The first official week of the preseason gets underway tonight. The Green Bay Packers will take on the San Diego Chargers in a nationally televised game. Here are the story lines that you should be watching for.
Thursday @ 8 pm EST ESPN
San Diego Chargers
- Michael Hayes - MVP! The Chargers are hoping that they have found their new Darren Sproles in the undrafted back out of Houston. Most of the nation was too focused on the high octane passing attack of the Houston Cougars to notice their elusive back. Standing only 5’8, you may think that Hayes is a scat back, but actually, he combines his compact 200 pound frame with insane lateral moves, solid vision, and acrobatic balance. He should see some substantial time late and surprise a few people with his toughness and we may even see a wheel route or two.
- Ryan Mathews – It’s Mathews’ show this season. It’ll be interesting to watch how much of his red zone workload increases with Mike Tolbert now departed for Carolina. The team has added two bigger backs, both who played for the rival Kansas City Chiefs last season, Le’Ron McClain and Jackie Battle. They’ve also added Ronnie Brown, another 230 pound running back to the backfield. Mathews has to prove that he can stay healthy and this game may show how comfortable the Chargers are with him banging inside for the short yardage or around the goal line.
- Melvin Ingram - Ingram is a competitor. I really liked him as an athlete and a person, but questioned his fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. In college, he was swallowed up by long armed tackles when he got into their bodies and he would lose balance when attempting to get the edge. He was at his most effective when he was allowed to rush the passer from the three technique with Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney acquiring the bulk of the attention from the outside. This left Ingram alone with the interior of the line and his athleticism was too much for his opponents. I’d like to see him get some time against the Packers’ starters.
- Kendall Reyes - A year after this team took Corey Liuget in the first round, they add Reyes in the second. Reyes is physical and athletic. If he can develop quickly, the Chargers may have one of the best duo of 3-4 defensive ends for the next ten years.
- Robert Meachem - Meachem was one of many targets in New Orleans. Now, he heads out to San Diego and looks to be the primary target. All eyes will be on him to see how he adapts to the role of being “the guy”. Philip Rivers is comfortable with Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd. I’m sure he’ll continue to go to Gates often, but he has to find that #1 wideout. Floyd strikes me more as the all or nothing option. He’s not going to be all over the field on Sundays. Malcolm will keep the defense on their heels, but it’s Meachem who needs to be that go-to guy.
- Other Notes - Atari Bigby looks to be that missing piece in this secondary. If he can get back to the form that he played at in Green Bay, the Packers will be a completely different defense in 2012. Their backup plan of Brandon Taylor is questionable. Taylor benefited from playing in a deep and talented secondary at LSU.
- Casey Hayward – Defensive MVP! I had Hayward ranked as my 5th best cornerback in this draft class. Here’s what I wrote about him back in March. “Hayward gets penalized for not being the fastest or the flashiest. Casey had similar, if not better results against the same SEC competition that (Morris) Claiborne, (Dre) Kirkpatrick, (Stephon) Gilmore, and (Janoris) Jenkins faced. There is no bust factor with Hayward, he’s disciplined and scheme diverse.” Hayward should have his abilities on display in this game. He will show how much his SEC experience has prepared him for the NFL. He’s ready to go, now.
- Nick Perry - Green Bay needed to find a pass rusher to compliment Clay Matthews. In 2009, they drafted a 6’3 255 pound pass rusher with the 26th overall pick, out of USC. It worked so good that 3 years later, they followed the same model and drafted a 6’3 265 pound pass rusher with the 28th overall pick out of USC. Perry had an extensive repertoire of moves while playing for the Trojans. The key to his success will be if the Packers can get 100% out of him on every play. He didn’t finish plays that went away from him in college. If he becomes a true professional, then Matthews & Perry will become much more intimidating names than Matthew Perry.
- Phillip Merling & Jerel Worthy - Green Bay missed Cullen Jenkins from their defensive front last year. They went two different avenues to try and replace his presence. Due to the depth of the defensive tackles in this draft, the Packers were able to draft Worthy in the second round. He was a first round talent. He moves his 300+ pound frame with ease and fans will be impressed with his explosion off the snap. Merling never lived up to his hype that led to him being selected as the 32nd pick overall (2nd round) back in 2008. Dom Capers will capitalize on his run stuffing ability, but demand that he increases his conditioning, if he hopes to see the field.
- Duane Bennett - Bennett benefits from a weak backfield. He showed flashes of brilliance in college. If he can get and stay healthy, he will have a legitimate shot at making this roster. He will have to do more than show flashes, though.
- Wide Receivers - This may be the most competitive, deepest position on any team. Questions surround each receiver. Will Greg Jennings be his old self? Does the team plan to keep Jordy as a key piece as we saw in 2011 or does Randall Cobb start eating into his touches? Can James Jones become more reliable? What does Donald Driver have left? Then comes the young guys. Tori Gurley is a talented 6’4 target that the team paid more money (twice) in 2011, so that he wouldn’t leave their practice squad to sign on another team’s active roster. Jarrett Boykin was a very reliable target at Virginia Tech that always found a way of getting in the open spots of the field. Dale Moss is an extremely athletic, former basketball player that hasn’t reached 50% of his potential. I’m curious in how patient this team will be with these young guys and how they allot the playing time in the preseason.
- Other Notes - Everyone will be watching this season to see if Jermichael Finley finally takes it to that next level. We all know that he’s talented, but he has the ability to be special. He’s only 25 and is coming off his best season to date. I wrote a piece this off-season, about how many teams are drafting H-backs and giving them increased roles for creative mismatches. DJ Williams could become one of these experiments. With all of the offensive options, this move could be the death stroke for any opposing defenses. It’ll be odd to watch Jeff Saturday snap the ball to Aaron Rodgers. BJ Coleman and Graham Harrell will each get a chance to prove something completely different. Harrell has to prove that he’s capable of running this offense as effective as Matt Flynn did when he was called upon. Coleman has to show that he’s not over matched at the NFL level. He’s only two freak injuries away from being the key piece to one of the most talented teams in the NFL. Ask TJ Yates if that scenario is possible. While at Tennessee-Chattanooga, he didn’t seem over matched when he played the bigger schools.