Kickers, right tackles highlight competition in Packers-Rams game

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Harrell, Young also will battle
to capture the No. 2 QB job

GREEN BAY – Who stays? Who goes? For several Packers that question will be decided to a large degree by how they play in Saturday night’s second preseason game at St. Louis.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy put the onus on his players to win battles.
“The players have to make it clear who the starters are,” he said. “It’s not up to me.”
Here are five key matchups to watch Saturday night:

Kicker: Mason Crosby vs. Giorgio Tavecchio

Whatever edge Crosby had as the incumbent has evaporated. In what has become a straight-up battle to be the Packers’ placekicker, Crosby and Tavecchio attempted 18 field goals during practice. Crosby drilled 17 of 18 while Tavecchio was a perfect 18-for-18.
St. Louis’ dome provides perfect conditions to kick in.
Crosby kicked off to start the game last week. It will be interesting to see if Tavecchio gets the call this week.
The final decision on a kicker likely will go to the wire.

Receiver: Jeremy Ross vs. Tyrone Walker

In a perfect Packers world, Ross would emerge as the team’s No. 4 or No. 5 receiver and also handle the punt and kick return duties.
The problem is Ross continues to be plagued by inconsistency. Unless he earns the coaching staff’s trust between now and the final roster cuts – and that means few if any mistakes (drops, muffs, bad routes, fumbles) – will be tolerated.
Perhaps Ross will become a more reliable pass catcher in the next few weeks, but his penchant for drops likely will be his undoing.
Tyrone Walker catches everything thrown his way. What remains to be seen is whether he can get open, run precise routes and become a threat after the catch.

Right tackle: Marshall Newhouse vs. Don Barclay

Newhouse has started 29 of 32 games the past two seasons, a fact that can be viewed in one of two ways. With that much experience it would seem the relatively raw Barclay might have too great a challenge. On the other hand, Newhouse’s experience should make him more consistent, but that hasn’t been the case.
Whether Newhouse or Barclay nails down the starting right tackle job, the Packers should be OK there.

Backup quarterback: Graham Harrell vs. Vince Young

Harrell played better during training camp practices this week. Now he has to carry that into Saturday night’s game. He can’t afford to have another weak showing against the Rams.
Harrell’s edge over Young is his experience in the offense and his familiarity with all things Green Bay. The fact that he occasionally makes poor decisions is cause for concern. The other challenge for Harrell may be the simple fact that he’s maxed out his potential.
For Young’s part, he has made a solid start to unseat Harrell. Young completed several deep balls this week, and his athleticism and mobility are superior to Harrell’s.
Young has an opportunity to exceed Harrell on the depth chart with a strong showing against the Rams. It will be interesting to see how quickly he has assimilated the offense.

Running back: DuJuan Harris vs. Eddie Lacy

McCarthy has made it clear that Harris is going to get every opportunity to open the season as the No. 1 running back. Barring injury or a superb performance by Lacy at St. Louis, I believe Harris will win the job.
Harris was good enough to gain 48 yards in the first half of last year’s playoff loss at San Francisco against a strong defense in a playoff setting. Ultimately, McCarthy was the one who stopped Harris by giving him just two rushing attempts in the second half – both on the first series.
The best guess here is that Harris is the back on early downs, and Lacy emerges as the short-yardage/goal-line back. That means Johnathan Franklin would be the third down back, and either Alex Green or James Starks becomes the insurance policy.
That said, Lacy could force his way into the starting lineup on sheer talent if he shows big in the remaining preseason games.
Whoever is the starting back, it seems clear that McCarthy means to run the football this season, and he intends to do it well. There has been more focus on the run game and it will carry into the regular season. With McCarthy truly willing, it will be interesting to see if the running back stable is able.

Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is
Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through
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