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Players to watch during Friday's NFL preseason games

If you're like us, you're itching for September.

We're still 13 days away from football that matters, but Week 3 of the preseason brings us closer to regular-season fare than anything else we'll see in August.

The starters play longer, the coaches flex their muscles schematically -- sort of -- and fans cross their fingers and pray nobody gets hurt. Whether or not you're into these arguably meaningless tilts, they go a long way toward shaping the rosters we'll see in Week 1.

Here's what to watch during Friday night's two games:

  1. For those of you who spent last season at the bottom of the sea, or tucked away in a Wi-Fi-disabled Russian wilderness, here's a refresher below on why Friday's Packers-Seahawks meeting has some juice behind it:

Last season's radioactive "Fail Mary" affair on "Monday Night Football" in Week 3 -- officially a 14-12 Seahawks win -- ushered in the "replacement official apocalypse," as Rosenthal called it. In the end, both teams made the playoffs, but there's still bad blood here, fueled by one of the most egregious calls in NFL history.

"I've never seen anything like that in all my years in football," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. He spoke for us all.

  1. Adrian Peterson called Green Bay's Eddie Lacy the best rookie running back in the league. We agree. The fat jokes have given way to wonder at Lacy's burst, power and knack for picking up yards after contact. The Packers have stumbled upon what looks to be a younger version ofSteven Jackson. With DuJuan Harris healthy again, McCarthy has a nice problem in the backfield.
  1. Second-year Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse leads the NFL in non-kicker scoring with 18 points off two touchdown catches and one sizzling kickoff return. He's a safe bet to make the final roster, so Friday's game might be your final preseason look at a player whom ESPN analyst Louis Riddick compared toVictor Cruz.
  1. Seattle's pass rush versus Green Bay's retooled offensive line is worth monitoring. The Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times in the "Fail Mary" game, but the Packers have graded out as the league's best pass-blocking unit in the preseason, per Pro Football Focus. The site also graded Seattle as the league's third-best pass-rushing force over two games, so something's gotta give.
  1. Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly has a shot to make the roster after missing the past few seasons with drug issues and a prison sentence. Not exactly a Cinderella story, but he's turned his life around and impressed his coaches.
  1. Oakland's season might be over before it started after losing left tackle Jared Veldheer long-term with a triceps injury. If you watch one Raiders player Friday night, watch his replacement, Alex Barron, critiqued as a guy who doesn't love the game. Barron hasn't played in over a year, and it shows.
  1. The Bears have an interesting position battle at middle linebacker, where D.J. Williams might lose the job to rookie Jon Bostic. Williams can't stay healthy, but Bostic's play last week against the Chargers invigorated the Bears. If Bostic shows well against Oakland, he'll be tough to bench come Week 1.
  1. When Around The League minions aren't banging out football posts, we're watching film ... and here's what Wesseling spied this week:
  1. Matt Forte lost goal-line carries to Michael Bush last season, but that will change under new Bears coach Marc Trestman. Forte took all the red-zone totes with the first-team offense against San Diego. After Lovie Smith's "underutilization" of Forte factored into his firing, Trestman will lean hard on the veteran runner all season.
  1. And how's this for a comeback story? Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden, Oakland's first-round draft pick, will play in his first football game Friday since suffering a rare, near-fatal, practice-field heart injury last season at the University of Houston. He arrives just in time, as the Raiders are in desperate need of young talent on defense.

Enjoy the games.

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