Ideally, the Packers want defensive lineman Mike Neal on the field for the season opener next Thursday. If Neal's knee injury isn't healed, though, the Packers can at least be confident that C.J. Wilson is ready to contribute.
Wilson, who sustained a concussion in the second preseason game against Arizona on Aug. 19, returned for the preseason finale on Thursday against Kansas City and showed stoutness against the run that defensive line coach Mike Trgovac had to appreciate.
On the opening play of the Chiefs' second series, Wilson bottled up running back Jamaal Charles after just a 1-yard gain. On the next drive, he shed a block again to stone Thomas Jones at the line of scrimmage on second-and-5.
"I've been waiting to get back," Wilson said after the game. "I was mad I was out, missing it. Coach 'Trgo' did a great job working (with me) on technique, and it pays off."
Wilson, a seventh-round pick from East Carolina in 2010, bulked up by about 20 pounds this past offseason. His pass-rush is still a work in progress, but his ability as a hold-the-point guy against the run could become his trademark within the defensive scheme.
"I feel I can," Wilson said when asked if he can become a reliable run-stopper. "I feel I've gotten a lot better since last year. I'm learning how to read the offensive line better, but I still have a long way to go."
On the mend: Outside linebacker Frank Zombo, who fractured his scapula two weeks ago against Arizona, believes he's only two to three weeks away from returning to action.
"That's what I'm looking at right now," Zombo said. "I'm hearing all positive things. I feel great. Functionally, I can do a lot. I'm just waiting on this bone to heal."
Of course, players are always going to be the most optimistic, so take Zombo's prognosis for what it's worth. Neal has been "day to day" since Aug. 16 when he injured his knee but hasn't returned yet.
That said, Zombo is as tough as they come, returning from an ankle injury in training camp last year that looked impossible to walk on. He is not expecting to be placed on season-ending injured reserve when the final roster decisions are made on Saturday.
"I was told I wouldn't (be put on IR), and that they're expecting me to help this team," he said.
An old foe: In making their final roster evaluations, the Packers benefited from the fact that the Chiefs played their starters most of Thursday's game against Green Bay's reserves.
That resulted in cornerback Pat Lee, on the bubble for a roster spot, spending some of the night covering an old college opponent in Kansas City's No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe. Both players are from the Southeastern Conference; Lee from Auburn, Bowe from LSU.
"It felt good to go with their ones and put out good film against their ones," Lee said.
Bowe finished with eight catches for 85 yards and a touchdown, but only a portion of his catches came against Lee. The TD came against Josh Gordy, another corner trying to nail down a roster spot.
Lee allowed a big play in the second quarter on a 29-yard reception by Bowe over the middle, but he recovered to punch the ball out from behind. Unfortunately, the ball bounced out of bounds and the Chiefs retained possession. Lee also recovered two fumbles by Charles in the game, returning one 67 yards.
Same time, different year: Backup guard/center Evan Dietrich-Smith was in this same position the past two years, waiting on roster-reduction day to learn his fate. He made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2009 – the only one to do so that year – but then was released last season.
He was claimed on waivers by Seattle but was released after four games. Then he came back to Green Bay in Week 17 last year as a reserve throughout the postseason run and Super Bowl, and he might be in position to stick around again. Dietrich-Smith flip-flopped with Nick McDonald between left guard and center with the No. 2 offensive line against the Chiefs, and he might be the most versatile of the Packers' interior backups.
"I can't really speculate on what they want," Dietrich-Smith said. "I felt I've made my statement with my performance in the preseason, and I'm going to let them take it from there.
"If they feel I'm the guy, then I'm the guy, and if I'm not, I can't sit here and say I didn't try my best. If it doesn't work out here, there are still other options, other places, but this is where I want to be. This is what I want to do. I want to play for the Green Bay Packers."