Areas of concern

Five things to watch tonight when the Packers play the Chargers

With exactly one month before their regular season opener in Detroit, the Green Bay Packers will attempt to iron out some of the problem areas they have and will face this season tonight. The Packers play host to the San Diego Chargers in the exhibition opener at Lambeau Field.

Here are at least five things that the Packers, along with their loyal fans, will analyzing tonight:

Offensive line
This is the first real test for the offensive line. It has been practicing throughout training camp and all of the off-season to work on the blitz pickup. Without Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera at guard this season, expect opponents, like the Buffalo Bills did last Friday, to blitz the Packers often, especially up the middle. The Bills succeeded in the scrimmage, so it will be interesting to see how the line adjusts and plays against the Chargers.

Offensive line coach Larry Beightol has been rotating players in at the guard position throughout minicamp. The top guards include Grey Ruegamer, Matt O'Dwyer, Adrian Klemm, Atlas Herrion and Will Whitticker. So whoever starts tonight between tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, and center Mike Flanagan doesn't mean they have the starting job locked up.

The Packers were dealt a blow this week when starting outside linebacker Na'il Diggs sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament. Diggs is expected to miss at least two weeks, possibly more. Brady Poppinga, one of the team's fourth-round picks in the draft this year, has been sidelined since the first practice of camp with a hamstring injury.

Look for the Packers to start Nick Barnett in the middle, and Hannibal Navies and Ray Thompson at the outside positions. Keep an eye on MLB Roy Manning, a rookie free agent that has been practicing with the second team. B.J. Sander

Sander struggled as a rookie during the preseason in 2004. This year, he has some NFL Europe experience in his back pocket and a renewed confidence. For the most part, he has punted the ball well in practices, but practice is far different than a game situation.

The Packers released the only other punter on the squad early in camp, Bryce Benekos, earlier this week. Coach Mike Sherman said the move was made to make room for players at other positions, but it also was made to give Sander a greater sense of security and allow him to be more comfortable.

Return specialists
One of the areas the Packers want to improve this season is punt returns. Antonio Chatman has been reliable in the past two seasons, but has yet to deliver a return for a touchdown.

The Packers will begin tonight to audition a variety of players to challenge Chatman for the punt return job, as well as kickoff return. The top candidates for punt returns aside from Chatman are Craig Bragg, Robert Ferguson and Andrae Thurman. The leading candidates for kickoff returns are Terrence Murphy, Najeh Davenport, Ahmad Carroll, Ferguson and Thurman.

Murphy will not play tonight. He has missed more than a week of practices with an injured groin.

Defensive secondary
Cornerback Joey Thomas, who entered training camp as the starter, will not play tonight. He sustained a calf injury early in camp and hasn't practiced all week.

Thomas' injury has allowed Carroll to regain his starting position. Thomas' injury combined with Al Harris' injured groin last week has opened the door for rookie Mike Hawkins, a fifth-round pick by the Packers in the draft last April. Harris has returned to practice this week, but the Packers will play the untested Hawkins often tonight and the remaining three exhibition games to see if he is worthy of playing in the team's passing defenses this season.

Like other positions, DC Jim Bates has been rotating players in with the first unit at safety. The top candidates are Arturo Freeman, Mark Roman, and Earl Little. Those three will play often, as will rookies Nick Collins and Marviel Underwood.

Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report and E-mail him with your comments at

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