Seahawks at Packers: Keys to the game

Play of the quarterbacks headlines Saturday's second preseason game, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says. Other areas to watching include the offensive line and special teams.

Coach Mike McCarthy's goal for Saturday's second preseason game is obvious.

"Score points, No. 1," McCarthy said, alluding to the No. 1 offense's putrid showing last week at Pittsburgh.

That's not all McCarthy — or the fans — want to see. Here are five keys for Saturday's Midwest Shrine Game against Mike Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks.

Quarterbacks

There's plenty of intrigue at this position, starting with starting quarterback Brett Favre. Favre wasn't sharp against the Steelers, and he's struggled through a lot of recent practices. The customary zip isn't there yet — though there are a couple weeks of practice yet before the real season kicks off — and he's struggled with his accuracy and decision-making.

"I was as frustrated when I came out as I think I've ever been in the preseason," Favre said of the Pittsburgh game.

He'll get maybe a half against the Seahawks, and it's important for him and the offense to have at least a decent game and build some momentum.

Then there's Aaron Rodgers, who is coming off an impressive game against Pittsburgh and has generally outplayed Favre through much of camp. It was important for Rodgers to play well against the Steelers, and it will be just as important to show that wasn't a fluke as he faces another quality defense. The words "quarterback controversy" haven't been uttered around these parts since Mark Brunell briefly challenged Favre in 1993. What if Rodgers shines while Favre struggles?

Finally, there's Paul Thompson, the undrafted rookie who will play in the fourth quarter. He has a chance to beat out Ingle Martin to be the Packers' No. 3 quarterback. Saturday's game might be his only chance.

Offensive line

The Packers' starting offensive line is young and talented, but it wasn't up to the task against Pittsburgh. Whether the Packers have a bona fied starting running back is irrelevant if the line doesn't do its job.

It starts with the interior linemen, since tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton are having strong training camps. The Seahawks' defensive tackles are a lot like the Packers': not one star but a bunch of above-average players. That group, along with active middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, will test Scott Wells, Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz.

While the focus of the Packers' offense is on Favre, the search for a running back and the hope someone emerges opposite Donald Driver at receiver, no position group on offense is as important as the line. If the line doesn't start to live up to its hype, the offense has no hope of manufacturing even a modest number of points this season.

Backup linebackers

The Packers have one of the best starting linebacking corps in the NFL, but they'll be in deep trouble if one of the starters goes down for an extended period.

A year ago at this time, Abdul Hodge was so impressive there was talk the Packers might shuffle their linebackers to get him into the starting lineup. Due to knee tendinitis, though, Hodge has been practically a nonfactor this summer.

In fact, sixth-round pick Desmond Bishop is poised to be the backup middle linebacker and knock Hodge off the roster. He's worked with the No. 2 defense for most of training camp. He isn't the big hitter Hodge is, but he's more athletic.

The backups on the outside haven't been overly impressive, either. The final preseason games will be key for youngsters like Spencer Havner and Rory Johnson to show they not only deserve a spot on the roster, but can contribute if needed.

Bodiford on the bubble

Shaun Bodiford personifies the many players who are on the roster bubble. Bodiford is the Packers' No. 1 kickoff returner but no better than the No. 6 receiver.

That puts him on thin ice, considering the Packers might keep only five receivers on the final roster. They might be persuaded to keep six receivers if Bodiford has a breakout performance returning kicks and finds a role in the offense in the next couple of weeks, but he didn't show that type of skill in limited chances last season and hasn't flashed much breakaway promise this summer.

"Nobody is going to be on this football team just to be a returner," McCarthy said this week.

Special teams

Bodiford's roster battle is only part of the special-teams picture. If not Bodiford or rookie David Clowney, who is just too raw of a receiver to make the roster, who is going to return kicks?

Perhaps Will Blackmon, who had one long punt return overturned by penalty and had one of the most exciting minus-4-yard returns you'll ever see last week, will return kicks and punts.

The battle at kicker continues to rage, with rookie Mason Crosby taking a slight edge over incumbent Dave Rayner during the last week but the battle being far from decided.

The Packers have so much young depth at so many positions, that special-teams play might decide more than a few camp battles. And that's not just the marquee spots on the return teams. That includes the blockers and the coverage units, all of which struggled last week. Don't just watch the returners, but watch to see who makes — or fails to make — the block or tackle.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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