12 players needing to impress during Packers’ preseason battle with Jets

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Players on the roster bubble will get another opportunity to impress general manager Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur when the Green Bay Packers host the New York Jets for a preseason game at Lambeau Field on Saturday afternoon.

There’s a good chance as many as 40 roster spots are already locked up at this point, but a good chunk of the roster must still be decided, and there’s no better competition setting than a preseason game against another team.

Here are 12 players on the roster bubble – one for each position – that must impress when the Packers play the Jets on Saturday:

Quarterback: Kurt Benkert

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Jordan Love (right shoulder) is unlikely to play, so this is Benkert's chance to make a big impression and possibly even push to be the third quarterback on the 53-man roster. He is expected to start and play much of the game. Can he consistently go through progressions, make good decisions with the football and avoid turnovers? The Packers like him in the quarterback room, but he's a better bet for the practice squad than the roster at this point. He must play well against the Jets.

Running back: Patrick Taylor

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Taylor sits firmly behind Kylin Hill, who is closing in on roster lock status as the No. 3 running back. But Taylor can still make a legitimate run at a roster spot over the final two preseason games. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon have both been dinged up at times during camp, possibly opening the door for a fourth running back on the roster, and Taylor is in the running for the primary kickoff returner job. Matt LaFleur wants him to be more decisive as a runner.

Wide receiver: Equanimeous St. Brown

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (19) is shown during a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, June 8, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.

Veteran Devin Funchess proved he can play over the last two weeks, but he's nursing a hamstring injury now. Juwann Winfree is also hurt. Can St. Brown, the forgotten man, finally start making up ground in the receiver battle? He's been a frequent target for the second-team offense since coming back from his own injury. The Packers need to see him create separation and provide throwing opportunities for the two backup quarterbacks on Saturday. Run-blocking and special teams are also important factors in this competition. It's difficult to see St. Brown staying in Green Bay unless he stands out in live-game situations over the next two weeks.

Tight end: Jace Sternberger

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Every snap or opportunity over the next two weeks will be pivotal for Sternberger, who is suspended for the first two games of the regular season and isn't a lock to make the team once his suspension is over. The Packers clearly want more consistency out of their third-year tight end. He made the big play in the preseason opener on a 34-yard catch up the seam, but one splash play isn't going to be enough at the tight end position. It's time for him to start showing he can do all the little things right consistently.

Offensive tackle: Yosh Nijman

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He gave up the strip-sack on Jordan Love late in the first half of the preseason opener, but his 54-snap performance at left tackle was solid overall. Expect Nijman to get another good run on the left side against the Jets. He's a massive man with good athleticism, but speed can sometimes threaten him off the edge. Another strong performance – without the one glaring mistake – could put him one step closer to making the 53-man roster. Keeping Nijman might be valuable if All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari isn't going to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Interior offensive line: Lucas Patrick

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Patrick remains in the competition to be one of the starting guards on Week 1, but he's coming off a poor performance in the preseason opener and a week of practice in which he ran with the second-team offense for long stretches. It's unclear who will start with rookie Royce Newman at the guard positions against the Jets, but Patrick needs to bounce back whether he's with the ones or twos. If the Packers like Newman, Jon Runyan and Ben Braden enough at guard, the team could still move on from Patrick and save a bunch of money on the cap in 2021.

Defensive line: Willington Previlon

Green Bay Packers' Willington Previlon (99) is shown Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, during the team's first practice at training camp in Green Bay, Wis.

Previlon played quality snaps against the Texans and earned more chances to play with the No. 1 defense during the joint practices with the Jets. Can he keep stacking successes and convince the Packers to keep six defensive linemen? He's got the right body type for defensive end, and he's flashed some interior pass-rush ability. Maybe this is his chance to make a move. The same opportunity exists for undrafted rookie Jack Heflin.

Edge rusher: Jonathan Garvin

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Last year's seventh-round pick was mostly quiet during an extended run of playing time in the preseason opener. He's one of the favorites to be the fourth outside linebacker on the roster, but this competition remains wide open, and performance during the preseason games might end up being the deciding factor. Can Garvin provide more pass-rushing impact against the Jets? Tipa Galeai, Delontae Scott and Chauncey Rivers (a surprise player since arriving from Baltimore) are all in the running for the job.

Inside linebacker: Kamal Martin

Green Bay Packers inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti works with linebacker Kamal Martin (54) during the second day of organized team activities Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in Green Bay, Wis.

Martin didn't play in the preseason opener while recovering from a knee injury. A standout last summer, Martin has been with the third-team defense much of this year's camp, and the Packers have attempted to cross-train him at outside linebacker. Does he have a roster spot right now? The Packers have two starters (De'Vondre Campbell, Krys Barnes) and two solidified second-teamers (Ty Summers, Oren Burks). Martin is no higher than the No. 5 linebacker. And keep in mind, Ray Wilborn flashed a little bit in the preseason opener. Martin needs to catch up in a hurry, starting Saturday against the Jets.

Cornerback: Isaac Yiadom

(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

The Packers swapped Josh Jackson for Yiadom, a third-round pick in 2018 who is already on his third NFL team. Clearly, general manager Brian Gutekunst sees potential in the player. But where does he fit in the cornerback depth chart? The top four spots are locked in, rookie Shemar Jean-Charles is a good bet to make the roster and Kabion Ento has done everything required to make the team. Yiadom needs to impress early or his stop in Green Bay might only be a few weeks long. At this point, it would be difficult to give him a roster spot unless the Packers are keeping seven corners.

Safety: Innis Gaines

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Henry Black and Vernon Scott look like good bets to make the team. They've played a ton of snaps as both the No. 3 safety and on special teams throughout camp, and both were impressive against the Texans. Could a roster spot come down to Gaines vs. Will Redmond? Nicknamed "Thump," Gaines has been one of the big surprises of camp. He really should have had an interception in the preseason opener, and he looks like he could be a special teams ace. Another strong performance from Gaines against the Jets could put Redmond's roster spot in big trouble.

Specialist: Hunter Bradley

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Mason Crosby and JK Scott don't appear to be in any danger, and Bradley is in pretty good shape after the Packers released his competition early in camp. But things can change in an instant for long snappers. One bad snap is all it takes. Bradley will get all the snapping opportunities once again on Saturday, and he needs to be perfect. Any inconsistency and the Packers could entertain adding a long snapper at final cuts.

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