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Bubble players make strong final pitches

Posted Aug 30, 2012

Sometime on Friday, the roster bubble will officially burst for as many as 22 players.

As a prelude on Thursday, the fight for roster spots continued all throughout the Packers’ 24-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason finale at Lambeau Field.

In what may or may not become a place for a sixth wide receiver on the 53-man roster, young prospects Jarrett Boykin, Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley all had their moments helping No. 2 quarterback Graham Harrell put together his best preseason showing.

Boykin hauled in five passes for 82 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown early in the third quarter on a well-run and well-thrown slant. Borel had two receptions for 27 yards, making a nifty move to elude a tackler on his first catch to turn a short catch into a 17-yard gain.

Gurley (pictured) turned in the biggest play, hauling in a 54-yard bomb off play-action that set up the Packers’ first touchdown in the second quarter. Later, Gurley added a 15-yard catch and then just missed pulling in another deep pass down the left sideline that barely went either through or beyond his fingertips.

“I wanted to make that big play that everybody was looking for, and now I felt like I put a lot of things together,” said Gurley, who also took a lot of reps on special teams as a blocker. “I think I’m going to sleep good tonight because I know I’ve put out great film.”

The No. 2 offensive line improved its showing, as well, as a trio of undrafted rookies made their bids to stick around. On the left side, tackle Shea Allard and guard Greg Van Roten combined with center Evan Dietrich-Smith to wall off an open cutback lane on Alex Green’s 2-yard TD run.

Then on Green Bay’s next possession, a screen right to Green ruptured for a 17-yard TD behind tackle Don Barclay and Dietrich-Smith, who had another key block and further solidified himself as the sixth man up front.

There were some hiccups, but the pass protection from the No. 2 group in front of Harrell was vastly improved and a big reason for Harrell’s sterling night to cap off an otherwise rocky preseason. Harrell completed 13 of 15 passes for 223 yards and two TDs for a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

“He showed if you can keep him upright, he can throw the ball,” said tight end Jermichael Finley, who made his preseason debut and got Harrell going with a leaping 27-yard grab to convert an early third-and-12. “The Graham I know, he can sling it, and I think he got some great opportunities tonight to show what he can do.”

Harrell led the offense to three touchdown drives on the night after failing to get the ball in the end zone in either of the last two games. In addition to improved pass protection, he got help from his teammates in the form of better hands, too. Several passes were dropped in the previous games, but Harrell’s accuracy was better in this outing, as well.

“I don’t think I ever got down on myself or doubted myself,” Harrell said. “I think other people doubted us more than we doubted ourselves. We were still confident in ourselves to do good things, and when you do it one play after the next, it just looks a lot better.”

On the defensive side, reserve defensive linemen Daniel Muir, Phillip Merling, Lawrence Guy and Mike Neal played a ton of snaps, but the film will have to separate their play because no one was happy that the Chiefs rushed for 247 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

Neal blew up one running play in the backfield and assisted on a Mike Daniels sack, but his status will be in limbo for a month as he serves a four-game suspension. How many roster spots are available for the others remains uncertain, and any decision in that position group can’t be considered final with Neal potentially waiting in the wings.

In the secondary, cornerback Sam Shields continued a late surge for a starting job in the base defense with an interception in the end zone on a Brady Quinn pass intended for receiver Jamar Newsome.

The momentum-turning play – the Chiefs led 3-0 at the time but never got inside the Green Bay 30-yard line the rest of the game – may not be enough to bump veteran Jarrett Bush out of a starting job, but it certainly bodes well for Shields’ chances to get snaps in the dime defense or in a nickel rotation.

“It’ll help, it’ll help. That’s something that will get me moving forward,” Shields said. “Whatever decision the coaches come up with, I’m ready to roll with it.”

That’s easier for some to say than others.

“It’s going to be a fitful 24 hours,” said Green, whose roster spot was secure even without his two-TD performance but who has friends in more precarious positions. “It’s one of things where you just play the waiting game, and you’re kind of hoping not to get a phone call this time around, as opposed to on draft day.

“A lot of guys here worked hard and a lot of guys deserve it, so we’ll see what happens.”

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