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Defense Gets Series of Needed Tests

All four preseason games will test Green Bay's revamped secondary, including Sunday vs. Ben Roethlisberger and Co.

The Green Bay Packers might be Super Bowl favorites but they have a nagging question mark in a critical area.

Pass defense.

How will the secondary fare without longtime starter Tramon Williams and valuable reserve Davon House? Are rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins ready for significant playing time when called upon?

Helping to provide those answers is a tailor-made preseason schedule.

Last week, it was the New England Patriots, who have to get second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ready to replace suspended Tom Brady.

On Sunday, it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers, with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger piloting a potent offense that’s keyed by elite receiver Antonio Brown.

Next week, it’s Chip Kelly’s high-flying Philadelphia Eagles offense, which will be led by quarterback Sam Bradford. Then it will be the New Orleans Saints, who likely won’t play Drew Brees but don’t figure to deviate too far from Sean Payton’s pass-first ways.

“This is the NFL. Everybody’s good. But I like this matchup,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “I think it’s going to be a challenging game for us because Ben can extend plays. They’ve got very fast receivers. Antonio is one of the top three receivers in the game. This is a challenge. I’m excited to see how we’re going to respond to it.”

Brown is a terrific receiver. He led the NFL in receptions (129) and yards (1,698) and tied for second with 13 touchdowns. He is surrounded by a track team with Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates. Wheaton, a third-round pick in 2013, ran his 40 in 4.45. Bryant, a fourth-round pick last year, is a freak at 6-foot-4 and a 4.42 clocking in the 40. Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft, ran his 40 in a blistering 4.30. Coates, a third-round pick this year, has speed (4.43), explosion (41-inch vertical) and strength (23 reps on the bench).

It starts with Roethlisberger, of course, who last season finished third in passer rating (103.3) and tied for first in passing yards (4,952). At 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, he can make life miserable for defenders because he’s fast enough to elude the rush and big enough to shake off a potential sack.

“He’s one of the best at that,” said linebacker Mike Neal, who will make his preseason debut today. “He can step up and move out of that pocket, and then he’s a big quarterback so it’s hard to get him down. He steps up, moves around. The offense plays around that. It’s definitely good work for our back end and it’s definitely good work for us up front to just keep going and try to create that pressure and make him make bad decisions. He’s a veteran quarterback. he’s really good. They were one of the top three in explosive plays, so that’s something you look forward to facing.”

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