Football is officially back, even if the real action still won’t begin until September. The Green Bay Packers pulled off a narrow 28-26 victory — as if the score matters much — over the Houston Texans in front of more than 73,000 fans at Lambeau Field.
Takeaways were the long-forgotten theme, as were backup quarterbacks and rookies, with more fuel doused on the already-heated competitions for spots on the Packers’ 53-man roster.
“There’s a lot to like,” Packers first-year head coach Matt LaFleur said in Thursday’s postgame. “First of all, it starts with winning. Whether it’s preseason, regular season, you always want to win. I thought our guys gave really good effort and energy, and we were able to come away with a victory.”
He’s not wrong. But the bigger picture of the preseason is seeing both how young and inexperienced players handle the challenge of live reps against an opposing team as well as which pieces fit best into the final product marched out in Week 1.
In case you missed the action — or simply want to relive some of the best — take a look at the five biggest highlights from Thursday night’s preseason opener:
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Rookie Ka’Dar Hollman Picks Off Joe Webb III
A sixth-round pick out of Toledo, Hollman made his early reps count in his debut preseason game, undercutting Vyncint Smith’s route to notch the first professional pick of his career.
An illegal blocking penalty against the Packers would wipe out most of his yardage, but the interception stood and added another notch to Hollman’s belt after he impressed coaches through over the last week in training camp enough to take snaps with the first team.
“I like Ka’dar. He’s intense, you can tell he loves football. He’s a guy that’s been real good at the press man aspect of it,” Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said last Wednesday via PackersWire. “He’s had practices where you really have to go back and look to see if a ball got caught on him. He’s done a good job.”
Equanimeous St. Brown Recovers Muffled Punt in End Zone
Looking to crack into a competitive wide receiver group for the Packers, St. Brown made a good case at least for his value on special teams Thursday night.
Call it a whoopsie scoop or flop and hop, St. Brown saw Texans’ Keke Coutee mishandle a punt as it bounced off the turf and acted fast, swatting the rebound away from Coutee and falling on the ball in the end zone. The officials discussed it briefly, then ruled it a touchdown — the first of four on the night for the Packers.
St. Brown has been vying for Rodgers’ affection as a receiver against challengers such as Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow and Trevor Davis and appeared as the No. 3 option on the right side in the Packers’ first unofficial depth chart. While that will still likely net him a roster spot, St. Brown looks hungry for more.
DeShone Kizer Finesses 14-Yard TD to Darrius Shepherd
This one is impressive in two phases, beginning with the poise and adaptability of Kizer under pressure. As Texans swarmed him, the Packers backup quarterback leaned away from defenders at his back, rolled out to the right and fired a nice ball — albeit a bit high — right into the hands of Shepherd.
Good to see from Kizer, who finished as one of the night’s stars after going 8 for 13 for 102 yards with a 111.7 passer rating, but just as much of the glory belongs to the rookie Shepherd. His turn and fully-extended jump, not to mention great hands, helped haul in the second score of the night for Green Bay and earned him his inaugural Lambeau Leap.
Shepherd was a three-time FCS champion with North Dakota State in college and garnered an invitation to the Packers rookie camp, signing with the team in mid-May. He, like St. Brown, has much competition at the receiver position and currently doesn’t project to make the final roster. Though in college, he was named an FCS All-America third-teamer for his punt returning ability.
Make a few more moves like that and maybe the Packers will have to reconsider.
Chandon Sullivan Snags Webb III’s Second Interception
Sullivan saw action last year in his rookie season after grinding his way to promotion from the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad, making seven tackles over five games with one start before an injury snipped the rest of his playing the time.
Now back with the Packers and vying to stand out in a contested cornerback group, Sullivan followed Hollman’s lead of adding an interception to his resume and even put a juke move on the first Texan that tried to tackle him.
Sullivan and Hollman both provided takeaways that were mighty scarce in Green Bay during a downer of a 2018 season, perhaps in stark contrast to league-leading Chicago showing off elsewhere in the NFC North. The Packers finished tied for 29th with 15 takeaways, while the Bears came away with 36.
Tim Boyle Lasers Downfield TD to Allen Lazard
Kizer wasn’t the only Packers quarterback putting in work Thursday night, as Doyle made particularly good use of his limited snaps. While he completed three of just five passes, two of them went for touchdowns, including a pretty 1-yard toss to J’Mon Moore early in the third quarter.
The real beauty, though, came on his second touchdown, when he lasered the ball directly into the hands of second-year receiver Lazard for a 27-yard score. Flexing his downfield accuracy, Doyle assessed the matchup and threw the ball up perfectly for his lengthy, 6-foot-5 target, giving the defender no chance.
A smart move, as we all know the Packers love brainy quarterbacks. Whether it will give him an edge over Kizer remains to be seen over the remainder of the preseason, where the two backups will certainly see plenty of action.
Oh, and as an added bonus, that touchdown catch was over Lonnie Johnson Jr., who earlier this week was booted from the teams’ joint practice after laying out Jace Sternberger and drawing the ire the entire Packers sideline.
Sternberger was last being evaluated for a concussion and did not play Thursday night.