Here are five things to watch:
1. David Bakhtiari. In most preseason openers, Packers coach Mike McCarthy plays his starters only a few series. But look for new starting left tackle Bakhtiari to stay on the field even after the rest of the No. 1 offensive line retires for the night.
“He needs to learn to play the position at this level and speed and see the things he’s going to see in Week 1,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy tabbed the fourth-round pick from Colorado to start after Bryan Bulaga sustained a season-ending knee injury, and so far the 21-year-old from the University of Colorado has performed well.
“To his credit, he has picked things up really nicely and done a good job for being book smart, but he transfers that onto the field,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “He’s the type of guy who’s very cerebral and can go out there, see it in the meeting, take the information, process it and put it on the field.”
2. The kickers. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum could not have been put it any more directly when asked about veteran kicker Mason Crosby’s on-going struggles.
“It’s time to make some field goals,” Slocum said this week.
Of course, he said the same thing last season when Crosby went through a horrible stretch in which he missed 12-of-24 field goals on the way to an NFL-worst 63.6 percent conversion rate. Crosby had another woeful performance in last Saturday’s scrimmage, when he made just 3-of-8 field goals. He bounced back with a 3-for-4 performance in the lone field goal period during practice this week but is just 15-of-23 so far in training camp.
The challenger, unproven first-year kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, can’t match Crosby’s leg strength but has been far more accurate (19-of-23). Fundamentally, they are completely different kickers. The right-footed Crosby use a two-step approach, while the left-footed Tavecchio uses a three-step approach.
“I’ll tell you this, I’m going to withhold my judgment until we see these games start to occur,” Slocum said. “That’s the biggest stage we can evaluate with right now, and that’s where we’ll do that.”
3. Vince Young. If McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo had enough time, they would probably make significant changes to Young’s footwork and throwing motion. But with only three days of practice after Young signed a minimum contract with the Packers on Monday, a complete overhaul is out of the question.
Instead, they have tried to give Young enough instruction to allow him to function. Though it looked ugly at times in practice – he threw an interception during a half-speed, jog-through period on Thursday – Young is expected to play against the Cardinals because the Packers need to begin evaluating whether the 30-year-old former first-round draft pick would be an upgrade over backups Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman.
“It’s definitely a challenge; it’s not easy,” McAdoo said. “It’s a lot easier to do it with a veteran than a rookie coming in at this point. He has some background. He’s played some football. He’s won some games in this league and has played well. That’ll help.”
4. The return game. The Packers will continue to explore options so that they don’t have to put Randall Cobb, one of their top receivers, at kick returner. With Cobb perhaps out Friday night because of a biceps injury, it means Jeremy Ross should get the first crack at the returns. Slocum has little doubt about Ross’ ability, but ball security continues to be a concern. Ross had a 49-yard kickoff return in Saturday’s scrimmage but muffed a punt in practice three days later.
The Packers have used several returners in practice, but many of them are unlikely to make the roster. Ross is a good bet because of his improvement as a receiver. So is rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, who has almost no experience as a returner but has been working on it in practice.
5. Running backs. The unquestioned star of last Saturday’s scrimmage was rookie Eddie Lacy, who had explosive runs of 16 and 20 yards.
It would be an upset if Lacy isn’t the Week 1 starter, especially considering Franklin is off to a slow start and DuJuan Harris (knee) remains out. The only thing that could hold back Lacy is an injury, and sure enough he had a hamstring tighten up on him this week and might not play against the Cardinals.