NFL Nation: Three things: Packers at Chargers

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 following are three things to watch for during the San Diego Chargers home game against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. The game will be telecast on ESPN. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.

1. Offensive line: This unit is vital to San Diego’s hopes. Injuries made a mess of the line last year, though it improved down the stretch. The 2011 season showed San Diego that it needed better depth on the line, and the team thinks that was accomplished during the offseason -- making this an important night for the entire unit.

2. Defense has to get off the field: A major point of emphasis during Chargers camp has been third-down defense. And for good reason: San Diego was the worst in the NFL on third down last season, allowing opposing offenses to score a first down on 49.2 percent of all third-down situations. That was the worst mark in the NFL in 16 years. We will see if the first two weeks of the John Pagano regime on defense have helped in this crucial area.

3. The rookies: The Chargers are thrilled about their rookie class, particularly first-round pick Melvin Ingram (pass-rusher), second-round pick Kendall Reyes (defensive end) and third-round pick Brandon Taylor (safety). The group has been terrific in camp; let’s see how the players react in a game environment. The team is counting on Ingram and Reyes to play a lot this season, so this will be a good first test.

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