When the Green Bay Packers visit Nashville for their final preseason game against the Tennessee Titans tonight, it will be the last audition for 22 current members of the team. Of course, that number probably will increase after final cuts on Saturday, as Ted Thompson has a tendency to add at least a couple players from other teams’ scrap heaps each year.
Those players on the bubble will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves, since the Packers starters will play minimally. But they – several veterans included – had better play well, or they’re going to hear those fateful words come Saturday, “(Insert name here), you’re cut!”
Here’s a look at the likely number of players who will make the final roster by position, who’s on the team and who’s on the hot seat.
Obviously, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn, after showing a knack for making plays during training camp, are in. Brian Brohm, even though he was a second-round pick last season, still hasn’t shown much. He’ll get a long audition tonight with Rodgers only playing one series and Flynn out with an injury. While there is a good chance the Packers will keep Brohm if he shows anything tonight, there’s also a chance Brohm will continue to fall short of expectations and Thompson will see a veteran he likes better.
Prediction: Rodgers, Flynn, waiver pick up
Wide Receiver (6)
The Packers have one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are locks. Ruvell Martin, who could probably be a 3 or 4 on another team, is a near lock. After that comes Brett Swain, Jake Allen and Kole Heckendorf. Swain has the most experience of the three, having spent last season on the Packers practice squad after being drafted by the team out of San Diego State, and is the likely sixth man. Swain can also return punts, adding to his value. Allen and Heckendorf were undrafted signees and lucky to stick around this far.
Prediction: Jennings, Driver, Jones, Nelson, Swain
Running Back (4)
Surprisingly, running back has proven to be one of the Packers deepest positions during training camp. Behind starter Ryan Grant, and backup Brandon Jackson, who are locks, DeShawn Wynn, Kregg Lumpkin and Tyrell Sutton have all shown flashes of promise and playmaking ability. The Packers may ultimately go with three backs, but Jackson has an ankle injury that will keep him out for at least a few weeks, which is why we’re going with four roster spots here. The Packers like Wynn’s potential and if he plays to that potential, Wynn could one day be starting in the NFL. That means the decision comes down to Lumpkin and Sutton, an undrafted rookie who has turned the coaches heads in the preseason. The decision could be based largely on tonight’s game. Conversely, the Packers could decide to go with only three backs and either, A. try to sneak Sutton through to the practice squad or, B. try to trade one of the group.
Prediction: Grant, Jackson, Wynn, Sutton
This is a major question mark for the Packers. The team has two capable fullbacks in John Kuhn and Korey Hall, but they drafted Quinn Johnson in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. You simply don’t draft a fullback that high – if at all – unless you think he has great potential. The problem here is, Kuhn and Hall have performed well in the preseason and Johnson has been slow to catch on. While he’s shown that he can knock people backwards – the reason he was drafted – Johnson hasn’t been impressive as a receiver and hasn’t taken to the offense as quickly as the coaches would like. The quandary is whether to cut a proven, capable NFL fullback or a potentially great fullback. The Packers could also try to sneak Johnson through to the practice squad, but it seems unlikely that he wouldn’t be claimed by another team. My feeling is that the Packers will go with the youngster, regardless of tonight’s outcome.
Prediction: Kuhn, Johnson
Tight End (3)
This one is fairly clear cut. Both Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley are locks. That brings us to converted linebacker Spencer Havner and Evan Moore. Although he’s a project, Havner keeps sticking around. He’s been on the Packers practice squad on three different occasions, before finally making the active roster for the last four games of last season. Havner has also shown he can contribute on special teams, which is something the Packers value.
Prediction: Lee, Finley, Havner
Offensive Line (9)
The Packers starters are set – Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre. Both Scott Wells, who can play guard and center, and Breno Giacomini, who made a strong push for Barbre’s spot, are solid backups. Rookie T.J. Lang worked multiple positions in training camp and may be a future starter. That leaves Tony Moll, fifth-round pick Jamon Meredith and undrafted rookies Evan Dietrich-Smith, Andrew Hartline and Dane Randolph fighting for one roster spot. Realistically, it’s Moll, Meredith and Dietrich-Smith, who has performed well, fighting for that spot. Moll isn’t starting material, although he’s played one on television when injuries have cropped up. Although high on potential, Meredith hasn’t impressed and is likely headed for the practice squad or another team. Dietrich-Smith is listed as Sitton’s backup at right guard, but played several positions in college, including left tackle. Moll remains underwhelming, but could stick if Thompson is blown away by a trade offer for former starting center Wells.
Prediction: Clifton, Colledge, Spitz, Sitton, Barbre, Giacomini, Wells, Lang, Dietrich-Smith
Defensive Line (6)
The Packers used to keep 8-10 defensive lineman and rotate them, but those were the days of the 4-3. Currently, the Packers will start Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly. B.J. Raji, the Packers top draft choice, is waiting in the wings. Two spots remain for Michael Montgomery, Jarius Wynn, Justin Harrell, Ronald Talley, Alfred Malone, Anthony Toribio, and Dean Muhtadi. If the Packers don’t cut Harrell, he’s likely to go on injured reserve, as he continues to have issues with his back. Wynn has shown a knack to get into the backfield this preseason, and has likely secured a roster spot. Of the remainder, Montgomery, who started several games last season is the best bet to stick, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Packers pick up someone else more suited to the 3-4.
Prediction: Jenkins, Pickett, Jolly, Raji, Wynn, waiver pick up
Linebacker has been one of the most competitive spots during training camp. Both Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop have made their presence known with big play after big play, but neither is likely to start on the inside. Those roles go to A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett – providing he shows he’s 100 percent recovered from knee surgery, tonight. All four inside backers are locks. On the outside, the Packers will start Aaron Kampman, and at least for the time being, Brady Poppinga. The Packers second first-round pick, Clay Matthews will see live game action for the first time this preseason, tonight. It will likely take him some time to challenge Poppinga, but Matthews is a lock as well. That leaves Jeremy Thompson, Cyril Obiozor, Danny Lansanah and Brad Jones. The likely winner is Thompson, who was impressive early in training camp, but like Matthews, hasn’t seen live game action this preseason. Obiozor has shown flashes during camp and is a good candidate for the practice squad, as is Jones, who has also been injured for much of the preseason.
Prediction: Kampman, Hawk, Barnett, Poppinga, Bishop, Chillar, Thompson
The Packers are set with starters Al Harris, Charles Woodson and nickelback Tramon Williams. After that, it gets interesting. Rookie Brandon Underwood has been running as the fourth cornerback, because Will Blackmon and Pat Lee, a former second-round draft choice, have been out with injuries. Behind them are Joe Porter and Trevor Ford. Blackmon is a near lock because he is the Packers No. 1 punt and kickoff returner. Lee’s injuries are nothing new. He was injured much of last season and contributed next to nothing when he was healthy. However, Lee will play tonight for the first time in a long time. Meanwhile, Underwood will start, as both Harris and Woodson are being held out of the game. Both players could play themselves onto or right off the final roster.
Prediction: Woodson, Harris, Williams, Blackmon, Underwood
Nick Collins is a lock as a clear-cut starter. Atari Bigby and Anthony Smith seem to be in competition to start opposite Collins. However, both of them will make the team, as well. That leaves Aaron Rouse, Charlie Peprah and Jarrett Bush battling for one spot. The coaches have already said that Rouse and Peprah are competing for that spot. Unfortunately, both are injured and aren’t slated to play tonight. I give Rouse, who started several games last season, the edge.
Prediction: Collins, Bigby, Smith, Rouse
Unless Jeremy Kapinos punts himself out of a job tonight, the Packers specialists are set, with Kapinos, kicker Mason Crosby and long snapper Brett Goode.
Prediction: Crosby, Kapinos, Goode