Time to put the 2017 preseason to bed.
The Los Angeles Rams are facing off against the Green Bay Packers in the final game of the preseason in which we’ll likely see not a single starter from the Rams’ regular season Week 1 contest against the Indianapolis Colts. We might not even see much of the primary backups at this point either due to injury concerns or to give more time to the candidates either at the bottom of the projected 53-man roster or just outside of it.
Make no mistake. Tonight is one giant audition.
To get a better understanding of how the audition might go and who to pay attention to, I linked up with Jason Hirschhorn from Acme Packing Company, the SB Nation community for Packers fans.
1.) The Packers went heavy on the defensive side of the ball in the early rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. How have the returns from their draft haul looked?
At least thus far, the Packers' defensive rookies have not made a major dent overall in the depth charts. Kevin King, the team's de facto first-round selection, remains behind Davon House, Quinten Rollins, and Damarious Randall at cornerback. King's athleticism has manifested at times during training camp and the preseason, but his lapses in coverage have kept him from earning a more significant role. Second-round pick Josh Jones has made a little more progress, finding playing time as an off-ball linebacker in the team's "nitro" look. Still, Jones has yet to become a regular in other defensive packages.
And despite their slow starts, both King and Jones remain miles ahead of Montravius Adams and Vince Biegel, both of which have dealt with injuries. Biegel seems closer to returning, but his lack of practice and live exposure should limit his impact as a rookie.
2.) What about UDFAs - any surprise standouts to this point in the preseason?
The Packers generally find a useful undrafted free agent or two each year, and 2017 seems to be no exception. Former Marshall wideout Michael Clark has adjusted well to the NFL game, and his 6-foot-6 frame could land him a job in Green Bay or elsewhere should the team try to sneak him onto the practice squad. Cornerback Lenzy Pipkins has looked like the strongest of the undrafted free agents on defense. He seems less likely to remain on the active roster, but he should have a spot on the practice squad if no other team claims him during final cuts. Both should received significant playing time on Saturday.
3.) What should Rams fans expect from the Packers in terms of play calling or personnel or game planning?
The Packers probably won't utilize much of their playbook on offense, but the defense could show some interesting looks. The aforementioned Nitro package -- two defensive linemen, five traditional defensive backs, and a safety taking the place of an off-ball linebacker -- should make a few appearances. Several of the team's safeties have played the hybrid linebacker spot in that package, and more could find time there against the Rams.
4.) What have you learned about the 2017 Packers from the season? Anything concrete?
The depth behind the Packers' starting offensive linemen looks extremely shaky. As of now, the team lacks a clear-cut No. 6 lineman at any of the five positions.
5.) In the seven seasons since 2010, the Packers have finished with seven winning records and made the playoffs every year. We did this in 2013. And in 2014. And in 2015. Is it same as it ever was for the team this year? Is there any difference in expectations or approach? Is there any concern that Aaron Rodgers or Mike McCarthy are on the decline in any way?
Both then and now, the Packers have performed like one of the NFL's elite teams and a perennial title contender. As such, the Super Bowl remains a realistic goal so long as the team's main catalysts stay healthy. At some point in the future, Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy will experience some level of decline, but that time doesn't appear near. Rodgers finished the 2016 regular season hotter than any player in the league, and McCarthy led Green Bay to six straight wins to close out the regular season and pushed the team into the NFC title game. In an NFC that features no obvious favorite, the Packers have as good a chance as any to represent the conference.
Thanks to Jason for the time.