Two down, two to go.
Well, not for everybody. The third of four preseason games in Cincinnati on Thursday night will be the last game for as many as 15 players. By next Monday, the Packers will have to reduce their roster from 90 to 75.
That makes the Bengals game the final chance for several players on the bubble to make an impression and earn another week, which means another preseason game, which means another chance to stick around.
“There are always remarkable surprises in preseason, especially as you get down to the end of it,” General Manager Ted Thompson said. “You guys have seen it here. Somebody that nobody’s written about, nobody knows about, nobody’s even talked about, all of a sudden has the kind of game that warrants consideration.
“It’s a unique thing to see, and there’s opportunity still out there for our guys.”
With that in mind, here are five things to keep a close eye on in Cincinnati:
The no-huddle – Last year in an effort to get the No. 1 offense geared up for the regular season, the Packers ran the no-huddle for the entire first half of the third preseason effort. Not a day has gone by in training camp that the offense hasn’t practiced it. The starters are playing the first half on Thursday, and everyone wants this “dress rehearsal” to eliminate the fits and starts from the first two preseason games. The no-huddle may be the ticket.
Cedric Benson – His preseason debut comes against the team for whom he topped 1,000 rushing yards each of the last three years. He’ll be motivated, but his focus needs to be on the two things his position coach, Alex Van Pelt, has harped on since he arrived – ball security and protecting the quarterback. With James Starks (turf toe) out indefinitely and Alex Green still climbing toward a full complement of snaps, Benson could state his case to be the opening-day starter.
The secondary – This has been on the watch list every week, but that’s because nothing has been settled. Due to Davon House’s shoulder injury, the starting cornerback spot in the base defense remains open. Rookie Casey Hayward had a solid game last Thursday, but Jarrett Bush was back with the starters in base this week, plus Sam Shields returned from injury. At nickel safety, M.D. Jennings has taken most of the snaps with the first unit, but rookie Jerron McMillian had “his best day as a Packer” against Cleveland, according to Mike McCarthy, and Anthony Levine was working with the first group in practice this week. Roles in the dime package (six DBs) need to be sorted out, too.
Punt and kickoff coverage – Special teams play in these games really matters. Backup inside linebacker Robert Francois probably locked down a roster spot with his two stellar tackles of dangerous return man Josh Cribbs in the first half last week, and he added a third coverage tackle later in the game. Players not in the starting lineup need to be able to contribute here.
Youth that flashes – Some undrafted rookies are starting to get noticed and must build on what they’ve done, while others are looking at their first real opportunity on Thursday. Receiver Jarrett Boykin caught five passes for 63 yards last week, and even if the Packers have too many receivers already, he’s vying for a spot on the practice squad, or another team’s roster. Cornerback Otis Merrill ripped off a 60-yard kickoff return against the Browns, showing off his speed, so more chances are likely coming. On the offensive line, with rookie Andrew Datko (concussion) out, Shea Allard may be stepping in at left tackle with the No. 2 unit, and Ivy Leaguer Greg Van Roten from Penn could get a longer look at guard. Other than Evan Dietrich-Smith, it’s hard to say any of the backup offensive linemen are roster locks at the moment.