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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers set to play Thursday in preseason opener against Patriots

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GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — expects to play. is preparing to do so, too.

When Green Bay opens the preseason schedule Thursday night at the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Packers coach is planning to go with what he has.

With one caveat, however.

"Whoever travels to New England will play," McCarthy said Tuesday.

McCarthy's approach to exhibition play this year appears to be running contrary to how he handled the preseason games last August.

A year ago, McCarthy held out Rodgers as well as starting running back and top receiver from the Packers' preseason opener at the Tennessee Titans.

Rodgers, Lacy, Nelson and Matthews, along with veteran linebacker , also didn't play Green Bay's final preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Packers then proceeded to lose two of their first three games for the third straight season.

It's the type of slow start McCarthy wants to avoid this season with Green Bay considered a favorite to win the Super Bowl after it fell short of playing for the league title last season.

"The outlook is for everybody that goes to New England gets to play in the game," McCarthy reiterated. "That's what we would like to accomplish."

And Rodgers said after practice Tuesday that he plans to be on the team plane when it leaves Green Bay on Wednesday.

"Check an exit row, I'll be there," Rodgers said.

Rodgers, the reigning two-time NFL MVP, also expects to have familiar company with him on the field Thursday, even if it is briefly.

"I'm not sure how much time I'll play, but I'll be there," Rodgers said. "And I think we're going to go with the starters for a little while."

Uncertain is whether the Packers will be at full strength on defense against the Patriots.

Of the 12 players who were out of practice or didn't finish practice Tuesday because of injury, three are returning starters from the end of last season: outside linebacker (groin) and defensive linemen (ankle) and (hamstring).

Also iffy to play is Matthews, who returned to practice Monday after missing a full week because of knee soreness.

"I'm encouraged by getting out there back-to-back (days) and how I feel," Matthews said. "We'll see what that means moving forward. But I'm preparing today, yesterday to be ready whenever they need me."

Matthews added the decision on whether he plays Thursday or has to wait until the second preseason game Aug. 23 at Pittsburgh is not his to make.

With the Packers' available starters not expected to play long, McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson are eager to see their young players in live action against an opponent for the first time this summer.

"The preseason, the actual games are huge, and we want 'em to be," Thompson said. "We want 'em to know that it's huge and to be under a certain amount of pressure to perform."

Fond of watching the preseason games from the sideline, Thompson admitted he tends to pay closer attention to the performances by the recent draft picks than the returning older players.

"Just because you want to be right," Thompson said.

NOTES: CB , the team's first-round draft pick this year, didn't practice Tuesday because of a recurring groin injury. Green Bay's secondary also was without S (pectoral) and CB (hamstring). CB dropped out of practice with a calf injury. ...The Packers released undrafted rookie WR , who was on the physically unable to perform list since the start of training camp.

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