Ahhh, the sweet smell of football is finally in the air. We get to watch something resembling actual professional pigskin tonight! Be happy people! Here are four things to look for. 1. Running back roulette
De facto starter Eddie Lacy likely will not play, and if he does, he may be limited by a tender hamstring that's been bothering him this week. Enter Alex Green and James Starks. These two gentlemen may be fighting for a single roster spot, and tonight will be the first big step in that battle. Green's been slowed a bit by his knee (again!) this week, but he should be good to go tonight. Will one of them seize this first opportunity?
2. The multi-talented Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten
The Packers have 15 linemen on the roster, but only nine of them will likely be fully available for tonight's game. That means some guys will have to pull double duty. Or perhaps even triple duty. Enter Don Barclay, the Packers' uniquely talented second year lineman. An undrafted savior at right tackle last year, Barclay has played guard, center, and tackle in training camp so far this year. Keep an eye out for number 67 along the offensive line tonight. He may be popping up just about anywhere.
The same goes for Greg Van Roten, who has gotten extra reps at center now that Barclay has been working more extensively at right tackle.
3. Who can cover?
Defensive backs coach Joe Whitt has gone on record saying he has nine cornerbacks capable of making an NFL roster. If that's true, Ted Thompson has some tough decisions to make in the near future. We'll start to get a glimpse of who can play and who can't tonight, but keep an eye out for two guys. First, Brandon Smith, who I mentioned yesterday as a potential rising prospect, and second, Micah Hyde, who may just be this year's Casey Hayward. These two guys couldn't be more different in style of play. Smith is big and strong and fast and relies on athleticism to make plays. Hyde is small and slow and has to rely on technique and a keen sense of knowing where to be at the right time.
4. Are you special?
The term "roster churn" gets thrown around frequently this time of year, and it refers to the annual turnover at the bottom of a team's roster. Think of a roster like a descending list. At the top (your number one and number two guys, etc.) there will be very little change from year to year. Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews just aren't going to get cut, because they're indispensable parts of the team. But at the bottom (spots 40ish to 53), teams will constantly be cutting one guy and plugging in another, in hopes of finding that tiny edge that might make a difference.
That difference usually comes down to special teams. If you're a back up, you better be able to contribute on kick coverage or punt return or be just be really great at flying down the field with little regard for your own body to make a tackle. Nine times out of ten, deciding those final roster spots will come down to special teams contributions, so keeping an eye on who's on the field during special teams play is always a good idea during preseason games.