Packers vs. Colts: Things to watch tonight
The Packers play their third exhibition game tonight at Lambeau Field and, by all accounts, this is the one that matters.
Except that it doesn't really matter.
Super Bowl-believing fans, reporters and a national cable TV audience will pay close attention to the proceedings tonight, when the Packers host Indianapolis. The starters for both teams are expected to play in the first half -- a heavy workload by pre-season standards -- and conclusions about both clubs will be drawn.
When the season starts, they'll probably be forgotten.
The Packers are 1-1 in their first two exhibitions. The Colts, who generally play poorly in practice games and somehow still manage to contend for the AFC title each season, are 0-2.
Here are a handful of things to watch tonight on ESPN, or, if you prefer a more local flavor, the Channel 12 simulcast of ESPN's broadcast, which will feature "Monday Night Football" announcers Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden.
End of the line? The Packers will use the final two exhibition games to evaluate fringe players like offensive tackles Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini. Those two players are fighting for roster spots with T.J. Lang, Evan Dietrich-Smith and rookie Marshall Newhouse.
Giacomini, a former Penn State standout who has had virtually no impact during his first two seasons, has been lauded for improved play during practice but has given up a sack in each of the first two preseason games. At 6 feet 7 inches and 318 pounds, Giacomini has a prototypical right tackle body that makes offensive line coaches drool. But, he hasn't been able to avoid critical mistakes.
Barbre, bothered by back issues, might not play against the Colts. He's been working at left tackle and left guard. Giacomini and Barbre could both end up on the waiver wire the first week of September.
The Rookie: Rookie Bryan Bulaga from Iowa has played well in camp and, despite being drafted as a tackle, is competing with veteran Daryn Colledge for the starting job at left guard. Colledge can secure his job with a strong outing. Bulaga, who left practice Monday with a hip flexor issue, has been a quick study. Chances are that coach Mike McCarthy will declare one of these two guys as the starter shortly after this game.
Homecoming game: Colts coach Jim Caldwell, a native of Beloit, posted a 16-3 overall record during his debut season. Caldwell, who played college football at the University of Iowa, was an assistant under head coach Tony Dungy and has the respect of his team and its fan base. Despite leading his team to the Super Bowl last year, he still has a low profile nationally.
On the shelf: The Packers will be without safety Atari Bigby (ankle), cornerback Al Harris (knee) and running back James Starks (hamstring) -- all of whom are on the physically unable to perform list and won't play.
Linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) is out, while running backs Kregg Lumpkin (hamstring) and RB Quinn Porter (ankle) are listed as doubtful. Linebacker Brad Jones (shoulder), Barbre (back) and defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) are questionable. Linebackers A.J. Hawk (ankle) and Alex Joseph (quadriceps) are probable.
Tough test: Though the Colts don't put much stock in the preseason (does anybody?), they're a good test for Game 3 because the Packers' offense will try to protect red hot Aaron Rodgers from accomplished players like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and the defense will try to corral Peyton Manning.
Shorthanded: The Packers running back corps is a little thin, with Lumpkin and Porter suffering leg injuries and sixth-round draft pick James Starks on the physically unable to perform list. Look for Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson to get most of the carries -- possibly into the second half -- with John Kuhn taking some of the slack.
Opportunity knocks: With Al Harris sidelined, the competition for playing time at cornerback will be in the spotlight tonight. Rookie Sam Shields has shown enough speed to make plays, while Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood have been underwhelming.
The battle at outside linebacker will heat up tonight, too. Brady Poppinga and rookie Frank Zombo will get plenty of playing time this week while Clay Matthews and Brad Jones look on from the sideline.
Zombo, who has had a terrific camp, is winning hearts on the coaching staff and could win a spot on the roster.
Just for kicks: The Packers have to pick a punter, and so far the battle between Chris Bryan and Tim Masthay is too close to call. Both have interesting stories. Bryan, 28, grew up in Melbourne and played Australian Rules Football. Prior to joining the Packers, he'd never punted with a long snapper or with people rushing him.
Masthay, a 23-year-old from the University of Kentucky, didn't take up football until his junior year in high school.
Though they have been cordial and supportive to each other, only one will be around for the season opener in Philadelphia and the next two games will determine which one wins the job.
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