Saturday night Green Bay will play at Pittsburgh (6:30 p.m. CT) in the first NFL game for several Packers. Training camp has provided first impressions. Saturday, they can be taken seriously. Is James Jones this year's Greg Jennings? Is Justin Harrell hinting more toward Jamal Reynolds than Vonnie Holliday? Can David Clowney outlast Shaun Bodiford in the return game?
These will be intriguing questions to track.
Mike McCarthy said he expects Jackson to play at least the entire first half. Tackling may be curtailed at Clarke Hinkle Field, but it won't be at Heinz Field against a two-year removed Super Bowl champion defense. Ding-ding.
"I'm ready to take as many reps as they want me to," Jackson said Thursday. "I feel very comfortable with Brett and A-Rod. Very comfortable. "I'll play the whole game if they want me to. If I have to play on my knuckles, I'll play it. Don't matter."
As the case was on Family Night, the Packers defense is particularly ready to go ‘live.' It feels reborn in a way.
"I'm ready to see some different face masks," said Johnny Jolly, who is in heated competition for a starting defensive tackle spot. "There's going to be a lot of adrenaline flowing an a lot of passion for the game being shown out there Saturday. We've been working hard for this. Now we got to go get it."
Jolly's DT partner on Thursday's second team defense, Colin Cole, is anxious to see where the defense stands, especially against an offense that went on to a 20-7 win over New Orleans last week.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers are a great football team," Cole said. "Last week they had a great showing against New Orleans. It's going to be a great challenge for us as a defense. They're probably going to come out and try to pound the ball on us a little more than they did last week.
"This is going to be a great benchmark to see where we are for 2007."
Several players may be held out of Saturday's game, according to McCarthy. Here are a few notes:
· McCarthy said he is "a little worried about Al [Harris]," now that the starting cornerback's lower back has been bothering him for two weeks. Harris and Charles Woodson (hamstring) didn't practice Thursday night and may not play Saturday. Patrick Dendy and Jarrett Bush have been starting in their spots.
· DeShawn Wynn missed both practices Thursday due to a quadriceps strain. The coach said that Wynn is "a couple of days away." If he can't play, that leaves the Packers with only Jackson, Noah Herron, and Corey White at tailback.
· McCarthy plans on Chad Clifton (knees) and Greg Jennings (hip) both playing at Pittsburgh.
· McCarthy stated that the first team offense will probably operate for 12-15 plays.
· Brandon Miree (stinger) may miss the preseason opener, but McCarthy said he will know more on Friday.
Offensive Play of the Day
Safety Charlie Peprah probably approached Corey White with a "walk through" mentality in Thursday night's 11-on-11 work.
Nevertheless, White gave fans an appetizer of what to expect at Pittsburgh. He took a handoff up a huge hole in the middle, Peprah closed in, and White didn't merely lower his shoulder, he unleashed his shoulder into the safety. Peprah hit the turf and White kept lumbering.
That is the one undeniably edge he has on Jackson, Herron, and Wynn. Power. He has ‘downsized' from 242 pounds to 234 lbs. since his Pro Day, which has increased his speed, without sacrificing strength.
Defensive Play of the Day
With Pittsburgh around the corner, the defense went lighter than usual. The emphasis on today's two practices was put on offensive timing and recognition.
Therefore, Thursday was deprived of stand-out plays from the defense in 11-on-11 action.
Stock is Rising
Last season Tony Palmer made a physical adjustment. Now he's making a mental adjustment.
After being claimed on waivers from St. Louis, last year, Palmer weighed at 325 lbs. To fit the team's zone blocking scheme, he lost 15 pounds.
This summer the Palmer is trying a new position- center. Working with the second and third teams, Palmer has shown considerable strides day-by-day.
"I think he's doing a nice job," McCarthy said. "He's a very powerful player on the first level. The thing he needs to work on and get used to, because schematically he hasn't done it before, is the second level blocking. I think he's done a very nice job at guard on the first level. He's doing a good job with the calls. He had a couple rough shotguns but I'm pleased with Tony Palmer."
Stock is Falling
Last year at this time, middle linebacker Abdul Hodge was making a big impression with the coaches, and there was talk of him starting at middle linebacker and moving Nick Barnett to an outside position. Now Hodge is on the third team.
Hodge (knee) did not participate in Green Bay's Organized Team Activities and mini-camp practices in May and June, which has visibly set him back. Desmond Bishop has grasped Bob Sanders' defense quickly, which has bumped Hodge back. There is little room on the outside too. Second-unit outside linebackers Spencer Havner and Tracy White have had solid camps, putting even more pressure on Hodge to produce in the preseason.
"He works hard, he stays on top of his stuff," said defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. "He was here last year. There hasn't been much of a chance so, really, he's not behind."
He Said It
"Every day work ethic. Every day, just coming out here with my lunch pail just fighting it out. We have a great group of guys that definitely are going to crank it up. As far as I go, the only thing that I can bring that's different is a little more hustle in any way I can contribute. Everybody has talent out here and we're all fighting."
- Colin Cole on the competition at defensive tackle.