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Lots to watch on offense in Tennessee

Posted Aug 8, 2014

From starting jobs to roster spots, competition hits full speed as preseason begins

TE Richard Rodgers

GREEN BAY—Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said earlier this week he expects the usual workload for the first preseason game, which means a series or two, or one quarter at most, on Saturday night in Tennessee.

From there, the offense will be turned over to the Packers’ plethora of youth, but the agenda will depend on the player and position.

At tight end, the battle for the starting job will reach a new level. Veteran Andrew Quarless is currently No. 1 at the position and coming off a strong second week of camp, but rookie third-round draft pick Richard Rodgers will get his first prime-time chance to prove he’s a worthy challenger. The up-and-coming Brandon Bostick will be watched closely, while Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner will look to raise their hand as well.

“To say that one guy would emerge from this group and really take the role of Jermichael Finley, I couldn’t say that’s going to happen, I can’t say that’s not going to happen,” Tight Ends Coach Jerry Fontenot said. “At this point, we’re still kind of kicking the tires to see what we have.

“They all know there’s competition. I don’t have to map that out for them.”

Rodgers is an intriguing prospect, having switched from tight end to receiver for his final collegiate season at Cal before bulking back up for the NFL. He moves fluidly for a 260-plus pound player but must re-acclimate himself to in-line blocking responsibilities.

“It’s not like he forgot how to play inside with the offensive line,” Fontenot said. “He bends very well, plays with good leverage. He’s got some natural talents that afford him good run-blocking fundamentals. Physically, he’s got the kind of body you like being able to play next to the tackle.”

On the offensive line, the spotlight will shine brightest on two players looking to solidify backup roles in the wake of Don Barclay’s season-ending knee injury.

Derek Sherrod has played all of a half-dozen snaps from scrimmage since December of 2011, and the Packers must find out if he can be the first tackle off the bench on both the right and left sides. Having spent plenty of time in the classroom the past two seasons, Sherrod knows that on-field reps are work “you can’t trade for anything.”

“It’d be really great for him to see himself on film and to make corrections and to see good things he’s doing and the things that he needs to work on,” said Offensive Line Coach James Campen, adding that Sherrod is very hard on himself in the film room.

“He’s been going through that process in these first 10, 11 practices. To have a whole offseason and be able to take that (into camp), you can see that it’s benefited him greatly.”

Lane Taylor has the same goal for the guard spots, and he calls his second season a “complete 180” from last year as an undrafted rookie. He knows the offense and knows what to expect on a daily basis now.

“His attention to finish and detail has spiked,” Campen said. “Lane’s a very quiet, cerebral guy that’s very professional, but his intensity is elevated.”

At the other skill positions, the fight will be on for the final roster spots. Two undrafted rookie running backs from the Southeastern Conference – Tennessee’s Rajion Neal and Mississippi State’s LaDarius Perkins – have been quiet in camp thus far but will get their chance to make some noise. Neal was fed the ball plenty in the last public practice of the week on Wednesday, perhaps a sign of his workload to come.

Asked what he likes about his two youngest backs, Running Backs Coach Sam Gash provided a glimpse into how hard they’re being coached and the progress they need to make. Saturday night is an opportunity for major progress.

“They’re rookies, so I don’t necessarily like anything just yet,” Gash said. “They haven’t played a game, so you have to realize that and understand that. They’re looking OK in practice. They’re starting to understand going the right way and don’t need the constant instruction as much, but they’re still rookies learning the game. They haven’t seen the speed yet.”

The game’s speed will be an adjustment for a diverse group of young receivers as well, virtually all of whom have had their ups and downs through two weeks of camp.

Rookie second-round pick Davante Adams’ practice on Wednesday epitomized that, when he made a superb, leaping one-handed grab for a TD but later dropped two well-thrown passes over the middle. Second-year pro Myles White said the preseason games are what matter most, though, because “no one keeps track of stats in practice.”

“We have to make them all count, because one drop is too many,” Receivers Coach Edgar Bennett said. “We can’t flash a play here and there. We have to be consistent, so that we build that trust and that confidence in the entire offensive unit.”

The best way to accomplish that comes down to a simple formula.

“Knowing what to do, doing it the right way, and when they have a chance to be productive, being productive,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. “That’s what you’re looking for.”

Additional pregame coverage -
 
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