Five Things to Look for As Packers Open Pre-Season
The Green Bay Packers will officially open their 2009 season when they take on the Cleveland Browns tonight at Lambeau Field. There have been many headlines this offseason as the team looks to build on their six-win season from last year.
After two weeks of training camp, here’s five things to watch for when the Packers hit the field at seven o’clock tonight.
1. What kind of defensive schemes will the Packers throw at the Browns?
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last two or so months, you know the Packers are moving to a 3-4 scheme on defense this season. Led by Dom Capers, the defense will be extremely active and coming from all angles.
In camp, the Packers have used very confusing blitz packages that feature players coming from all sides and at all times. Anything from safety blitzes to corner blitzes to all out blitzes, the Packers are looking to get as far away from their last year’s vanilla defense as possible.
This also means going with different sets in different situations. The defense has been seen in sets with two down lineman and five linebackers and sometimes have gone back to the traditional 4-3.
It will also be interesting to see if Capers shows all his cards during the first pre-season game. Jeremy Thompson, Nick Barnett, Justin Harrell, Clay Matthews III, and B.J. Raji are all expected to sit out the team’s preseason game, so the “first team” defense will not be completely full strength.
First impressions are everything, so it will be important for Capers and the defense to get off on the right foot against Eric Mangini and the Browns.
2. Will the kicking game be any better than what reports from camp have said?
One big issue the Packers had last year that was not addressed in the offseason was the punting situation. Derrick Frost was about as bad of a punter as I have ever seen and Jeremy Kampinos was just average.
This season, Kampinos has squared off against Durant Brooks in hopes that one will come out on top as the Packers punter for week one. Early returns have said neither have done outstanding, and real game situations will tell a lot about who is the front-runner at this point.
As for Mason Crosby, he had a couple awful days in practice that were well documented in the media. Since then, Crosby has been pretty much perfect in practice and kicking 50+ yard field goals with ease.
With no competition against him, we’ll see if Crosby has improved on what he did last year with a stronger, more accurate leg.
3. Will Aaron Kampman transition to the 3-4 defense or look lost at his new position?
Much has been made over Kampman’s move to outside rush linebacker in the new defense, and whether or not he is upset about the switch is stil up in the air.
What is certain is that we will get a good look at new his position tomorrow, and it should be evident whether or not the move was the right one.
On one hand, he could come out firing from the two point stance, pressuring the quarterback, making plays, and most importantly doing well in coverage.
Or, he will look slow and lack the fire that has made him one of the hardest working defensive players in the league.
The front seven for the Packers is pretty much set in stone (once B.J. Raji gets a hold of the defense in practice), but the success of it will hinge on Kampman’s ability to get to the quarterback while still being able to cover in different formations.
4. Which of the three back-up running backs/wide receivers will emerge with a big game?
Starting with the running backs, Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson will see limited time tonight, with Jackson getting a few more reps. What will be even more interesting will be which back takes the lead in the race for the third and final spot on the roster.
Deshawn Wynn has looked fantastic in practice but has struggled to stay healthy, Craigg Lumpkin has also shown great speed and Tyrell Sutton has been a brusier over the last two weeks.
All three backs bring a little something different to the table, so it will be important to see whose game translates the best to what the Packers are looking for.
While the four wide receiver positions have all but been set in stone, the fifth spot is still very much up for grabs. Receivers Jake Allen and Brett Swain are both challenging Ruvell Martin for the last spot on the roster, and might even make the Packers think twice about keeping six WR’s.
Allen has formed good chemistry with the quarterbacks and has shown he is not afraid to go up and get the ball, as seen in practice. Swain entered training camp in excellent condition and early reports say he is ready to prove his game is worthy of a spot on the 53 man roster.
5. Who will become the front-runner for the right tackle position?
Both Breno Giacomini and Allen Barbe have been fighting for the starting right tackle position, and while Barbre is listed as the number one tackle, nothing is set in stone.
Both have seen time with the first team on different occasions and both have done fairly well (in comparison with the underachieving offensive line).
Tomorrow night, both tackles should see significant time on the field and one will come out with the early lead heading into the next three games and on.
Barbre’s quickness and size combine to be exactly what teams look for in their right tackle in the zone blocking scheme, while Giacomini’s frame is a little larger.
Regardless of who wins the battle, the whole offensive line must continue to play better or it will not matter who lines up at right tackle.