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