It's that time of year again. Raging with enthusiasm. The buzz around the team seems healthy. There's cause for optimism. There's a new personality. New leadership. The team seems relaxed as we head into the preseason opener.
I sit with Sly and the Family Stone's Live at the Fillmore East spinning as my entertainment. "Are you ready?" Yes, yes I am. In face, I sit with an overwhelming amount of anxious excitement. I want to see this team bounce. While I'm still on a mini beer drinking hiatus, I did pick up a beer I'm excited to sip in the future. It's the Avery Nuttiest Professor. 15% ABV. An Imperial Stout that is aged and bourbon barrels. Peanuts are added to the flavor. When I'm off the full-on fitness train and back on the beer train, I'll be sure to dive in.
2017 has a chance to be one for the ages. A Super Bowl victory and Aaron Rodgers enters the discussion of the top 10 greatest QB's to ever play the game. A Super Bowl victory and both Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy become Hall of Famers. If Clay Matthews erupts for a 15 sacks season, he could be in the top 50 in sacks in the history of the NFL. Count your blessings, Packers fans. We're fortunate. There's plenty of reason to be off of your ass and on your feet this year. From Week 1.
It’d be easy to talk about my excitement to see Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks in uniform. I try to not bring easy. So, here's 10 players that I'm excited to watch in the preseason opener:
10. ) Reggie Gilbert. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are fully entrenched as the starters, but both have battled off-and-on injury concerns for most of their careers. So, it’ll be important for the Packers to ensure that they have depth at OLB. Thus far, Jayrone Elliott has underachieved in the regular season, Kyler Fackrell is unproven and Vince Biegel is injured; so, there’s opportunity for an under-the-radar player to make an impact. Gilbert flashed in the preseason last year. He has the athleticism to drop in coverage, the power to hold the edge, and the speed to get the corner in pass rushing situations. Additionally, he might have the physicality to be used as an inside rusher on passing downs. I’m excited to see how he’s used in the preseason games this year.
9.) Malachi Dupre. When focused, Dupre was a star at the college level. He can work out of the slot, he can line up on the perimeter, he excelled when he was in motion and he was a terrific go-to threat on 3rd down. I want to see Dupre targeted early. I want to see Dupre targeted often. I’d like to believe that Dupre can dominate 2nd and 3rd string DB’s. I don’t envision Cobb, Adams, and Nelson grabbing many snaps, so I’d like to see Dupre and Yancey on the field early in the game. With Hundley throwing to Dupre, I’d like to think that the Packers will experience success moving the football throughout the preseason. Dupre’s successes might give the Packers leverage when they step to the negotiating table with Davante Adams in the future. Dupre has all of the tools, if he can put it together. I’d like to see him targeted on a deep ball at some point in the 1st half.
8.) Kyler Fackrell. There were times last year that Kyler Fackrell looked like he could emerge as a pass rushing specialist. He looked the part against Detroit and against the Giants. He had a couple of big plays. Further, there were moments in the preseason that he excelled as a 3-down OLB. He looked like he could possible become a solid rotational OLB. And, then, he got injured and he disappeared. The Packers need Fackrell to play a role in the rotation. He’s a key to the overall depth of this defense. I’m looking for Fackrell to have a couple of splash plays on Thursday night.
7.) Jason Spriggs. When the Packers traded for Spriggs last year, it was written in ink that he was going to be the back-up Tackle. It was an off-and-on rookie campaign for Spriggs and if history holds true, the Packers will need Spriggs to shine as an OT at some point this year. Injuries are a part of the game and in today’s pass-heavy NFL, teams need 3 solid tackles in order to be a threat to have Home Field in the playoffs. Spriggs was drafted to be that guy. Last year – Spriggs was quick off the snap. He used his feet really well, but he often got over powered and/or lost due to hand positioning. I’m hoping that an NFL offseason has improved Spriggs’ strength, so that he becomes a vital component along the OL. We need him to be a reliable core to this team. I want to see Spriggs dominate this week.
6.) Kentrell Brice. Last year, Brice was as impressive as any player on the roster in the preseason. The UDFA played as though he was a 1st round pick. He flew around the field. He hit with a vengeance. He was always around the football. With the Nitro package in place, which will have Burnett lined up at ILB, it’ll be important for Brice to pick up where he left off last preseason. During the season, in limited action, Brice showed flashes of goodness. But, it wasn’t constant. I fancy that he’ll get more opportunities to shine this year. If so, he’ll bring a speed/power combination. I want to see him in command of the middle of the field. I have often wondered how people would view Brice had he held onto the interception in Dallas. Would people be more bullish on his potential impact in 2017? I venture to say so. Nonetheless, expect Brice to be a figure in the heart of the Packers secondary in the preseason opener.
5.) Dean Lowry. As the weather turned cold last year, Dean Lowry became a force. It can’t be overlooked that he had 2 sacks in December. He became a presence in the middle of the Packers DL. And, from everything that you read online, Lowry has been a force in training camp. The Packers will be exploring new ways to get to the QB this year. Lowry’s smarts, heart, height, and power combination might bring pass rushing gifts that were missing in 2016. If Lowry can show pass rushing ability, he’ll bring great value as a potential 3-down DL.
4.) Brett Hundley. Clearly, it's the Packers goal to eventually get something in return for Brett Hundley. Hundley will get his chance to shine this preseason. A Ted Thompson run organization will always have it's eyes on the future. It's a lock that Hundley will be showcased over the next month in an attempt to try and increase his trade value after the 2017 season. Entering his third year, Hundley should have a firm command of the offense. With the plethora of options for him to work with, Hundley is expected to be a shining star.
3. ) Josh Jones. You can't coach speed. You can't coach willpower. Josh Jones appears to have both. If the Packers are as committed to becoming faster on defense as they say they are, there's no way that Josh Jones can be on the sidelines. Jones is needed on the field. And, not just for 7-10 snaps per game. He might not be an every down player, but I want him to get a heavy dose of snaps in the first preseason game. I'd limit Burnett's reps. I'd let Jones run and hit. Eventually, I'd like to see a defense that has both Jones and Burnett on the field. But, for now, I'll just take Jones in a preseason game trying to get sideline-to-sideline. I want to see him in coverage against a TE. Let's see Jones try and plug the defense. I'm animated to witness Jones as the nitrogen of this defense.
2.) Jamaal Williams. It'd be great to watch Williams carry the ball 7-10 times. Let's expose Williams to action early. It's important for him to get game action early. He needs to be tested on a 3rd down blitz to see how he handles the pressure. Rodgers cannot be exposed unless we're absolutely positive that Williams can handle his duties as a pass blocker. Williams has a chance to be a real star for the Packers. It wouldn't surprise to see him as the Packers leading rusher at the end of the year.
1.) Kevin King. If the Packers are going to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2017, Kevin King is going to have to be a star from the get-go. Over the first 6 weeks, the Packers schedule is brutal. The host Seattle, then travel to ATL, then they host Cincy, they host the Bears, they travel to Dallas and then to MN. Week 7? They host the pass-happy Saints. When you have to cover the likes of Doug Baldwin, Julio Jones, AJ Green, Dez Bryant and Adam Thielen; you need a shut-down CB. It’s my belief that King is the only player on the roster that has the size/speed combination to legitimately limit an opposing teams #1 WR on a consistent basis. I want to see how King turns and runs in a pro-style game. I want to see him jamming WR’s and using his length at the line of scrimmage. I am really hoping King gets starters reps. I want King to get accustomed to seeing the intensity of the huddle when Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Morgan Burnett and HaHa are leading the communication. If Daniels, Matthews, Perry, Burnett and HaHa are on the field, King needs to feel the passion inside the huddle. Kevin King is among the most crucial components of the Packers success in 2017. He needs to be immediately immersed.
The Eagles travel to Lambeau Field to kick-off the 2017 preseason. Look for the vast array of Packers weapons to be on display. With the starters seeing limited action, it's Hundley to Trevor Davis on a comeback route. It's Hundley to Montgomery on the dump off. It's Montgomery bursting through a big hole for first down yardage. It's Hundley to Kendricks down the seam. It's Montgomery punching it in for a TD.
The Eagles might play their starters into the 2nd Quarter. If so, they might move the football and have some success against the Packers 2nd unit. But, as depth becomes the topic. Look for the Packers to dominate.
Williams slashes through holes. Using his fantastic vision, Williams gets into the secondary.
Dupre grabs a deep ball.
Yancey fights for extra yards after the catch.
Joe Callahan moves the football well. Rolling left, he hits Michael Clark for a TD in the corner of the end zone.
Marwin Evans looks like a stallion in the secondary. He's all over the field. He forces a turnover.
Jermaine Whitehead is also active in the secondary.
Brian Price is dominating the line of scrimmage.
The Packers defense forces two turnovers.
The curiosity of seeing this team for the first time this year burns from within.
Go Pack Go!