After losing 17-0 in their preseason opener against Arizona last week, the Green Bay Packers play their second preseason game tonight at St. Louis.
Here are five things to watch:
1. Vince Young: General manager Ted Thompson more or less admitted this week that he wished he had signed the quarterback in March or April. “Oh, I suppose,” Thompson said, “but we don’t really lament certain things.” By waiting until a week into training camp to bring in the former first-round draft pick who had been out of football for 11 months, the coaches had to decide where to focus their efforts with Young – on teaching him their fundamentals or their playbook. They decided the latter was more important, so they haven’t asked him to make major changes to his footwork or throwing motion. Yet they were impressed by Young in the preseason opener when he lined up in the shotgun and set his feet the way they teach Aaron Rodgers to do it, which is different than what Young previously used. It’s a small thing, but the coaches took it as a sign of how much Young is capable of learning. After another disappointing performance against the Cardinals by last year’s backup, Graham Harrell, the Packers appear willing to give Young every chance to win the job. At some point before the preseason ends, coach Mike McCarthy would like to see Young play with the starters, but he won’t tonight. Look for him to start throwing the ball down the field a little more. He did that more in practice last week after settling for mostly short throws and scrambles in two series against Arizona.
2. Secondary showings: Cornerback Davon House described his play against the Cardinals as “hands down” the worst game of his life, and safety Jerron McMillian wasn’t much better. Both will need to perform better in order to secure playing time. The Packers had hoped House could be an adequate fill-in while starter Tramon Williams (knee) and nickel corner Casey Hayward (hamstring) are sidelined, but so far rookie Micah Hyde looks better suited to handle one of those roles. Meanwhile, McMillian hasn’t been able to push M.D. Jennings for the starting safety spot next to Morgan Burnett. “Regardless of who ends up being the starting safety alongside Morgan Burnett, with as much nickel and sub defense that we play, Jerron’s been our dime [sixth defensive back],” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “All of those guys will play. It’s just a matter of who distinguishes himself the most and who performs the best these next few weeks.” Rookie Chris Banjo, a safety signed after camp started, might get some additional playing after a strong week of practice.
3. Kicking game: Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the preseason opener was the lack of opportunities for Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio, the two kickers competing for the job. Neither had a field-goal attempt. The Packers need to see where Crosby’s mental state is after his horrific performance in the Aug. 3 scrimmage in which he missed five of eight field-goal tries. Crosby, who made a league-worst 63.6 percent of his field goals last season, kicked well in practice this past week, making 17-of-18. Tavecchio was perfect this week, making all 18 of his kicks, and has shown increased leg strength.
4. Right tackle: Ideally, the offensive-line starters will be settled after tonight’s game and the unit can spend the rest of the preseason developing its chemistry. But for that to happen, either Don Barclay or Marshall Newhouse needs to turn in a performance worthy of ending the competition. Expect them to rotate each series, with Barclay likely to go first. He took the first reps in practice late this week. “I think it’s getting closer,” offensive-line coach James Campen said this week. “I think this week is a big week, and I do think it’s getting closer.”
5. First look at Lacy: Rookie running back Eddie Lacy is expected to make his preseason debut. He missed the opener because of a hamstring injury and was limited in practice this week, but McCarthy said he was hopeful Lacy would be cleared to play against the Rams. Lacy was impressive during the scrimmage, but he hasn’t wrapped up the starting job quite yet. McCarthy said this week he still considers DuJuan Harris to be his starter, although Harris won’t play because he is easing his way back after a knee injury.