The Green Bay Packers will close out the preseason Saturday in Buffalo. Thirteen days later the team will open the regular season in New Orleans against the Saints. It will be the start of what many are hoping will be a push to the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl win and the second for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The same people hoping for that also likely understand it may be the last chance for this group to make that run due to the uncertainty around Rodgers’ future and the salary cap doom the team will find itself in next spring.
“Look, I think we all know what’s at stake. And I talked a little bit the other day about perspective and how important perspective is — focus on this season, enjoy the most out of this season because there are a lot of unknowns,” Rodgers said, referencing the status of himself, almost the entire wide receiver room and key pieces on defense. “They jumped through some hoops to get under the cap this year. Obviously, the cap is expected to go back up next year but you never know, so we’re just going to enjoy this season. It’s Titletown. It’s championship or disappointment just about every year.”
While Rodgers is correct with the whole Super Bowl or bust narrative in Green Bay, this time around is a bit different because of those unknowns. There would seemingly be even more pressure to not only get back to the NFC title game for a third straight year but also get to the Super Bowl and win it.
“It’s not something on my mind or the leaders’ minds as far as the long-term focus,” Rodgers said. “We try to keep things a little tighter focused on improvement and mindset on a daily basis. We obviously have goals, but what’s gotten us to this point of a couple subjectively successful years is that same focus on the mindset, chemistry, professionalism, so that’s not going to change.”
Battle for a starting job
It appears that all but two starting jobs have been locked up heading into the final preseason game. That’s not to say there aren’t fights further down the roster for the few remaining spots. The battle for a potential sixth wide receiver and the backup safety spots will be among the focus for coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst on Saturday in Buffalo. But in terms of starting spots, all eyes will be on the interior of the offensive line at both guard positions.
LaFleur said Thursday that rookie Royce Newman, 2020 draft pick Jon Runyan and veteran Lucas Patrick are in the mix to start.
“It’s competition all the way through and that’s what we said from the get go,” LaFleur said. “I think there’s been moments of really good play up front and then there has been some moments of inconsistency. Certainly we’re looking for guys that can consistently go out there and execute not only their assignment but also do it with the proper technique because ultimately that will lead to more long-term success.”
Newman, a fourth-round pick, got the start at left guard against New York last Saturday and he was lining up at right guard during practice this week.
“You can certainly see the talent,” LaFleur said. “We just have to make sure he continues to progress each and every day. With all those young rookies there’s definitely a learning curve. You just want to make sure he continues to understand some of the different nuances or looks that could potentially come up so there’s no hesitation in his play.”
Runyan didn’t start a game last season, but did play 160 snaps on offense at left guard. Patrick stepped in at right guard in Week 1 after Lane Taylor went down with a season-ending injury. He would go on to start the final 15 games plus the playoff.
Ultimately, the three are truly vying for one spot, because when David Bakhtiari makes his return from a torn ACL at some point this season, Elgton Jenkins will slide from left tackle back inside, likely to left guard.
“We’re just trying to find that right combination,” LaFleur said. “Whoever we put out there will definitely have a lot of preparation time.”