Thursday, September 2, 2010

Guys With Everything to Prove Tonight

Face it, tonight's game against the Chiefs is about as anticlimactic as NFL games get.  You're excited for the first preseason game, simply because it is the first game since January.  The second game is pretty good, first team gets some work, and of course, the third game is the best game as the starters get to play into the third quarter.

But that last game is a sideline-watching game for the guys whose roster spots are set, leaving the no-names to battle for the last roster spots, guys who will be mostly special teamers or on the inactive list each week.  We sit to watch them stumble through an exhibition game that ends up usually being a yawner.

After spending a spirited hour with Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette last night on Cheesehead Radio, we found a lot of guys for whom this isn't just a boring game...tonight could be the difference between a roster spot and the practice squad, or the difference between the practice squad and being unemployed.

Graham Harrell:  The Packers' third string quarterback has long been presumed to be on the practice squad;  after all, the Packers only need two quarterbacks on the roster.  But, we've seemed to accept the "rule" that you only need two quarterbacks, while most NFL teams continue to stock three.  Matt Flynn's shaky start to the preseason has leveled off, and it seems likely that the Packers feel set with those two again.

But Kareem has mentioned that Harrell has been perhaps one of the most improved players in camp this training camp.  Like most third-stringers, he's gone from desperately managing the team, going to check-down after check-down, to throwing with more confidence in the middle of the field and starting to make some plays.  And, it's not like he's an unknown:  he's a record-setter at Texas Tech and as intriguing a project quarterback as anyone else in the league.

Harrell's going to get some serious playing time tonight.  If he has a so-so performance, it's pretty much a done deal that he will end up on the PS.  But, if he ends up impressing and taking command of the QB position while he is out there, the Packers may be forced to face that Harrell will not last long on the practice squad, especially with the number of scouts that have been at our games.  It will depend on how enamored the Packers are with keeping him, but there are many NFL teams that are going to be unimpressed with the progress of their third quarterback after tomorrow, and if all Harrell is doing is improving, he will be targeted sooner or later.

Kregg Lumpkin:  There's a reason the Packers were trying out John Kuhn at running back the past few weeks, and it wasn't just because of injuries.  McCarthy loves saving a roster spot by having guys multi-task (see:  Spencer Havner) and Lumpkin has hung around for years and simply not shown that much improvement in his game.  I remember when he first got carries in the preseason a few years ago and everyone went ga-ga over him, but those days are a distant memory.

With Porter on the IR, and Starks on the PUP, it seems cut-and-dry the Packers will keep Grant/Jackson/Lumpkin, but Kregg needs to earn it tonight.  In just the opposite scenario as Harrell, if the Packers are not impressed with Lumpkin, the chances increase that they will be scouting the final waiver wires of other teams for a more promising third running back.  Lumpkin may be playing for his roster spot tonight.

Quinn Johnson:  Depending on who you talk to, Johnson is either already a shoo-in or he's trade bait for a team with a more conventional running game.  Johnson has demonstrated his run block ability, but the Packers don't always run a power or I-formation, limiting the number of downs you need a guy like Johnson for pure blocking.  And, his knocks - catching the ball out of the backfield and special teams play - have improved, but enough to justify keeping him on the roster?

The Packers were giving Johnson a lot of reps this week in practice, a good sign that John Kuhn will be sitting down early and Johnson will be given extended time to show that he's not a liability in the passing game.  More importantly, watch Johnson in lateral blocking...when he has to move and seal blocks to the side instead of just plunging into the line and bending a linebacker over backwards.  If he is able to catch the balls thrown at him and continue to open up the running game in a more ZBS-oriented run style, Johnson may seal his roster spot.  If not, he might be on the chopping block (or the trade block).

Jason Chery:  No one on this team has more to gain or lose than this kid tonight.  A week ago, he had no chance of making the roster.  Tonight, he will be given all of the kick and punt returns in order to see if he can repeat the lightning in a bottle he conjured up last week.  Think about it.  The pressure on this kid is going to be intense.  Everyone wants to see if he can run another one back, yet if he drops just one punt of kickoff, he's sealed his doom.  And, even worse, he's now had a chance to be coached by Shawn Slocum for a week, which will only make it worse.

Personally, Chery seems very excitable and nervous.  I think he can make the roster with some decent runbacks and no drops.  The amount of pressure that will be on him on every single return should be enough to prove that he's mentally tough enough to handle the job, if he makes it through without muffing any.

Tom Crabtree:  Poor kid...shows up for training camp and shows blocking skill that most of the other tight ends don't have, and still may end up being a victim of the numbers game.  Like Quinn Johnson, I believe blocking is an often overlooked skill nowadays, and frankly, Crabtree might have a better shot of making the roster if Johnson isn't on it.

But, right now it looks like Crabtree is headed to the practice squad.  There's too many teams without depth at tight end that would snap up Andrew Quarless if he were on the PS, so the Packers need to protect him on the roster.  But with a solid showing tonight, Crabtree could make that decision a lot harder.  Donald Lee has been the subject of trade rumors among many in the Blogosphere, and if the Packers feel comfortable with Finley/Havner/Quarless, Crabtree might make the team is a sort of H-back if they feel he can combine Johnson's blocking with Hall's receiving skills.

But, Crabtree is going to have to play the game of his life to get that kind of consideration.  And it's too bad, because he could be the third tight end on a lot of other NFL teams.  The Packers, quite simply, have too many decent guys at the spot.

Breno Giacomini:  The Packers have been enamored with this guy since he was drafted, and love his height.  But his debacles against the Brown and the Seahawks have all but doomed him.  Yet, you still get the feeling that if he showed just a little spark, the Packers would want to keep him around on potential alone.

A towering 6'8", I have to imagine it is difficult for Breno to gain leverage when the goal of blocking is to be the lowest guy, but his sheer power has to be considered if he shows any improvement in getting his body into the right place quickly enough and has the awareness to make the right blocks.    With Jason Spitz allowing the Packers to entertain trade offers, there may be room on the roster for Giacomini if he demonstrates the love he's gotten from the organization the past few years is worth the wait.

Justin Harrell and Jarius Wynn:  These two guys will likely make the roster based on one factor:  default.  Neither have really done much this preseason to separate themselves from the rest of the camp bodies, but the fact they've been around and the "you can never have too many defensive linemen" means they probably make the final roster.

However, as Kareem said last night, defensive end is likely one of the primary positions the Packers will be looking to sign from the castoffs of other teams, so these two are not just competing against CJ Wilson and Mike Neal, but against other DL's throughout the league.  With such a lack of depth at the position, you might have to guess that another NFL team is going to cut or try to stash away a guy who's shown more than these two.  If they sign one DE, one of these two are going to have to go, and tonight will likely dictate which one that will be.  Harrell has been a great story this training camp and has a ton of people in his corner, but the level of frustration if he can't produce tonight could reach a boiling point for everyone else.

Pat Lee:  Of all the DB's on the roster, Lee may be the guy in the most danger.  There's a lot of shuffling going on at DB...with both Harris and Bigby going on the PUP list, not only are there two more roster spots open, but the Packers may consider keeping another player than they would have simply because of depth and so many of these players, like Lee, have been so inconsistent. 

Brandon Underwood was abused last week, but has shown enough previously to keep a roster spot.  Sam Shields should make the team, and special teams mavens Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush will likely survive another camp, at least until Harris and Bigby return.  Adding in the four starters, Charlie Peprah, and Tramon Williams, that is already 9 DB's.  Lee might benefit if Jason Chery bombs out and Williams is considered primarily as a returner. 

But Lee needs to justify his second-round status in the draft two years ago.  When undrafted free agents like Shields are showing you up, it's time to put up or shut up.

Chris Bryan:  While many of us have given Tim Masthay the job after his nice punt last week and reports of his booming punts in practice, Kareem warned us last night not to assume anything.  Bryan has been very consistent and his unorthodox punting style is intriguing.   

Bryan may consider this is final exhibition to prove himself, but even McCarthy has intoned that he thinks both players are NFL-ready and both may be kicking in the league this year.  Bryan is going to want to go out and make it a good dress rehearsal for both the Packers and anyone else looking for a punter.

As Kareem said, Bryan will have to punt the game of his life tomorrow, but if he does, the Packers will have to review a lot of tape.  And remember, these two have been kicking in Green Bay since March...the Packers know more about these two than a couple of days worth of kicks.


Jersey Al said...

"he's now had a chance to be coached by Shawn Slocum for a week, which will only make it worse."


John Rehor said...

I hope that Justin Harrell plays well enough to earn a roster spot and contribute TY. He'll never live up to the 1st round selection, but if he can show the fight to come back from his injuries would be a nice story. Nice doesn't win games, but it would serve to show his dedication to his career.

I know I'll catch heat for this, but for all the grief he's caught for 3 years, maybe he can drop the Bustin' Justin moniker, at least for a little while.

BigSnakeMan said...

I previously thought that Quinn Johnson was an unnecessary luxury that they couldn't afford. But the more I see Kuhn running the ball, I think they'd be better off keeping all 3 FBs and going with only Grant & Jackson at tailback.