As cuts approach, Packers’ backup quarterback battle too close to call
GREEN BAY — DeShone Kizer might have some inside information, or he might not. So there’s no guarantee the Green Bay Packers intend to keep both him and Brett Hundley behind two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers on the quarterback depth chart this season.
Even though it sure sounded like that’s what Kizer, acquired in a March trade with the Cleveland Browns, is expecting.
“It’s interesting. Being a starting quarterback pretty much my whole life other than my redshirt year (in college), this is kind of a unique situation when you know you’re not going to be QB1,” Kizer said in advance of the Packers’ preseason game tonight at Oakland. “But now it’s about determining what’s the difference between QB2 and QB3, and I think in this situation, it’s what you make it.’’
With Rodgers not expected to play against the Raiders after running the scout team in practice all week, coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Brian Gutekunst will get another in-game look at Kizer, Hundley and rookie Tim Boyle against the Raiders. If Gutekunst does keep three quarterbacks, it’ll mean one fewer spot to work with elsewhere as the Sept. 1 final roster reduction approaches — the only cutdown day after last year’s rule change.
“I think you look at it as more of a team perspective — and you’re trying to do the best thing for the team,” Gutekunst said. “I come from a school where quarterback is pretty important and if you have guys that can play, you want to try to keep as many as you can and continue to develop them.”
With that in mind, here’s a look at where the Packers’ 90-man roster stands as the competition for jobs heats up:
QUARTERBACKS (2 or 3)
In: Aaron Rodgers.
Good bet: DeShone Kizer.
On the bubble: Brett Hundley.
Long shot: Tim Boyle.
While Hundley, who started nine games last season because of Rodgers’ broken collarbone, has shown improvement, it’s hard to say if it’s enough. Kizer, who McCarthy said would’ve been a first-round pick this year, seems like a shoo-in. Boyle’s strong arm has impressed but he’s still raw.
“It’s really tight,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “It’s not like it’s been a huge separation. And the good problem is it’s because they’ve performed well. It’s not like they haven’t done well. These next couple games are going to be huge for those guys.”
RUNNING BACKS (5)
In: Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery.
Good bet: Aaron Ripkowski.
On the bubble: Joel Bouagnon, Joe Kerridge, Devante Mays.
Long shots: Bronson Hill, LeShun Daniels.
Out: Aaron Jones (suspension).
Jones, suspended for the first two regular-season games, has yet to play in preseason because of a hamstring injury, letting Williams stake his claim to the No. 1 job. Jones’ suspension will force the Packers to keep another back, who could be Bouagnon, as Mays (hamstring) is still sidelined. Ripkowski, a core special-teamer, seems safe. This is a spot where help could arrive after cuts.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
In: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison.
Good bet: Jake Kumerow.
On the bubble: J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Trevor Davis, DeAngelo Yancey.
Long shots: Adonis Jennings, Kyle Lewis.
It’s hard to imagine Gutekunst cutting Moore and his vast potential, given the fourth-round investment in him. But his uneven camp underscores how up-in-the-air the position is. Kumerow won’t play tonight because of a shoulder injury, which has slowed his considerable momentum. Davis’ hamstring injury and special-teams acumen further complicate matters.
“I still think it’s really wide open,” Philbin said. “And that’s why these games have such significance, as well as the competitive situations in the practice.”
TIGHT ENDS (3)
In: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis.
Good bet: Lance Kendricks.
On the bubble: Robert Tonyan, Emanuel Byrd, Kevin Rader, Ryan Smith.
Graham and Lewis have Rodgers excited about the tight end possibilities, while Kendricks has had a solid camp after getting lost in the shuffle last year amid Marty Bennett-mania. The young tight ends have all had their moments, led by Tonyan, a former college wide receiver at Indiana State who spent the final month of last season on the practice squad. He and Byrd, who had a late-season call-up to the 53-man roster a year ago, could force Gutekunst into some difficult decisions.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
In: David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Justin McCray, Bryan Bulaga.
Good bets: Byron Bell, Lucas Patrick, Kyle Murphy.
On the bubble: Jason Spriggs, Kofi Amichia, Adam Pankey, Austin Davis, Dillon Day, Alex Light.
Despite injuries scuttling his hopes of getting his starting five linemen some in-game work together before preseason’s end, McCarthy feels good about that crew. Bell, a 74-game NFL starter, looks like the swing tackle at this point, while Murphy has been better than Spriggs throughout camp. It’s hard to imagine the team giving up on Spriggs, a 2016 second-round pick, but it cannot be ruled out. Still, with Gutekunst acknowledging how hard it is to find competent linemen on the waiver wire, the Packers will likely have to go with what they have.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5)
In: Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Muhammad Wilkerson.
Good bet: Dean Lowry, Montravius Adams.
On the bubble: James Looney, Tyler Lancaster, Joey Mbu, Conor Sheehy.
Arguably the deepest position on the roster, the line may merit more spots, especially with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s malleable scheme. The top three are terrific, Lowry’s not too shabby and Adams has flashed tantalizing potential. Lancaster, an intriguing undrafted rookie, and Looney, a seventh-round pick, could use some splash plays in the final two games.
LINEBACKERS (8 or 9)
In: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Blake Martinez, Oren Burks, Reggie Gilbert.
Good bet: Vince Biegel, Kyler Fackrell.
On the bubble: Ahmad Thomas, Greer Martini, Kendall Donnerson, Chris Odom.
Long shots: James Crawford, James Hearns, Naashon Hughes, Marcus Porter.
While Fackrell and Biegel haven’t set the world on fire in preseason, Biegel figures to get the benefit of the doubt after last year’s lost season following double foot surgery, and Fackrell, despite limited production, is still a key special teams player. Gilbert has more than earned a roster spot with his play, and following Jake Ryan’s season-ending knee injury, Burks is in line for a ton of snaps.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (9 or 10)
In: Tramon Williams, Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice, Josh Jackson, Josh Jones.
Good bet: Davon House, Jermaine Whitehead.
On the bubble: Demetri Goodson, Quinten Rollins, Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins, Raven Greene, Marwin Evans.
Long shots: Herb Waters, Donatello Brown.
Defensive passing-game coordinator Joe Whitt said at midweek he has his three top cornerbacks set in his mind — but refused to divulge them. The smart money would be on Williams, Alexander and King, with Jackson and House next on the list. Whitehead has had a strong camp and apparently is in a three-way race with Brice and Jones for the safety job opposite Clinton-Dix. Goodson and Rollins, both longtime members of the roster who are coming back from debilitating injuries, appear to be rounding into form in time for a late push to stay on the team.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
In: Mason Crosby.
Good bet: JK Scott.
On the bubble: Zach Triner, Hunter Bradley.
Scott, the rookie punter, has been more erratic in games than in practice, which should be at least mildly disconcerting. Signing a veteran is very unlikely but cannot be completely ruled out. The long-snapping battle between Triner, a former college lacrosse player, and Bradley, a rookie seventh-round pick, appears too close to call — though Triner seems to have had fewer bad snaps.