By 8 p.m. Friday, less than 24 hours after the Green Bay Packers conclude their final preseason game, general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy will have to get their roster down from 75 players to 53. Those 53 will represent the Packers’ active roster for the start of the regular season.
A look at how it will likely break down, position by position:
In: Aaron Rodgers Out: Bubble: Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman Analysis: You can add at least one more quarterback to the Packers’ final 53-man roster, and it appears with near certainty that it will be Harrell. If Thompson had wanted to make a move to replace Harrell as Rodgers’ backup, it likely would have happened by now. But, given Harrell’s shaky preseason, listing him as a lock to make the team can’t happen yet. Green Bay’s preseason finale could go a long way in helping Thompson make that decision. If the Packers are worried that another team will grab Coleman before he can make it to the practice squad, they may have no choice but to keep him on the active roster. That roster spot could be used better in other ways, so Thompson may take a calculated risk and hope Coleman becomes their next practice-squad quarterback project.
RUNNING BACKS / FULLBACKS
In: Cedric Benson, Alex Green, John Kuhn (fullback) Out: Marc Tyler, Nic Cooper (fullback) Bubble: James Starks, Brandon Saine Analysis: Benson will be the starter with Green also getting a lot of opportunities. Kuhn is also a lock to make the team as a fullback who’s capable of getting the ball in short-yardage situations and protecting Rodgers on passing downs. The biggest question is whether the Packers will keep four of five players at this position. If it’s four, how bad is Starks’ turf toe injury? Might they consider sending Starks to injured reserve and losing him for the season? McCarthy is a big fan of Saine’s overall game and dependability, but Saine has also missed a lot of time during training camp due to a hamstring injury. Expect to see Tyler and Cooper both be strong candidates for the practice squad.
In: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Donald Driver Out: Jarrett Boykin, Curenski Gilleylen, Dale Moss Bubble: Diondre Borel, Tori Gurley Analysis: Listing Driver on the bubble wouldn’t be unrealistic, but given Thompson’s newfound comfort level with veteran players, the Packers’ all-time leading receiver seems a lock to make the team. Once Driver restructured his contract to return to Green Bay prior to training camp, the biggest question was: If Driver is a lock, would the Packers keep six or seven receivers? Last year, they kept only five, and those same five are back for the 2012 season. So, would an addition at this spot include Gurley, Borel, or both? Gurley seemed to have a slight edge entering camp, but an injury and a lack of consistency when healthy seemed to move the smaller but seemingly more dependable Borel ahead of him. With neither player accumulating many notable performances throughout the past month, it’s now possible that neither makes it. Green Bay’s coaching staff has invested a lot of time in both players, but if the Packers are forced to choose one or the other, Borel, despite his struggles in the third preseason game, may have the advantage right now. Boykin, who had a very good training camp, and the athletic former basketball player Moss will both be strong candidates for the practice squad. However, Boykin may have been good enough that another team signs him for their active roster.
In: Jermichael Finley, D.J. Williams, Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor Out: Brandon Bostick Bubble: Andrew Quarless (PUP) Analysis: If Quarless is able to return after spending the first six weeks of the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, he will likely bump an active player from the roster. Quarless, when healthy, is the second-most talented tight end on the team. Williams has emerged as a pass-catching talent, but he has battled injuries throughout camp. Crabtree has been ruled out from the preseason finale with a shoulder injury, and if that is deemed serious, it could change the dynamic of this position. Taylor hasn’t had a healthy camp either, including suffering a concussion that kept him out. Crabtree and Taylor are also both significant contributors on special teams, and McCarthy likes using two-tight end sets.
In: Left tackle Marshall Newhouse, left guard T.J. Lang, center Jeff Saturday, right guard Josh Sitton, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, guard/center Evan Dietrich-Smith Out: Shea Allard, Sampson Genus, Tommie Draheim, Greg Van Roten Bubble: Derek Sherrod, Andrew Datko, Reggie Wells, Don Barclay Analysis: The starters are set, but the group behind them is far from settled. The biggest question is Sherrod, who broke his leg late last season and has not been able to practice yet in training camp. However, Thompson chose not to place Sherrod on the PUP list when rosters needed to be cut down to 75. So the Packers are obviously hopeful that Sherrod can get cleared before the regular-season opener on Sept. 9. Datko struggled early in camp but bounced back fairly well. However, he is currently out with a concussion and won’t play in the preseason finale. If Sherrod can make it back, the need for Datko being on the active roster decreases. Dietrich-Smith is the only lock among the backups, as he is the first to step in at left guard, right guard and center. Wells was signed midway through camp and has proven throughout his 10-year career to be versatile enough to play tackle and guard. Wells is on the bubble, but his ability to play nearly every spot along the offensive line is valuable. Genus will likely be back on the practice squad this season as they continue to groom the young center.
In: B.J. Raji, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson, Daniel Muir Out: Lawrence Guy Bubble: Phillip Merling, Mike Neal (four-game suspension) Analysis: Muir would have been a bubble player a couple weeks ago, but the sixth-year veteran — who began his career in Green Bay as a rookie in 2007 — has been consistently good throughout camp and eats up a lot of space inside. Merling has been on the second-string defense and has a good chance to make the team. This is especially true because Neal, the Packers’ second-round pick in 2010, is suspended for the first four games of the regular season. If Merling struggles, it’s possible that Neal could take his spot in Week 5 when Thompson is forced to make a decision on Neal’s status with the team.
In: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, A.J. Hawk, D.J. Smith, Dezman Moses, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, Erik Walden (one-game suspension) Out: Bubble: Vic So’oto, Brad Jones, Terrell Manning, Frank Zombo (PUP) Analysis: So’oto, an undrafted rookie in 2011, made last year’s roster with a monstrous preseason game and could be kept around for another year to continue developing. But So’oto has been passed by Moses and was already behind Walden. It’s possible that So’oto could be on the Week 1 roster and then removed after Walden’s one-game suspension is over. Manning, a fifth-round pick, has not had many noteworthy moments throughout camp, but Thompson may not want to risk losing one of his draft choices so soon. That fact alone may get Manning a roster spot ahead of So’oto or Jones. However, Jones is more versatile than the rest of the bubble group, having been trained at both inside and outside linebacker. Zombo can’t get healthy, but Thompson bought him some time by placing him on the PUP list to begin the season.
In: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Jarrett Bush, Davon House, Casey Hayward, Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian Out: Otis Merrill, Bubble: M.D. Jennings, Anthony Levine, Brandian Ross, Sean Richardson Analysis: Shields has not had a strong camp and preseason, but the Packers will likely keep the speedy cornerback around for a while to see if he snaps out of his funk and returns to his 2010 form. Jennings entered training camp as the starting safety in the nickel packages but has been passed by McMillian. Levine is also in the discussion to be the starter, but if he loses out on that job, he may not make the team at all. Richardson is a tall, athletic safety who could make the team because of his special teams ability and how thin the Packers are at his position. Ross also has a very real shot to make the team at cornerback, but he is not a lock. The secondary players who don’t make it will all likely be strong candidates for the practice squad.
In: Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode Out: Bubble: Analysis: These are three of the easiest decisions for Thompson. Crosby, Masthay and Goode have not had any competition in training camp and all continue to justify that by performing well.
In: 44 players, with nine roster spots still open and eight practice squad opportunities also available. Who says the final preseason game isn’t important?