Final Game Brings Clarity as Final Cuts Loom

Who made the most of his opportunity and who dropped the ball during Thursday's preseason victory over Kansas City? We have the answers in this position-by-position overview from Lambeau Field?

By 8 p.m. Friday, the Green Bay Packers must trim their 75-man roster to the league-mandated 53.

"I thought a lot of guys made a strong case," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You talk about, what did you want to see out of your players? I wanted to see those statements. There were statements throughout that game tonight. And that's impressive. That says a lot about the men in that locker room. It says a lot about the whole process. You're talking about a talented group of people that came together, worked their butts off, had a tough training camp, an adverse training camp because of injuries, and started to grow at the right time. It's a great lesson that we can point back to. Hopefully when the playoffs do come around, if we're blessed to be in it, we can look back at the preseason and we played the best football when it counted."

With some difficult decisions looming, here's how they might shake out:

Quarterback: Graham Harrell answered his critics with a resounding performance against Kansas City, going 13-of-15 for 223 yards and two touchdowns. His incompletions were a deep pass off Tori Gurley's fingertips and a throwaway. So, his perfect 158.3 passer rating was apt. Nonetheless, McCarthy wouldn't commit to Harrell as being the No. 2 going into the season.

"I'm just going to say this: I'm very pleased with the way he played," McCarthy said. "I think he definitely grew through the preseason and topped it off with an excellent performance tonight. But we're not going to make any roster selections here tonight."

That suggests the Packers will keep an eye out for who's available but, chances are, Harrell solidified his standing as the next-in-line to Aaron Rodgers.

Prediction: Rodgers and Harrell.

Running backs: Cedric Benson and Alex Green are the top two, but who's No. 3? Brandon Saine, who returned to practice this week after missing the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury, didn't play against the Chiefs. James Starks is making slow progress from turf toe. Saine's special-teams acumen might swing it in his direction.

Whoever is the third back, the Packers will go into the San Francisco game hoping Benson and Green can carry the load. They'll also hope Benson doesn't fumble and Green holds up in pass protection. Both areas remain issues.

Prediction: Benson, Green, Starks, Saine, Kuhn.

Wide receiver: Gurley, who was invisible in his first two preseason games, caught two passes for 69 yards and almost blocked two punts. He has outstanding size but suspect speed, which was evident when he couldn't haul in Harrell's long pass up the left sideline. Diondre Borel caught two passes for 27 yards and showed his run-after-catch ability by juking two defenders at the end of a 17-yard gain. However, he's essentially a poor man's Randall Cobb. Jarrett Boykin was the Packers' leading receiver before the game and added five receptions (on five targets) for 82 yards and a touchdown. He lacks speed and big-play ability but he has a knack for getting open.

Do the Packers keep just the Big Five? Do they keep six? Do they trade James Jones – the Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly said the Dolphins are interested – and keep one of the young guys? And who is that young guy? Over the last two weeks, Boykin consistently has been the best of that trio.

Prediction: The Big 5 and Boykin.

Tight ends: There's no intrigue here, but former Division II receiver Brandon Bostick might be worthy of a spot on the practice squad.

Prediction: Finley, Crabtree, Williams and Taylor.

Offensive line: Harrell had an outstanding night because the No. 2 offensive line finally showed some promise. Evan Dietrich-Smith played a key role on both of Green's touchdowns, including an excellent block to spring Green's 17-yard touchdown on a screen. Don Barclay, playing most of the game at right tackle, turned in another solid performance. He's gone from fighting for a spot on the practice squad to being in position to make the final 53 in the span of about three weeks. Still, finding a veteran offensive tackle, whether it's through a trade or the waiver wire, has to be a priority for Thompson over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Prediction: The starting five, and Dietrich-Smith, Sherrod and Barclay/player to be named later.

Defensive line: Mike Neal has had a terrific training camp and punctuated that with a superb performance against the Chiefs. Losing a player like that to suspension might cause problems for some teams, but not Green Bay. B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels and Daniel Muir/Phillip Merling/Lawrence Guy provide a deep and diverse group. Muir, who appears to be ahead of Merling and Guy for the final spot, played most of the game after Raji's first-play ankle injury.

"We've got a great group," Muir said. "We've got an awesome group. We've got a lot of size, we've got speed, we've got quickness. We've pretty much got it all on the defensive line right now. We really fed off each other this camp. Out of all of the years that I've been in the league, this defensive line, we really fed off each other this whole camp. It's helped us a lot. The competition has really helped every individual on our D-line. We've had a good time doing it, as well, and that's the key, man, is to work hard and have a good time doing it."

Prediction: Raji, Pickett, Wilson, Worthy, Daniels and Muir.

Linebackers: We laid out the case for linebacker Terrell Manning winning a spot on the roster but the rookie had a tough night. On Brady Quinn's 23-yard scramble toward the goal line in the second quarter, Manning didn't get off his man in coverage nearly fast enough. In the third quarter, a third-and-19 draw play turned into a first down when Manning whiffed on a tackle attempt that would have stopped the play after about 10 yards.

Still, he's extremely athletic and intelligent, and the Packers didn't give up three draft picks to get him just so they could cut him at the end of camp. He had a sack in the second half, though the Chiefs didn't block him.

"I had to prove to the coaches that I could play," he said. "Right now, it's about showing them that I have made a lot of progress since I first game through the door, and I think tonight I did a decent job. I could've done a lot better in some areas, I had some plays, some bad plays. But at the end of the day, you have to hope the good outweighed the bad."

Prediction: Matthews, Perry and Moses; Hawk, Smith, Francois; Jones and Lattimore as swing players. (Walden is suspended and will be back in Week 2.)

Secondary: Who's the starting corner opposite Tramon Williams? Sam Shields had an interception and was flawless as a tackler, which is what position coach Joe Whitt said he needed to see. At worst, Shields will share that job with Jarrett Bush. At best, he won the job. Remember, he was excellent in 2010, and he's been humbled after losing the job at the end of last season and having to battle to get it back this summer.

Who's the starting safety in nickel? Jerron McMillian got the start and had a good night, though he got knocked out of the hole on Peyton Hillis' 16-yard run in the first quarter. M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine statistically had better nights, with five tackles apiece and Jennings adding a pass defensed. While the starting gig is up in the air, Sean Richardson probably won himself a spot on the roster, with a big tackle for loss on his first snap highlighting his seven-tackle performance. He's big and fast, and while he's raw as a center-field cover man, he'll be a weapon on special teams. The guess is McMillian starts and Jennings and Richardson join Burnett and Charles Woodson.

Prediction: Woodson, Williams, Bush, House, Hayward, Shields, Burnett, McMillian, Jennings, Richardson and Ross.

Special teams: The specialists are set in stone with Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode and returner Randall Cobb. The No. 1 kickoff unit was missing several key pieces, so don't lose too much sleep over the Chiefs' gaudy 37.8 average on returns.

Prediction: Crosby, Masthay and Goode.

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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

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