Wayne Larrivee's Packers pregame primer: at San Francisco 49ers in preseason

Wayne Larrivee
Wayne Larrivee's Packers pregame primer
Wayne Larrivee's Packers pregame primer
Wayne Larrivee's Packers pregame primer
Posted at 12:01 AM, Aug 26, 2016
The third preseason game of the summer is generally considered the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season.
Back in the day the starters would play the entire first half and come out for a series or two in the third quarter. This was the first game where they would be tested in an extended regular season “game like” appearance. 
Today, as I watch teams around the league, preparing for the regular season is an evolving endeavor.
The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players union dictates what teams can do in practice as far as wearing pads and the elimination of “two-a-day” practice sessions.
The “bigger, faster, stronger” aspect of the players makes full contact in practice foolish from an injury standpoint, so when an observer like me or a fan like you asks; “How are the Packers looking coming into the regular season? Are they ready for opening day?”...
...based on what I’ve seen in practice to this point, based on what we’ve seen in two pre season games, I really don’t know the answer to those questions. Many key veterans haven’t even played in a preseason game yet, so I’m not sure anyone across the league knows exactly where their team is at this point in training camp.
Game exposure in the preseason with your top players is a double-edged sword of preparation over risk.
The worst thing that can happen in a preseason game happened to the Packers and Jordy Nelson last summer in Pittsburgh. Nelson’s pre season knee injury cost him the year and severely impacted the Packers offense.
But look at the tape; Jordy’s knee injury was not the result of contact from a defender. Matter of fact, what Nelson did in that game could have just as easily happened in practice or out in his backyard playing with the kids!
I understand those who fret over the risk of exposing key players in preseason games, but the fact is Jordy’s injury could have happened just about anywhere!  
I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer to the question of how you prepare an NFL team for the regular season. Many factors come into play for each team when determining how much preseason action is enough for your veteran players.
Some of those include the age of your core players, development of young starters, position groupings, perhaps a new system of offense or defense being implemented. That’s what makes “taking” anything of substance about your team out of these preseason games tough because everyone is in a different place with a different agenda.  By September the only agenda for every team is WINNING!
Mike McCarthy and the Packers have given their interior people on both sides of the line of scrimmage some quality work in this preseason.
They have featured the running game, not because starting QB Aaron Rodgers has been held out of the first two games while his backup Brett Hundley has been limited to a dozen or so plays due to an ankle sprain, but because it is hard to “rep” the running game in practice.
You need to hit and be hit (full go) to get meaningful repetitions in the running game. That doesn’t happen in practice.
The Packers have run the football 81 times in two games! They are averaging 148 rushing yards per game and just under four yards per running play in two preseason games.
Eddie Lacy has 13 attempts; John Crockett has 12 and James Starks 11 rushing attempts. They should get a little more work tonight in San Francisco.
The running game is about and exudes toughness in an NFL offense. That’s the kind of edge Lacy provided his first two years in the league and it appears, with his improved conditioning, he is ready to reestablish that dimension again this season.
Crockett appears to me to be emerging in these preseason games.  He leads the team in receiving with seven catches, 44 yards and a touchdown and has rushed for 43 yards on 12 carries with an impressive 10-yard touchdown run last week against the Raiders.
Coach McCarthy was looking for Crockett to step to the next level and make a case for a roster spot and the North Dakota St. product appears to be doing just that.
Quick Takes 
Two things: about the Green Bay player personnel department and the Packers coaches when it comes to unheralded college free agents. The scouts know talent and the coaching staff, maybe the best teaching staff in the NFL, gives those prospects more than enough of an opportunity to make the squad.
If I’m a football player and I don’t get drafted, I try to sign with Green Bay because I will get training and an opportunity to make the team and that’s all a college free agent can ask for.
Some unsung prospects are making a case for the 53-man roster in this camp: 
- Josh Hawkins, the cornerback out of East Carolina, made a nice interception last week against the Raiders and his ability to “stick” to receivers has been impressive the entire camp.
- Kentrell Brice, the safety from Louisiana Tech, has certainly shown up in a crowded defensive secondary. He is a forceful hitter who is second on the team in tackles with six and leads the special teams with three solo tackles.  He appears to have nice range in the middle of the field.
- Marwin Evans, the Milwaukee area product from Oak Creek High School is another promising free agent defensive back. He has caught everyone’s eye with his performance against the Raiders last week.  He is third on the team with five tackles, four solo stops in the two-preseason games.
- Makinton Dorleant ,out of Northern Iowa ,has been coming on of late. He played very well against the Raiders.
- Peter Mortell, the local Green Bay product out of the University of Minnesota is more than just a good story.
The Packers signed him because he has a good leg. He set a school record with a career 44 yard average, kicked in bad weather (Big Ten and Minnesota in November is no picnic), and he can place the football as 76 career punts inside the twenty would suggest.
Statistically in the games, Mortell is outkicking veteran Tim Masthay (49.2 yards per punt, 48.8 net and four inside the twenty to 42.7 yards, 26.7 net and one inside the twenty for Masthay).
What we see in games is just a portion of the ongoing competition between the two. Coaches are evaluating their work in practice as well.
Tim is the veteran, he’s been there before, and is an excellent holder for Mason Crosby on field goals.  Trust me, that is not an inconsequential aspect of this competition.
In the end, consistency is the key for a kicker/punter and whoever is more consistent will win the job.  But suffice to say, Mortell has opened some eyes with his performance - he belongs in the NFL.
Perhaps the best defensive player on the field for the Packers this summer has been former fourth round draft pick, linebacker Carl Bradford. He has been a tackling machine, leading the club with seven overall and six solo tackles.
As McCarthy said a week ago, “maybe the light has gone on for him.” 
Bradford’s conversion from outside linebacker to inside linebacker has taken some time, but his reads have been “right on” and his tackling “thunderous!”
Joe Thomas played as the nickel linebacker much of last season, but this summer he has really flashed.  Like Bradford, one gets the impression Thomas is playing with more confidence and understanding of the defense, and that has led to some decisive play and impactful hits.
The Packers will get quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the field for the first time this summer. I would expect to see Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers as well.
I am not sure how many series they will get, but figure at least a couple depending on how many plays their first tour entails.
From all I hear, I don’t believe Jordy Nelson will play in the game tonight. They are easing him into practice activity slowly and the target remains the opener in Jacksonville.
Talk about different agendas: San Francisco is trying to figure out who their quarterback will be.  Blaine Gabbert, a former first round pick by Jacksonville, has started the first two games while Colin Kaepernick has nursed a sore shoulder.
Tonight Kaepernick will play, and in the words of one 49er front office operative, now the competition can begin at that position.
The Packers' defense has been solid if not spectacular in the first two preseason games.  Green Bay has allowed just 61.5 rushing yards per game.
Under new head coach Chip Kelly, the Niners are determined to run the ball effectively!  In two preseason games against two strong defenses (albeit pre season), San Francisco is posting 210 rushing yards per game, number one in the NFL.  
You recall last year, Kelly’s Eagles came into Lambeau Field with their no huddle offense and posted some incredible numbers in the first half against the Packers.
But remember, regardless of what happens tonight, this is preseason.  By late in the regular season last year, the Eagles were so dreadful that Kelly was out of a job before the campaign was over.
All of this quick snap, no huddle, 80-some plays a game offense that worked so well for Kelly in Oregon, does well in the preseason, but when people start game-planning in the regular season, they find ways to stop it. 
Hope you are able to stay up late with us tonight on 620 WTMJ the Packers Radio Network (7 p.m. broadcast time for Packers Preview).