For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, the Packers once again took the field for their first preseason game of 2015, and saved me from yet another mundane August summer night. As the excitement of Packer football returning to my TV screen shot through my body, the more rational part of my conscience reminded me that it was only Week 1 of preseason. Preseason always feels like my first semester of college, and Week 1 is the first day of Welcome Week. After getting settled in my dorm room, I subconsciously and immediately only care about how my high school and childhood friends are settling in. Kind of like I only care about watching the first team’s first few series. Then, I move on to checking in with the distant cousin or some far off family friend’s son that I’ve never met only so my mother would stop texting and nagging me about it. This feels more similar to watching the second team along with the draft picks whose names I’ve most likely have forgotten already. Finally, I end up surrounded by a hundred floormates whose names I do not know, with three fourths of which I will most likely never see again at years end. Yup, so analogous with all of the remaining free agents on the roster, I know! The worst part is you have to share a bathroom/season with all of them, and there’s always that one person that never flushes/ meets my expectations.
Just like Welcome Week can give you a hint on how your freshman year might go, the first preseason game can also give insight on how your team will shape up come Week 1 of the regular season. Here are five takeaways I gathered from the Packers Preseason Week 1 22-11 win over the Patriots:
1. Quarterback play was consistent.
Aaron Rodgers: 11/19, 117 YDS, 6.2 AVG, 0 TD, 0 INT, 76.0 RTG
Scott Tolzien: 10/16, 107 YDS, 6.7 AVG, 1 TD, 0 INT, 102.9 RTG
Brett Hundley: 4/6, 60 YDS, 10 AVG, 1 TD, 0 INT, 138.9 RTG
Matt Blanchard: 2/2, 11 YDS, 5.5 AVG, 0 TD, 0 INT, 89.6 RTG
All four Packer quarterbacks got a shot out on the field last night, and all seemed to play pretty, pretty good. Rodgers played most of the first quarter, which might seem unusual for your league reigning MVP, but it was most likely due to getting used to the communication with the sidelines as OC Tom Clements takes on his first year of play calling duties. Regardless, Rodgers looked pretty sharp and is primed for another MVP-like season. Hundley, the 5th round pick by the Packers at this year’s draft, seemed pretty confident on the field, and showed flashes of his abilities with a few sack avoiding moves and even a TD pass. Blanchard got the garbage time at the end and didn’t have much opportunity to show a lot, but he didn’t screw up and handed off the ball better than Graham Harrell did so that was nice. Don’t think I forgot about you Graham Harrell (see 2:50). But, the star of the night was none other than former Badger Scott Tolzien. He seemed very comfortable in the offense, made great decisions, used his check downs well, and threw a pretty touchdown pass to Jeff Janis. I feel that much more comfortable with an improved Tolzien behind Rodgers as one preseason game will allow me to.
2. An intriguing young secondary could possibly be emerging.
Forget about the old guys like Sam Shields, Micah Hyde, and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix (he’s SO last year). An exciting part of this preseason will be watching the younger guys in the secondary. Although we did not get to see 1st round pick Damarious Randall, who is nursing a minor ankle injury, there were two other guys out on the field tonight that definitely caught my eye. The first was Quinten Rollins, the Packers 2nd Round pick out of the University of Miami (OH) from this past year’s draft. Rollins recorded three solo tackles and two passes defended tonight, both of which were nearly interceptions. Rollins seems like a guy who will be able to hold his own this season and help solidify the depth at the cornerback position. The second guy who caught my eye was LaDarius Gunter, an undrafted rookie free agent out of University of Miami (FL). Gunter, who stands 6’2″ and weighs in at 200 lbs, has a large, long armed body that helped him snag an interception in last night’s game. If he keeps his play up to what it was tonight, he’s got a good shot to make the 53-man roster and bolster up the secondary.
3. Running game looking sharp once again.
We all know Eddie Lacy had a great 2014 campaign, and he’s probably hungry to get more than the 1,139 yards he rushed last season. He put up a nice performance with 36 yards on five carries, averaging 7.5 yards per carry, as he bowled through the Patriots defense on multiple plays. James Starks, whose consistent play last season allowed Lacy to stay fresh the whole year, seemed a little rusty, but he did look much better as a receiver in comparison to past seasons. The three guys gunning for the third runningback slot, Rajion Neal (Tennessee), Alonzo Harris (Louisiana Lafayette) and John Crockett (North Dakota State) showed solid and consistent play. So far I’d give the edge to Harris, who averaged 5.9 yards on seven carries and ran off the edge for a nice 25-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but Crockett did have a solid touchdown catch out of the backfield from Hundley.
4. There are plenty of problems to address on defense.
Although the defense put on a good showing that helped pull out a win, there was a lot that could definitely use more work. Unfortunately, it’s the same problems the Packers defense has been having the last couple of years. It could be the young guys on the team or the rust of playing a full padded game against a different opponent, but the amount of missed tackles was once again alarming and annoying. I’m sure some film sessions the team will be having in practice this week will be adding a few extra laps around the practice field for some of the players. The run defense looked as awful as always, highlighted by giving up a 55-yard touchdown run by Jonas Gray in the second quarter. Of course it should be noted that the team was missing major pieces from the defense, including Clay Matthews, Letroy Guion, Nick Perry, Mike Daniels, and Mike Neal, who all obviously play a big, if not significant role. I will, however, give the pash rushers props tonight for recording seven total sacks in tonight’s game. Go team!
5. The wide receiver battle after Nelson, Cobb, and Adams will be fun to watch.
It’s obvious that Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams are locks for the upcoming season, but who is going to take that 4th spot? Jeff Janis, second year man out of Saginaw Valley State, is looking to prove that he does belong in this talented receiving core after struggling in camp. Catching a nice flick from Tolzien for a touchdown today is only helping his case, and his great vertical ability makes him a nice down field threat. Ty Montgomery, the 3rd round pick out of Stanford from this past year’s draft, is looking to deny Janis of that 4th spot. Coaches and media seem to be raving about Montgomery’s play in training camp so far, and he delivered a solid two receptions for 28 yards last night. He also appeared to be the starter for both kick returns and punt returns.
So there’s some things to look out for as we slowly climb our way towards the beginning of the NFL season. One measly preseason game and I have already managed to overthink about the outlook of the Packers’ team this year. Hopefully it will be like that kid from your dorm freshman year that you hated, and now is a great pal of yours. So as sloppy as the Packers looked at times tonight, they’re still going to be one of the NFL’s top teams this year. It’s really easy to overreact and judge at the beginning, but it doesn’t matter much because football is back, the Packers will only get better, and I am once again able to overreact about them as much as I please.
Photo via Mike Lawrie/Getty Images