Coach Mike McCarthy did nothing to stop the speculation that Nick Barnett's spot in the starting lineup for Week 1 will be determined in part by how he plays on Thursday at Tennessee.
"Really, Nick just needs to show us where he is as far as where he is at as far as coming back," McCarthy said after Tuesday's practice. "He's coming back from major surgery. This is his first live action. There are targets that you hit in the rehab and you go through the practice part of it. Everybody knows the schedule that we put him on, and he's been full padded practices for two weeks now. We'll really see where he is as far as the speed of the game and from a technical standpoint in live action. This is really just to find out where Nick's level of play is and how he fits as we move forward to Chicago."
Barnett has looked explosive in practice but still hasn't tasted the speed and violence of a game since tearing his ACL against Minnesota in November. On Tuesday, Barnett streaked into the flat to break up a pass to fullback John Kuhn. Barnett and A.J. Hawk have been the inside linebackers at practice, but Barnett's replacement, Brandon Chillar, has had a superb training camp and preseason.
"Whether it's 10 snaps, 15 snaps, four quarters, we'll see where they go with it," Barnett said. "I'm just looking forward to getting some contact, playing some live football and making some tackles. I feel ready. I don't feel anything can stop me at this point."
Several players will not face the Titans. Veteran cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris will get the night off. Running back Brandon Jackson (ankle), safeties Charlie Peprah (knee) and Aaron Rouse (hamstring), cornerback/returner Will Blackmon (thigh), receiver Greg Jennings (concussion) and defensive end Justin Harrell (back) are out. Quarterback Matt Flynn (shoulder) will be limited to holding for kicks.
"Just this game, that's what I'm hoping for. I'll be ready (for next week)," Jackson said.
"I don't have a decision either way, or a comment on Will's medical," McCarthy said. "It hasn't gone the way that we probably anticipated initially from the doctor's standpoint, but to project how he is going to do the next seven days, I'd be guessing. We've got a few players that are injured that you've got to look at and decide and project if they A, have earned a right to be on the 53, or if they are a part of the plan as you move into the season."
The Titans' plan
One reason why the Packers and Titans have been regular dance partners in the preseason — this is their eighth consecutive preseason-ending matchup — is because of Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher's fondness for using this game as his dress rehearsal. The Packers, like most teams, treat this game as a necessary evil, so having the younger players square off against the best of the Titans provides a good measuring stick.
With the Titans facing Buffalo in the Hall of Fame Game, Thursday's game in Nashville will be Tennessee's fifth preseason game. And with the Titans kicking off the regular season on a Thursday instead of a Sunday, Fisher is deviating from his typical plan.
"Typically speaking, as you know, we've had four preseason games," Fisher said. "We've played our starters longer in the fourth and final preseason game, that's not going to be the case. This is the fifth and we don't have the extra three days to prepare. They will not be in the game through halftime and the third quarter."
At the end of Tuesday morning's practice, the few hundred fans at Ray Nitschke Field gave the players a warm round of applause.
Since it certainly had nothing to do with a low-intensity, shorts-and-helmets practice, it must have been a thanks-and-good luck cheer from the fans after a rousing first three games of the preseason.
"From an environment standpoint, it's clearly our best training camp, with the new facility, the fan interaction, just creating a stadium-like atmosphere with the lights and so forth," McCarthy said. "That's a credit to the organization. I hope the fans enjoyed it. I just want to thank them for coming out, even this week. You wouldn't think you'd have the numbers that you've had in the earlier weeks, and they were great again this week. It's been a great environment to practice in."
— Without giving away too much, DeShawn Wynn and Ruvell Martin appear to have featured roles near the goal line. Martin also is a key player on onside kicks and onside kick coverage.
— Mason Crosby made a 36-yard field goal in a "thunder" drill in which the offense ran off the field and the field-goal team ran onto the field in the final 12 seconds of the half/game.
— Starting left guard Daryn Colledge and undrafted rookie defensive end Ronald Talley got into a bit of a fight, and roster long shots Andrew Hartline and Anthony Toribio got into a shoving match as well.
— After Thursday's game, the Packers return to practice on Monday to begin preparations for the season opener against Chicago. Practice is closed to the public for the rest of the year.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.