Who to watch against the Eagles
A week away from final cuts, several Green Bay Packers undrafted free agents will have the opportunity for an unusually high amount of snaps tonight against Philadelphia.
The third preseason game typically is where starters receive their most work in the exhibition season, but the Packers likely will be down three offensive linemen due to injury: guards Josh Sitton (ankle) and T.J. Lang (concussion), and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee).
Chances are quarterback Aaron Rodgers won't play much, if at all. Defensively, linebacker Clay Matthews and lineman Mike Daniels said they expected to get their first work of the preseason with the starting defense, but how long the first-team unit stays on the field is uncertain.
The same can be said for undrafted free agents and late-round draft picks trying to make the Packers' 53-man roster. The team will need to trim the roster from 88 players to 75 by Tuesday's deadline at 3 p.m. Central Time. General manager Ted Thompson made it clear this week that there's always a player who makes the final 53-man roster in the 11th hour of camp.
Last week we introduced you to three former undrafted free agents to keep an eye on. With that in mind, here are three more who could improve their chances with a solid performance against the Eagles:
James Vaughters, LB, Stanford
One of the subtle storylines of most Packers' training camps is which outside linebacker is going to make the move inside.
It began in 2012 when the Packers converted Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore. Last summer, Nate Palmer and fourth-round pick Carl Bradford shifted entering the preseason finale.
This year that distinction belongs to Vaughters, the 6-foot-4, 254-pound undrafted rookie who recently began attending inside linebacker meetings and even took a few snaps there Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Since the return of Matthews (knee, elbow), Mike Neal (hernia surgery and Nick Perry (groin), the Packers have had an overabundance of outside rushers in practice. A move inside is one way to get Vaughters on the field and see if he could handle the position.
The move isn't necessarily permanent. The Packers plan to keep working him at both positions during the remainder of the preseason.
"The more you can do, the more your value goes up," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week. "Vaughters is a big, strong body and a pretty smart guy. He did some decent things outside and we want to get a good look to see if he could be a swing guy who could go both ways.
"A guy who can go either inside or outside, you want to get a look and see if there's a potential of doing that."
Vaughters' power is reflected in his 35 bench reps of 225 pounds at his Stanford workout. He played mostly outside in Stanford's 3-4 defense, but his 4.87-second time in the 40-yard dash and inability to break down raised questions about whether he'd be able to stick with tight ends in coverage at the next level.
He has demonstrated is a quick first step in his short time in Green Bay. He's utilized an inside move to beat a few Packers offensive linemen in practice drills, including right tackle Bryan Bulaga. He has three tackles in 22 snaps this preseason.
NFLDraftScout.com said going into the draft that he needs to play smarter at the next level and avoid late-hit penalties. On Sunday, Vaughters picked up a costly roughing the punter penalty against the Steelers, giving them a new set of downs. He wasn't fined on the play, however.
Two-way flexibility is something the Packers like, particularly in their cornerbacks with second-round pick Quinten Rollins now being groomed in the same way they developed Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde and Sean Richardson.
If Vaughters can make it work at linebacker, he could have a future in Green Bay.
Larry Pinkard, WR, Old Dominion
Larry Pinkard had a lot of time for reflection in the year he was away from football.
The 6-foot, 196-pound receiver was on his way to carving his name all over the Monarchs' record books before his dismissal last June for violating team rules. He still ranks second in school history in receiving yards (2,338) and third in receptions (160).
It was a setback, but Pinkard never lost sight of his goals. He spent his time away from the game in the weight room and tried to make amends for the mistakes he made.
There were a lot of emotions that washed over him when Pinkard stepped foot onto the field at Gillette Stadium two weeks ago for his first competitive game in more than a year. Anxiety, however, wasn't one of them.
"To be honest, I wasn't that nervous. It's still football," Pinkard said. "I know my identity and I know what I can do. The coaches have confidence in me. The quarterbacks have confidence in me. I just go out and play football."
After leaving Old Dominion, Pinkard enrolled at Bluefield (Va.) of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. He wasn't eligible to play, but worked on its scout team until leaving to train for the NFL draft in December.
A few months later, while training in Atlanta, his former coaches at Old Dominion got in contact with him and invited him back for its pro day.
"They reached out to me," Pinkard said. "They came down to Atlanta. That's how we got back to that level. There was really no love lost. I made a few mistakes and they helped me out."
"It definitely meant a lot. It showed me they were still there for me. The loyalty was still there. The love was still there."
That's where Pinkard caught the Packers' eye. They gave him a $3,000 signing bonus shortly after the draft and an opportunity to compete for a spot at receiver, one of the deepest positions on the team.
Pinkard has two catches for 43 yards in his two preseason games and stands to play early and often against the Eagles with Jordy Nelson (torn ACL) out and Randall Cobb unlikely to see significant snaps.
Pinkard knows he faces a difficult road to make the Packers' roster, but it's no different than the path he took to Green Bay.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Pinkard said. "It molded me and made me a better person and man. It helped me grind harder. Take it for what it is."
Lavon Hooks, DT, Ole Miss
Lavon Hooks signed a contract with the Packers following this year's NFL draft, but his status wasn't any more certain than any of the other undrafted rookies Green Bay invited to its rookie mini-camp a week later.
The 6-foot-3, 312-pound defensive lineman didn't receive a signing bonus. The Packers could have cut Hooks at any point this summer and wouldn't have absorbed a penny against their salary cap for doing so.
Yet, Hooks is still here while other rookies who received bonuses (guard Marcus Reed, receiver Ricky Collins and cornerback Bernard Blake) are gone.
"He's just a tough kid who's a good hard, playing football player," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "We thought we had a guy with good size and good strength that you could possibly develop."
Hooks, once the No. 1 JUCO recruit in the country, was used primarily as a rotational lineman in the two years he spent at Ole Miss after transferring from Northeast Mississippi Community College. He finished with 27 tackles and three sacks in 24 games with only two starts.
The Packers saw something they liked in Hooks even if he didn't test that well (5.29-second time in the 40-yard dash and 18 bench reps of 225 pounds at his pro day). So far, he's played 24 defensive snaps in two preseason games.
It may be difficult for Hooks to land on the 53-man roster even with suspensions at defensive line, but he could be a developmental candidate for the practice squad if he doesn't make it.
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