Final Thoughts before Packers first preseason game v. Bengals

ASHWAUBENON, WISCONSIN - MAY 31: Jordan Love #10 of the Green Bay Packers participates in an OTA practice session at Don Hutson Center on May 31, 2023 in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
ASHWAUBENON, WISCONSIN - MAY 31: Jordan Love #10 of the Green Bay Packers participates in an OTA practice session at Don Hutson Center on May 31, 2023 in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

The Green Bay Packers play their first preseason game of 2023 on Friday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. There is still a lot to be decided when it comes to playing time and final roster spots being determined, but this game, along with the following preseason games and two joint practices, will carry a lot of weight in determining who the winners of those positional battles are.

Once again, here are my final thoughts before the Packers take the football field later today.

– From the sounds of it, Jordan Love is going to play a few series. A few things to watch for include him taking care of the ball and not turning it over. His consistency with the deep ball. Is the offense able to generate any explosive plays? And as Matt LaFleur has mentioned on a few occasions, is he getting the pre-throw process right? This means getting in and out of the huddle efficiently, going through his progressions, sound footwork, and a good base in the pocket, along with throwing in timing and rhythm.

– With the third running back role up for grabs, a few things to keep in mind are that LaFleur said Tyler Goodson, Patrick Taylor, and Lew Nichols would each be featured in a preseason game to help determine the winner of that battle. Also, both LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst said that blocking, pass catching, and special teams (especially this one) would play key factors in determining who the third running back is.

– Bo Melton and Malik Heath have put together some nice performances in practice as of late, but as LaFleur said, it’s important they carry that momentum into the preseason. Both bring different styles to the position, Melton a speedy slot presence and Heath a “very physical” receiver, but both have been able to flash in their own ways. With WR6 up for grabs, special teams play will likely play a role in determining who that player is–if the Packers roster that many. My guess is that Grant DuBose does not play since he came off the NFI list earlier this week.

– I’m not sure how much of Christian Watson we will see, but one difference between this year and last will be how often we see him moved around pre-snap to help create mismatches, along with him running a greater variety of routes. While there, of course, will still be times he’s asked to win downfield, his responsibilities are going to expand.

– The jump from college to the NFL at tight end comes with a steep learning curve, so in this first preseason game, the big thing I’m looking for is consistency from Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft. Musgrave’s ability to impact the passing game is evident, especially over the middle of the field, and Kraft has seen more snaps with the starters as of late and had his best practice of the summer during Family Night. But, as should be expected, there have been dropped passes and missed blocks as well.

– My thought is that how many snaps Zach Tom sees at center, especially with the ones (if at all), will tell us how serious the competition with Josh Myers is. During the joint practice with the Bengals, Tom was at right tackle the entire time.

– There could be two to three roster spots on the offensive line up for grabs, with Sean Rhyan, Caleb Jones, Rasheed Walker, and Luke Tenuta all competing for them. Rhyan has been very good this summer, but with uncertainty at offensive tackle in 2024, perhaps the Packers again choose to continue developing a combination of Jones, Walker, and Tenuta.

– Believe it or not, the interior defensive line unit has been really impressive this summer. Running between the tackles for the Packers’ offense has been a challenge. This unit has been able to create a consistent push up the middle and has flowed sideline to sideline well. The interior defensive line looks a lot faster, with Devonte Wyatt seeing more snaps and the additions of Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks. But with that said, we need to see this group play at this level when it matters, and that starts by carrying the momentum they’ve built into the preseason.

– LaFleur has said that Jonathan Ford has “upped his game” this summer. He could be the sixth interior defensive lineman on the roster as a run defender and backup nose tackle to TJ Slaton. But it’s not a lock that the Packers keep six defensive tackles, especially with how well the rookies, Wooden and Brooks, have been playing.

– I’m not sure if he will play, but Innis Gaines is a name to watch. As I wrote about here, I’m not sure where he fits right now from a numbers standpoint on the roster, but he can be a contributor in 2023, specifically on special teams where he was able to make plays last season, not to mention that he has been the backup nickel cornerback behind Keisean Nixon, along with being listed as a safety. As they say, the more you can do.

– Perhaps this first preseason game will shed some light on the safety battle. It feels fairly safe to say that Darnell Savage will be starting, but who will be next to him is unknown. We’ve seen both Rudy Ford and Jonathan Owens in that role. The number of snaps each player sees and with what defensive unit may give us a better idea of where things stand. The big thing the Packers need at safety is consistency. There were way too many coverage breakdowns and missed tackles in 2022.

– When it comes to special teams, of course, all eyes will be on Anders Carlson, who has been better as of late after a very rough week of practices the week prior. As Gutekunst said before Family Night, the team knew there would be ups and downs relying on a rookie kicker and know that patience will be a must. In addition to Carlson’s performance, keep an eye on the punter battle, specifically, who is the holder on Carlson’s attempts along with how Rich Bisaccia splits up playing time between Daniel Whelan and Pat O’Donnell. In terms of power, Whelan has the advantage, but as we know, there is more that goes into this role, specifically as a holder. Are the Packers willing to rely on a rookie kicker and a rookie holder this season?

– Something new that will be on my radar is how much of Dallin Leavitt we see in the preseason. If he doesn’t see many snaps, my guess is that there’s a good chance he makes the team. However, if he’s playing a lot, specifically rotating with another player on special teams, perhaps his roster spot is in jeopardy. During the joint practice with Cincinnati, Jonathan Owens was taking some on the personal protector snaps on the punt coverage team, a role usually filled by Leavitt. The Packers have questions at safety but it’s also a crowded room, is Leavitt being a special teams-only contributor enough for a roster spot? Or could Innis Gaines or Anthony Johnson earn that spot?

– Brenton Cox is an undrafted rookie on the radar of many fans, but through training camp, he has consistently been with the third team defense and is likely the sixth edge rusher in the rotation right now. I’m guessing the Packers don’t keep six edge rushers. He is going to have to flash more to push for a roster spot, but right now, I’m not sure where he fits on the 53 man. Justin Hollins is the one player ahead of him who I wouldn’t say is a lock but he’s played a lot of snaps with the ones, was productive last season, and has taken some starting special teams snaps as well. Perhaps in a transition year, the Packers choose Cox’s potential over Hollins’ productivity on the back end of this rotation, but that remains to be seen at this point.

Players on the roster bubble: Tyler Goodson, Patrick Taylor, Lew Nichols, Grant DuBose, Malik Heath, Bo Melton, Caleb Jones, Sean Rhyan, Rasheed Walker, Luke Tenuta, Jake Hanson, Jonathan Ford, Brenton Cox, Innis Gaines, Anthony Johnson, and Daniel Whelan.

Players I’m most excited to see: Jordan Love, Jayden Reed, Luke Musgrave, Lukas Van Ness, Devonte Wyatt, Carrington Valentine, Josh Myers, the safety position.