In: Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin.
Too close to call: Tyrone Walker, Jeremy Ross, Myles White.
Out: Kevin Dorsey, Alex Gillett, Omarius Hines, Justin Wilson, Charles Johnson.
The top three are set, although Cobb and Nelson had yet to see action in a preseason game entering Friday night. Boykin is a solid No. 4 and the coaches believe he’s headed for bigger things. That leaves one or perhaps two more roster spots. Last year, Boykin forced the Packers to keep a sixth receiver, which they hadn’t done under Thompson, with an impressive camp that saw him lead the team in receiving in preseason games. Entering the third game, none of the competitors has done that. Ross, who seemed headed for the fifth spot a week and a half ago, has been inconsistent catching the ball and has hurt his cause. He’s hardly a sure thing anymore. Walker and White, both undrafted players, have been impressive while Dorsey and Johnson, both seventh-round picks, have been in the training room with injuries. It seems unlikely either player will do enough in the final two weeks to merit anything more than a practice-squad slot.
“Time will tell,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “Again, this Seattle game is an important game for a lot of people. When (a receiver) gets his opportunities, he’s got to make the most of them. I can say that about all our receivers.”
TIGHT ENDS (4 or 5)
In: Jermichael Finley.
Too close to call: Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Matthew Mulligan, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick.
Out: Jake Stoneburner.
What a mess. Quarless, who missed all of last season recovering from a December 2011 knee injury, finally returned to practice after a quadriceps strain. Williams has been inconsistent, having improved as a blocker but having dropped too many passes, including a big one against the Rams. Mulligan is supposed to be a big-time blocker but was just so-so before an elbow injury in St. Louis ended his night after three snaps. Taylor will make his preseason debut after a knee injury on Family Night. And Bostick, a Finley clone without the bravado, has flashed but probably could use another year on the practice squad. Stoneburner’s TD catch was a highlight but was also the first time he did something of note.
“I’d say that these next two games are going to be vital and as much playing time as we can get these guys, as much information as we can get on each and every one of them,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “That’s what we need to do.”
OFFENSIVE LINE (8 or 9)
In: David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse.
Too close to call: Lane Taylor, Greg Van Roten.
Out: Bryan Bulaga, Andrew Datko, Kevin Hughes, Derek Sherrod, JC Tretter, Garth Gerhart, Patrick Lewis.
Even though the coaches have been reluctant to say so definitively, the starting five appears set. Newhouse, a 28-game starter at left tackle the last two years, figures to be the swing tackle. Taylor, an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State, and Van Roten, a practice-squad call-up last year, are good bets but haven’t completely solidified themselves. That would give the group eight linemen, which is actually one more than the seven the team kept coming out of camp last year. But it’s also a realistic possibility that a waiver claim could be made at the final cutdown.
Bulaga (injured reserve) and Tretter (injured reserve or PUP) will make two of the decisions for the club. Sherrod appears headed for the PUP yet again, as he’s yet to make it back onto the practice field after that December 2011 broken leg. Thompson said he believes Sherrod will play this year, and maybe he will – in the second half of the year. Datko, a seventh-round pick a year ago, has improved but not immensely. He could land on the practice squad again.
“When you’re a young guy and you get your opportunity, you’re learning a whole scheme, you understand why things are called and, then, ultimately, if you’re flexible, you’re the first off the bench, let’s go,” offensive line coach James Campen said when asked if versatility will decide the last few spots. “You like to have guys like that that can handle that type of role from a standpoint where you’re not moving three or four guys to accomplish something. So, that helps you.”
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
In: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Datone Jones, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels.
Too close to call: C.J. Wilson, Johnny Jolly, Josh Boyd.
Out: Jerel Worthy, Jordan Miller, Gilbert Peña.
Part of the decision here is whether Neal is even a defensive lineman anymore. If he is truly an outside linebacker, then move him to that group and give Wilson a spot for the fourth straight season. But if Neal is still a lineman, then there would seemingly be only one more spot to be had. Wilson is an unsung run-stuffer like Pickett and seems like a good bet to stick. Then again, with what Jolly did against the Rams, deflecting one pass into a Jarrett Bush interception before intercepting a tipped pass himself later in the game, he’s closing in fast on a roster spot after his three-year layoff. The guess here is that Neal is a linebacker now and listing him as a defensive end, which the Packers do on their official roster, is a misnomer.
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac loves Boyd, a fifth-round pick, but at this point, he’d be making the 53-man roster on potential alone. The best Worthy, who hasn’t practiced after blowing out his knee in the Dec. 30 regular-season finale at Minnesota, can hope for is the PUP list. Miller has improved and has a future, according to Trgovac. The most interesting aspect of the unit is that Raji, Pickett, Neal, Wilson and Jolly will all be free agents in the spring.
LINEBACKERS (8 or 9)