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Packers-Chargers: 5 things to watch

THE BASICS

The teams:  The Green Bay Packers (0-0) vs. the San Diego Chargers (0-0).

The time:  7 p.m. CDT Thursday.

The place:  Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego.

The TV coverage:  ESPN, along with simulcasts on WBAY (Ch. 2) in Green Bay and WISN (Ch. 12) in Milwaukee.

The announcers: Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden, with Lisa Salters reporting from the sidelines.

The Packers injury report: LT Marshall Newhouse (concussion), CB Sam Shields (elbow), RB Brandon Saine (hamstring), WR Greg Jennings (concussion), RB Du’ane Bennett (knee), G Ray Dominguez (ankle), WR Tori Gurley (groin); FB Jon Hoese (hamstring), TE Eric Lair (knee), OL Mike McCabe (hip) and TE Ryan Taylor (concussion) are out. TE D.J. Williams (back) and DE Mike Daniels (knee/groin) are questionable. RB Alex Green (knee/rest) is probable. Four players still haven’t passed their physicals and will not play: DE Johnny Jones (knee), TE Andrew Quarless (knee), OT Derek Sherrod (leg) and OLB Frank Zombo (hamstring).

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

First timers:  The last time the Packers played a preseason game in Ron Burgundy’s town, it was McCarthy’s first game as an NFL head coach. He was facing his former mentor, then-Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, and very little went right in a 17-3 loss. “Not positive,” McCarthy recalled, using one of his favorite words. “I remember the first three plays, I think our quarterback was hit two of the three. It was different. … I definitely remember the game. I remember Marty Schottenheimer smacking me on the back and saying, ‘Don’t worry kid, it gets better.’ And I said, ‘Hell, I sure hope so.’ Long night.” Seven years later, McCarthy is no longer a rookie, but he’ll have plenty of guys making their NFL debuts. His hope is that things will go better for them than it did for him. From first-round pick Nick Perry and second-round picks Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward down to seventh-round picks B.J. Coleman and Andrew Datko and undrafted rookies like Dezman Moses, this will mark their first genuine game action. Given what vital roles some will play on a Super Bowl contender – Perry and Worthy in particular – getting off on the right foot is vital.

Getting defensive:  The Packers’ defense can’t be worse than it was last year – or so the teams hopes. The additions of Perry, who is set to start at left outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews, and Worthy, who will have a prominent role in the defensive line rotation, should help, and the club signed a bevy of defensive linemen in hopes of fixing that disappointing position. Nonetheless, the unit that ranked dead last in the 32-team league last year and gave up more passing yards than any team in the history of the league. Earlier this week, cornerback Charles Woodson confessed that he knew the defense wasn’t good enough last season, and the group simply hoped and prayed the offense would bail them out. That didn’t happen. “I think we're encouraged,” Woodson said. “Practice-wise, I think there's been a lot of energy out there on the field. And I think we have added some pieces to our defense that we feel like are going to help us. (But) when it's preseason, everybody really feels good about their chances. So, we really do feel good about what we're doing, the way we're working. We'll feel good going into the first game with who we pick as a team and get ready to make another run."

Line dancing:  For the first time during McCarthy’s tenure, the Packers actually went into training camp with their offensive line set: Marshall Newhouse at left tackle, T.J. Lang at left guard, Jeff Saturday at center, Josh Sitton at right guard and Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. The problem: Beyond sixth man Evan Dietrich-Smith, who’ll back up the three interior spots, there is no proven depth. Nowhere is that more evident than at left tackle, where Newhouse has been ruled out after a concussion on Family Night and 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod has yet to be cleared for practice after last year’s season-ending broken leg. That leaves journeyman Herb Taylor to start at left tackle, which could mean a short night for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Beyond that position, there’s a host of young, unproven linemen who desperately need the snaps. “You can’t worry about something that’s not there. You have to prepare the next guy and go,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “This offense isn’t going to slow up for one guy, it just doesn’t. So, the next guy up, get in there and play. Perfect your skills, your fundamentals and make sure you’re on Q with all the adjustments that we do and then play the game.

Running in place:  The running back depth chart is filled with promise, question marks and opportunity. Starter James Starks has done little so far in camp to excite, but the games are generally where running backs get to show where they’re at. Alex Green, whose season ended last season with a torn ACL in his left knee, is expected to see his first action since the Oct. 23 injury, and he took Tuesday’s practice off to rest at the medical staff’s urging to get him ready. After them, though, there’s only one other true halfback healthy is Marc Tyler, as Brandon Saine (hamstring) and Du’ane Bennett (knee) are both out. Bennett has actually been the more impressive of the two undrafted free-agent running backs, but this will give Tyler an opportunity to show what he can do. He’s back in Southern California, having attended USC, and has high hopes. “I’m definitely excited for my first game back in California. My family will be there. I’ll probably be in there a lot,” said Tyler, who missed a few days of practice with a shoulder injury earlier in camp. “It’s going to feel good.”

Cornering the market:  So far in camp, the most interesting competition is the battle for the No. 2 cornerback spot. With Woodson moving to safety, the competition is wide open, with the leading candidates at this point being special teams ace Jarrett Bush and second-year man Davon House, who had a self-described “wasted year” last year as a rookie. Sam Shields, who had been the No. 3 corner behind Woodson and Tramon Williams the past two seasons, had been running third before an elbow injury in practice. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt has been adamant that his guys be better tacklers this season after last year’ debacle, so the ability to be physical and make tackles will be just as important as the ability to cover. “The games will separate it out. Practice is practice. Practice is where we work at it, work the techniques, work the skills, but once you get into the games, the games will be the deciding factor on who gets more reps the next week,” Whitt said. “I’m excited to watch them go out there and play, watch them compete. Our ultimate goal is to make sure we have the right 53 when we run out there against San Francisco (on Sept. 9), and this is a good step. They have the understanding that the guys who know how to carry their pads and put them on people will be the ones who’ll be a part of that. They have an opportunity to show that this Thursday night. I’m up in the box watching, and they know what they have to do and what they have to get done.”

– Jason Wilde

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