This is the Packers' first preseason game and the Steelers' second, which gives the Steelers a bit of an advantage because they probably won't be caught off guard over the speed of the game. Practice and Family Nights don't prepare you for the speed of a live game. Expect a live game against other people that should be fighting for their football lives as well. Because of this we will start to find out things about certain players.
That's what the preseason is about and that's finding things out about players. Trust me, as a former coach you get to find out just who the players are because the first two games are about instincts. In the first two games as coaches they don't really put a game plan together. They don't practice certain things to take advantage of mismatches. They don't reduce the number of plays that might be called on offense, and they don't limit the defense for personnel. That's why as a coach you really enjoy these games and watch how different players react. As a coach, you sit back and watch how running backs adjust to a blitz and I say that because that's a position of real interest this year.
I remember one time when Mike Sherman was in his first year of coaching in the NFL and we were getting ready to play against - I think it was the Chicago Bears - and it was right before we were getting ready to go through the tunnel. He stopped me in a panic and said to me what happens if they play this defense because we didn't spend a long time preparing for it. I told him that we coach the players to handle black and white, but we pay them to handle the gray. In other words, sometimes as a coach you have to adjust on the run and so do the players, and that's when you find out things about them. Saturday night I will be very interested to see just how some of these guys handle the unknown and make game-time adjustments.
For example, I'm looking forward to see how James Jones will handle bump-and-run from someone other than his teammate. I want to see how Brandon Jackson runs when he knows that the guys across the line of scrimmage are trying to take his head off. I want to see just how Justin Harrell handles the physical play of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. Since I'm talking about the defensive line I will have my eye on what effect Cullen Jenkins will have verses the run. Also, I know my eye will be on the defensive secondary, especially Aaron Rouse, because I want to see if he is willing to hit and be that enforcer that the Packers could surely use, or whether Atari Bigby can do the job. I also will be paying close attention to the play of those that are coming back from injury such as Will Blackmon and Marviel Underwood. And, of course, many eyes will be on Aaron Rodgers as some question his ability to lead. He seems to rub many the wrong way because of how much emotion he shows when things don't go according to plan.
Also, this game I will be watching to see just how the coaches handle different situations to see what they learned about themselves last year. I know Mike McCarthy seemed to be slow in making adjustments, and I'm looking forward this preseason to see what's really more important - doing it his way or winning. It will be very interesting to see what he is looking for in the preseason and how he will go about things. I know that up to this point their hasn't been a lot of hitting at training camp, but it will be interesting to see if that changes if the Packers come out and get knocked around. This organization talks about being a physical team and I hope I get a glimpse of it in their first preseason game in Pittsburgh. If we don't, we just might wish for another FAMILY NIGHT where everything is orchestrated and success is guaranteed. LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!!
Harry Sydney is a former fullback and assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.