Let the madness begin. Before it fully ensues, please allow me to indulge in a full-mouthed sip of a Laurelwood Workhorse IPA. I enjoy hitting up new breweries. Recently, my family went on a 10-day vacation through the state of Oregon. The vacation included stops at 15 different breweries. My favorite brewery stop was at Laurelwood. The Workhorse IPA has an epic citrus goodness to it. It's full of fruit aroma and settles with a grand hoppy bite that makes you want to savor each sip. It's a bold hop forward bottle of grandness. At 7.5%, it leaves you smiling. It's smooth. It's earthy. It's perfect. As I enjoy this bottle with pure delight, I listen to the Grateful Dead's "FARE THEE WELL" 7/3/15 show. This was one of the more magical nights of music I've ever experienced. The unity in the crowd that manifested as Trey belted out "As I was walking round Grosvenor Square" was one for the ages. Complete kindness. Sheer joy. Music, man. Music.
The Packers kickoff the exhibition season at the defending Super Bowl Champion, New England Patriots. That's certainly one way to ensure that we're reminded of the disastrous finish to the 2014 Season. I literally just gripped my head and tugged at my hair with two hands. Now that those thoughts are out of my system, I find the bright spot. The youth of the Packers roster will be tested. The depth of the Packers roster will be challenged. New England will be well prepared. The crowd will be animated. It'll be a festive crowd. The environment will offer ideal conditions to make certain that the Packers are getting ready for a tough opening month of the Regular Season schedule.
Last year, I went on record before the season and said that the Packers would win the Super Bowl. This year, I'm feeling a 10-6 to 11-5 season. The schedule is really tough. The Packers could play really good football and finish 10-6. We have ALL of the tools on offense. We have a plethora of weapons at WR. We have the best OL in the NFL. We have the MVP throwing the ball. We have an elite RB. We have a TE who is budding into a reliable receiving target. The pieces are in place. But, our defense concerns me. The OLB and CB positions concern me. Do we have depth on the perimeter at CB? Do we have players that can turn and run with WR's along the sidelines? Do we have dependable pass rushers at OLB? At some point, you know that Perry and Neal will be nicked up and I think that Peppers will see key snaps at DT on passing downs. Obviously, Clay can easily slide outside on passing downs, but in order for that to be a best case scenario, someone needs to elevate at ILB.
Some argue that 4 preseason games are a waste of time. I argue that they're absolutely vital towards determining the best 53 men on the roster. Especially with the lack of contact that's allowed in practice in the modern day NFL. Often, players 45-53 on the roster are the guys that will determine Super Bowl winners and losers. The Packers have to take a deep look at the depth of the CB and LB positions in the preseason.
Here are some things to look for in the preseason opener at New England:
* Who is on the first team special teams units? That'll give a good look at how the Packers view the depth chart at this stage.
* As long as the starters don't get hurt, I'm not worried about how in sync they are at this stage of the preseason. I don't think I'd play Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb, Lacy, Matthews, or Peppers.
* Scott Tolzien. He signed a 1-year contract this offseason. He's playing for a contract next offseason. He's in his third year in the system. He has command of the offense. Expect him to manage the game in great fashion. With lethal talent at WR around him, look for Tolzien to have a monster game. Even though, at this stage, the defenses are normally way ahead of the offense.
* Brett Hundley. While the Packers say they want him to "manage the chaos", I'm looking for much more. It'll be business as usual for Hundley. He'll have nerves to start, but then, he'll get on the move. He'll pick up first downs with his legs. He'll attack the middle of the field to the TE. Let's hope he doesn't stare down a WR on the outside or else it could lead to a big play going the other way. Any way, expect Hundley to play well. To be poised. To be confident. To lead the Packers to points.
* Matt Blanchard. If he's as much of a prospect as some say he is, I hope that the Packers hide him, so that he can be tucked away on the practice squad. Plus, an emphasis of this preseason should be to get Hundley as many snaps as possible to see if they can potentially afford to let Tolzien in FA next year.
* Rajion Neal, John Crockett, and Alonzo Harris. Who gets the bulk of the carries? Neal offers quickness. Crockett brings consistency. Harris brings power. All different. All with capable qualities. How are the Packers looking to build the depth at RB? Or is it possible that the Packers keep 2 RB's and 2 FB's?
* Ty Montgomery. I'm overly curious to see how the Packers use him. I'm certain McCarthy will want to get the ball in his hands early and often. But, on what type of routes? I'm looking for some quick hits to the outside that have him moving up the field to help him generate momentum.
* Myles White. He's always been underrated. He's always shown reliable hands. He runs nice routes. He seems to understand down-and-distance football. I've always thought he's had the talent to play in the NFL. But, the Packers might have too much talent at WR to keep him around.
* Jeff Janis. Fully expect Janis to get an opportunity to use his speed to make a splash play. I'm hoping he's used as a gunner on special teams.
* While much has been made of the battle for the #3 TE spot, I'm most interested to watch Kennard Backman. TT clearly saw enough in him to use a Draft pick on him. I want to see Backman get an opportunity to make a play running down the seam or on a deep crossing route. Which of the TE's will the Packers look to spread out away from Tackle in a stand up position? And, in that scenario, who looks the most natural? Backman, Henry, Perillo or Spears?
* Josh Walker & Matt Rotheram at Guard. Walker's name has been consistently brought up in training camp this year. He's been a standout. I've never seen him play. I'm curious to see if his game translates well when the boys are really able to use their pads. Rotheram was a solid collegiate. His name has been fairly quiet in camp - with the exception of a minor ankle injury. If Walker & Rotheram can play well, the Packers will have a strong 2nd and 3rd string OL with Tretter and Barclay also being mixed in. Additionally, Lane Taylor has been on the Packers roster the last two years and he's likely to see 2nd string snaps.
* Jayrone Elliot. Catch this argument: the Packers value the jump from year 1 to year 2. That's a fact. The Packers need Clinton-Dix to make a big jump from year 1 to year 2. Adams is expected to make the same jump. Linsley should continue to grow into a potential Pro Bowl player. But, Elliot's jump could be crucial to the long-term success of the Packers. Elliot showed burst at OLB. He showed a natural gift to get to the QB against 2nd and 3rd string OL. Now, we need to see Elliot see success against 1st team units. Especially as Neal and Perry deal with injuries and the Claymaker transitions to ILB.
* Adrian Hubbard. Use your frame. Learn leverage. Burst off the ball. Make a play, young man. I'm pulling for you!
* Andy Mulumba. Per all reports, he appears to be fully back from injury. Looking forward to seeing him back in the line-up and dominating 2nd stringers.
* Jermauria Rasco. Anxious to see him move in space. Wonder if he could be a preseason darling? He has the talents. Let's see if he can put it all together.
* YELLOW JAKE! YELLOW JAKE! YELLOW JAKE! Play with fierce intensity. This stage is not new to you, rook. Go make a play. Show versatility. Tackle with confidence.
* Tavarus Dantzler. The Packers have struck gold with Bethune-Cookman talent previously. Chase 'em down, Tavarus.
* Joe Thomas. He showed so much promise early in camp last year. He brought brutality to the field. Forceful contact. Give it to them, Joe.
* Christian Ringo. I'm itching to see this guy. Smaller in height. Supposedly, he has a great work ethic. A motor. I want to see him throw his muscle around.
* Lavon Hooks and Bruce Gaston. Expect both of them to use muscle and toughness to move the Patriots OL backwards. Expect both to fight in the run game.
* Randall, Rollins and Gunter. If you've followed along, you know my stance here. Can Rollins and Randall play on the perimeter? Gunter uses his arms well. He can turn and run with excellence. But, will speed on the deep ball be an issue at this level?
I expect the Packers 2nd units to outperform the Patriots 2nd units. Look for Tolzien to use his weapons, especially if the OL performs as I anticipate that they will. Montgomery and White make plays. Tolzien engineers a TD drive. Elliot grabs a sack. Rollins grabs a pick. Ration Neal squirts forward for good yardage. The Packers take a 7-point lead into the half. Hundley gets over some early nerves. He settles in. He not only manages, but he performs. He shows great athleticism. He finds Backman for a TD.
Packers 23. Patriots 20.
Go Pack Go!