As he stared at the 90 names on the big board on the third floor of Lambeau Field last weekend, Mike McCarthy couldn’t take it.
The Green Bay Packers coach knew cuts were looming – to 75 players by 3 p.m. Tuesday and to 53 players by 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31 – and he realized that, like seemingly every year, it won’t be easy. And entering Friday night’s third preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field, entirely too many questions remain unanswered for his liking.
“I really don’t want to sit here and try to pick the team today,” McCarthy replied earlier this week when asked if any of the young wide receiver vying for the fifth (and perhaps sixth) spots on the roster had gotten a leg up. “I started doing that on Sunday a little bit and it’s nerve wracking to me personally.
“We've got to make sure we have enough information on all these players. We don't do lip service to our players – ‘Hey, we're only going to coach the ones we think are going to be here.’ That's not the case. It's very evident from the first day together in the spring, and I feel very confident if you ask each one of the men in that locker room, they feel like they've been given an opportunity.
“Going through the board on Sunday really for the first time (was) to make sure that we're trying to get all these guys opportunities. As you know, we had 17 players miss the first game, 15 miss the second game, so everybody (wasn't) able to play. The third game is really a challenge for a lot of guys to play in. What happens (when) a guy doesn't play in (Friday’s) game? What's going to happen at the 75,? Is he going to get an opportunity in Week 4? That's what I'm trying to avoid.”
As a result, McCarthy suggested on multiple occasions during the week that the game against the Seahawks won’t be the traditional dress rehearsal for the starters the way previous third preseason games have been. With the Sept. 8 regular-season opener at San Francisco 16 days away, McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson not only want their starters to be ready for the 49ers, they also want to make sure the team keeps the right guys as role players and backups.
“You get attached to the guys. They all can’t make it, so it’s a tough time,” Thompson said. “We have different thought processes. No. 1, how do you see the whole thing ending up in terms of the 53? But sometimes we have the thoughts about, how do we play the fourth preseason game? Just substitutions and that sort of thing. You kind of have to work the two.
“I think you always get surprised in training camp and the offseason stuff. Things surprise you. You can kind of look out into the future and think, “This is what’s going to happen, this guy’s going to take over for this guy,’ and it’s sort of fantasy football. And (then) you start playing it for real and it changes. So there are always changes, surprises.”
With that in mind, here’s a subjective look at where the Packers’ roster stands entering Friday night’s game against the Seahawks. Again, the team will have to make 15 roster moves – not necessarily all cuts, as some players can be moved to the in-season physically unable to perform list or injured reserve – by Tuesday afternoon.
In: Aaron Rodgers.
Too close to call: Vince Young, Graham Harrell.
Out: B.J. Coleman.
Things might very well be different had the Packers signed Young in March, when he was working out at the University of Texas’ college pro day, and given him a chance to actually learn their offense and spend time in the world famous Mike McCarthy-Tom Clements-Ben McAdoo Quarterback School, relearning some of the fundamentals the 2006 No. 3 overall pick has let slide. Instead, they waited until Aug. 5, after seven of the eight installations of the offensive playbook had been completely.
“As long as he has snaps, he has a chance,” quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “We’ll learn more on Friday night. We’re going to let it play out on the field. We’re not going to make that decision; the tape’s going to make that decision.”
Asked if he wished the Packers had called sooner, Young replied, “Anybody would wish (that). I’m pretty much used to it. I had the lockout year (in 2011) going into Philly that year and didn’t have an offseason. These type of things happen, so you have to be a professional and learn to go in and put in some extra work so that you can catch up with the guys.”
Truth is, he hasn’t caught up. McCarthy’s remark during the week that Harrell and Coleman elevated their games was telling. While Harrell hasn’t set the world on fire, he was better against the Rams and the guess here is that he’ll ultimately be the choice. That said, the very signing of Young indicated the team’s feeling that it could do better. Coleman is ticketed for another year on the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (4 or 5)
In: Eddie Lacy, DuJuan Harris, Johnathan Franklin, John Kuhn.
Too close to call: James Starks, Alex Green.
Out: Angelo Pease, Jonathan Amosa.
Lacy and Harris will deliver an appealing 1-2 punch if both can stay healthy, and Kuhn was all but guaranteed a roster spot by running backs coach Alex Van Pelt in a conversation on Tuesday. Lacy gives the Packers a talent they haven’t seen since Ahman Green’s prime, but Harris is no slouch. Franklin hasn’t done much to get excited about at this point, but he’s a fourth-round pick, and Thompson’s track record would indicate that the odds of him giving up on such a high pick are virtually nil. Since taking over as GM in 2005, the highest draft picks fail to make the roster coming out of their first training camps were TCU wide receiver Cory Rodgers (fourth round) in 2006 and South Carolina tackle Jamon Meredith (fifth round) in 2009. It’s unfathomable to think Franklin wouldn’t make the roster, especially since Kuhn is in the last year of his contract and the coaches would love nothing more than to have an actual offensive threat as the third-down back and not just a pass protector.
“Johnathan just hasn’t been fortunate enough to get any of those good, clean looks yet,” Van Pelt said of Franklin’s 2.6-yard preseason average. “When they come, you’ll see his explosiveness, his ability to make guys miss.”
Choosing between Starks and Green could come down to which player has trade value. Or, neither could make the roster. Starks looked good early in camp but his fumble in St. Louis got him benched and left him in the depth chart dungeon. If the Packers keep one of them on merit, Green probably gets the nod.
WIDE RECEIVERS (5 or 6)