PROVIDENCE – For the Packers defense in general and for its defensive line in particular, the preseason is more than a rite of passage, it's preparation for a daunting trio of running backs against whom the Packers will begin the season.
"We have to be prepared to come out and play the run. I'm thinking those three teams will all have a commitment to run the ball," Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said as the Packers headed into tonight's preseason opener in New England.
The Packers will open the season against the Bears, Seahawks and Chiefs, which means Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles, three of the league's top running backs.
Complicating matters for the Packers is the potential for being depleted by suspension for those games. Defensive end Datone Jones will miss the opener in Chicago. The Packers await word on nose tackle Letroy Guion's fate.
That makes Josh Boyd a player of intense interest in this preseason. He's a possible replacement for Jones at end and, at the least, certain to see plenty of playing time.
"Josh has a lot of physical skills. In the third year, he's being a better pro. He's taking his game more seriously. He wants to get to the top of the depth chart now. That's what he's fighting for," Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac said.
Trgovac is preparing several young defensive linemen in this training camp, including Jones, Boyd, Khyri Thornton, Christian Ringo, Mike Pennel, Lavon Hooks and Bruce Gaston. Who among them will climb the depth chart in this preseason?
"In college, you got to go against somebody that's not so good. In this league, you never play against somebody that's not so good," Trgovac said. "In practice you get used to the guy blocking you. You get the same guy blocking you every day."
Beginning tonight, the landscape changes, and that makes this the first of four evaluations that'll pare the roster. Jobs are at stake.
"To me, second and third year on the defensive line, you're still a young guy. Keep getting better. Keep battling out there. Physicality, getting off blocks," Trgovac said.
Capers has youth at all three levels of the defense. Sam Barrington is in his third year and appears headed for a starting inside linebacker job. At cornerback, top draft picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins are critical to depth in the secondary.
"There are unknowns. That's why you're anxious to take the next step. This is the next step, to see were these young guys are. We like the progress they've made in practice in controlled situations. They're very important for us to see how they do," Capers said.
"I want to go out there and not melt down, play fast and play with poise and confidence," Cornerbacks Coach Joe Whitt said of his young defenders. "Let's not let playing under the lights take us out of our technique. If you get up there and spaz out, now we have an issue."
Beginning tonight, much about the Packers' young defense will be revealed.