Final exhibitions loom large for multiple Packers on the roster bubble

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst looks up at the video board during the first half of an NFL preseason game at Lambeau Field on Thursday, August 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY - Midway through training camp, the Green Bay Packers have a good idea which group of core players they’ll carry into Week 1 against the Chicago Bears.

But competition is still open as the Packers enter the second half of their preseason. In a camp defined by its position battles, jobs on the fringe of their roster remain up for grabs.

“There’s a lot to be determined,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “There always is.”

Expect the Packers to primarily play their backups – young players fighting for roster spots – in their final two exhibitions Friday at Oakland and next week at Kansas City. A projection of where the Packers' roster stands heading into their third exhibition shows 32 players as locks to make the team, six as good bets, 23 on the bubble, 28 long shots and one who will start the season suspended (running back Aaron Jones).

With camp winding down, general manager Brian Gutekunst must submit his first 53-man roster to the league by 3 p.m. Sept. 1. Players can be added to the practice squad at 11 a.m. Sept. 2.

Quarterbacks (2-3)

Lock: Aaron Rodgers

On the bubble: Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer

Long shot: Tim Boyle

A year ago, Hundley had a 101.6 passer rating midway through the preseason. So although Hundley’s 86.3 rating midway through this preseason would not suggest improvement, he has made a handful of flash plays that keep the Packers optimistic. The highlight of his preseason was a perfect deep ball to receiver Davante Adams, who beat Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler for 48 yards. Hundley then had scoring drives on each of his three possessions against the Pittsburgh Steelers, though only one ended with a touchdown. Meanwhile, Kizer has a 108.1 rating and had a big game against the Steelers, but the offense scored only twice in his four possessions. The Packers seem poised to place Boyle on their practice squad. After looking sharp in his 15 passes against the Titans, he threw only seven against the Steelers. The less Boyle plays, the better his chance of clearing waivers.

It would be less than ideal for the Packers to keep three quarterbacks, considering it removes a roster spot from another position, but a far bigger problem would be releasing the wrong quarterback. Kizer is a more dynamic athlete, but Hundley has better command of an offensive system he has developed in the past four seasons. Three quarterbacks on the 53 seems more possible now than it did at the start of camp.

Running backs (3-4)

Locks: Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery

Good bet: Aaron Ripkowski

On the bubble: Devante Mays

Long shots: Joel Bouagnon, Bronson Hill, LeShun Daniels, Joe Kerridge

Suspended: Aaron Jones (two games)

It’s a good thing Williams returned to practice this week after injuring his ankle against the Steelers. While Montgomery gives the Packers a changeup option in their backfield, Williams is clearly the workhorse. Expect him to get the bulk of carries until Jones returns from his two-game suspension, giving the Packers their two best runners.

The question is whether the Packers will go light at running back in their first two weeks, or if Williams’ punishing run style will entice them to retain a full backfield. Mays, a seventh-round pick last season, simply can’t catch a break. After opening his career with fumbles on his first two carries last season and swiftly finding McCarthy’s doghouse, Mays had a clean slate at the onset of camp. Needing a big preseason, he instead left practice with a torn hamstring on the third day of August. There’s still reason to believe in Mays’ talent after he didn’t get much chance to show what he can do last season or this preseason, and there could be a spot for him in the Packers’ thin backfield, but time is running out.

Receivers (6-7)

Locks: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison

Good bet: Marquez Valdes-Scantling

On the bubble: Trevor Davis, J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow

Long shots: DeAngelo Yancey, Adonis Jennings, Kyle Lewis

Allison has quietly established himself as the No. 3 receiver because of his big frame, consistent hands and reliability running routes. He’s a professional receiver who has good chemistry with the quarterback, a prerequisite for garnering a role in this offense.

Valdes-Scantling probably put himself on the 53 with a big-time preseason opener, catching five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. He’s still raw, but his combination of height (6-4) and speed (4.38 40) might give him the highest upside of the three rookies. He’s also shown more special-teams value as a potential returner. Moore seemed poised for a significant role in the Packers’ offense when camp began, but his inability to catch the football has him fighting for a roster spot. It’s probably premature for the Packers to give up on Moore, a good athlete with separation skills, but the primary responsibility for a receiver is to catch. St. Brown has a rare size-speed combination and has had a steady camp, but there haven’t been many flash plays.

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With the rookies receiving much of the attention, Davis has been sidelined most of the month because of a strained hamstring. The injury has made his spot on the roster more vulnerable than if he were healthy, but the Packers love Davis’ special-teams ability. That’s a good way for a receiver to earn a job. Kumerow appeared to play his way onto the 53-man roster early in camp, culminating with an 82-yard touchdown against the Steelers that showed big-play ability. But Kumerow injured his shoulder somersaulting into the end zone, putting his spot in jeopardy. It would be a lousy way to get cut.

After the top three, most spots remain up for grabs. Perhaps no position offers Gutekunst tougher decisions. The Packers kept seven receivers two years ago, and it seems likely they’ll open this fall with an excess at the position. But they aren’t going to keep eight receivers. Jobs will be on the line in the next two exhibitions.

Tight ends (3)

Locks: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks

Long shots: Robert Tonyan, Emanuel Byrd, Ryan Smith, Kevin Rader

The Packers have their most experienced tight ends group in recent memory, but it only goes three deep. Graham has been a revelation this offseason and, if he carries it into the regular season, could be a huge – literally – asset to the offense. Lewis and Kendricks are solid veterans who fill a role. There has been enough flash from Tonyan and Byrd to earn a spot on the practice squad. If either could block, they might force the Packers’ hand on the 53. As it stands, this is a three-man position.

Offensive line (9-10)

Locks: David Bakhtiari, Bryan Bulaga, Lane Taylor, Justin McCray, Corey Linsley

On the bubble: Kyle Murphy, Jason Spriggs, Byron Bell, Lucas Patrick, Adam Pankey, Dillon Day

Long shots: Kofi Amichia, Alex Light, Austin Davis

The starting five is set, cemented with Bulaga’s remarkable recovery from a torn ACL last November. Murphy is the third tackle and, despite his problems on the left side this preseason, solid on the right side. Spriggs has been a disappointment, unable to make a jump in a critical camp. He failed to start at right tackle over veteran Bell against the Titans, despite Bell profiling better as an interior lineman. Bell’s versatility seems likely to earn him a roster spot, but the Packers will have to decide whether it’s time to cut their losses with Spriggs.

On the interior, Cole Madison’s absence from camp left Patrick and Pankey to compete for the top backup job at guard. Patrick’s versatility – he has taken center reps in the past week – has additional value. Day could go either way depending on the final two exhibitions.

Defensive line (5)

Locks: Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Muhammad Wilkerson, Dean Lowry

Good bet: Montravius Adams

Long shots: James Looney, Tyler Lancaster, Joey Mbu, Conor Sheehy,

A rare position that seems set on paper. Adams is a wild card who has flashed the interior, pass-rush ability that enticed the Packers to draft him in the third round last year. If he continues to develop, he might push for playing time this fall. At the very least, he should make a strong group even stronger.

Inside linebackers (3)

Locks: Blake Martinez, Oren Burks

On the bubble: Ahmad Thomas, Greer Martini

Long shots: James Crawford, Marcus Porter, Naashon Hughes

Jake Ryan’s torn ACL left this position thin on numbers and experience. It also opened the door to Thomas or Martini, though it would be a stretch for the Packers to keep both. Thomas, a converted safety, has the coverage skills the Packers covet in the middle of the field. Martini, perhaps the top undrafted rookie in camp, has excelled on special teams. Martinez and Burks will play almost all the snaps this season if they stay healthy, but there’s good competition for backup.

Outside linebackers (5-6)

Locks: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Reggie Gilbert

Good bet: Kyler Fackrell

On the bubble: Chris Odom, Vince Biegel

Long shots: Kendall Donnerson, James Hearns

New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine identified his top four outside linebackers Wednesday in Matthews, Perry, Gilbert and Fackrell.

Gilbert has been one of the most encouraging developments in camp, giving the Packers a third edge rusher who could potentially get after the quarterback. Fackrell’s preseason has been up and down, with the same inconsistent play he showed in his first two years, but the Packers like him because he’s reliable.

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Odom, a former defensive end, changed his body this offseason, dropping down to 251 pounds when he weighed into camp. He’s had a quiet preseason but has shown flashes of pass-rush potential. Biegel, too, has had a quiet preseason. The Packers would like at least one to earn a spot on the roster.

Donnerson, a seventh-round pick this spring, appears destined for the practice squad.

Cornerbacks (6-7)

Locks: Tramon Williams, Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson

Good bet: Davon House

On the bubble: Demetri Goodson, Josh Hawkins

Long shots: Herb Waters, Donatello Brown, Lenzy Pipkins

It’s unclear how well Williams’ 35-year-old body can withstand the rigors of a season, but he has been everything the Packers could’ve hoped so far. A veteran to lead the young group of corners, Williams will be an important model for King, Alexander and Jackson.

King will be the top cornerback – if he remains healthy. A year after his rookie season ended prematurely because of left shoulder surgery, he missed time in camp with a right shoulder injury. Alexander and Jackson have had their moments, including a pick-six for Jackson against the Steelers, but both rookies can be expected to have growing pains early.

Hawkins and Goodson lead the group of young corners fighting for a roster spot. Goodson’s special-teams ability should help him crack the 53.

Safeties (4-5)

Locks: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice, Josh Jones

Good bet: Jermaine Whitehead

On the bubble: Quinten Rollins, Marwin Evans

Long shot: Raven Greene

If he stays healthy, Brice is poised to be Morgan Burnett’s replacement starting alongside Clinton-Dix on the back end. The Packers like his physicality and intelligence, though he can sometimes overrun plays because of his aggressiveness. Jones has all the physical skills, but needs to play more consistently.

The Packers value Whitehead’s versatility. He’s able to line up in the slot or at deep safety. Rollins transitioned to safety in camp, giving him a chance to crack the roster. After tearing his Achilles last season, Rollins no longer has the speed to hold up as a perimeter corner. It’s been a quiet preseason for Evans, who might need to flash in these last two exhibitions to make the roster.

Specialists (3)

Locks: Mason Crosby, JK Scott

On the bubble: Hunter Bradley, Zach Triner

Crosby and Scott could give the Packers one of the top kicker-punter combinations in the league. Scott has been unsteady in exhibitions, but the Packers don’t appear worried. The fifth-round rookie has shown a massive leg in practice. McCarthy said the Packers will give Bradley, a seventh-round pick this spring, and Triner the entire camp before making a decision. It would be a waste of a draft pick if Bradley doesn’t make the team.


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