Eight practices and Family Night are in the books. Now comes the start of the preseason, four “meaningless” games that will go a long way toward deciding the professional football futures of players such as Diondre Borel.

“It’s exciting. It’s been a long time since I played in a game. I feel more prepared. My nerves a little more calm,” Borel said on Sunday, as the Packers got back to work following a day off.

Borel used last year’s preseason to carve a place for himself on the Packers’ practice squad. He apparently showed enough in last year’s preseason to cause Tampa Bay to offer Borel a contract late last season. He declined the offer.

“I just felt the best opportunity for me was here,” he said.

His opportunity with the Packers would appear to be distinct. With talk of the Packers keeping six wide receivers on their regular-season roster, Borel might currently be that sixth wide receiver.

“I like the progress he continues to make. He’s very quick, very explosive. He continues to get better every day,” Wide Receivers Coach Edgar Bennett said of Borel.

The Packers will open their preseason on Thursday in San Diego, and the preseason opener promises to provide a lot of playing time for Borel and other young reserves trying to win a spot on the roster and establish a role that will be worthy of playing time in the regular season.

“I feel like I’m doing pretty well. My routes have gotten better. I’ve learned so much. Catching the ball is the main thing. I learned to attack the ball,” Borel said.

Another 2011 rookie, linebacker D.J. Smith, would also seem to have positioned himself for good things to come. Smith has been one of the quiet stars of training camp. He’s an aggressive tackler who’s flashed the ability to get downfield in coverage. The preseason is similarly big in Smith’s bid for playing time, but he avoids talk of battling for a starting job.

“I’m just fighting to make the 53; just be an asset to this team,” he said, embracing a mindset that keeps him grounded: “Stay humble, keep my head down and keep working hard.”

Smith will likely be a featured performer on Thursday.

Tight end D.J. Williams got off to a fast start in training camp, but then he tweaked his back, missed Family Night and hopes he’ll recover in time to play in San Diego. Williams wants to find a role in the Packers’ regular-season offense.

“It’s a big opportunity to get playing time. I’m very excited for the preseason coming up. I’m eager to get back out there and keep it going,” Williams said.

Seventh-round draft pick B.J. Coleman, a rookie quarterback undergoing a game makeover by Head Coach Mike McCarthy, Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements and Quarterbacks Coach Ben McAdoo, is also likely to get playing time in San Diego. His eyes twinkled at the mention.

“This is a dream you have since you were a little kid,” said Coleman, who got a long look on Family Night.

“The biggest thing is I got to throw a pass for the Green Bay Packers,” Coleman said of Family Night. Thursday night, he’ll likely have the chance to throw several passes in an actual preseason game. How big is that?

Then there’s offensive tackle Herb Taylor, a sixth-round pick by the Chiefs in 2007 who also spent time with the Broncos and Giants before joining the Packers last season. Taylor has but one start in his career. He’s a journeyman fighting to continue his football career.

“Everything counts. Every game counts. Every snap counts. When you get the opportunity, you have to give it everything you’ve got and make it worthwhile,” Taylor said.

For some players, the preseason is anything but meaningless.

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