Packers-Titans: Five things to watch
The teams: The Green Bay Packers (0-0) vs. the Tennessee Titans (0-0).
The time: 7 p.m. CDT Saturday.
The place: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.
The TV coverage: WTMJ (Ch. 4) in Milwaukee, WGBA (Ch. 26) in Green Bay and WKOW (Ch. 27) in Madison.
The announcers: Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon, with Rod Burks reporting from the sidelines.
The injury report:
Packers – Seven players did not make the trip for the Packers. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee); tackle/guard Don Barclay (knee); safety Morgan Burnett (oblique); tight end Colt Lyerla (knee) and safety Tanner Miller (ankle), all of whom have suffered injuries during training camp, plus defensive end Jerel Worthy (back) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (hamstring), who are on the non-football injury list.
Titans – Defensive linemen Mike Martin (hamstring) and Antonio Johnson (knee) aren’t expected to play.
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
To show, or not to show: With all kinds of new-fangled ideas defensively – perhaps you’ve heard coach Mike McCarthy’s variation on the old Miller Lite TV commercials – “less scheme, more personnel groups” – the Packers must decide whether to trot out some of those personnel groups and experiment with them in a game environment, or keep them under wraps until the Sept. 4 regular-season opener at Seattle.
When defensive coordinator Dom Capers arrived in 2009, the Packers threw everything but the kitchen sink at opponents in the first few preseason games, feeling the need to test out the new scheme. That’s not the case now, so don’t look for a lot of excitement coming from that side of the ball – and don’t get downtrodden if McCarthy’s “Big Letters” promise of improvement is delivered upon in the first exhibition game.
“Most people don’t show what they’re going to show against Seattle,” McCarthy said. “We have been practicing inside and doing some things. What we plan on doing for Seattle is nothing we’ve been practicing on outside and frankly we probably won’t show it the first four weeks of preseason.”
Curiously, though, so far in camp it’s been the No. 1 offense, not the No. 1 defense, getting work inside the Don Hutson Center, away from the prying eyes of reporters and railbirds.
In fact, in preparation for new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, Capers went back and watched the Packers’ 2009 preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, whose coach at the time was – you guessed it – Whisenhunt. And it reminded Capers just how different that preseason was.
“We blitzed a lot, and that was by design. We wanted to put an aggressive attitude,” Capers recalled on Friday. “But I’ll say this, as we got closer to the regular season we backed off. We did not blitz one time in the finale against Tennessee.
“We showed a lot [against the Cardinals that year], but there was a lot of defense [and scheme]. We did so many things that if we were playing a regular season game you’d never have that many things on your ready list.”
Clay and Julius down by the school yard: While they may hold back plenty from a scheme standpoint, one thing the Packers won’t do is withhold veteran defensive stars Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, who’ll be on the field for the first time together. While a safe bet would be that they’ll both play on the opening defensive series and then call it a night, Capers made it clear that both will play.
“You’ll see Clay and Julius. We don’t know the definite amount of reps yet, but you’ll see Clay and Julius out there together,” Capers said. “We’re excited about having Clay back. I mean, he missed quite a bit of time last year.”
That Matthews did, thanks to a twice-broken thumb that required two different style surgeries and cost him six-plus games, the most time he’s missed in his five-year NFL career. While Matthews said the thumb is not yet 100 percent, it is getting there – much like he believes the defense is.
“It’s a good first test to see what we have in place and what we need to correct. There will be some good, there will be some bad, but ultimately there will be a lot to correct upon,” Matthews said. “For myself personally, just getting back out there, getting back into the swing of things [is valuable]. I’m sure the same will go for myself and continue to improve through the preseason in hopes that in Week 1, we’ll come out firing.”
Quarterback quandary: A year ago, the Packers were so disenfranchised with backup quarterbacks Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman that they went out and signed Vince Young, who turned out to not me the answer either. Now, they have the opposite problem: Two viable options for the No. 2 quarterback job in Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, both of whom started games last year while Aaron Rodgers was sidelined. With Rodgers expected to play only one series, Flynn, Tolzien and rookie fourth-stringer Chase Rettig are all slated to play.
“It’s good, they’re both performing well. They’ve gotten about the same amount of reps, and the games will be important for both,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of Tolzien and Flynn. “Everyone’s going to play. Chase will play as well, especially in this first game.”
Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said the most equitable way to evaluate Flynn and Tolzien would be for them to take game-by-game turns as the first quarterback off the bench. Flynn presumably will get the chance against the Titans.
“I think that’d be fair if we’re evaluating both guys,” Van Pelt said.
For Flynn, who went 2-2-1 in the five games he played last season, he’s proven he can win as a backup. Now, he has to remind the coaches of that.
“I’ve got to prove that I can still get the job done. I’ve got to prove that I deserve to be on this team,” Flynn said. “You all have been out at practice. There’s a lot of talent out there at every position. I’ve got to prove my worth on this team, and make sure he coaches have faith in me.”
Tight spot: Two weeks into training camp, there’s still no position on the roster more wide open than tight end, where Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers have all received the first snap of 11-on-11 periods with the No. 1 offense. Although Lyerla’s injury hurts his cause, and holdovers Jake Stoneburner and Ryan Taylor are more likely to be special-teams contributors than front-line players.
That means Quarless, Bostick and Rodgers will require extended preseason looks to prove themselves.
“That one guy would emerge from this group to really take the role of Jermichael Finley? I couldn’t say that that’s going to happen, I couldn’t say that that’s not going to happen. At this point, we’re still kind of kicking the tires to see what we have,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “I think it’s kind of early to be assigning guys roles at this point. I mean, we’re exposing them to as much as we can, every possible situation – every possible blocking assignment, every possible pass-route assignment, every possible pass-protection assignment to find out where they are. Because again, you want all of your guys to be able to fulfill whatever roles they are fulfilling. We’ve all just kind of got our hands in the clay right now and molding.”
Up above, down below: Rodgers wasn’t sure if it was official at the time, but it is: Offensive coordinator Tom Clements is moving up to the coaches’ box, while Van Pelt will be on the sideline. That’ll be a first for Rodgers, who has always had Clements on the sideline as the starter, even after offensive coordinator Joe Philbin left after the 2011 season to become the Miami Dolphins’ head coach and Clements was promoted from quarterbacks coach to replace him.
“Tom has been a great supporter, a great ally, a great teacher for so many years,” Rodgers said. “It will be a different role. But I’m sure that Alex and I and the quarterbacks would kind of look at the pictures together, talk about them and kind of make the adjustments.”
The thought process the past two seasons had been that quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, having never coached quarterbacks before, made more sense to keep in the box while leaving Clements on the sideline. Now, with Van Pelt having coached quarterbacks and worked both on the sideline and in the box in previous coaching stops, McCarthy can go back to his preferred setup. It’ll be interesting to see what effect, if any, it has on Rodgers once the games start to count.
“If you’re looking for a core belief on how you administer your offensive coaches on game day, the quarterback coach historically has sat with the quarterback on game day,” McCarthy explained. “Now, when Tom made the change from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator based on the experiences of the other coaches, we kept Tom on the field. So, we’ve had a change, Alex Van Pelt is now the quarterback coach, and really the dynamics really [among] Alex and Tom and myself, and obviously the quarterback group, particularly Aaron, we felt this was the best way to go.”
– Jason Wilde
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