Jason Wilde offers three keys for the Green Bay Packers when they host the New York Jets in Week 2 of the NFL preseason Saturday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
1. INTO THE GREAT WIDE OPEN
By Aaron Rodgers’ math — although let’s be honest, after what happened with former UW-Whitewater star Jake Kumerow at the end of training camp a year ago, the quarterback’s ability to read roster-cutdown tea leaves isn’t infallible — there are five spots on the Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver depth chart locked up: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and rookie third-round pick Amari Rodgers. After that? Some heated competition among roster holdovers Equanimeous St. Brown and Malik Taylor, veteran Devin Funchess, former practice-squad member Reggie Begelton and intriguing longshot Juwann Winfree.
Funchess delivered strong performances during Family Night and in last week’s preseason opener against Houston after playing just one game the past two seasons (the 2019 season-opener) because of a broken collarbone and the COVID-19 pandemic. Taylor flashed against the Texans (five receptions, 50 yards) and Begelton has had a strong camp.
The bottom line? After Adams, there are no full-fledged stars on the roster, but plenty of competition.
“I like it. I like it a lot,” Adams said of the competition in the receiver room. “I think that this year has been the most competitive that room has been probably since I first got here. I felt like before it was, ‘Tae’s up there and then we’re just kind of all fighting with each other.’ I feel like coaches made it pretty apparent they were going to let guys duke it out and see what happens based on how they performed, how they picked up the offense and all of that. So, it’s been good. It’s been a lot of fun.”
2. GROWING PAINS
The coaches essentially handed the starting center job to rookie second-round pick Josh Myers (above), and while that still looks like the smart play with a gaping hole in the line after first-team All-Pro center Corey Linsley’s free-agent departure, Myers did struggle a fair amount during the two joint practices with the Jets. Now, he’ll have to bounce back against a penetrating, dynamic Jets front that challenged the line throughout the practices.
“It’s never as bad as it seems and it’s never as good as it seems,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Myers’ struggles. “I think there were just a couple plays in there, where there needs to be a little bit more communication or urgency with getting calls out. He’s also in a tough spot following a guy like Corey Linsley, who had an All-Pro year, who’s been doing it for a long time, who I think you could say he’s the best center in football right now. So, he’s got some big shoes to fill.
“I know Josh is certainly up for that task. I expect him to attack it like he does every day. He has got such a great demeanor and he doesn’t get rattled. We got a lot of confidence in him and where he’s trending.”
Myers isn’t the only one who’ll be under scrutiny on the line, though. Rookie fourth-round pick Royce Newman is set to start at right guard after the coaches shook up the competition there and at left guard, with Ben Braden, Jon Runyan and Lucas Patrick still fighting for a starting spot, too.
“It was just inconsistent (against the Texans),” offensive line coach Adam Stenavich said of the guard play. “There was some good stuff, and then there was some bad stuff. I think their first time really out there in a live situation, we have a lot of young players, so it’s just a matter of guys just understanding what it’s all about in the preseason. I just think our maturity level, guys need to come play better.”
3. JOBS ON THE LINE
With one fewer preseason game than in past years because of the expanded 17-game regular-season schedule, that’s one fewer opportunity for players on the roster bubble to impress.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for those spots. That’s the exciting thing,” Aaron Rodgers said. “Every year, there’s 35-40 spots that seem to be pretty locked up. That leaves for that 13-18 range of players that can make a roster spot.”
In addition to the wide receivers Rodgers has been watching and the competition on the offensive line, there’s the No. 3 running back competition (rookie seventh-round pick Kylin Hill, above, appears to be ahead of Patrick Taylor and Dexter Williams), the safety competition (Vernon Scott and Henry Black lead Christian Uphoff and Innis Gaines) and the cornerback battle (the acquisition of Isaac Yiadom adds an intriguing layer).
With most starters expected to be held out of this game as they were against the Texans, general manager Brian Gutekunst will have lots of snaps to evaluate when it comes to these and other roster battles.
“I feel really good about our football team. I really do,” Gutekunst said. “I feel good about the guys we’ve held (out). It kind of pulls you in both directions. There’s part of you that just wants to get to the season and get started because you feel you have a good squad. At the same time, you know how much work needs to be done and there’s some evaluation that needs to take place. You’re kind of right in the middle there.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.
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