Rookie Jack­son makes im­me­di­ate im­pact

Packer Plus - - News - Zach Kruse Special to Packer Plus

Green Bay — The Green Bay Pack­ers used two in­ter­cep­tion re­turns for touch­downs and an open­ing drive touch­down pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jimmy Gra­ham to race past the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers and win the team’s sec­ond home pre­sea­son game on Thurs­day night at Lam­beau Field.

Here are the top stand­outs from the 51-34 win: CB Josh Jack­son

Ar­guably no player has im­proved more from the start of camp to now than Jack­son, the Pack­ers’ sec­ond-round pick at corner­back. He’s bat­tled through some early strug­gles in cov­er­age to be­come a play­maker in the sec­ondary. The for­mer Iowa star pro­duced a pick-six of Steel­ers quar­ter­back Josh Dobbs and pitched a shutout in cov­er­age, shut­ting down all three tar­gets, in­clud­ing a third­down at­tempt in the first half. On his in­ter­cep­tion re­turn for a touch­down, Jack­son said he re­lied on tape study to bait Dobbs into the mis­take. He played off cov­er­age but broke on the short throw in a flash, un­der­cut­ting the route with a per­fect an­gle be­fore ex­tend­ing both arms to make the in­ter­cep­tion. He then tight-roped the side­line and breezed into the end zone. The play high­lighted the same recog­ni­tion, ath­leti­cism and ball skills he used to lead col­lege foot­ball in in­ter­cep­tions a year ago. The Pack­ers have to be pleased with Jack­son’s pro­gres­sion over the last two weeks. He’s mak­ing a strong case for play­ing time right away as a first-year player.

OLB Reg­gie Gilbert

Pack­ers coach Mike McCarthy called Gilbert a “fine young foot­ball player” af­ter he pro­duced 21⁄ sacks and ce­mented 2 his ros­ter spot against the Steel­ers. Pitts­burgh couldn’t block him at times in the first half. One of his sacks was the re­sult of a blown pro­tec­tion as­sign­ment, but Gilbert show­cased his im­prov­ing skill set on two other im­pres­sive rushes. On the first, he jumped in­side to beat the right tackle and pro­duce a half-sack shared with Kyler Fack­rell. A se­ries later, he dis­en­gaged with power and chased down the quar­ter­back for another sack. He also helped the Pack­ers get off the field on third down when he stunted in­side and had a free run at the quar­ter­back, help­ing cre­ate an in­com­plete pass. Af­ter two pre­sea­son games, Gilbert has es­tab­lished him­self as the de­fense’s third-best edge rusher be­hind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. He could be a valu­able backup in 2018.

QB DeShone Kizer

Kizer had his best night in a Pack­ers uni­form, com­plet­ing 7 of 12 passes for 149 yards, two touch­downs and no turnovers. He tossed a per­fect back-shoul­der throw to Robert Tonyan for a score be­fore the half, and his fast­ball to Jake Kumerow along the side­line helped the Pack­ers re­ceiver get up­field and score an 82-yard touch­down in the sec­ond half. Kizer flashed the kind of arm strength, ac­cu­racy and move­ment abil­ity that tempted the Pack­ers into mak­ing the deal with the Cleve­land Browns in March. McCarthy said he was happy with the pro­duc­tion from all four quar­ter­backs, but Kizer is push­ing hard for the backup job be­hind Aaron Rodgers.

WR Jake Kumerow

Long­shots at deep po­si­tions have to con­sis­tently take ad­van­tage of op­por­tu­ni­ties, which is ex­actly what Kumerow has done dur­ing train­ing camp and the pre­sea­son. He caught all three of his tar­gets for 114 yards and a touch­down against the Steel­ers, bring­ing his pre­sea­son to­tals to six catches, 190 yards (an NFL pre­sea­son high) and two scores. The for­mer UW-White­wa­ter star has earned the trust of ev­ery quar­ter­back on the Pack­ers ros­ter by mak­ing plays each and ev­ery day at prac­tice and in both pre­sea­son games. “That’s how you make the squad,” Rodgers said. “You ball out on gameday.” Kumerow is deal­ing with a shoul­der in­jury af­ter som­er­sault­ing into the end zone at the end of his 82-yard touch­down, but he’s inch­ing closer and closer to clinch­ing a ros­ter spot.

TE Robert Tonyan

The for­mer un­drafted re­ceiver pro­duced one of the high­lights of the game when he made a twist­ing touch­down catch on a back-shoul­der throw from Kizer late in the first half. It was the kind of splash play ca­pa­ble of push­ing a young, as­cend­ing player into the ros­ter con­ver­sa­tion, even at a po­si­tion loaded with veter­ans. A play ear­lier, Tonyan cre­ated sep­a­ra­tion and drew a pass in­ter­fer­ence penalty in the end zone. He also got open in the mid­dle of the field for a 14-yard catch. His block­ing at the point of at­tack has im­proved, a de­vel­op­ment he cred­its to the daily guid­ance of vet­eran Marcedes Lewis.

K Mason Crosby

The Pack­ers’ vet­eran kicker was as re­li­able as ever, mak­ing all nine of his kicks, in­clud­ing two field goals over 50 yards and six ex­tra points. The field goal op­er­a­tion had no is­sues. All the snaps, holds and kicks were ex­e­cuted cleanly. Crosby might be turn­ing 34 next month, but he still has plenty of juice left in his right leg.

CB Davon House

House was over­shad­owed by the big plays from Jack­son and Tra­mon Wil­liams, but the vet­eran corner­back qui­etly had a nice night. He blan­keted vet­eran Justin Hunter and rookie Damoun Pat­ter­son on two dif­fer­ent deep shots from quar­ter­back Mason Rudolph and then stopped sec­ond-round pick James Wash­ing­ton for a 1-yard loss on a fourth down play.

LB Oren Burks

Two plays en­cap­su­lated Burks’ play­mak­ing po­ten­tial and de­vel­op­ment as a rookie line­backer ex­pected to start for Mike Pet­tine’s de­fense. The first came in the sec­ond quar­ter, when Burks flashed in­stant read-and-re­act abil­ity against the run. He di­ag­nosed the play, burst be­tween the gap paved by Kenny Clark and Mon­trav­ius Adams and made the stop in the back­field for a three-yard loss. Later, he got to the out­side and set a hard edge by tak­ing on the block of a pulling guard, al­low­ing oth­ers around him to swarm to the ball and make the play un­hin­dered. The Pack­ers need Burks to de­velop fast and play a vi­tal role in his first NFL sea­son.

USA TO­DAY SPORTS-WIS­CON­SIN

Pack­ers corner­back Josh Jack­son in­ter­cepts a pass in­tended for Steel­ers wide re­ceiver Damoun Pat­ter­son on Thurs­day.

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