“I can play. If it’s up to me, I’ll be on the field,” Cobb said. “But we’re going to be smart about the situation. We know what we’re dealing with, we know what we’ve got going forward. So we’re going to be smart about it.”
Added Nelson: “If we do, it’ll be good; if we don’t then it won’t be a big deal. I don’t think it’s going to matter because if I do play, I don’t think it’s going to be much. I think that little bit of work is not going to make a difference if I get it or not, but we’ll see. If it was a regular-season game and stuff, we definitely could be going. But we’ve still got to be smart and see what happens.”
Wide open: After Cobb, Nelson and James Jones, the Packers entered camp with some decisions to make at wide receiver. The team kept six coming out of training camp last year, and the player that forced them to keep six – second-year wideout Jarrett Boykin – is now solidly at No. 4, according to the guy who’ll be throwing him the football.
“After kind of a slow patch there in the middle of camp, I think really stepped up, especially the last two weeks, and solidified his spot in this locker room,” Rodgers said of Boykin. “And I think you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for the stuff he’s done on special teams as well, from what I hear.”
Without question, Boykin has raised his game, and it goes beyond his six receptions for 63 yards in preseason play. The problem is that the Packers want to keep at least five wideouts, and the next man up isn’t as clear cut. Jeremy Ross, who would seem to be the ideal replacement for Cobb on returns, has been up-and-down as a receiver. Tyrone Walker, an undrafted free agent from Illinois State, started camp like gangbusters but has been quiet lately, although he did have a great catch in Monday’s practice. And Myles White has been the most consistent rookie but hasn’t made a lot of splash plays.
The club already cut three wide receivers – Alex Gillett, Omarius Hines and Justin Wilson – and one of their two seventh-round picks at the position, Kevin Dorsey, was waived/injured in the cutdown to 75 players and won’t be back. That leaves seventh-rounder Charles Johnson to battle Ross, White and Walker for one or perhaps two spots.
“I think there’s a lot of guys with something to prove this week,” Rodgers said. “Obviously Jeremy adds another dimension with what he does on special teams, Tyrone had a real good early start to camp. Johnson (hasn’t) really played a lot of snaps at all with a lot to prove. Myles White has had a consistent camp and done some good things on offense and special teams for us. So I think the reminder you tell a lot of the guys this week is, ‘Just remember you’re playing for all 32 teams, as is the case around here. If you don’t make this roster, there’s usually a lot of teams that are looking to pick up the guys that don’t quite make our team.’”
For Ross, who played better against Seattle on Friday night than he had in the previous two preseason games, showing he can be a viable receiver is secondary to catching the ball cleanly and gaining yardage on returns. He’s averaging 10.5 yards on two punt returns and 25.7 yards on three kickoff returns.
“I think you have to tighten in and focus a little bit more. Really nothing changes preparation-wise, I think you always prepare the best that you can. I think going out in this last game and just trying to lay it all out there,” Ross said. “I definitely want to make the 53. That’s a goal of mine, that’s a goal of everyone. I’m going to do whatever I can to be a part of that 53 and be out there Week 1, and being whoever they need me to be out there.”
Centers of attention: The Packers’ run game has struggled in two of the three exhibitions, largely due to poor blocking up front. Guard T.J. Lang acted like his dog had died during Friday night’s loss to Seattle, taking the blame for a ground game that went nowhere even when the starters were on the line. So imagine how bad the second group looked.
The biggest issue is at center, where starter Evan Dietrich-Smith hasn’t had a particularly strong camp, but the two candidates to back him up – second-year man Greg Van Roten and undrafted rookie free agent Patrick Lewis – both played poorly against the Seahawks. Van Roten, who was promoted off the practice squad last season and was supposed to seize the No. 2 center job and work as a jack-of-all-trades inside reserve, was trashed on a pair of running plays that led to running backs being thrown for losses, and in practice this week, he sent a worm-burner of a snap back in the shotgun.
Asked if one of them would be able to start at center if Dietrich-Smith went down, McCarthy replied, “They better. We’ve given them plenty of opportunity to get ready. Greg has been given the majority of it, so he needs to clean some things up. He had one or two things going (in practice) that he needs to clean up particularly and he had some things (against) Seattle that needed to be cleaned up. but that’s definitely the direction we’re leaning.”
In truth, unless one elevates his game, it’s hard to imagine the Packers not moving Lang to center with the starters if something happened to Dietrich-Smith. When asked if the Packers would have to move one of the other starters to center if something happened to Dietrich-Smith, offensive line coach James Campen replieod: “I’ll answer it this way: We’ll be ready if that something were to happen.”
Later, Campen added that both have struggled with shotgun snaps – “Greg’s are a little low. Patrick’s were high,” Campen said, referring to Lewis’ bad snap to Young in the game.
But the most important aspect of the center’s game is cerebral, and neither player has been as solid as he needs to be in terms of declarations and line calls.
“At that position, it’s almost like that movie –Top Gun. If your wing man isn’t there because you’ve told him to go do something else, then you’ve severely hurt your opportunities to show your physical presence as a center,” Campen said. “You need your wing man, and too many times they let their wing man fly somewhere else.”
– Jason Wilde