Stay up late as backups determine fate

There is plenty of intrigue tonight besides Aaron Rodgers' play against the Bengals.

For a preseason game, tonight's game packs a lot of punch. The two biggest stories of the NFL offseason — Brett Favre's botched comeback with the Green Bay Packers and Chad Johnson's contract squabbling/jabbermouth with the Cincinnati Bengals — will be jammed together on ESPN's prime-time stage.

Aaron Rodgers probably won't get too many snaps. Coach Mike McCarthy speculated the first-team offense will play only about one quarter.

But for all four quarters, there is plenty up for grabs. Unlike previous seasons, the Packers will be forced to trim a lot of talent from its roster. Several positions are loaded with depth. And while the offensive guard spots appear to be the only starting position battles, the backup battles will be tense.

Third-down back? No. 6 receiver? Who steps up on an injury-ravaged defensive line? Does Tramon Williams lock down the nickel cornerback? Who will return kicks?

There's a wealth of intrigue behind Rodgers' ascension.

So, as Tony Kornheiser pulls one-liners out of his back pocket, Ron Jaworski breaks down Matt Flynn's ball carriage and your eyelids are begging you to flip off that light switch, keep your composure. Keep your focus. Keep that television on. There's a wealth of storylines to keep tabs on. Here's a sampling:

Something to prove

— Rookie Brett Swain has a lot going for him beyond the practice field. The team invested a seventh-round pick and the roster bonus that comes with it. That alone works against his competitors Chris Francies, Johnny Quinn, Taj Smith and Jake Allen for the No. 6 wide receiver spot.

Swain hasn't shown much in camp. He could provide depth in the return game, but too often looks lost in the passing game. At various points, he has turned the wrong shoulder to look for the ball, ran the wrong pattern and dropped a ball that hit his hands.

Quinn and Smith have been hot and cold. Jake Allen, an intriguing 6-foot-4 rookie, finally returned to practice after being sidelined with a groin injury. Francies, meanwhile, has been the steady statesman of the group, getting first-team reps in three-receiver packages when Greg Jennings missed a couple of practices late last week.

The team would love to see Swain blossom into the short-range slot receiver they envisioned. While Swain was a yards-after-the-catch machine at San Diego State, he hasn't stood out in Green Bay.

— Lumbering along with the third-team offense this summer is someone who was lumbering along as the team's savior at halfback last season. Who knew that when DeShawn Wynn broke off long runs against the Bears and Giants in the first five weeks of last season that he'd be fighting for his football life this summer? So far, he's been about exciting as a new pair of socks from Aunt Bernice.

With Ryan Grant entrenched as the starter, a beefed-up Brandon Jackson as the top backup and Vernand Morency and Noah Herron duking it out for the third-down role, Wynn appears to be the odd man out.

Look for the coaches to give him the busiest workload of any backs to see if this enigma is worth keeping around. At full strength, Wynn could be a weapon at the goal line.

— The first cuts aren't until Aug. 26 — when teams have to get down from 80 players to 75 — but it's time for some players buried on the depth chart to make a move.

Smith, Allen and Quinn, for instance, need to do something to demand a longer look at a loaded position. Four fullbacks are too many, as are five tight ends and 14 offensive linemen.

Gaining momentum

— Early in camp, fifth-round pick Breno Giacomini was a house made of straw. In one-on-one pass-rushing drills, defensive ends used and abused the basketball-built tackle. Giacomini, a raw 6-foot-7 rookie who started only one season at Louisville, was quick to backpedal and lost leverage early against stronger, quicker ends.

Lately, however, Giacomini has made strides. On Saturday in one-on-ones, he owned Jason Hunter — the king of the drill. Considering Tony Moll's inconsistency, Giacomini would benefit from an error-free, sack-free showing against Cincy. There's certainly always a ray of hope for a tackle with his size.

— The coaching staff has auditioned Jarrett Bush at safety, and Bush has responded. A step slower than his cornerback counterparts, Bush has a knack for breaking on passes at safety. This versatility could warrant a roster spot given Green Bay's injuries/struggles in the defensive backfield over the last couple seasons.

— Through pain can come gain. The Packers' defensive line is an injury-riddled mess — so much so that McCarthy joked he might use a 3-4 defense tonight. With Ryan Pickett and Justin Harrell definitely out for tonight and Johnny Jolly and Daniel Muir possibly out, the door is open for either Alfred Malone and Conrad Bolston to make the team. They'll get plenty of snaps to show what they can do.

Players worth watching past your bedtime

OK, we know you have to get up early for work tomorrow. But these players are worth missing a few winks of shut-eye.

— Fullback Ryan Powdrell: At 5-foot-11 and 260 pounds, Powdrell looks like he could run through a brick wall. He hasn't stood out during camp — except for when he stopped Abdul Hodge in his tracks as the linebacker charged at him during a blitz drill — but perhaps the opportunity to flatten someone in a different-colored jersey will bring out the beast in Powdrell.

— Defensive end Jason Hunter: The Packers need pass rushers, especially with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila slow to recover from offseason knee surgery and turning 31 on Sept. 24. Hunter has been one of the top pass rushers in drills. Can the special-teams ace finally make his presence felt on defense?

— The tight ends: Behind Donald Lee are four players without an NFL reception: Tory Humphrey and rookies Jermichael Finley, Evan Moore and Joey Haynos. The Packers presumably will keep three tight ends, and Lee (returning starter) and Finley (third-round pick) are locks. Will Humphrey finally show some consistency? Is Moore, a converted receiver, strong enough? Is Haynos' 6-foot-8 frame an advantage of burden?

"It's kind of awesome. Usually, I'm always younger, now I'm the oldest. I guess I've got to be a good example for the young guys," the 27-year-old Lee said.

— Cornerback Scorpio Babers: Babers, signed last week to take Brett Favre's roster spot, is probably the longest of long shots to make the name. The Packers are deep at cornerback, and that Babers wasn't enough to last until the first cut in Miami probably shows he's not good enough to last here, either.

But, he's got a cool name, he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds and he's a heck of a nice guy.

"Everybody asks me that question," Babers said about his name. "It's the name that my mother gave me. I guess she had a thing for soap operas."

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