It just feels right that football is back.
More importantly, that football is back in Lambeau. The Packers took down the Titans 31-17 in their first preseason matchup, and, although it is only the preseason, there was a lot to be hopeful for from the players striving to make the 53-man roster. Here are my takeaways from last week’s game.
What I liked
I’ll admit, I was hesitant about the Burks pick since it seemed like a reach at the time, but Burks seems to be fitting in quite nicely as a Packer. He led the team in tackles with six against the Titans, and should be the starter come Week 1 against the Bears. His versatility makes him an asset to Mike Pettine’s defense. In college, he played three different positions over the course of three seasons, and I’m looking forward to how he’s used during the regular season.
Last week, Aaron Rodgers called out his young receivers’ performances in practice, calling their effort “piss-poor”.
Well, message received by the newbies. They came out and put on a show against the Titans. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, fifth-round pick out of South Florida, caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Jake Kumerow, who was an undrafted free agent in 2015 out of UW-Whitewater and has bounced from practice squad to practice squad, put up three catches for 76 yards and a score. Equanimeous St. Brown, taken in the sixth round out of Notre Dame, hauled in four catches for 61 yards. What’s even better about these three is their size. they’re all 6’4” or 6’5”, which is a huge advantage over the average cornerback height. That’s not to say they’re all on their way to becoming the next Calvin Johnson, but it’s nice to see that there’s possibility for depth on the team.
Gilbert didn’t garner many stats on Thursday, but he was constantly disrupting the Titans’ backfield and proving he belongs after a long journey. Gilbert has spent the majority of his NFL days on the practice squad after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2016, and it now appears that he is on track to make the 53-man roster. Gilbert has also earned praises from several members of the Packers—Mike McCarthy called him “one heck of a football player”, and David Bakhtiari stated that “me and Bryan (Bulaga) have always been fans of his”. I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses behind Matthews and Perry in the future.
As we experienced last season, the Packers go where Rodgers goes, and they didn’t go very far without him. But, there was maybe a glimmer of hope after what we saw from the three backup quarterbacks last week. Each threw for over 100 yards and looked competent against the Titans, but the best performance may have come from Tim Boyle, the default fourth-stringer. After a porous college career that saw three seasons at Connecticut and one at Eastern Kentucky, Boyle had the performance of his life when it mattered most. When it comes to figuring out how many quarterbacks to keep, life just got a little bit harder for the Packers, and that’s just fine.
What I didn’t like
I’m all for keeping Rollins on this team for depth, but his play is pushing him further and further down the depth chart. His action was limited in Thursday’s game, but he gave up a 38-yard pass on the first drive and muffed a punt, which he did recover, but it’s not a promising start to the year for the fourth-year corner out of Miami. However, I think the one thing that could save Rollins’ career as a Packer is a move to safety—the Packers stocked up on corner after taking Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the draft to create a solid group with Kevin King, Davon House, and Tramon Williams. At safety, nothing is certain after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Rollins could add depth to what now may be the weakest position group on the team.
This is a major red flag—when healthy, Bryan Bulaga is one of the best right tackles in the game. Unfortunately, he’s only started all 16 games once in his career, and when he’s not in the game the Packers have serious question marks at right tackle. In Thursday’s game, Byron Bell got the start and was responsible for Hundley’s only interception after getting burned off the edge by Gimel President. The other two options are Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy, but injuries have plagued the start of both of their careers.