Battle is on to make final roster

An off-season's worth of work and a lifetime of dreams are at stake in Friday night's preseason finale at Tennessee.

For as many as 21 players, this will be the last time they see the playing field as a member of the Green Bay Packers. The Packers enter the game with 74 players on the roster. That number must be hacked down to 53 by 3 p.m. Sunday. Eight players can be signed to the practice squad, though they don't have to be among the 21 who fail to make the regular roster.

On Wednesday, Packers coach Mike Sherman hinted that many fates already have been decided. Asked how many roster spots could be won Friday against Tennessee, Sherman said: "Oh, one, two, three, four ... maybe five."

With that said, here's one writer's breakdown of the roster heading into the Titans game.

Quarterbacks (5 must be cut to 3): Brett Favre will start and Doug Pederson will be the primary backup. That leaves Tim Couch, Craig Nall and Scott McBrien battling for one spot. None of the candidates has grabbed the spot by the horns, so it remains Couch's job to lose. As bad as he's looked at times, Couch still is a former No. 1 draft choice who posted decent numbers with lousy Browns teams.

Running backs (7 must be cut to 5): With apologies to Walter Williams and Vonta Leach, this position is set in stone, and has been for the last 13 months. Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher are the running backs, and William Henderson and Nick Luchey are the fullbacks. Look for Leach, an excellent blocker, to be signed to the practice squad.

Wide receivers (9 must be cut to 5): Scottie Vines, Carl Ford and Kelvin Kight are in the running for the last spot. Vines has had the better of it during the preseason games, the Packers are high on Ford — a standout of the 2003 training camp before injuring his knee — and Kight offers an intriguing kick-return prospect should Antonio Chatman continue to struggle. The nod goes to Vines, who knows how to use his 220-pound frame to wall off his defender. Wilson Thomas is an easy cut and Shockmain Davis will be put on injured reserve with his broken leg. Kight and Ford are practice-squad possibilities, though Ford could get grabbed by another team.

Tight ends (4 must be cut to 3): It's between the veteran Steve Bush and the intriguing Tony Donald. Bush has been a staple of the Packers' two-tight-end sets, so he stays.

Offensive line (12 must be cut to 9): Seventh-round pick Scott Wells, undrafted rookie Atlas Herrion and first-year player Jason Jimenez are vying for the last spot. The vote goes to the impressive Wells, despite his injured biceps. Herrion, versatile and athletic, is likely practice-squad fodder, but could be the pick over Wells because the Packers are heavy with backups for the interior line but a little thin at tackle. Joe Hayes is on the roster but not in the mix.

Defensive line (12 must be cut to 10): These will be the toughest cuts on the roster. The defensive line has gone from a weakness to a strength thanks to the big-time development of second-year players Kenny Peterson and James Lee, along with the surprise emergence of sixth-round pick Corey Williams as the top backup at Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila's end spot. Those three are locks, meaning Kenny Holmes, Cullen Jenkins, Chukie Nwokorie, Tyrone Rogers and Larry Smith are fighting for the last three spots.

This obviously will be a make-or-break game for the veteran Holmes, who the Packers are hoping can help their pass rush. Rogers, a fifth-year pro, has played big in the games, and Jenkins has been a pleasant surprise after failing to make the team last year as an undrafted rookie.

The solid if unspectacular Nwokorie hasn't practiced in weeks with a hamstring injury, so releasing him or putting him on the physically-unable-to-perform list — making him inactive for six weeks — eliminates one player from the mix. That means the other four are fighting for the three spots.

Smith injured his left thigh against the Saints on Aug. 21 and hasn't practiced since. If Smith's injury will keep him out for a few more weeks, he'll be put on PUP and Sherman can put off making a decision here for more than a month.

If Holmes shows anything, he'll keep one spot. If Holmes plays his way on the roster and Smith is kept on the active roster, then it comes down to Rogers or Jenkins. In which case, the nod goes to Jenkins' potential over Rogers' experience and preseason output.

Linebackers (8 must be cut to 6): Torrance Marshall and Paris Lenon are locks as backups, making it Steve Josue vs. Tyreo Harrison vs. James Taylor for the last spot. Harrison hasn't done much in the games while Josue has made some plays, and is more likely to make an impact on special teams with his athleticism. The 220-pound Taylor is bound for the practice squad.

Defensive backs (13 must be cut to 9): Along with the four starters and rookie cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas, the other seven are safeties Marques Anderson, Curtis Fuller and the just-signed Julius Curry, cornerback/safeties James Whitley and Bhawoh Jue, and cornerbacks James Horton and Chris Watson. Horton hands down will be the fifth cornerback. Watson has been injured for much of camp and will be lucky to be put on injured reserve or PUP. Of the safety candidates, James Whitley isn't quite as good as Jue or Anderson but he's an outstanding special-teamer, which should land him a spot. That makes it the maligned Anderson vs. the equally maligned Jue for the final spot. Anderson failed to beat out Mark Roman for the starting job but he hasn't been horrible by a long shot. Jue is a better athlete but has been a liability too often, so the final spot goes to Anderson.

Kicker: Ryan Longwell

Punter: (2 must be cut to 1): Bryan Barker vs. B.J. Sander. The Packers want Sander to win the job because of the financial and draft-pick investment. Barker hasn't been dramatically better, so the job is Sander's to lose.

Long snapper: Rob Davis

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