Five Packers with the most to gain in joint practices, preseason Week 2 vs. Patriots
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Green Bay Packers headman Matt LaFleur noticed a difference between this year’s team during the preseason opener and past iterations. The fifth-year coach hinted at a level of physicality and aggressiveness that was, to his eyes, more acute than at any time in his tenure even as three of those teams competed for NFC titles.
Attitudes aren’t the only things that have changed since then with Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst turning the roster over to a team now dominated by young players, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. And while there aren’t more than a handful of bona fide starting jobs on the line this preseason, players can force their way into those conversations whether it’s for starting jobs, rotational opportunities, or one of those last spots on the final 53.
Here are five players with the chance to help themselves the most this week as the Packers square off with Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots, first in joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday followed by another preseason game Saturday night.
Anthony Johnson Jr.
After a slow start to the spring and early camp, converted Iowa State cornerback Anthony Johnson Jr. found a groove against the Cincinnati Bengals with a near-interception and strong play in a safety room. He parlayed that impressive exhibition debut into reps with the first-team defense on Sunday and Monday’s practices. It’s fair to expect he’ll get some opportunities to do the same this week, whether in joint sessions with the New England Patriots or in Saturday’s game.
Johnson’s late start at the safety position puts the slow start into sharper focus. But the rookie shows good instincts and tackles well for a player who spent three years at corner before switching positions as a senior. It makes sense someone relatively new to the position would be a gamer more than a player who shows well in practice.
But that makes the live sessions with the Patriots this week crucial to proving to the coaches he’s ready to have a meaningful role on this defense. Remember, Johnson finished in the top 100 of the Pro Football Focus pre-draft rankings and boasted a coverage grade over 90 at Iowa State. This is not your typical seventh-round pick.