For the first time since the Packers drafted him in 2005, Aaron Rodgers will finally get his first start on a national stage, albeit the preseason, against the Cincinnati Bengals. And yes, in all likelihood Brett Favre will be tuning in to ESPN from his new dwelling in the Big Apple. Here are five areas to keep an eye on during tonight’s game:
1. QB Aaron Rodgers. How can you not focus on him? This is his chance to finally prove to his doubters that he can take the reigns and lead the Packers back to the playoffs. It will be interesting how his chemistry with the first-string wideouts has progressed, although he may be playing without one of them as Greg Jennings is questionable to play with a knee injury.
2. LB Abdul Hodge. What a great story this has been. He didn’t play all of last year with chronic tendinitis in both knees, and was on the verge of getting cut. But after surgery and training this off-season in Arizona, he’s back. More on his battle back here. He should be getting a lot of reps tonight, especially with teammate Desmond Bishop questionable with an Achilles’ injury. If he can prove to coaches he is back to his former-ball hawk self when at Iowa, he may land one of the final spots on the team. The linebacker competition should be fierce.
3. Nickelback spot. Charles Woodson and Al Harris have their starting spots locked up again this year, but after that, the third spot is really up for grabs. Tramon Williams and Will Blackmon both showed flashes of brilliance last year, mainly returning kicks. After those two, Patrick Lee, one of three second round rookies from Auburn, should make a strong case for candidacy as well. And don’t rule out Jarrett Bush in that mix, although many green and gold fans probably would like to.
4. [Backup QBs] Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn. Rodger’s will probably get a quarter of work, give or take a few minutes, but other than that it will be up to draftees Brohm and Flynn to take the rest of the snaps. Brohm was a surprising pick in the second round by Ted Thompson after he had taken an unexpected fall down the draft board. Flynn was taken in the 7th round. They will be working with the second and third teamers, meaning Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, also high picks, could be likely targets.
5. Young O-Lineman. All I keep hearing out of Packer’s camp is how much coaches all in love with Allen Barbre, Josh Sitton and Brent Giacomini. Scott Wells, Junius Coston and Orrin Thompson are all questionable, leaving extra time for these three to impress. Barring serious injuries, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will secure the tackle spots, Wells center and Daryn Colledge/Junius Coston left guard. Of all five spots, Jason Spitz could be the one fighting for his starting job.