and one that loved to work deep off play action. Martinez figures to be tested throughout Sunday’s game, not only from scrimmage but in his ability to keep the defense together and reflecting the calls coming in from defensive coordinator Dom Capers.