Starters will be busy in preseason finale

The trend around the league has been for the starting units to play into the second half of the third preseason game and then basically get that final preseason game off to prevent injuries and give the coaching a final chance to evaluate the backups.

Packers coach Mike Sherman, however, is bucking that thinking.

After a slow start to last season nearly cost the team a playoff berth, Sherman wants his starting units as sharp as possible heading into the Sept. 13 season opener at NFC champion Carolina.

"We started out slowly and took us a while to get going. Once we got to the midpoint of the season we finally started rolling," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley told The Associated Press on Saturday.

With the exception of Ahman Green, who gave everyone a scare with what at first glance appeared to be a serious knee injury, the Packers' starting units can expect to play well into the third quarter Friday night against Tennessee, Rossley said.

"I don't know about Ahman yet, but with Brett Favre and the others, we want to be sharp" going into Carolina game, Rossley said.

That should make Favre happy. Favre during his Wednesday meeting with reporters said he wished he'd play more, not less, in the final preseason game.

"When Mike (Holmgren) was here I'd play a little in the first game, a little more in the second game, a little more in the third game and most of the fourth game," Favre said. "Now most teams are getting away from that. Some guys hardly play at all in the last (preseason) game. To tell you the truth, I like the old way."

Not that Favre needs the extra time. Compared to the past few years, Favre looks like he's in midseason form. He's been brilliant in practices and has completed 65.8 percent of his passes in three games. His passer rating of 78.7 is weighed down by the two interceptions he threw Friday night. One of those, when he tried to force the ball to Javon Walker, was his only poor decision of the preseason. The second interception was tipped at the line of scrimmage and tipped again by tight end Bubba Franks, the intended receiver.

Other than Favre, however, most of the offense could use the extra work. While Rossley is keeping a lot of the offense under wraps, one touchdown in 42 preseason possessions is unacceptable.

Friday night's starting offensive line combined for four holding penalties, a false start and a chop block. Center Mike Flanagan, who has missed all of training camp with a knee injury, hopes to be ready for the preseason finale against the Titans on Friday. If he does play, the more time he spends with his starting linemates, the better. Other than perhaps the timing between a quarterback and his wide receivers, no group on a football team needs chemistry and continuity as much as the offensive line.

While the defense has played well in the last two games, there are some kinks to work out before the season starts. Starting cornerback Michael Hawthorne struggled again against Jacksonville, and while he remains the front-runner to take Mike McKenzie's spot in the lineup, it's no longer a foregone conclusion. Rookies Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas showed huge improvement from the week before, when they were flagged early and often. Carroll in particular had a stellar night, allowing only a few short catches.

Recently signed defensive end Kenny Holmes had one solid pressure against the Jaguars but otherwise was invisible. Certainly, after not so much as practicing since knee surgery last fall, Holmes has plenty of rust. The Packers will need as much film as possible to study before determining whether Holmes can be the much-needed complementary pass rusher to Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.

The special teams need plenty of work, also. Antonio Chatman has made several poor judgments when returning punts. Against Jacksonville on Friday, he inexcusably let a short punt float over his head, costing the Packers more than 20 yards in field position. The kickoff-return team is unsettled and has been unproductive. And, of course, the Packers need to find a reliable, consistent punter.

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