If anyone really looks forward to exhibition football games, this is the week to pay attention. One good place to start is in Oakland.
Not because Aaron Rodgers will see plenty of action for Green Bay; he won’t, might not play at all. And the Raiders’ best player, Khalil Mack, still is holding out. Such is the approach for players and coaches in the preseason.
But Rodgers gets to hang out — if not warm up with — an old friend and his former favorite target.
The departure of receiver Jordy Nelson has left Rodgers in need of a new partner to take part in one of his pregame routines. In the end zone before a game, there would be Rodgers and Nelson playing catch and spinning footballs on their fingertips. That won’t happen Friday night now that Nelson is a Raider, though they remain good friends.
“He said he has his own pregame routine now so we can’t play catch before the game, so I’m a little disappointed by that,” Rodgers quipped. “He’s changed. … He’s a new guy.”
The competition between Brett Hundley and offseason acquisition DeShone Kizer to back up Rodgers will be a focal point for the Packers. Plus, depth is starting to become an issue at running back because injuries have slowed Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. Jones could play Friday as he comes back from a hamstring injury, though the Packers will be without him for the first two weeks of the season because of an NFL suspension. Ty Montgomery is the only healthy holdover from last year.
On the other side, Raiders coach Jon Gruden calls his running backs the strength of his team even if the top guys haven’t gotten to show much in the preseason. Marshawn Lynch had a 60-yard TD run called back by penalty on his only touch, and No. 2 back Doug Martin has one carry for 3 yards.
Both could get a longer look when Gruden plans to play his starters into the second quarter.
“We’re not going to play them a whole lot, but they will get some time,” he said. “Hopefully they have some success.”
Undrafted rookie Chris Warren III has made the most of the time Lynch and Martin have spent on the sideline. Warren leads the NFL with 196 yards rushing this preseason.
MVPS IN ACTION
The third preseason game is usually when Bill Belichick uses his starters most. Last year, Tom Brady played about two quarters, then sat out the exhibition finale. Look for Brady, the 2017 league MVP, to be on the field at Carolina for perhaps the first half.
Rob Gronkowski could see his first action of the year. The Patriots are also looking for help on the offensive line after losing tackle Isaiah Wynn, the No. 23 overall pick, in the last game. With Kenny Britt cut this week, the team will also be seeking depth at receiver, especially for the four weeks Julian Edelman serves his performance-enhancers suspension.
2015 MVP Cam Newton and the Panthers’ first-team offense will see their most extensive action of the preseason, playing into the third quarter. Newton has dramatically improved his accuracy this preseason under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, completing 71.4 percent as compared to a career completion percentage of 58.5 percent.
Protecting Newton could be an issue as the Panthers will be without three starting offensive linemen due to injuries.
Minnesota’s task of improvement on offense begins with the line, where right tackle Rashod Hill and right guard Mike Remmers are expected to suit up against Seattle after sitting out the previous game with ankle injuries. Center Pat Elflein has been on the PUP list for the entire training camp, still rehabilitating from offseason ankle and shoulder surgeries. Left guard Nick Easton is out for the year with a neck injury.
“We’re not the only ones in the league to be having these issues,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We just have a few more than we should have at this point in time. It’s life.”
Seattle’s recommitment to being a run-first team will get a stiff test. The Seahawks believe they’ve strayed from their successful formula as NFC champions in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and re-establishing the run to control the game has been an offseason focus. While first-round pick Rashaad Penny won’t play (finger), second-year running back Chris Carson is likely to see his most extensive playing time of the preseason.
The Seahawks will also get long looks at second-year safeties Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson.
“ALL DAY” GETS A SHOT
Adrian Peterson will make his preseason debut four days after signing with the Redskins.
Coach Jay Gruden said Peterson’s workload vs. the Broncos may depend on how much playing time the starting offensive line gets. Peterson will split carries with incumbent Rob Kelley, who emerged as the front-runner to start after rookie Derrius Guice tore the ACL in his left knee.
Left tackle Trent Williams is still questionable as he comes off major knee surgery.
Denver’s defense played much better last week against Chicago than in the opener against the Vikings. Coach Vance Joseph said he wants his defensive identity to be “stopping the run” so the Broncos can turn loose the likes of Von Miller, rookie Bradley Chubb, Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray on the quarterback.
“Stopping the run and putting the offense in a one-dimensional phase, making them be a passing team so we can rush the passer. And, playing with a lead. That’s important also for our defense. We do have great pass rushers, but if you don’t have a lead, you won’t ever see them come out,” Joseph said.
WHERE’S THE RUSH
Matt Patricia was the defensive guru in New England, and now as head man in Detroit, his Lions have all of zero sacks this summer. He’s not losing sleep over that as the Lions visit Tampa Bay.
“We’re really not into stats here right now,” Patricia said. “We’re into evaluation. That’s the biggest thing, and that’s the most important process for us right now. Stats aren’t going to get us anything as far as the regular season is concerned.”
Tampa Bay’s top priority this offseason was improving a pass rush that ranked last in the NFL with 22 sacks. In addition to signing ex-Eagles linemen Beau Allen and Vinny Curry in free agency, the Buccaneers traded for Jason Pierre-Paul. Through two preseason games, the team has three sacks.
As the Jets try to determine if first-rounder Sam Darnold is already their top quarterback, he might get to throw to two veterans for the first time. Wide receivers Quincy Enunwa (thumb) and Terrelle Pryor (ankle) could also see their first preseason action.
Darnold, who started last week at Washington, took the bulk of snaps with the first-team offense during practice. He had a solid debut as the third-stringer in the preseason opener against Atlanta and was inconsistent against the Redskins. Bowles said he expects the starters to play a minimum of two quarters, so Darnold could be out there a while.
Meanwhile, Giants running back Saquon Barkley, taken one spot ahead of Darnold, returned to practice on a limited basis. It seems unlikely that Barkley (hamstring) will play against the Jets.
It also doesn’t appear star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will make his preseason debut, despite being a full participant in practice. Beckham hasn’t played since breaking his ankle last October, and he might not see the field until the regular season begins.
“We try to be smart with it,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He’s gotten so much work behind the scenes, we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL