Matchup vs. Jaguars' run defense headlines matchup

The Green Bay Packers play their first road preseason game Friday night against Jacksonville. They better get used to the look, feel and comforts of a hotel because they'll play just one home game — Sept. 19 against Chicago — between now and the Week 4 game against the New York Giants.

The third preseason game tends to be the true dress rehearsal for the regular season. The starters will play more in this game than they did against New Orleans last week or will next week against Tennessee. For instance, Packers quarterback Brett Favre likely will play at least a series into the third quarter against Jacksonville but may be lucky to get a half of action against the Titans.

As such, this third preseason game of the summer is a crucial test. While the Jaguars finished just 5-11 last season, their defense under head coach Jack Del Rio is nothing to laugh at. They yielded only 87.9 yards rushing per game last season, a number that looks even better considering the opposition on numerous occasions ran the ball again and again in order to run out the clock.

Against Tampa Bay last week, the Jaguars yielded exactly zero first downs in the first half of a 14-6 victory. The starting defensive tackle combo of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson form one of the best young duos in the league. Middle linebacker Mike Peterson, a four-year starter with Indianapolis before signing with the Jaguars for the 2003 season, has tallied 100 or more tackles four of five seasons.

In other words, the Jaguars will provide a stern test for a Packers running game that was dominant last season but has yet to get untracked in 2004. Take away Ahman Green's 24-yard burst against the Saints, and the Packers have rushed the ball 49 times for 114 yards this preseason.

Helping the cause is the return of standout guard Mike Wahle. With Wahle back in the lineup, four of five members of perhaps the league's top group of blockers will be in action. Only center Mike Flanagan will miss the game, and he's expected back next week.

Along with this matchup of the Packers' run game vs. the Jaguars' run defense, here are some other areas and players to keep an eye on tonight.

1. Craig Nall

This game could go a long ways toward determining Tim Couch's future with the Packers — and he's not even expected to play due to his ailing right arm.

If the third-year veteran Nall impresses in his preseason debut — he missed most of the first three weeks of practices as well as the first two preseason games due to a hamstring strain suffered during the first day of training camp — he could solidify his spot on the roster. Nall knows the offense, excelled in NFL Europe in 2003 and has played well enough in his first two preseasons to show he's an NFL-caliber quarterback.

If Nall flops and Couch remains weak-armed, injured and indecisive, there's an outside chance the Packers could hand the No. 3 quarterback job to undrafted rookie Scott McBrien. McBrien wasn't impressive in mop-up duty against the Saints, but he has outperformed Couch and Nall in practice.

2. Mark Roman

Packers coach Mike Sherman has changed up his safety rotation. Veteran Marques Anderson and free-agent Mark Roman had been rotating into the starting lineup in practice and in the games. Anderson started the first preseason game and was scheduled to start this one. But, earlier in the week, Sherman said Roman will start against Jacksonville. While Sherman didn't say it, the move implies Roman has won the job, barring a poor game against the Jaguars.

Roman has been a quick study and is the sure tackler the Packers need if they want to let Darren Sharper loose on opposing offenses. Giving Roman this extra start will help build continuity in the secondary.

3. Punter

First punter to kick a couple decent punts in a row wins the job. Well, maybe not, but you get the point. Rookie B.J. Sander's problems have been well-chronicled. The signing of 40-year-old Bryan Barker earlier in the week gives the Packers a solid if unspectacular performer. Now it's up to Sander to rise to the occasion. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations but a suspect defense, the Packers can not afford to give away field position in the kicking game.

4. Kenny Holmes

Sherman's seemingly never-ending quest to find someone to rush the passer has turned to veteran Kenny Holmes, who was signed Wednesday. Holmes had 5 1/2 sacks in nine games with the Giants last season before his year ended with a knee injury. He hadn't seen any action until joining the Packers on Wednesday, so it remains to be seen just how effective the 30-year-old can be with limited practice time. In his last full season in the NFL, 2002, Holmes tallied a career-high eight sacks. If the Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila-sized Holmes has another season like that in his tank, he'll be an invaluable addition.

5. Cullen Jenkins, Tyrone Rogers, Steve Josue

All three of these unheralded defenders have shined in reserve roles, especially during the preseason games. None of the three, however, are locks to make the team, even though they certainly have earned a hard look before the final cuts come in a couple weeks.

Defensive linemen Jenkins and Rogers could be victimized by injuries to the offensive line. With starters Wahle and Flanagan out for much of training camp, the Packers may need to keep 10 offensive linemen instead of nine, with that extra spot coming at the expense of the defensive line.

The starting four of Aaron Kampman, Gbaja-Biamila, Grady Jackson and Cletidus Hunt are locks, as are backups Kenny Peterson and James Lee. Same goes for rookie sixth-round pick Corey Williams, who is a legitimate NFL talent despite playing at little Arkansas State. If Holmes shows he can rush the passer, he'd be the eighth player. That means spot No. 9 comes down to Jenkins, Rogers and veteran Larry Smith, who is a proven commodity.

At linebacker, it appears Josue has beaten out veteran Tyreo Harrison to be the team's sixth linebacker. Josue, a collegiate defensive end from tiny Carson-Newman, spent last season on the practice squad as he made the switch to professional linebacker. His speed was evident against the Saints with his four tackles including a sack, and that speed will come in handy on special teams.

Packer Report Top Stories