10 Packers feeling pressure in preseason finale as final cuts loom
GREEN BAY – It’s show time for members of the Green Bay Packers who don’t have starting spots sewn up.
In the exhibition finale against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night at Lambeau Field, jobs will be on the line as the starters sit and the backups attempt to make one final impression on the personnel and coaching staffs.
Some will be fighting for backup spots, some for a berth on the 53-man roster.
CAMP INSIDER:Undrafted rookie Michael Clark jumping off field
Here are 10 players who figure to be on the spot against the Rams:
Michael Clark, wide receiver: Perversely, the Packers might not mind if Clark struggled against the Rams. At 6-5½, 215 pounds and with remarkable leaping ability, Clark is the ideal practice-squad project for wide receivers coach Luke Getsy. But if Clark shows too much against the Rams, general manager Ted Thompson will have to consider putting him on the 53-man roster amid an already deep receiving corps. Clark's name has generated significant buzz during training camp, and the Packers don’t want to lose him on the waiver wire. Clark has four catches for 34 yards and a touchdown through three exhibition games.
Malachi Dupre, wide receiver: Dupre could feel sorry for himself entering this preseason finale. He was starting to find his stride early in camp when a devastating hit from Philadelphia Eagles safety Tre Sullivan resulted in a concussion, knocking him out for two weeks. In the middle of camp, it was an inopportune time to be absent. Yet Dupre has shown potential when healthy. He’s a smooth route runner, and adjusting to NFL speed hasn’t been too difficult for the former LSU receiver after spending three seasons against pro-caliber corners in the SEC. Dupre could benefit from a year on the practice squad to get stronger, and that’s his most likely destination this season. With Geronimo Allison starting the season serving a one-game suspension, Dupre’s chances at cracking the 53-man roster can’t be discounted with a big night against the Rams.
Reggie Gilbert, outside linebacker: It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like Gilbert’s ability. He has made significant strides after spending last season on the Packers' practice squad, gaining more confidence as an outside linebacker after being a college defensive end at Arizona. Clay Matthews said Gilbert made the biggest improvement of any player on last season’s practice squad. Outside linebackers coach Winston Moss said he has seen Gilbert’s growth from last season carry onto the field this preseason. Gilbert had a sack in each of the past two exhibitions, though he lost gap control on a touchdown run in Denver. Ahmad Brooks’ signing could mean a second straight appearance on the practice squad for Gilbert, but the Packers are unlikely to have rookie Vince Biegel to start the season. If the Packers keep an additional, sixth outside linebacker, Gilbert figures to be the top candidate.
LaDarius Gunter, cornerback: It would be a dramatic fall if Gunter went from No. 1 corner a year ago to potentially getting cut in 2017, and Gunter is squarely on the roster bubble. The same lack of speed that plagued Gunter at times last year proved highly problematic during the first two weeks of camp. He gave up a number of deep balls down the sideline and struggled when asked to make up ground. But cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. moved Gunter to the slot around the midway point of camp, and that decision triggered a small revival. With his size and length, Gunter brings a different element to the “star” position than teammates Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall. At this point, Gunter is fighting for one of the last two spots at the cornerback position.
Taysom Hill, quarterback: It’s likely Brett Hundley will start the game, but don’t be surprised if Hill is in there after a series or two.
In practice this week, Hill worked with the third team, moving ahead of Joe Callahan in the pecking order. Everything is set up for him to make a move for the No. 3 quarterback spot.
He will have to be so good that the Packers feel he will be claimed if they waive him. So far, he has been pretty impressive, completing 10 of 16 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. His 105.7 passer rating leads the team.
In seven series, Hill has produced touchdown drives of eight plays and 82 yards and seven plays of 65 yards and eight first downs. He ranks second on the team in rushing with eight carries for 52 yards and a touchdown.
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Brian Price, nose tackle: At 6-3, 318 pounds, Price is a load inside. His pass rush remains raw, but Price has proven to be a strong run defender on the interior. He’s the top backup behind Kenny Clark at nose tackle, and even though the Packers rarely play their base 3-4 defense, coordinator Dom Capers said he still values the nose tackle position. “You still need a big guy in the middle of that defense,” Capers said Tuesday. Price, likely battling Christian Ringo for one roster spot on the defensive line, figures to get a lot of snaps against the Rams. If the Packers want to ensure they have more than one true nose tackle on their roster, their preference might be Price.
Christian Ringo, defensive end: A sixth-round pick in 2015, Ringo played only 75 snaps last season and failed to force a pressure. He flashed better pass-rush ability than his rookie year but lacked the type of consistency to get him on the field each week. Now, with two years under his belt, Ringo is playing better and had solid performances in Washington and Denver the last two weeks. But the bottom line is that Price (6-2½, 318) plays nose tackle with a presence the undersized Ringo (6-0½, 300) can’t match. If it comes down to those two, Ringo might be on the outside looking in without a killer performance against the Rams.
Jason Spriggs, tackle: The second-year tackle has become a lightning rod after giving up sacks in each of the first three exhibition games.
The coaches decided to go with Kyle Murphy ahead of him despite the fact Spriggs was drafted in the second round to be a swing tackle and started two games last season. His loss of confidence has been pretty apparent.
Even in practice, he has suffered hiccups in one-on-one pass rush and team drills, making it imperative that he work himself back to a more positive place. The coaches need to be completely confident in him backing up left tackle David Bakhtiari.
Spriggs won’t have to face the best the Rams have to offer but he needs to start somewhere.
Justin Vogel, punter: As long as he doesn’t engage in a shank-fest, his chances of making the team are pretty solid. His numbers have been good — 45.2 gross average, 42.6 net, seven inside the 20 and one touchback on 17 attempts — but of late his kicks have been a little shaky.
He could really help his confidence and the coaches’ confidence in him by launching some high hangers that swing field position in the Packers’ favor. In the game against Denver, he averaged a modest 44.0 gross and 38.3 net with a high-altitude advantage at Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High.
Vogel hasn’t had competition in camp, but he is competing against all those punters who will wind up on the street after 3 p.m. Saturday.
DeAngelo Yancey, wide receiver: Regardless of what he accomplished in training camp, Yancey always was going to benefit from being a fifth-round pick. Thompson hordes draft picks like Halloween candy, and the notion of cutting a fifth-round pick is somewhat foreign in these parts. In other words, Yancey has a clearer path to the roster than fellow rookie Dupre, a seventh-round pick. Yancey lost 13 pounds between minicamp in June and training camp in late July and quickly regained the big-play explosiveness that defined his career at Purdue. He looked terrific in the first exhibition against the Eagles but has cooled off. A groin injury sidelined him for a week of practice prior to the trip to Washington. He’s squarely on the fence.