Clock Ticking For Roster Battles

With two games in the books, here is how things stand entering the final two weeks of training camp.

It’s crunch time.

There are only six practices and two preseason games remaining for the Green Bay Packers to settle their remaining roster battles.

Here is how things are shaping up with time running out.

Quarterbacks: Will Scott Tolzien or Matt Flynn emerge as the No. 2 quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers? Tolzien has had the statistically superior preseason but Flynn has put points on the scoreboard. With both quarterbacks getting eight possessions, Flynn has led the offense to two touchdown and a field goal while Tolzien has led one touchdown drive. It’s not unlike last season. Tolzien showed the better physical tools but Flynn delivered points and victories.

Will this battle be decided at the finish line?

“I would think that would be the fair way to do it,” quarterbacks coach Ale Van Pelt said.

Running backs: Right when it looked like DuJuan Harris was about ready to run away and hide with the No. 3 position on the depth chart, he had a costly fumble against the Rams. Meanwhile, Michael Hill had a 27-yard reception and a 9-yard run and Ladarius Perkins, with his stop-and-go style, had a 14-yard run and 10-yard reception. Harris remains the leader but Hill, Perkins and Rajion Neal (who missed the game with a knee injury sustained during a strong showing at Tennessee) remain in the hunt.

Wide receiver: In just one week, seventh-round rookie Jeff Janis has put himself in prime position to be the team’s fifth receiver. At this point, would the Packers be able to stash him on the practice squad? With athleticism that made him one of the top receivers in this year’s draft from a size-speed perspective, all he does is make one eye-opening play every day. Not only did he have his 34-yard touchdown, but he fielded the ball cleanly on punts. Now, the challenge is make more than one play per day. Still, the rest of the receivers continue to drop the ball — sometimes literally, in the case of Kevin Dorsey and Myles White on Saturday.

“I think the most important part is the consistency — not only on offense but in other areas where they’re contributing, like special teams,” receivers coach Edgar Bennett said last week.

Tight ends: It was telling that rookie Richard Rodgers played the entire opening series. He had a key block on the touchdown drive but wasn’t targeted in the passing game. Brandon Bostick showing tremendous quickness off the ball, caught one pass for 9 yards before exiting with a knee injury. Andrew Quarless had a team-high four reception but also had a drop and pass interference penalty. At this point, the depth chart remains muddled. Will Rodgers or Bostick be the primary tight end? Will Quarless have a key role or will he not even make the team?

Offensive line: So much for the battle at center. J.C. Tretter, facing much better competition than last week at Tennessee, turned in another quality performance. Who rounds out the depth chart? Derek Sherrod struggled at tackle, especially early in the game, and rookie center Corey Linsley was penalized twice. On the bright side, second-year guard Lane Taylor turned in another quality outing. Nobody else on the depth chart has impressed consistently enough to merit a roster spot.

Defensive line: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Josh Boyd form a solid four-man rotation. The depth, however, remains a question mark. Could Mike Pennel, an undrafted rookie with a troublesome background, actually earn a roster spot? Is it too late for veteran Letroy Guion?

“He’s a tough, strong kid inside,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said of Pennel. “He’s got some things to work on. He’s getting a lot of reps with Letroy’s situation. That’s benefitting him. He continues to work hard.”

Outside linebacker: General manager Ted Thompson faces some incredibly tough decisions at the team’s deepest position. Mike Neal and Nick Perry, who both played well at St. Louis, will be the top backups. Who rounds out the depth chart and how many can Thompson keep on the roster? Andy Mulumba showed his run-stopping prowess against the Rams. Nate Palmer, a much better run defender than he was last season, is a No. 1 on the kickoff and punt units. Carl Bradford, a fourth-round pick, probably isn’t going anywhere; he had a nice pressure late vs. the Rams, as well. All Jayrone Elliott did was record three sacks in a span of four plays to highlight a surprising training camp.

Inside linebacker: There might not be a lot on the line, unless undrafted rookie Joe Thomas returns from a knee injury and starts making some noise. A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones will start and Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington ill be the backups. All four have had strong camps.

Cornerbacks: Throughout training camp, position coach Joe Whitt has used Tramon Williams and Sam Shields as his No. 1 corners and Casey Hayward and Davon House as his No. 2 tandem. Hayward has been the nickel. The only real changes have been in dime, with House, Hayward, Jarrett Bush and safety Micah Hyde rotating in with Williams and Shields in the four-corner package. Changes might be coming, though, to heighten the competition.

“The best ones are going to be out there,” Whitt said a couple days before the game. “We’re going to give those four guys the opportunity and JB’s (Bush) making a push to be in the opportunity, too, so that makes five. But we’ve been going with status quo with how we did it in OTAs and the rotation that you see is going to stay the same until after this game, and then you might see a different one. I’m going to let those guys decide by their play who’s going to be the ones out there and I told them if I have to make the decision, I’m going to go with the guys that I have history with, so they better do what they have to do to change it.”

Bush will be the fifth corner; is there room for Jumal Rolle to make it as the sixth corner?

“He has a skill-set that I like and he should be a guy that should be able to get the ball – zone-aware guy — so I’m pleased with him and it’s about time that he started to come on,” Whitt said. “He wasn’t where I wanted him early on but he’s starting to get there.”

Safety: Is Morgan Burnett on thin ice in the starting lineup? It’s hard to imagine, because it’s not as if first-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix has set the world on fire. Not that he has been bad; he just hasn’t been great. So, at this point, it’s likely nothing has changed: Burnett and Hyde will start, with Hyde playing the dime to give Clinton-Dix some playing time on third down. Chris Banjo seems like a good bet to join Sean Richardson in a five-man depth chart.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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