Green Bay Packers

What I’ll Be Watching in the Packers’ Preseason Opener

Photo credit: Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis

Here’s a sentence I’ve never written: I can’t wait to watch the Green Bay Packers’ first preseason game tonight.

I know by the second half much of it will be unwatchable, the field littered with players who will someday tell their grandkids they were on the same field that Joe Burrow played on. But as the Pack moves into new, unchartered waters, we’ll actually get to see some honest-to-goodness starters tonight. It may be the last time we see them until the season opener in Chicago 30 days from now, but we’ll take it.

Most of the anticipation revolves around the offense. Jordan Love told reporters this week that he thinks he’ll play a couple of series. But it’s fluid, a lot depending on what the coaches saw during the two joint practices with the Cincinnati Bengals (aside from all the fighting).

Let’s assume he’s right. However, if the Packers engineer a long scoring drive to open the game, he’ll probably put on his baseball cap. Based on how far ahead most defenses are across the league right now, that would appear to be a long shot.

If Love is out there, much of the starting offense needs to join him. I doubt we’ll see Bakhtiari and Jenkins and the top two running backs, but the rest of the starters should be out there with him to start stacking snaps as a unit.

Let’s start with the line. We’ll get our first look at Zach Tom, the likely new starter at right tackle. I’d imagine Yosh Nijman will step in at left tackle, with either resurgent second-year guard Sean Rhyan or the bubble-residing Royce Newman replacing Jenkins.

Who will grab the third running back spot is one of the few roster battles still to be determined. That’s assuming the team keeps a third, something they didn’t do on last year’s initial 53-man roster. Tyler Goodson should get plenty of run tonight, with an injury likely sidelining rookie Lew Nichols. Goodson has the most upside as a back but needs to prove he can be as reliable on special teams as Patrick Taylor. Those two will carry the load with newly signed Nate McRary likely mopping up in the fourth quarter.

Once Love takes a seat, rookie Sean Clifford and USFL MVP Alex McGough will take over under center. I was a vocal critic of the Clifford selection; these next three weeks will give him an opportunity to show why he deserves the backup job. It may take him a while to settle down — he was a high school legend in Cincinnati and will likely have hundreds of family and friends watching him.

But most of the intrigue tonight will come from watching the stable of pass catchers. I expect Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs will exit when Love does, but second-round pick Jayden Reed should get plenty of run and will likely be the punt returner. The two rookie tight ends should also be out there for at least a half, and I can’t wait to see Luke Musgrave’s speed and athleticism on display.

We don’t know whether the Pack will keep five or six receivers on the roster. However, it sounds like there’s a lot of competition for the fifth and sixth spots between fifth-round pick Dontayvion Wicks, Malik Heath, and Bo Melton, with rookie seventh-rounder Grant DuBose playing catchup due to injuries. It’s going to be fun to see if one of those guys separates from the pack — they’ve all had electric moments at camp.

Next up, I’ll have my eyes peeled on rookie kicker Anders Carlson, who seems to have steadied the ship after a very rocky opening week at camp. The difference between seven and nine wins this season could very well come down to Carlson’s leg. It would be nice to see if he can handle his business in his first real test. It was encouraging that he had a strong Family Night performance last weekend in an environment that somewhat replicates a gameday atmosphere.

I don’t think we’ll see a lot of defensive starters on the field tonight, but the two second-round former Bulldogs are likely to get some snaps. Devonte Wyatt has been the talk of training camp. If he takes a second-year leap, it could mean everything for this unit, which desperately needs to get better at stopping the run. I’m anxious to see the two rookie linemen, Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks, make their debuts. There are snaps to be had this season if they’re ready.

We’ll get our first look at first-rounder Lukas Van Ness, who should get plenty of snaps with Rashan Gary and Preston Smith on the sidelines. I’ll have my eyes on Brenton Cox when he takes the field, likely in the second half. He had a troubled college career but oozes talent and has a chance to steal a roster spot.

And then there’s the secondary: young corners Corey Ballentine and Carrington Valentine have shown promise and with Eric Stokes still on the mend, one of them can nail down the dime spot on the roster. Kiondre Thomas may throw his hat in the ring as well — it should make for some good, friendly preseason competition. And the safety position is still up for grabs; hopefully Darnell Savage and former Houston Texans safety Jonathan Owens make the decision easy. I also hope rookie Anthony Johnson has a nice August — I was a big fan of that pick in the seventh round.

Sure, it’s a mostly meaningless preseason game in early August. But for the first time in a generation, we have no idea what the Packers offense is going to be like this season, and this will be our first glimpse.

I’ve always loved a good mystery.

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Photo credit: Samantha Madar/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis

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