GREEN BAY — Don’t expect to see starting quarterbacks Alex Smith or Aaron Rodgers take snaps. Do expect to see running backs Jamaal Charles and Eddie Lacy wearing baseball caps on the sideline.
With roster decisions looming, the preseason game between Kansas City and Green Bay on Thursday night at Lambeau Field belongs to the backups, rookies and undrafted free agents. It’s time for the longshots and hopefuls to make a good impression if they want to stick around.
That means the game is a test for the Chiefs’ No. 3 running back job between Cyrus Gray and Joe McKnight, or perhaps it will settle the Packers backup quarterback battle between Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien.
“It’s like any position. Matt and Scott aren’t just competing against each other,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “You have to keep your best players. They’re really competing against the other positions.”
Rosters must be trimmed to the 53-man limit by Saturday afternoon.
“This last game is important. That young men know that,” Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson said. “This will be interesting stuff.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid at one point apparently considered the Packers game an opportunity to give his reshuffled offensive line a little work. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore, especially with left tackle Eric Fisher coming down with the flu this week.
So Thursday night will be the perfect chance for Reid to check out the backups from which he needs to draw to build needed depth.
“Yeah, well, there have been some good, there have been some bad,” Reid said about the offensive line’s ability to get push up front this preseason.
He is also looking for solid backups in the secondary, and a healthy body to become the top target at receiver.
Dwayne Bowe, who has a groin injury, is suspended for the opener after getting arrested last November. Junior Hemingway has an injured hip, so former practice squad player Frankie Hammond may use Thursday’s game as a chance to prove he can be a go-to guy.
Same goes in the backfield, where Gray and McKnight are looking to secure the third running back spot behind Charles and Knile Davis.
“I think they need the reps,” Charles said about the backups. “They need that experience. I think once they get that experience of being in the game and being part of a preseason playing against a first-team defense then they’ll get comfortable.”
Though they likely won’t be facing the Packers defensive starters much, if at all.
One exception might be at defensive tackle, where B.J. Raji went down with a season-ending biceps injury in last week’s win over the Raiders. Perhaps second-year player Josh Boyd gets a chance to boost his confidence in the middle. Undrafted free agent Mike Pennel has impressed in the preseason and could use Thursday to boost his case to part of the tackle rotation.
Another undrafted rookie, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott figures to get his most playing time yet this preseason. He has made a strong case with four sacks in the last two preseason games — including three in four fourth-quarter plays two weeks ago against St. Louis.
“And now it was rare, in the St. Louis game, what he did there. But he did, he followed up and got another sack this last week, so it will be interesting to watch to see how he does Thursday night,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Let’s see if he can follow it up with more production.”
The most intriguing competition of the night is for the Packers quarterback job. Flynn and Tolzien will likely split playing time by quarter.
In the end, McCarthy could keep both guys anyway. Flynn proved to be a worthy backup when he returned to Green Bay at midseason last year after Rodgers was sidelined with a collarbone injury.
Tolzien has shown enough potential that he could be signed by another club if he gets put on the practice squad.
“We’re going to make sure everybody has an opportunity against Kansas City to show what they’ve got,” he said.