The Packers are wrapping up Pre-Season number 8 under Head Coach MIke McCarthy, two full seasons removed from his Super Bowl title, knowing full well the window of opportunity with a quarterback in his prime can't stay open forever. His charge after the final dress rehearsal against the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium is to settle on a 53 man roster capable of making a run to the Meadowlands in January. The Chiefs on the other hand are starting brand new with a couple of former Packer employees running the show. One time tight ends and QB coach Andy Reid was hired first as head coach and then John Dorsey was plucked away from Ted Thompson's tree to become Kansas City's General Manager. They swung a big deal to get Alex Smith at quarterback, focused on defense in the draft and hope to start building a contender together.
No one should really care what the final score of the game turns out to be, the personnel decisions are far more important. Both Dorsey and his mentor, Thompson, will want to see their collection of roster hopefuls do their best to earn a job. That being said, if you would rather catch a movie Thursday night, here's a couple of title suggestions that will double as my five things to watch when the Packers meet the Chiefs.
This one stars the linebackers. Beyond the starting four, Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones and Nick Perry, things get very complicated. Throughout camp, the quiet one, Robert Francois has been running inside with the second team, returning veterans Jamari Lattimore and Terrell Manning have split the other snaps. I still consider Mike Neal a defensive end but he's gotten plenty of reps on the outside. Could last year's free agent outside backer Dezmon Moses get pushed aside by this year's free agent Andy Mulumba? Could Nate Palmer parlay last week's sack with another and get into the mix? Don't forget the special teams. If you haven't noticed, 7th rounder Sam Barrington is on several starting cover and return teams, a pretty good sign the team likes him. Donte Savage made it through the first cut but will he survive a second? They can't keep all 12. Maybe Alec Baldwin can figure it out.
The Man Who Knew Too Little
In the starring role here is Vince Young. It took only two weeks working the most rudimentary play book for the team to realize the veteran who hasn't taken a significant snap since 2010 was better than Graham Harrell, a player the Packers invested three years trying to develop. Infatuated by his athleticism, comforted by his 47 starts of experience, the Packers will place the man who knew too little of the McCarthy system into a position of being one play away from running the show. B.J. Coleman was given lip service this week, being told the number two job is still open, but don't kid yourself. Coleman will be the understudy to the understudy this fall. I'll be watching with great interest how both these quarterbacks will function against the Chiefs.
If you look closely, three of the remaining running backs, along with dearly departed DuJuan Harris, have dreads sticking out the back of their helmets that would give Jamaican bobsledders a cool run for their money. Eddie Lacy, Alex Green and fullback Jonathan Amosa sport the long locks while James Starks and Johnathan Franklin are cleaner cut. John Kuhn just has a scruffy beard. The pecking order should be settled after the Kansas City game. My hunch is it will be Lacy, Starks, Green and Franklin in that order at running back, Kuhn is in front of Amosa at fullback. But will the team keep all six? Unlikely, meaning Amosa could be the odd man out, mahn.
The defensive line appears pretty well set. B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson, number one pick Datone Jones, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels will all find work. That leaves the 951 pounds of Johnny Jolly, Jordan Miller and Josh Boyd to battle for the final spot. There's something to like about all three. Miller is a first year player from Southern who recorded a sack against Seattle last week. He's worked hard and been on the practice field nearly every day in camp. Boyd is a fifth round pick who has anchored the end in base defense and has shown some push as an insider rusher in sub-packages. There's a chance he could sneak back to the team after clearing waivers on the final cut and return to the practice squad. Then there's Johnny, who's only days away from completing one very sentimental journey home. From where he was with the Pack at the end of 2010, to where he went while wired on codeine in Houston, to where he is today, a remarkable trip. The fans are behind him and I think he's found a place on this roster.
Something's Gotta Give
Jack was the movie's protagonist, Jermichael's the lead on the team at tight end. Beyond Finley though, it can go any number of ways. Throughout camp D.J. Williams has been number two and he talked all summer about this year he's really serious about his football. It hasn't translated to better play. Ryan Taylor is a returning veteran who still makes more of an impact on special teams than he does in the offense. Andrew Quarless has gotten past the knee surgery, but a quad injury slowed him again this month, will he ever be right? Brandon Bostick came off a year with the practice squad to show considerable improvement, enough that there were reports other teams were calling Ted Thompson about him. Matthew Mulligan was set back with an arm injury but the five year veteran knows how to play and better yet, knows how to block. The Packers have scored only two touchdowns this pre-season and free agent rookie Jake Stoneburner has one of them. Mike McCarthy kept five tight ends one year, but seven? Something's gotta give. There will be a surprising veteran's name on the cut list from this position group on Saturday.
Come back Thursday night for my post analyzing the performance at Arrowhead, a Packers-Chiefs movie review if you will. Enjoy the show!