Jason Wilde offers three keys for the Green Bay Packers when they face the Buffalo Bills in their final preseason game Saturday at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
1. SUMMER OF LOVE
After missing last week’s game against the New York Jets — and the two joint practices the Packers had with them — No. 2 quarterback Jordan Love (above) apparently is cleared for takeoff after taking part in 11-on-11 work during both Wednesday and Thursday’s practices. Head coach Matt LaFleur’s plan is for Love to start and play at least the first half. If he can go into the third quarter, even better. Then No. 3 QB Kurt Benkert will take over and finish up.
The Packers went into training camp and preseason games wanting Love to get as much work as possible. That went down the drain when he suffered a right/throwing shoulder injury just before halftime of the preseason opener against Houston on Aug. 14. While there’s no making up for lost time, and Love will be the primary backup to Aaron Rodgers no matter what he does against the Bills, this is critical game action he desperately needs. One thing the coaches want to see? More decisiveness, which was one of the few drawbacks to Love’s debut against the Texans.
“Really, it’s (about) trust when you’re out there with these guys and it’s the first time — the trust of the system, the trust of the routes, the trust of the route depths, the trust of the timing (and) the footwork, everything,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “I think that as he gets that, he’ll be able to pull the trigger more and more and more. That’s just something that’s got to come with time.”
2. INTO THE GREAT WIDE (RECEIVER) OPEN
Matt LaFleur’s last words on the competition for the No. 6 wide receiver spot were to call it “a fight right down to the finish.” But it was the phrase he used before that — ”If we do choose to keep six” — that matters more. With the top five of Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and rookie third-round pick Amari Rodgers set, it’s up to Malik Taylor (above), Equanimeous St. Brown and Reggie Begelton to show that it’s worth a roster spot to keep one of them. So far, none has stated such a case that clearly, although Taylor has probably had the best camp of the bunch, followed by Begelton.
“Coming into this year, one of the biggest things that I wanted to work on was playing fast, going out there and not even thinking and just letting loose, really,” Taylor said. “It makes it easier when you have a quarterback like Kurt, Jordan, Aaron. When you connect, that confidence builds and it’s fun out there.”
3. SAFETY DANCE
While losing veteran Will Redmond to a season-ending foot injury was less than ideal because of his role as a key special-teams contributor, his landing on injured reserve opens up another spot for one of the four young safeties the team likes: Henry Black (above), Vernon Scott, Christian Uphoff and Innis Gaines. Black and Scott are likely the backups behind starting safeties Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos, but Scott’s late-in-camp hamstring injury may complicate matters. If he’s going to be out awhile, the team could keep him on the initial cutdown to 53, then place him on IR with the ability to return in a few weeks. That would open another spot for Uphoff or Gaines, or both.
Of the two, the hard-hitting Uphoff could probably help soonest on special teams, while Gaines could probably use a year on the practice squad after his two ACL tears in college at TCU.
“I’m a playmaker. No matter where I’m at — defense, special teams — I’m going to make plays,” said Uphoff, who knocked off two would-be Jets blockers last week to make the tackle on a punt return. “I made a couple plays last week, and I’m going to make some more this week, so we’ll see.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.
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