Game Day: Packers vs. Panthers

Akili Smith

While the starters are expected to play a full half when the Packers take on the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field tonight, the real storyline lies farther down the depth chart.<P>

At the dawn of training camp, quarterback controversies are fun. Compelling storylines are woven while unknowns or has-beens hope that they are in the right place at the right time.

The Packers have a great QB back-up battle brewing, but now it's late August and the fun is over. The quarterback decision will be painful for the loser, but ironically the winners of this derby won't see a minute of PT unless something even more painful happens to the Pack.

The cast of characters was a study in contrasts. Craig Nall is just getting started, using a successful NFL Europe campaign to catapult into serious consideration. Akili Smith has the most to prove, after the highly-touted QB was a wash in Cincy. Then there's Doug Pederson, the veteran backup who left to serve a stint as a starter in Cleveland before settling back into his comfortable role behind Brett Favre.

Will the 28-year-old Smith (who celebrated a birthday Thursday) ever live up to his potential as the third overall pick in the '99 draft? Is Nall really the QB of the future or is his late-round draft position a better indication of his talent than his NFLEL stardom? Is the security of Pederson worth losing out on the potential of either Nall or Smith?

These are the questions that keep sports talk radio lively and keep general managers awake at night.

Through three contests, Smith has posted adequate numbers, but will they add up enough to stick with the team? He is 12-of-17 for 106 yards and a 71 percent completion percentage and a 82.0 QB rating. He's thrown one interception - compared with a pair for both his competitors - along with one touchdown.

While those numbers are better than Nall's (25-of-25, 162 yards no touchdowns and two picks for a 45.8 QB rating), Nall may have the inside track for the No. 3 spot.

Neither Nall nor Smith appears to have made a bold move to unseat Pederson for the No. 2 role Pederson is 14-of-27 for 102 yards, no TDs and two INTs for a 30.2 rating). Yet between those lines is the fact that Pederson has the valuable experience at the helm and is a total insider in this offense.

The first half will reveal whether the starters are making necessary progress toward the start of the regular season just 15 days away. Meanwhile, tune in for the second half to see who will be around when opening day finally arrives.

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