GREEN BAY – The top priorities are the obvious ones.
Get something going in the running game and clean up the tackling.
Those are what Head Coach Matt LaFleur is most focused on as the Packers travel to Winnipeg to play the Raiders in their third preseason game on Thursday.
“It’s about finishing plays, really, on both sides of the ball,” LaFleur said following Tuesday’s practice. “And build on our special-teams performance from last week.”
The tackling issues have been discussed extensively after persistent problems in the first two preseason games, with the film showing a total of 43 missed tackles against the Texans and Ravens.
Offensively, the ground game has produced a very modest 3.3-yard average, with 147 yards on 44 attempts (not including QB runs). Take away one 28-yard burst last week by undrafted rookie Darrin Hall, and the rushing average drops to 2.8.
Those numbers have come without the Packers’ top two running backs, though, in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. While Williams just got back to practice this week after a long absence due to a hamstring injury and did not take any 11-on-11 snaps in the open practices, Jones is expected to get his first preseason action this year.
Jones had been held out of the first two preseason games as a precaution due to hamstring tightness, and he won’t play more than a series or two against the Raiders. But LaFleur doesn’t want Jones to enter the regular season without having any full-contact reps, and with almost no starters expected to play in next week’s preseason finale, this will be the one chance for the running game to show what it’s got.
“It is definitely good to get your feet wet,” Jones said. “That’s a part of the NFL preseason with the whole offseason not being hitting. It helps you get your pad level when you get hit the next time.”
In front of Jones, the competition at left guard between veteran Lane Taylor and rookie Elgton Jenkins probably wraps up after this game as well. In practices and games, Taylor has always been the first man up, so he appears to have done nothing to lose his job, but he’s taking nothing for granted, either.
An undrafted prospect back in 2013 who surprisingly took veteran Josh Sitton’s job four years in, Taylor has simply focused on the task at hand in learning the new offense and playing more consistently than he did a year ago when he was dogged by injuries.
Jenkins, a second-round draft pick, was selected as a fit for LaFleur’s scheme, while Taylor said he has slimmed down 10-15 pounds, to around 320, to be more agile and effective in the outside-zone concepts.
“I don’t think I’m out of place in this scheme at all,” Taylor said.
“Honestly, it’s part of the business. You’re never going to go through this thing without competition, really, no matter who you are. I clawed my way to get to where I’m at now, so it’s nothing new for me.”
Defensively, one player likely to make his 2019 preseason debut in Winnipeg is second-year cornerback Josh Jackson. Sidelined during the early portion of camp with what he called a “nagging foot injury,” Jackson progressed to full duty slowly and saw his share of 11-on-11 reps in practice this week.
Young prospects Tony Brown and rookie Ka’dar Hollman, who’s currently out with a stinger, have made strong impressions this month while Kevin King has dealt with a hamstring injury. Drafted in the second round last year out of Iowa, Jackson wants to show he’s worthy of a role in Mike Pettine’s defense, too.
Jackson doesn’t feel his absence set him back too much, and he simply tried to keep a positive attitude. He focused on taking mental reps and feels ready to get back into game action.
“I just want to do my job, one play at a time,” he said. “Make the plays that come to me, and play with a vigorous mindset. Be aggressive, physical, smart, ball-aware.”
The Packers took to the practice field before heading to Canada to take on the Raiders.