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Chance For Backup TEs, RBs To Shine Saturday

No one ever wishes an injury on a teammate, but in the NFL it's common knowledge that one man's ailment is another's opportunity.

With tight end Tory Humphrey going on injured reserve Thursday with a fractured forearm and the health of running backs Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn still somewhat tenuous, Saturday night's preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns could become a showcase for the Packers' backup tight ends and running backs, two position groups in heated battles for roster spots.

At tight end, with Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley essentially functioning as co-starters, backups Spencer Havner, Evan Moore and Devin Frischknecht will get plenty of opportunity to play.

The most intriguing of those prospects could be Havner, who's also a linebacker and special-teams regular trying to use his versatility to make the team. Residing on the top special teams units, Havner has a great chance to earn a roster spot if he can prove valuable as a backup at one or both of his two positions, and he's currently No. 3 on the depth chart at tight end despite just beginning to learn that duty this spring.

"Spencer is a football player," tight ends coach Ben McAdoo said. "He talks like a football player, walks like a football player, moves like a football player. It's not too big for him. The more you throw at him, the more positive he seems to respond. It will be exciting to see him go out there Saturday night and take care of business."

Havner speculated that he'll probably begin Saturday night's game on special teams, then move to tight end, and then finish the game at linebacker, where injuries have shortened the depth as well. He's certainly been pushed mentally, going to multiple position meetings and learning two large playbooks, and in Thursday's morning practice he worked at outside linebacker, another new spot after playing inside linebacker on defense previously.

But he's looking forward to putting all that studying to use in a game setting.

"It's a big opportunity for me to show these guys I can play," Havner said. "In the first preseason game there's going to be a lot of work."

Moore will get his chances at tight end too. The second-year pro and former wide receiver out of Stanford played in two preseason games last year, recording one reception in each, before a knee injury landed him on injured reserve.

He began this training camp with a broken finger that didn't sideline him but significantly hampered his ability to catch passes in the first few days, but the finger has become less and less of an issue lately.

The 6-foot-6 Moore, who also was a basketball standout in high school, made a big catch deep down the middle of the field on Thursday morning's practice, hauling in a throw from Brian Brohm with linebacker Brandon Chillar in coverage.

"Obviously he's got some pass receiving skills," McAdoo said. "He's good with the ball in the air, with his basketball background. He's a pretty smart guy, and he brings that to the table as well, assignment-wise.

"He's got the ability to make some plays down the field, and he's definitely going to get that opportunity on Saturday night. He showed it today."

In the backfield, both Jackson and Wynn returned from injuries this week so the position shouldn't be as thin Saturday night as it appeared earlier. Jackson sat out a week with a shoulder injury, but has been back on the field since Tuesday. Wynn missed the three workouts on Monday and Tuesday this week before returning on Thursday morning.

Both backs, now in their third seasons and considered the top two backups behind starter Ryan Grant, were scheduled to miss last Saturday's Family Night scrimmage, opening the door for second-year pro Kregg Lumpkin and rookie Tyrell Sutton to get the lion's share of the work.

With the scrimmage rained out, Lumpkin and Sutton have had to wait. And even though it's uncertain how much Jackson and Wynn will play this Saturday, the two youngest backs in the group will still get their opportunities to show what they can do, and at a high-profile position like running back, everyone will be watching.

"You have to seize the moment and maximize that moment," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "I think all those guys understand that. They know it's a very competitive camp, and when they get their chance, they have to be productive, and that's the bottom line. They have to execute."

{sportsad300}Lumpkin, who was the surprise of camp last year when he made the final roster as a non-drafted rookie out of Georgia, hasn't attracted as much attention this summer. But Bennett said he's showing consistency and improved fundamentals thus far.

"He's making the proper reads," Bennett said. "He seems to be running behind his pads a little bit better now."

Meanwhile, Sutton, who's trying to duplicate Lumpkin's feat from a year ago as a non-drafted rookie from Northwestern, has intrigued the coaches because he packs some punch in his 5-foot-8, 213-pound frame, while showing some shiftiness and elusiveness as well.

"He's doing a very good job as far as his run reads, putting his foot in the ground and going north and south," Bennett said. "But he's also shown some ability to make people miss in space.

"Another thing is he's a very good receiver out of the backfield, and he's improving and getting better as a pass protector. That's something I think he takes pride in because he's a tough guy and he wants to be good in that area."

The relatively swift return to the practice field of Jackson and Wynn this week underscores just how competitive things are within the running back group, and an opportunity to perform like Saturday night's preseason opener can't come soon enough.

"They're all biting at the bit," Bennett said. "They're pushing each other to be better, to improve on a daily basis, so they can all go out and be productive in the preseason."

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