GREEN BAY, Wis. – The pressure is on, whether the players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster bubble want to admit it.
The Packers will practice on Thursday, fly to Buffalo on Friday and face the Bills on Saturday. That will be the closing statement for the players fighting for the final roster spots. General manager Brian Gutekunst must pick his initial 53-man roster – not necessarily the final 53 – by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
“I think about it as it’s just playing football,” talented first-year safety Innis Gaines said on Tuesday. “Once I get out there, it’s nothing, really. It’s football. The same thing you’ve been doing since high school; just a bigger stage, obviously. Pressure comes and goes. Once you’re having fun out there, I don’t even think about the pressure. I think about making (plays), doing what I have to do to help the team win. I don’t really feel the pressure right now.”
With plenty at stake, here’s a look at who could emerge when the dust settles on Tuesday.
Made it (2): Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love.
Didn’t make it (2): Kurt Benkert, Jake Dolegala.
What changed? Nothing.
Why: Gutekunst has the benefit of conversations with the medical staff regarding the health of Love’s throwing shoulder. We’re left to guess. After struggling through Tuesday’s practice, will Love be healthy enough to play on Saturday at Buffalo? Will he be healthy enough to replace Rodgers should disaster strike at New Orleans on Sept. 12?
If Love’s ability to play winning football is in doubt, Benkert has to make the roster. Then again, if the coaches believe Benkert can develop into a legit No. 2 behind Love if Rodgers doesn’t return next year, maybe they’ll keep him, anyway, rather than risk losing him on waivers.
But time is on Love's side and Benkert is a fourth-year player who hasn't put enough points on the scoreboard this preseason or shown enough in past preseasons. That could allow Gutekunst to get the 26-year-old to the practice squad.
“We’ll work through all those things,” Gutekunst said. “We’ve still got another preseason game to go. He certainly has the talent to do that. We’re really happy with his progression and what he has done. I think he fits into the QB room real well. I think the guys like coaching him and his teammates like him.”
Made it (3): Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Kylin Hill.
Didn’t make it (2): Dexter Williams, Patrick Taylor.
What changed? Nothing.
Why: Jones, Dillon and Hill are locks. It’s rare when a draft pick, even a seventh-rounder like Hill, is better than advertised, but he has been fantastic. He’s scored in both games, and shown an ability to run through traffic, catch the ball and protect the quarterback.
“Kylin’s a really talented player,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “You guys can see that. He’s got really good explosiveness. He can stick his foot in the ground and make the cuts. It’s just going to be be how fast can we get him to be really consistent. The game isn’t too big for him, so he’s a young guy we’re really excited about.”
Made it (6): Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor.
Didn’t make it (4): Equanimeous St. Brown, Juwann Winfree, Reggie Begelton, Damon Hazelton.
What changed? Devin Funchess (out; on IR).
Why: The first five spots are locks. With Funchess banished to injured reserve, Taylor and St. Brown – both of whom were on the roster last season – will battle for a potential sixth spot. His third-down drop against the Jets notwithstanding, Taylor has strung together a series of quality performances.
“I thought Malik showed a lot of energy, which that’s an important part of it,” coach Matt LaFleur said after the Jets game. “He made some big-time plays. With Malik, it’s about the consistency of which he performs. Certainly, he has a lot of talent and he was on our roster last year, and I do think we’ve seen improvement from him.”
Don’t count out Begelton, though being the second-oldest receiver on the roster might work against him.
Made it (4): Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Dominique Dafney.
Suspended (1): Jace Sternberger.
Didn’t make it (1): Bronson Kaufusi.
What changed: Nothing.
Why: When Dafney was released by the Colts just before last year’s opener, he returned to his native Iowa and worked as a bouncer at a club. The Packers signed him to the practice squad on Oct. 12 and he made his NFL debut on Dec. 27. For the playoffs, Sternberger was inactive while Dafney played 37 snaps on offense and 27 more on special teams. Fast forward to Aug. 21, when Dafney joined Tonyan, Lewis and Deguara on the sideline for the preseason game against the Jets. Meanwhile, 2019 third-round pick Jace Sternberger toiled for 34 snaps in that game.
Presumably, his two-game suspension to start the season will buy him some time. Who knows, maybe one of the tight ends will go down with an injury and Sternberger will have a role. Or, maybe the tough-love approach from position coach Justin Outten will resonate.
Made it (10): LT David Bakhtiari, LG Elgton Jenkins, C Josh Myers, RG Lucas Patrick, RT Billy Turner, T/G Royce Newman, G Jon Runyan, G Ben Braden, T Dennis Kelly, T Yosh Nijman.
Didn’t make it (4): T/G Cole Van Lanen, G/T Coy Cronk, G Jacob Capra, C Jake Hanson.
What changed: Nothing.
Why: The medical is the great unknown. Will Bakhtiari open the season on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he won’t count on the roster but will miss the first six weeks? Will he open the season on the 53, then be sent to injured reserve for the first three weeks? Will he stick on the 53 because he’s ready to start practicing? Kelly, a highly competent backup offensive tackle, is injured, as well. So, dealing with incomplete information, we’ll keep Bakhtiari and Kelly on the 53 and go with 10 blockers.
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What about the guard battle? The hunch is it will be at Patrick at left guard and Newman at right guard. While the Packers would save a big chunk of salary cap change by releasing Patrick, he would be a veteran presence alongside potential rookie starters Myers and Newman.
Made it (5): Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, TJ Slaton, Tyler Lancaster.
Didn’t make it (4): Jack Heflin, Willington Previlon, Carlo Kemp, Abdullah Anderson.
What changed: Anderson (out; just signed).
Why: The top four spots are easy-peasy, as the kids would say. The big battle is for the fifth spot. The Packers re-signed Lancaster with a $200,000 signing bonus but he’s having to fight off the hard-charging Heflin, an undrafted rookie, for a roster spot.
“Jack kind of reminds me of a guy like Tyler Lancaster, who’s extremely smart, plays really, really hard, buys into the fundamentals and is a dirty-work guy and plays with a good motor,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said on Sunday. “From Week 1 to Week 2, has made a huge jump from what he’s putting on film. Not where we need him to be but is getting better. Kind of like what he’s doing.”
Lancaster is ready to contribute today. Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe Heflin wouldn’t get through waivers and wind up on the practice squad.
Made it (5): Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, Jonathan Garvin, Tipa Galeai.
Didn’t make it (2): Chauncey Rivers, Delontae Scott.
What changed: Galeai (in), Rivers (out).
Why: It wouldn’t surprise me if the Packers brought in an outsider to bolster the depth. But, for the opening 53, the spots go to Garvin and Galeai. Position coach Mike Smith raved about Garvin on Sunday.
“Garvin’s a damn good football player,” Smith said. “The one thing I love about him is he knows who he is. He’s not going to go out there and try to be flashy and do all this finesse stuff. It’s his strength. You can ask any of those offensive linemen; they struggle with him. There’s a lot of things that we’ve got to clean up with him, and he’s still learning – a lot like Rashan was his first year – but he’s going to be a damn good football player.”
With athleticism, Galeai should be a good special teams player, which the Packers need after losing outside linebacker Randy Ramsey and safety Will Redmond to injuries.
Made it (4): Krys Barnes, De’Vondre Campbell, Oren Burks, Ty Summers.
Didn’t make it (3): Isaiah McDuffie, De’Jon Harris, Ray Wilborn.
What changed: Kamal Martin (out; released).
Why: The release of Martin changed the math at the linebacker spots. Because they’re big and fast, the inside and outside linebackers need to be key contributors on special teams. That’s why, compared to our last projection, we went with five outside linebackers instead of four and four inside linebackers instead of five (with Martin).
McDuffie, a sixth-round rookie who missed the first half of training camp with a hamstring injury, played 19 snaps against the Jets and tied for the team lead with four solo tackles. With another strong performance on defense and a better performance on special teams against Buffalo on Saturday, he could win a spot on the 53.
Made it (6): Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Eric Stokes, Chandon Sullivan, Isaac Yiadom, Shemar Jean-Charles.
Didn’t make it (2): Kabion Ento, Stephen Denmark.
What changed: Denmark (out; just signed).
Why: While Jean-Charles hasn’t played well enough to have locked up a roster spot, it’s probably Yiadom vs. Ento for the final spot. Considering he had only been with the team for a few days, Yiadom had a solid debut against the Jets. Ento, who had been having an excellent camp, missed three tackles in that game. Considering the No. 6 cornerback’s main job will be covering kicks, tackling is kind of a big deal.
“He understands what I’m trying to get done and he knows that in order to get a chance to compete to get into the top four, five or even six guys, I’ve got to have great technique,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said of Yiadom. “Then I’ve got to go compete on special teams, and I think that’s really what he’s trying to do.”
Made it (5): Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, Vernon Scott, Henry Black, Christian Uphoff.
Didn’t make it (1): Innis Gaines.
What changed: Uphoff (in); Will Redmond (out; injured reserve).
Why: With Scott, Black, Uphoff and Gaines, the Packers loved their quartet of young but largely unproven safeties. So, while special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton no doubt is disappointed that Redmond has been placed on injured reserve, the personnel crew is probably happy that it can keep one more of its youngsters.
Scott, a seventh-round pick last year, has missed the last week with an injured hamstring. Given the lack of practice time, he might not get a chance to make a closing statement vs. Buffalo. With Redmond missing so much of camp, Black has been the No. 3 safety/No. 6 defensive back all summer. Gaines and Uphoff are potential-packed players. Gaines, who went undrafted and unsigned in 2020, has spent most of camp running ahead of Uphoff. But Uphoff, an undrafted free agent in 2021, is so big and athletic that his upside is hard to ignore. He could be a weapon on special teams.
“I think it’s something that comes pretty natural to me,” Uphoff said. “I’m a playmake. No matter where I’m at – defense, special teams – I’m going to make plays.”
Made it (2 but, really, 3): K Mason Crosby, P JK Scott, LS TBA.
Didn’t make it (2): K JJ Molson; LS Hunter Bradley.
What changed? Bradley (out).
Why: After misfiring on 3-of-6 snaps during a relatively stress-free field-goal period on Tuesday, can the Packers trust Bradley to deliver in a clutch situation once the season begins? Then again, the Packers have kept Bradley for the past three seasons despite his consistent inconsistencies. Either way, Bradley figures to make the initial 53. Any potential replacement wouldn’t be added until Wednesday. Scott is inconsistent, too, but he’s been a superb holder for Crosby.