Tight end Jermichael Finley is back. So is receiver Greg Jennings, and just in time.
It would be too critical to say the Packers' No. 1 offense has been stagnant through the first two preseason games, but it hasn't been the juggernaut of the past couple of years, either.
In San Diego, the absence of left tackle Marshall Newhouse and a couple of turnovers made for an ugly showing. Newhouse's return against Cleveland solidified things up front, but an untimely fumble by receiver Randall Cobb killed a promising drive, and a failed fourth-and-2 left the unit wanting more than the one touchdown it scored.
Perhaps the return of two major playmakers in Finley and Jennings, who were back on the practice field Sunday after roughly two weeks off, can change things in the third and most important of preseason games Thursday in Cincinnati. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said the starters would play the entire first half.
"If you've been watching the games, we've been looking a little sloppy right now, so it's key to come out with that first group, get that half in, and execute right," said Finley, who was dealing with a quadriceps injury.
"The type of ball we play is fast-paced, so you need the horses out there, of course. It's key to have both of us out there right now, especially these last two games."
Finley talked about re-establishing timing and chemistry. He also discussed getting his wind back for all the no-huddle, up-tempo stuff the Packers like to run.
Conditioning was Jennings' primary concern, too, as he returned from a concussion that required a lot of rest. Jennings was forced to stay home for so long that his teammates were teasing him about being the "new guy" at practice.
"For me, it's about getting back into shape," Jennings said. "I've been shut down completely for two weeks. When I say shut down completely, they wouldn't let me walk into the weight room, they wouldn't let me see a treadmill. It's going to be different for me, just getting my wind back.
"Today felt great. I almost wanted to take every rep, just to see how it felt to push the envelope."
Jennings added that just to catch a ball and turn upfield and run with it was "huge." Getting him back in the lineup likely will be just as big for the Packers.
Adding to the anticipation for the Cincinnati game will be the preseason debut of running back Cedric Benson, who practiced in pads for the first time on Sunday and who will go against his former team on Thursday.
"I don't hold anything personally against them," Benson said of the Bengals, for whom he topped 1,000 yards rushing each of the last three years. "But naturally, you want to show up against the team that passed on you."
Benson's biggest task thus far has been learning the playbook, and he likened his approach to being back in college, as he sits at a desk going over the plays.
"The only thing different now is it's all on an iPad," he said.
"It's coming along. I've got a nice grasp of a large part of it, but there are times things get tricky."
That's why Benson has been sitting in on the quarterback meetings when he can, to speed his absorption of all those details. He said listening to the quarterbacks call out the plays and go through their route progressions in the film room is helping him learn his responsibilities in the passing game – protections and checkdowns – much faster.
"The more times I can hear it, the better it gets for me," he said. "I want to get up to speed as fast as I can."
So does the offense's first unit. The "horses," as Finley called them, are getting ready. Related links