Despite several key injuries, a rash of heart-breaking losses and their dire playoff situation heading into Week 16, the Packers overcame it all and won the Super Bowl.
But guess what? 2010 was last year. It was a great season, but it’s now in the rearview mirror.
And if there’s a season in 2011, expectations are going to be at an all-time high. Here are 12 Packers with something to prove next year.
RB Ryan Grant
Despite owning two 1,200-yard rushing seasons, a lot of things are working against Grant’s future in Green Bay. He’ll be 29 years old in Decemeber, hasn’t played a full NFL game in over a year and a half and the Packers now have two young backs that will fight over his playing time.
Add in the fact that the Packers are paying him over $5 million next season, and it’s easy to see what Grant has to prove. Either produce early on or he’ll likely be seeing a lot of the bench and a new home for 2012.
QB Matt Flynn
If the Packers don’t trade Flynn—which is the smart move in my opinion—he’s going to be expected to produce if Aaron Rodgers has to miss any time in 2011. There will be no excuse if he plays like he did in Detroit.
And the real pressure comes from what the Packers aren’t getting by keeping him. If Flynn could bring back a third or fourth round pick and the Packers still hold on to him, he better prove he’s worth it as a backup.
WR Jordy Nelson
2011 is the year that Nelson should take over Donald Driver’s spot as the No. 2 receiver. Driver is 36 and slowing down, James Jones is likely going to find starter’s money in free agency and rookie Randall Cobb isn’t ready for that much responsibility.
Nelson needs to be more consistent, but there’s no reason why he can’t be the kind of threat he was in the Super Bowl week-in and week-out. With so many weapons in the Packers offense, now is the time for Nelson to step to the plate.
TE Jermichael Finley
There’s no denying the talent of Finley. He’s a tight end that defensive coordinators have to game plan for, and there might not be a defender in the NFL that can handle his size and speed combination.
But at this point, that’s all Finley is—good on paper. He’s missed 14 games over the past two seasons, and, to make matter worse, he’s a free agent after the 2011 season. Finley needs to produce and stay healthy to warrant the Packers giving him a big deal to stay in Green Bay.
OL T.J. Lang
The clock is ticking on Lang’s chances to crack the Packers starting lineup. Daryn Colledge might be leaving in free agency, which would leave a hole at left guard. Lang’s name has always been the first one to get plugged into that spot, but is it that simple?
Don’t rule out the possibility of the Packers moving Bryan Bulaga to left guard and plugging 2011 first rounder Derek Sherrod at right tackle if they think that gives them their five best lineman. Lang needs to prove he finally belongs.
DE Mike Neal
The biggest shoes the Packers will need to fill for 2011 is at defensive end, where Cullen Jenkins is almost certainly gone. Neal, a second round pick in 2010, will likely be the first player they call upon to replace him.
Neal showed flashes of brilliance before his shoulder injury, but that in itself is a concern. He’ll need to play at a high level and stay healthy to ensure the Packers defense doesn’t take too big of step backwards after Jenkins.
OLB’s Erik Walden/Frank Zombo/Brad Jones
These three are lumped together because I have a sneaky feeling they all will see significant snaps in 2011. Zombo is going to get the first crack, but Walden might be the better playmaker and Jones showed his rookie season that he can get to the passer.
Also, don’t forget about Ricky Elmore. He’s going to push these three to play well or risk losing playing time.
ILB Desmond Bishop
Bishop always claimed to have a chip on his shoulder after not being picked until the sixth round in 2007. Will he relax now that he’s the undisputed starter?
There’s a long list of players who have busted after receiving their first big contract, and Bishop received a four-year, $19 million contract in January. I’m not saying it will happen with Bishop—I’d guess the opposite, in fact—but he needs to prove 2010 wasn’t just an aberration.
CB Sam Shields
There isn’t a player on the roster that is hurt more by the lockout than Shields. He’s a rising star in the league (SI’s Peter King ranked him No. 100 in his top 100 NFL players this week), but losing important offseason programs could stunt his development.
Think about it—any time lost with Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams on the practice field and film room isn’t good for Shields. He needs to prove he can take the next step without the benefit of an offseason.
S Morgan Burnett
Burnett was a promising rookie in 2010, but an injury cut his season short just four games into the schedule. In his absence, journeyman Charlie Peprah took hold of the position and played well.
However, the Packers want Burnett to be the starter opposite Nick Collins in the both the short and long-term. For that to happen, Burnett needs to have a good camp and prove his knee is healed enough to be a better option than Peprah, who was re-signed this offseason.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2