Brian Gutekunst didn’t commit to anyone being safe for the final 53 spots on the Green Bay Packers’ roster this season when addressing the subject after Tuesday’s training camp practice. “Wide open” were the words the Packers general manager used to describe the race for positioning on the depth chart as the preseason rolls into its second week.
Staring down a 6:30 p.m. kickoff at the Baltimore Ravens, the Packers have some positions well figured. Davante Adams is the lead receiver (duh). Aaron Rodgers is the starting quarterback (double duh). A healthy Aaron Jones is expected to take most of the handoffs out of the backfield and could be poised for a breakout season.
But even with Packers first-year head coach Matt LaFleur opting to play his starters for “a quarter or so” Thursday night, the second night under the lights this preseason is more about the on-the-bubble and almost-there players contending for playing time in the regular season.
The opportunity to shine is there for a number of them with injuries gnawing away at the Packers’ depth. Here are five players to keep on eye on during Thursday night’s second preseason matchup:
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The continued development of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown has not worked in Moore’s favor as he seems to be regressing — or stuck in the same place, at the very least. The 2018 fourth-round pick out of Missouri caught two of his three targets in his rookie season but struggled in terms of reliability with a pattern of drops in practice. Two more drops, including one for a touchdown, didn’t help his cause in the preseason opener against the Houston Texans.
It’s do-or-die time for Moore in terms of his career in Green Bay. A conservative receiver list for the 53-man roster doesn’t currently include him in a group of six with Trevor Davis, Allen Lazard and Darrius Shepherd all taking positive steps. If he wants to prevent the Packers from moving on from him, he will need to outshine the rest of his competitors against the Ravens.
No Packer saw more action than Summers during the first preseason game as he made a game-high 10 tackles while playing two-thirds of the defensive snaps. According to the Milwaukee Journal’s Tom Silverstein, Oren Burks said his torn pectoral muscle will not require surgery, but that only keeps the door open for his return this season — not guarantees it.
Either way, someone will need to roam the inside alongside Blake Martinez and chasing his dominant opener with another strong outing would help solidify him as the top option for the Packers in the early parts of the season. Summers was critical of himself following last Thursday’s win over the Texans, so expect him to seem more locked in the follow-up effort.
Summers isn’t alone in trying to capitalize on the opportunity left in the wake of Burks’ injury. Bolton, too, has seen some first-team reps in training camp and, despite being just a one-year starter at Oklahoma, could maneuver his way ahead of Summers on the depth chart after flashing his potential during his 23 snaps last Thursday night.
One of the most important pieces for the Packers in deciding between Summers and Bolton — as well as special teams guy James Crawford — for their other starting inside linebacker will be assessing how each of them complements defensive play-caller Martinez. Displaying skill and instincts for the game are surely compelling factors, but finding a good fit alongside a mainstay piece will be critical to the effectiveness of this season’s defense.
Fingers crossed, Aaron Jones will be running out of the Packers backfield with the starters on Thursday night after experiencing some hamstring tightness and missing several early practices in training camp. But whether he plays, Williams is guaranteed to see more action after taking a team-leading 14 carries for 62 yards against the Texans. He also caught a right-side screen pass from Packers backup quarterback DeShone Kizer for an 18-yard gain.
Seeing more production in the passing game could help him solidify his role as the No. 2 option, as the rookie out of Notre Dame displayed plenty of power-rusher potential in college. Lingering injury concerns with Jamaal Williams give him a leg up on seeing the field, but a one-dimensional approach isn’t going to get the job done in the new offensive scheme. The game-changing upside is there in Williams’ game. He just needs to show he can bring it on a regular basis.
Lane Taylor is listed on the depth chart as the starting left guard, but LaFleur said he played during the preseason opener because he is competing for his starting job, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jim Owczarski. To be clear, he is competing with Jenkins, the second-round pick out of Mississippi State who played 45 snaps Thursday night at various positions along the line. Back in college, he started at left tackle, right tackle, left guard and center for the Bulldogs.
Versatility was one of Jenkins most valued traits coming into the draft, and the Packers rightly need it for the play-action stylings of LaFleur’s new offense. Jenkins proved more than capable in handling the pass rush, but the key with him will be assessing how well he supports the run game. Should he create holes for Williams and other rushers against the Ravens, Jenkins will strengthen his case to become a starter.