With the completion of the first real action of 2014 for the Green Bay Packers, we can start to break down the Best & Worst players - those that either helped or hurt themselves in their bids to make the regular season roster. Without a doubt, the weather in Tennessee was horrible at several points during the game, so some performances were definitely affected negatively- however, I believe it was A.J. Hawk who stated in his sideline interview during the game, “We don’t play all our games inside!”
BestPhoto courtesy timesunion.com
1. Scott Tolzien
The expected 3rd string quarterback did everything he could to close the gap on Matt Flynn and erase Packer fans’ memory of his dud of a performance against Minnesota last season. No single play better exemplifies the desire to make a team than Tolzien’s play in the 3rd quarter when the ball slipped out of his hands as he cocked his arm to throw. Reacting quickly, he grabbed the nearest defender (who was homing in on the loose ball), threw him aside, then fell back on the ball, recovering his own fumble.
The combination of awareness of what happened, the strength to push aside a defender, and the quickness to fall back on the ball before anyone else could recover, speaks volumes about the desire and fight in Tolzien, and if you didn’t already want this kid to succeed, that play alone should change your mind. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the following play was a first down throw, and the drive ultimately ended with a touchdown.
Scott Tolzien did have a few lapses, most seriously perhaps his decision to dive forward on a QB scramble in his first drive (as Mark Milano stated in his Takeaways piece, some cross-training with the Milwaukee Brewers might be in order), but a fair number of his incompletions actually hit his receivers in the hands. With some better weather, and wide receivers higher in the depth chart, Tolzien’s day would have been even better. He certainly has made the discussion about whether or not to keep 3 quarterbacks on the 53-man roster almost a guarantee at this point.
While Clinton-Dix is in no danger of not making the 53-man roster at the end of camp, he does face a ton of hope and expectation from not only the fans but also the coaching staff in Green Bay, and for his first NFL game action, he seemed to do fairly well. He did have a few plays where he could have been in slightly better position, and he needs to tackle better (Micah Hyde could give him some pointers there!), but he also had plays like the one where he drove a wide receiver back into the path of the ballcarrier, resulting in a tackle.
Clinton-Dix was quick to show up in run support at the line, and his play late in the first half on a pass over the middle when he was beat badly, but recovered in time to knock the ball away as it arrived, was an impressive display of speed and awareness. Again, he’s in no danger of not making the team, but this was an encouraging first step that will hopefully lead to him earning more playing time early in the season.
3. Rajion NealPhoto courtesy of fansided.com
Buried on the depth chart at Running Back, Rajion Neal hadn’t jumped out at me as a threat to make the 53-man roster (assuming the team breaks camp with Eddie Lacy, James Starks, DuJuan Harris, and John Kuhn) - but with a few more performances like that from Saturday night, and Green Bay will find it difficult to stash him on the practice squad. Neal showed good speed and cutting ability, and even flashed some power in his touchdown run in the 2nd half. He even saw some time as a kickoff return man, which would just increase his value to the team if he can make an impact there. The only negative that jumped out at me was watching him limp off the field after the touchdown (apparently a knee injury), but reports from Green Bay’s camp are that he will probably play on Saturday in St. Louis. If he can stay on the field, he may make the running back position even more of a log-jam behind Lacy.
In what is a crowded wide receiver group, everyone outside of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb needs to play well to stand out and make a push for playing time. Unfortunately Davante Adams was memorable for his two muffed punts, the second of which was recovered by Tennessee, and led directly to their first touchdown. While he did have some good plays in the offense, he also had at least one play where he screwed up his route (according to where the quarterback was aiming), and with several other young players fighting for playing time, Adams can’t afford a repeat performance this weekend. Barring a collapse Adams will make the final roster, but he could be buried on the bench if he doesn’t improve.
2. Mike NealPhoto courtesy of lubbockonline.com
Mike Neal was pretty invisible for most of his time in the game, with one glaring exception - when he finally did get some pressure on the quarterback on a 3rd down, he made Charlie Whitehurst look like the 2nd coming of Aaron Rodgers, as the Titans QB spun out of his grasp, leaving Neal grasping at air. There was plenty of blame to go around on that play, as Whitehurst evaded another sack and ended up with a big pass play for a fresh set of downs, but the play should have resulted in a sack. Hopefully Neal can put that play behind him quickly, as he’s expected to be a major contributor at the linebacker position this season.
Jarrett Boykin’s big issue in this game, like Mike Neal’s, was that he was invisible. In a closer look this off-season, I broke down some of Boykin’s play from 2013, and thought he could take charge of the WR3 position. With a few more games like this, however, Boykin will have to start worrying about his position on the roster. The only play I even noticed him in was a long Offensive Pass Interference penalty that was called because Boykin put his hands on the defender with the ball in the air - and the worst part was that he didn’t need to; the defender’s momentum was taking him away from the flight of the ball anyway. That’s the only target I even remember on the night for Boykin - if he can’t start making some noise, he’s going to start losing ground to the hungry players behind him.
Overall, while the end of the game was disappointing, I came away from the first preseason game of the year pretty content with the starters and the 2nd string players that actually played. If the 3rd and 4th string players on Green Bay’s squad (most of whom won’t make the final roster) aren’t as good as Tennessee’s comparable players, I’m okay with that. I do hope to see more from some star Packers as the preseason progresses (Julius Peppers, Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, etc.), but the players slotted in the top two tiers of the depth chart seem like they will be an improvement from last year in most areas, and that’s all you can ask for at this point.