Green Bay evened its preseason record at 1-1 by beating the Cardinals 28-20 at Lambeau on Friday night. More importantly, a number of young players stepped up. Here’s a quick look at the movers and shakers from week 2:
GRAHAM HARRELL: The second-year quarterback has struggled for most of camp, but he justified coach Mike McCarthy’s faith in him on Friday night. The former Texas Tech star played with poise and even showed some zip on a few passes. Whether he has the arm strength to succeed against quality corners remains to be seen, but he probably played well enough to convince GM Ted Thompson to carry a third quarterback.
DIMITRI NANCE: The former Arizona State star ended last season on the 53-man roster, but he’s pretty much been a forgotten man this summer. That might’ve changed thanks to a solid performance on Friday night. He ran very hard and he didn’t look overmatched in protection. The Packers probably won’t keep a fourth running back, but Nance’s quality work against the Cardinals will at least give Thompson something to think about in the coming weeks.
CHASTIN WEST: The second-year receiver was impressive a year ago, but he lost out to Brett Swain. And while the former Fresno State star has distanced himself from Swain this summer, he could still wind up on the outside looking in. That’s because the five receivers ahead of him on the depth chart are guaranteed spots on the final roster. West might force Thompson to keep a sixth player at this position. If not, he could be traded. He has the ability be a No. 4 or maybe even a No. 3 for a number of teams.
RYAN TAYLOR: The rookie tight end is fighting for a roster spot at one of the deepest positions, but it’s hard to imagine him not sticking. Already a demon on special teams and a surprisingly adept receiver, he showed improvement as a blocker against the Cards. The former linebacker needs to work on his technique, but he has the size and toughness to knock defenders off the ball in the running game and at least slow down defensive ends in pass protection. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him vault up the depth chart.
T.J. LANG: Some will argue that rookie first-round pick Derek Sherrod played his way out of the competition at left guard on Friday night, but that would be extremely unfair. Lang has been solid all summer. The third-year pro from Eastern Michigan looks unsure of himself at times, but that will happen when a still young offensive lineman is forced to take snaps at as many as four different positions in practice. It’s time to let him settle in at left guard and become the player he has the potential to be.
EVAN DIETRICH-SMITH: The third-year offensive lineman will never be more than an 8th or 9th offensive lineman in the National Football League, but he’s been better than Nick McDonald all summer. While Dietrich-Smith has plenty of physical limitations, he does have the strength to slow down defensive tackles – at least a little. McDonald is more talented, but he gets pushed around by even mediocre players. One could argue that neither player is good enough to back up center Scott Wells, but after Friday night, it’s hard to argue that McDonald is more deserving of a spot on the final roster.
C.J. WILSON: The second-year defensive end left early after taking a blow to the head, but not before he left a fairly positive impression. He didn’t get blown off the line of scrimmage and he fought through heavy traffic to locate the ball. More importantly, the former East Carolina standout played with more passion than he’s shown so far this summer. Maybe he was pumped up because he was starting or maybe he finally realized that his spot on the final roster was in serious jeopardy. Whatever the reason, he finally resembled the player whom the coaches had such high hopes for at the start of camp.
JARIUS WYNN: The former Georgia star was released last summer, but he’s playing at a much higher level now. While he’s still not a consistent pass rusher – his supposed strength – he does have some potential in that area. More importantly, Wynn is at least holding his own against the run – something he was unable to do in the past. He’ll always be undersized for a 3-4 end, but he’s gained about 15 pounds and improved his technique since joining the Packers three years ago and it showed on Friday night.
D.J. SMITH: The rookie’s lack of height makes comparisons to former Pro Bowler Sam Mills inevitable, but there’s more to it than just their size. I watched Mills when he played for USFL’s Philadelphia Stars in the early 80s, and believe me when I tell you that Smith looks like an exact replica. Whether he’ll develop into a star like Mills remains to be seen, but his instincts and his explosiveness gives him a chance to be successful. He might not be ready to be the No. 3 inside linebacker, but he belongs on the final roster.
JOSH GORDY: The second-year corner was given a major opportunity on Friday night, and while he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory, he didn’t hurt his chances of making the final roster either. He needs to clean up his footwork, but he has above-average speed, fluid hips and decent instincts. That might not be enough to make him an effective starter at this level, but it should be enough to keep him around as the No. 6 cornerback. That is, of course, if Thompson decides to keep six players at that position.