The Green Bay Packers have only one preseason game left before the team starts to play games that count. Here are the three biggest areas of concern facing the Green and Gold as they wrap up the preseason and make their final preparations for 2018.
3. The Banged Up Running Backs
Entering training camp, the Packers were expected to use three running backs in a running back by committee approach: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery. Jones has been suspended for the first two games of the season and won’t be available to open the campaign. Williams injured his ankle on a dirty play by Pittsburgh’s Vince Williams although the injury is not considered major. Montgomery is also banged up, having left the game against Oakland after suffering a foot injury.
While both Jones Williams and Montgomery figure to be available for the regular season opener against the Bears, neither will be at full strength and neither will get many reps in the preseason finale against Kansas City.
Devante Mays has also missed most of training camp with injuries, causing GM Brian Gutekunst to sign a rotating group of running backs to take reps. Of these, Joel Bouagnon has gotten the most touches but hasn’t shown any special ability.
The depth here is very thin and another injury to one of the players expected to get significant playing time could spell trouble.
2. The ILB Situation
The Packers lost starter Jake Ryan near the beginning of training camp. Rookie third-round pick Oren Burks was inserted into the starting lineup and showed potential in the first two preseason contests. But Burks injured his shoulder in pregame warmups before the Raiders game. The extent of the injury and how long Burks will be out is still not clear.
Head coach Mike McCarthy had a hard time finding players good enough to start with Ahmad Thomas and Greer Martini being next on the depth chart. The Pack also had the option of using a hybrid safety-linebacker at the position but again, nobody stepped up and looked like they were good enough to play consistently during the regular season.
On Sunday, the Packers acquired ILB Antonio Morrison from the Colts in exchange for Lenzy Pipkins. Morrison is just 23 and was the Colts fourth-round selection in the 2016 draft. He led the Colts in tackles last season although he has fallen down the depth chart in training camp as Indianapolis switched to a new 4-3 defense.
Morrison figures to add depth and battle for the starting position opposite Blake Martinez. He is more of a player in the Jake Ryan mold than the speedier Burks.
1. Offensive Line Depth
The game against the Raiders exposed the Packers lack of quality offensive line depth. Mike McCarthy rested nearly all his starters, but throughout the game, the reserve offensive linemen committed too many penalties, were outplayed and often dominated.
“Penalties were the theme of the evening. It was a sloppy game,” McCarthy said after the game. “We were in second-and-long, just way too many long down-and-distances and didn’t overcome it very much. It was clearly not a very good evening for us up front.”
Kyle Murphy had the worst game of a bad group. His footwork was poor and he was beaten with both bull rushes and outside moves throughout the game.
Backup center Dillon Day looked lost on some plays and didn’t even know who to block let alone how to effectively execute them. Byron Bell has also failed to impress for most of training camp and in preseason games.
Jason Spriggs also failed to step up and has not adjusted to the additional weight he put on during the offseason to compete with bigger NFL defensive linemen.
Overall, neither backup quarterback had enough time to throw against Oakland and the holes were not there for the running backs.
Both starting offensive tackles, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, have lengthy injury histories. The Packers lack quality depth along the offensive line if either of these players are out of the lineup for any length of time.
This is the Packers biggest area of concern as the regular season is less than two weeks away.