NFC North: Shannon Eastin

Three items of interest in the Green Bay Packers' preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, to be televised this evening at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN:

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers' safety: You wonder how long the Packers will play the reigning MVP given their situation at left tackle, where starter Marshall Newhouse is sidelined by a concussion. Veteran Herb Taylor, who has made one NFL start and hasn't played in a regular-season game since 2008, is the likely replacement. Rodgers would probably have played a couple of series if Newhouse were on the field. You don't want to play or coach scared, but are preseason reps important enough to have your franchise protected by a journeyman left tackle?

Playmaking process begins: It'll be fun over the next few weeks to see who among the Packers' defensive newcomers proves to be a playmaker. You can only see so much in training camp practices, but it's a fact that some players take it up a notch under the so-called "bright lights." Rookies such as Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward figure to get extensive playing time against the Chargers. Some of their work could come against second- and third-team players, but we'll start to see how they react under pressure of game situations.

Officiating history: Shannon Eastin will serve as the line judge, becoming the first woman to be part of an officiating crew in NFL history. Her achievement will be overshadowed, however, by the ongoing labor dispute between the league and its front-line officials. Eastin wouldn't be in this position without it, and her performance will be heavily scrutinized along with the rest of the league's replacement officials. Privately, NFL coaches and players are hoping for the best, but worried about the worst in a situation that's ideal for no one.
The Green Bay Packers' preseason opener has taken on an added level of significance: As you might have heard, the NFL has confirmed that Shannon Eastin will become the first female member of a game officiating crew Thursday night when the Packers play at the San Diego Chargers.

ESPN will televise the game beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

This is an important moment, and Eastin's assignment will generate relevant discussion on a number of levels. Hopefully there were no barriers for qualified women to reach the top of the football officiating ladder, but if there were, you would hope that Eastin's accomplishment would negate them.

But it's also a reminder that the NFL has locked out its permanent officials and is using replacements for training camp scrimmages and now preseason games. This could significantly impact the way the games are played. We don't have a list of every replacement candidate, but reportedly, most of them have come from the Arena Football League and lower-level college conferences. Eastin, for example, has been a referee for Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference games.

Male or female, these officials face a difficult transition in terms of rules and speed of the game. Their performance will provide leverage to one of the sides in this contract dispute. If they flop, permanent officials would be justified in seeking heftier raises and benefits. If there are no discernable differences in the games -- and remember, preseason games are already sloppy and have little flow -- then the NFL could maintain its stance.

Stay tuned.