The Packers are one of the league's youngest teams and have a roster that runs deep with green, gold-level talent. Most of the starting jobs, especially on offense, are wrapped up. At the back end of the roster, though, young guys are battling for backup jobs, with some just hoping to make enough of an impression to earn a practice-squad invitation. The first roster cut, from 90 to 75 players, is four days after Thursday’s game at Cincinnati. Fringe players know this is their last non-practice opportunity to prove their worth.
The most difficult bubble decisions in the first cut won't be waiving over-the-hill veterans or saying goodbye to beloved big names. The Packers got that tricky business out of the way months ago, releasing longtime left tackle Chad Clifton, Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins and incumbent starting safety Charlie Peprah. They also restructured the contract of fan favorite Donald Driver to ensure his return. There aren’t a lot of recognizable faces on the Green Bay bubble, so the tough calls will be made on the unproven guys -- the undrafted rookies, middling journeymen and once-promising backsliders trying to re-sheen their luster. Here are a few players who once played important roles for the Packers but are now fighting for their jobs.
Jarius Wynn (DE, fourth year, three sacks last season, tied for most among Packers DLs): Wynn began the 2011 season on a tear, notching three sacks in the first three games. Since then, he’s been in witness protection, unheard from and unremarkable. After Week 3 last year, he didn’t have another sack and had only two multiple-tackle games. In the offseason, Green Bay beefed up its defensive line, adding new bodies to boost the competition. Wynn got buried on the depth chart -- far behind C.J. Wilson, the presumptive starter in the base 3-4, and rookie Jerel Worthy, who plays in the nickel package. Wynn has done nothing with the precious few practice reps he’s gotten and has been a nonfactor the first two games. At this point, the writing is on the wall; Wynn will probably be cut. But, then again, two defensive linemen (Mike Neal and Anthony Hargrove) are starting the season suspended, and a big game for Wynn Thursday against the Bengals -- when he should get on the field a bit -- could convince coaches to bring him back. Wynn is the embodiment of the impotent 2011 pass rush that the Packers have desperately sought to makeover. Unless he shows the ability to consistently get to the quarterback, his time in Green Bay is over.
Frank Zombo (LB, third year, four sacks in 2010): An undrafted diamond-in-the-rough in 2010, Zombo had a sack in the Super Bowl, but he was no gem last season. Counting playoffs, he played in just six games because of shoulder and hamstring injuries, making 10 tackles and a sack. The hamstring problems lingered throughout the offseason and training camp; Zombo has yet to pass his physical and practice. His outside linebacker position is a lot more crowded now than it was the last time he was on the field. First-round pick Nick Perry, who will start, and rookie free agent Dezman Moses, who’s doing his best Zombo impression by turning heads at practice, have joined three others: Erik Walden, who looks better than ever, Brad Jones, a versatile linebacker valuable on special teams, and Vic So’oto, the requisite undrafted sensation in 2011. Being hurt and unable to prove yourself is a cruel way to fall behind -- and it’s possible the Packers could keep Zombo on PUP. But if the oft-injured linebacker can’t get out of the training room and onto the field, he won't make the roster.
Graham Harrell (QB, first year, started the previous two seasons on practice squad): After Matt Flynn departed Green Bay to seek a starting job with the Seahawks, Harrell was the only quarterback left behind reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. The Packers handed Harrell the backup job, held their breath and hoped for the best. They’re still holding and hoping, but maybe not for long. The No. 2 offense has looked downright ugly in two preseason games, and Harrell has not been good: a combined 27 of 51 for 235 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The numbers don’t tell the whole story; neither interception was strictly his fault. One was an end-of-half Hail Mary, and the receiver fell down on the other. But, stats aside, Harrell hasn't passed the eyeball test. He’s been jumpy, erratic and indecisive. The arm-strength questions that have dogged him since he went undrafted out of Texas Tech (despite holding numerous NCAA passing records) are still being asked. Coaches said at the outset of training camp that Harrell had gotten stronger in the offseason and, in practice, he seems capable of making the throws. But in games, his passes have often been behind and short. Coaches and teammates -- especially Rodgers, who’s been staunchly supportive of his friend -- continue to endorse Harrell as an able backup, lauding his smarts and faulting lack of snaps for his struggles. Coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson have steadfastly denied they’re looking for a veteran free agent to replace Harrell. But what else are they going to say? Browns backup Colt McCoy’s name has floated around. It’s just a rumor but don’t discount it.
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