On the Bubble: One Last Chance

Roster spots and starting jobs will be on the line against the Titans. We go through each position group to tell you 12 players who need to produce in the preseason finale at Tennessee.

Thursday night's preseason game at Tennessee will be the end of the dream for between 14 and 22 members of the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers have to cut the roster from 75 players to 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday. As many as eight of those unlucky 22 could be added to the practice squad, beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Who needs a big performance against the Titans? Here's one player at each position group.

Quarterback: Brian Brohm.

Brohm's first pass of this preseason resulted in an interception. Just like last year as a rookie. The decorated college star at Louisville hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in seven preseason games, and his three interceptions this summer have his passer rating sitting at a miserable 29.8. He'll have most of Thursday to prove he deserves another year holding a clipboard and running the scout team.

Running back: Tyrell Sutton.

Maybe Brandon Jackson's ankle injury is significant enough that Sutton won't need to run roughshod through the Titans' defense. But if Jackson's optimism proves correct and he'll be ready for Chicago, then keeping Sutton, Jackson and DeShawn Wynn to back up Ryan Grant seems like overkill considering Grant is one of the NFL's biggest workhorses. Sutton has had a big training camp and preseason — he's averaging a gaudy 5.1 yards per carry — but Jackson is versatile and carries a second-round draft tag and Wynn is a huge asset as a pass blocker. Sutton has produced in all three preseason games. He probably needs to do it again.

Fullback: Korey Hall.

Assuming fifth-round pick Quinn Johnson is a lock because of his enormous potential as a clock-cleaning lead blocker, then the Packers will have to choose between Hall and John Kuhn. This race is too close to call. Even special teams is a dead heat: Hall is on the No. 1 punt, kickoff and punt return; Kuhn is on the No. 1 kickoff, kickoff return and punt return. If Johnson isn't ready to play a big role on offense, the nod could go to Kuhn because he's a better blocker than Hall.

Tight end: Spencer Havner.

Havner is a "starter" on all four of the major special teams, and his ability to play tight end or linebacker in a pinch is intriguing. But what the 3-4 defense does is provide more linebackers on the roster, which is a great benefit on special teams and somewhat diminishes Havner's trump card. So, if the Packers find a quality tight end on the waiver wire — a bruising blocker, for instance — they could head that direction. Or, the Packers could just go with two tight ends as a way to keep four halfbacks. The magic number for halfbacks, fullbacks, receivers and tight ends typically is 13. Is Havner one of the best 13, or is his value on special teams so high that the coaches feel like they have to keep him?

Wide receiver: Kole Heckendorf.

Nobody is breaking into the Big Five of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Ruvell Martin. Martin might not have a lot of upside but it appears his role has been expanded, especially in the red zone and on special teams. So, with no roster drama, has Heckendorf — the undrafted rookie from Mosinee, Wis. — done enough to earn a ticket to the practice squad? Brett Swain and Jake Allen spent all of last season on the practice squad and both could get asked back. Swain has had a strong finish to camp and is on the No. 1 kickoff team, and Allen's 6-foot-4 frame is hard to ignore, even with his inconsistent hands.

Offensive line: Tony Moll

The last spot could come down to Moll vs. fifth-round pick Jamon Meredith. Meredith has some upside with his quick feet and long frame, but he's a long way from playing today. During one-on-one pass-blocking/rushing drills last week, a couple of times he had his matchup won, only to lose at the end. Can the Packers afford to use a roster spot on a player who's not ready? Moll isn't a starting-caliber player but he's done well on a fill-in basis several times. He's had an up-and-down camp at a foreign position (left tackle) and he'll probably play some guard against the Titans. Without a strong performance, the Packers might just keep Meredith and make him one of the gameday inactives all season.

Defensive line: Jarius Wynn.

What will the Packers do with Justin Harrell? That's the single-biggest question mark heading into the final cuts. If the Packers play it safe and put Harrell on injured reserve or simply release the first-round flop, then Wynn, the sixth-round pick from Georgia, appears to have a leg up on the sixth and final spot. But defensive line is a position the Packers could fortify by trading a linebacker or fullback. Wynn has two sacks in the preseason and is usually good for an impressive play or two at practice. But without Harrell, the Packers could use some beef behind Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly.

Outside linebacker: Brad Jones.

Barring a trade, the Packers have eight sure bets: Aaron Kampman, Brady Poppinga, Clay Matthews III and Jeremy Thompson on the outside, and A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop on the inside. Keeping Havner would give them nine. The Packers like Jones' athleticism, and he's done OK in his two preseason games, but because he's not a "starter" on any of the special teams, he could be the odd man out if the team keeps four halfbacks or a seventh defensive linemen with Harrell.

Inside linebacker: Nick Barnett.

When healthy, Barnett has started every game in his first six professional seasons. Will he start on opening night against Chicago? His performance against the Titans — his first game action since tearing an ACL on Nov. 9 — will be the deciding factor, because the alternative is the productive Chillar.

Cornerback: Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood.

The top four cornerbacks are set in stone. Will the Packers keep five or six? Lee was a second-round pick in 2008 whose strong offseason went down the drain when sidelined for much of training camp by back spasms. Underwood, a sixth-round pick this year, had to sit out the offseason practices because of NCAA rules. Lee returned to practice this week and played OK. After a slow start, Underwood has been coming on like gangbusters over the last week-and-a-half.

Safety: Atari Bigby.

Anthony Smith has made more big plays at practice and in the games, but Bigby provides a physical dimension and better run defense. There's a role for both in the defense, but if Bigby wants to keep his starting job, he needs to perform like he did down the stretch in 2007.

Special teams: Mason Crosby.

Crosby's job is not in jeopardy — yet. Last week's 1-of-3 performance was pinned on the switch in holders. Crosby has Matt Flynn back on Thursday. It's time for Crosby to start performing like the player he's portrayed as in fantasy football commercials.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.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.


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