“I like criticism. It makes you strong.” – LeBron James
Whether the Green Bay Packers rookie wide receivers liked it or not, their starting quarterback had some not-so-flattering thoughts about his young catchers. Just 48 short hours before the first preseason game, a game which Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t play in, he was leading the scout team. Scout team plays are run by showing the play on a card in the huddle, each person’s assignment drawn out like a map toward success. ‘X’ marking the spot where the positive side of the roster bubble might exist. Succeed in these drills and the coaching staff has more of a reason to move you up the ladder to get first team reps. Unfortunately, this set of drills wasn’t going well, as Rodgers ended practice throwing at a tackling dummy because the dummies were the only thing open.
Shortly after practice, Rodgers called the effort “piss poor,” stating “It was one of the worst card sessions we’ve had. I don’t know how you can make it any simpler. You literally have what the play would be in our terminology on the card, and the effort level was very low.”
Rodgers is widely known as a smart leader. It’s entirely possible he was carefully choosing his time to be critical of his team, knowing a true test of merit can be seen when someone is put under the microscope. The strong become better, throwing the criticism aside and using it as fuel. The weak let it consume them, eating from the inside out. Whatever Rodgers’ goal was, the spark had been lit.
In the first game of the preseason against the Tennessee Titans, the wide receivers as a whole accounted for 334 yards of offense through the air, leaving only 38 yards for tight ends and running backs. Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison continued to be the starting outside receivers. Allison hauled in two receptions for 12 yards, showing that he is in the first group only through being on the field to begin the game. Adams showed why he is the clear cut number one in his two catches for the night, including an impressive move against Titan cornerback Malcolm Butler which netted him 48 of his 57 yards.
Where the competition for reps is heating up is with the aforementioned rookie receivers. Equanimeous St. Brown, with four catches for 61 yards, was perhaps the most consistent of the rookies as he caught passes from all three of the quarterbacks with impressive moves after the catch. J’Mon Moore, with three receptions for 27 yards, looked a bit like Adams did his rookie year. All the body control, quickness, and separation ability you look for, but not much finish. Moore struggled to finish his big play opportunities during the game, most notably a beautifully thrown deep ball by quarterback Tim Boyle which bounced off Moore’s hands as he outpaced his coverage by two yards.
Making the wide receiver battle even more difficult were great showings by Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow. Each hauling in a touchdown of their own, as Valdes-Scantling caught five balls for 101 yards and Kumerow had three receptions for 76 yards. Valdes-Scantling needs to continue his great start, having potential that teases with great speed and separation ability, winning both on the outside and from the slot. Kumerow needs to keep his consistency going, showing more of his own separation ability that allowed a 52 yard catch Thursday night. Continued performances throughout the preseason like these will make it hard not to place both Valdes-Scantling and Kumerow both on the 53 man roster.
The impressive night through the air wouldn’t have happened without some good things happening at quarterback. Three men saw action Thursday, with Brett Hundley drawing the start. Connecting on 9 of his 14 attempts for 108 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, Hundley showed marked improvement over 2017, looking both sharp and decisive with the ball. He continues to improve his downfield throwing with his connection to Adams perhaps being his best throw to date. Where Hundley still needs to improve from last year is in his pocket awareness.
DeShone Kizer picked up where Hundley left off, throwing 18 times and finding nine receivers for 134 yards. Kizer showed speed in his scrambling with impressive arm strength. The area he needs to continue to develop is to balance his arm strength with some accuracy.
Finishing out the night, and providing the most fireworks, rookie free agent Tim Boyle found seven receivers on 15 attempts for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Boyle’s passer rating of 116.7 placed him behind only Baker Mayfield’s 125.4 rating among all rookie quarterbacks during the first weekend of the preseason. Against Tennessee’s second and third string defenses, Boyle was able to show great arm strength, pocket awareness, good field vision, and accuracy. If he can continue to outperform the other quarterbacks, he may have a shot at squeezing his own spot on the 53 man roster.
The ground game only gained 50 total yards, as starter Jamaal Williams only had five attempts for 16 yards, although he found pay dirt on his one reception for 8 yards. What Williams showed on his one catch spoke volumes, however, as he was able to elude an open field tackle and find the end zone, something which wasn’t prevalent last year. He needs to continue taking advantage of the reps to establish himself as the lead back.
The game only saw two other running backs receive carries with Ty Montgomery only in for three attempts and 9 yards. Joel Bouagnon was able to find the end zone once in his 11 attempts and 25 yards, showing quickness between the tackles. Bouagnon needs to take advantage of the injuries to the other running backs to even get roster spot consideration.
The game plan’s emphasis was clearly on the passing attack. Hopefully this week’s contest sees growth and consistency, with or without a little pushing by the starting quarterback.