Packers reporters Ryan Wood and Michael Cohen offer their thoughts on the team's 17-7 loss to the Chiefs in their preseason finale in Kansas City. (Sept. 2, 2016)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Green Bay Packers made it through the 2016 preseason without losing an important player to a bad injury.
Really, that’s the main goal in today’s NFL, to get through training camp and games that don’t count with your key players intact. So right there, coach Mike McCarthy’s team is way ahead of last season, when it lost Jordy Nelson to a season-ending knee injury in August.
McCarthy made sure of that good health Thursday night in Kansas City by sitting 17 starters — 10 on offense and seven on defense.
So as usual, the preseason finale mostly was about the final roster spots. And to that end, you have to wonder if an injury will help McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson make one of their hardest decisions, at wide receiver.
The Packers went into Thursday night with eight receivers worth keeping on their final 53, but there’s not room for that many. Historically they’ve kept five or six, so even the seven that they very well might hold onto is going unusually heavy at that position and still leave someone on the outs.
Then fifth-round pick Trevor Davis hurt his shoulder early in the game, and if he’s headed for injured reserve, that would decide the issue. Davis spent the second half on the sidelines wearing shorts and a T-shirt, at times with a towel over his right shoulder and arm, at others without the towel but holding his bent right arm against his stomach. Either way, it didn’t look good.
The Packers don’t have to say anything publicly about the injury before Saturday’s cuts, but they’ll show their hand by what they do that day.
If healthy, Davis would have been hard to waive because of the desperately needed element of speed he brings to the Packers’ receiving corps. But if the injury lands him on IR, then the Packers can keep the seven others who were in the running for the final 53: Nelson, Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis and Geronimo Allison.
If Davis isn’t as bad as it looked, then the Packers will have to take a calculated risk by cutting a receiver who might get claimed.
Janis practiced last week with his broken hand clubbed up for protection but didn’t suit up. Does that mean he was safe? I don’t know.
Abbrederis has had a good camp, but was his status precarious because he’s a third slot receiver with a shaky injury history? Again, hard to say for sure what Thompson and McCarthy are thinking. But if nothing else, Abbrederis helped his cause Thursday night with a 40-yard catch downfield on one of his two receptions, as well as a 42-yard punt return among his five chances in that role.
Allison, an undrafted rookie, didn’t play until the second half, which seemed strange for a guy in the running for a roster spot. Were the Packers trying to limit his snaps so other teams didn’t get as much of a look at him as a possible waiver claim? Again, we might find out Saturday, depending on the severity of Davis’ injury.
One point to remember, for Davis to be eligible for temporary IR, he has to make the final 53 Saturday, then go on IR Sunday or later. So if the Packers put him on IR as part of the final roster reduction Saturday, he’s done for the year.
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As for the other most competitive position battles, the player who might have helped himself most was undrafted rookie cornerback Josh Hawkins. He’s in a battle with Robertson Daniel (practice squad most of last season) and undrafted rookie Makinton Dorleant (didn’t suit up Thursday, hamstring) for maybe one roster spot and might have gone a long way toward winning a job.
Hawkins had an interception in the third quarter when he read quarterback Aaron Murray’s deep out throw in zone coverage, but even before that he’d put up a good showing. Early in the game he was all over receiver Tyreek Hill on a short throw that went incomplete; did a good job pinning receiver Rod Streater to the sideline on a go/fade that was incomplete later in the first quarter; and had decent though trailing coverage on tight end Ross Davis on a corner route in the end zone (the ball was overthrown).
Even the pass interference penalty on Hawkins on a short slant in the second quarter was a touchy if correct call. The takeaway being, Hawkins always seemed to be right on his man. He’s undersized at 5-10½ — that’s essentially the Packers’ minimum height requirement at cornerback — but he’s shown cover ability to go with his makeup speed (4.39-second 40) and jumping (40½-inch vertical).
If I had to say off the cuff right now, I’d have him on the 53.
Thompson, McCarthy and their top aides undoubtedly had a pretty good idea of their roster going into Thursday. But they’ll watch this game tape closely to make sure on the closest calls. They’ll also be trying to figure out other teams’ cuts, with an eye especially on the defensive line.
But after this game, the biggest question is Davis. If his injury ends his season, that sound you won’t hear will be a few dominoes not falling.