Packers at Browns: 17 Things We're Watching

The defending Super Bowl champions have questions big and small heading into tonight's preseason opener at Cleveland. The two big questions in our mind: Will Derek Sherrod take control at left guard? And who will step forward at outside linebacker?


Overview: Through two weeks of training camp, coach Mike McCarthy hasn't been happy with his offense.

Saturday's preseason opener at Cleveland will be the first true measuring stick for a No. 1 offense that appears to oozing with talent but has consistently been inconsistent during training camp and even struggled against a defense filled with backups on Family Night.

The question is, why is the offense struggling? Is it because, as Aaron Rodgers suggests, the guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage – Dom Capers' defense – are pretty darned good? Or, on a unit in which timing means everything, are they still fighting through more than six months of rust? Or, is it because, on any given play, Rodgers might be surrounded by a couple of rookies whose heads are swimming because of the difficulty of learning the voluminous playbook?

What else we're watching: There's really only one battle on offense, and that's at left guard, where first-round pick Derek Sherrod has been the starter since Day One but hasn't really put a stranglehold on the position. Offensive line coach James Campen loves Sherrod's intelligence, athleticism and desire to be great, but none of that has translated to the practice field. Not that he's been bad, but the longer Sherrod looks like a higher-priced Daryn Colledge, the more seriously they'll have to consider giving T.J. Lang a real shot with the starters.

-- Dropped passes remain a problem, with Jordy Nelson probably flubbing away the most passes during camp. For this offense to play with continued excellence rather than last year's up-and-down production, the receivers' level of play needs to match their level of expectation.

-- Which running back shows a desire to block a blitzing linebacker so he can play the vital role of third-down back? ... Who steps up in the six-man derby at tight end? ... Can second-year tackle Marshall Newhouse play as well as he does during practice, where he's been all but invincible during the one-on-one drills? ... Can any of the undrafted rookies do what cornerback Brandian Ross did on Family Night and make an eye-opening play?


Overview: For all the anxiousness surrounding the offense, Capers' has been thrilled with how the new faces have assimilated with the veterans.

"We've thrown an awful lot at these guys," Capers said after Wednesday's practice. "You can really tell the veteran guys who have been in the system, the guys that have played for us. They're pretty good and they're on top of things, pretty much. These young guys, you reach a point where it overloads them a little bit. We're working at it. Most of the time, when we've seen them mistakes, they haven't made the same one twice. I like their attitude, I like their approach. Our meetings have been very good, our walkthroughs have been good. Every night, you see a lot of good things happen. We've just got to increase the consistency of the younger players. One things about our defense, we're an extremely young defense."

About the only black mark against last year's defense was its run defense, which ranked 28th in the league in terms of yards allowed per carry. The Browns' bruising Peyton Hillis should be a good first test.

What else we're watching: Capers' history suggests that he'll get production from whoever lines up opposite Clay Matthews at outside linebacker? Still, it's no clearer who that player will be than it was two weeks ago. During the 11-on-11 drills, Brad Jones has looked like the best of the bunch but he's consistently gone nowhere during the one-on-one pass-rushing drills. Erik Walden looks the part but hasn't made a ton of impact plays in team or one-one-ones. Ditto for Frank Zombo, who's as tough as nails and has the best record among the linebackers during the one-on-ones. Would someone please drop Colt McCoy a couple times and get this figured out?

-- As we wrote on Friday, Morgan Burnett has been handed the starting spot at safety ahead of last year's Super Bowl starter, Charlie Peprah. If that's the case, it'd be nice to see Burnett throw his shoulder into someone in the running game.

-- Injuries have their benefits. If Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams are held out, as it appeared they'd be given their lack of reps with the starters on Friday night, and if Sam Shields can't play because of the injured hip pointer he sustained near the end of that practice, then the coaches will get a long look at Pat Lee, Jarrett Bush and Josh Gordy at cornerback. … Jarius Wynn has been a one-man wrecking crew at times during practice. Can that continue in the games? If so, he'd be a major part of the equation as the Packers try to replace Cullen Jenkins' seven sacks in 11 games. … If something were to happen with A.J. Hawk or Desmond Bishop, who'd move into the starting lineup at inside linebacker? D.J. Smith and Robert Francois are the tandem with the No. 2 defense. … Not only has nothing been determined in the three-man race to start opposite Matthews, but none of the rookies have shown they're ready to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Sixth-round pick Ricky Elmore has done almost nothing, which has opened the door for Vic So'oto and, to a lesser extent, Jamari Lattimore.

Special teams

What we're watching: It's sort of like last year: Tim Masthay has looked tremendous punting the ball and Mason Crosby has been OK kicking it. The Packers got by with below-average accuracy from Crosby last season but that's flirting with disaster in a league in which so many games are decided by so few points. … Randall Cobb has showed some real potential returning punts, but how will he do in his first live situation while facing one of the league's top special teams? … The coverage units have been porous during camp, thought that's to be expected with coordinator Shawn Slocum shuffling so many guys in and out of the action. In the preseason, it's not the team production as much as which individuals show they can do the job.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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