Pigskin Paul’s Packers Preview: 12 Young Players Who Need to Step Up
We have done it my friends. We have survived the dreaded football off-season. This coming week NFL teams will begin pouring into Training Camps with about 90 players per team ready to compete for jobs on 2013 regular season rosters. The Green and Gold will be amongst them obviously with high expectations and goals, but lots of questions to be answered as well. Not to be considered all inclusive by any means, here are some topics that come to mind for yours truly.
Nice to see thatÂ MARK MURPHYÂ continues to wield the financial magic wand that continues to reap revenue and profit to keep the franchise competitive with the power brokers like JERRY JONES down in Texas. With the South end zone expansion project well on its way to completion local revenue should get a nice boost for future seasons. My only question in that regard is one for the entire NFL: At what point does your thirst for money hit â€œthe wallâ€ because of fan saturation/exposure and expense of access to your game?
Still canâ€™t help but wonder whether Free Agency and Salary Cap havenâ€™t left the team dangerously thin of proven NFL talent at the LB and S positions? Of course some younger players will get better and contribute more, but is the organization counting on more of that phenomenon than is reasonable? We shall see.
So then who might be the younger players to step it up and emerge as legit NFL starters, perhaps even stars? The other key question is often, who can return to the field and bounce back (and up) from injuries? With a young, home grown roster like that of Green Bay that list might include half of the roster, but let me pinpoint a dozen guys who might make a performance leap this season for various and sundry reasons.
NICK PERRY/OLBÂ Â Â Last yearâ€™s No. 1 Pick missed most of the season after a September wrist injury eventually landed him on injured reserve (with a knee injury to boot). Â Assuming heâ€™s healthy it would be nice to think that he spent a lot ofÂ his down-time in 2012 talking with coaches and watching film that helped him better understand the position switch from DE to OLB he is making. Hopefully, that study will help him do more playing than thinking in 2013.
JERMICHAEL FINLEY/TEÂ Â Â FINLEY had a solid season in 2012 with 61 catches, but everyone still thinks he can be better. Itâ€™s a contract year for FINLEY and assuming it will be his last in Green Bay, it would be nice to see him have a career year before he moves on. Clutch players step it up in contract years, so PACKERS fans can only hope heâ€™s as good as he thinks he is and gives them 100 catches, 1,000+ yards and double-digit TD grabs as his parting gift to the PACK.
EDDIE LACY/JONATHAN FRANKLIN/RB/RookiesÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â These guys need to be as good as advertised and revive the PACKERS running game so AARON RODGERS has room/time to breath in the backfield. As much as gaining 1,00-yards each, the bigger goal should be that their combined running prowess makes play-faking more effective at freezing the opponents back 7 for that split second and as pass-pro providers for their Franchise QB.
BRAD JONES/LBÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â This is the young man who showed enough in 2012 to earn a large new contract and allow the team to feel confident in releasing both DESMOND BISHOP & D.J. SMITH, the two guys who were listed as starters at this time last year. He must step up and play even better in 2013, especially at dropping into middle-field pass coverage of RB & TE, who have killed the PACK on 3rd Down for almost a decade now.
MIKE NEAL/DE/OLBÂ Â Â Â Â The PACKS 2nd RoundÂ Draft Pick in 2010 finally saw the field for more games than he missed with injury in 2012. And he showed some of the athleticism the team saw in him when they drafted him. This off-season he spent some time in OTAs playing OLB. His ability to stay available each week and to move around between multiple positions could go a long way toward improving functional depth and on field athleticism from a still mediocre Defense.
ANDREW QUARLESS/TEÂ Â Â He needs to be healthy and emerge as the teamâ€™s No. 2 TE. He may currently be the â€œbestâ€ all-around TE prospect on their roster. He wonâ€™t turn 25 until October so heâ€™s still potentially still an ascending player. He has shown the ability to catch the ball as well as be an effective inline blocker.
BRYAN BULAGA/DEREK SHERROD/OTÂ Â Â Two former First Rounders who are coming back from serious injuries. In a perfect world they are the PACKERS two starting Tackles. They are both only 24-years old and one would hate to think that either or both are of diminished skill and value because of their past injuries.
DATONE JONES/DE/RookieÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Given the lack of consistent production along the DL the past two years this guy has the most pressure of anyone to step it up and get pressure on opposing QBs. He has decent size and even better explosiveness to shoot gaps and disrupt the pocket. He should also be effective when CAPERS drops into his dreaded 2-man DL formations. He may also take some pass-rush pressure off of CLAY MATTHEWS if he can force the pocket to at least move once in a while.
JEREMY ROSS/WR/RSÂ Â Â Who you say? Here is the scoop on ROSS. He got some auditions last year in the PACKERS return game, and produced quite nicely. In limited play he actually had better average return numbers on both kicks and punts than RANDALL COBB. This could be key as the team tries to get their â€œbest WRâ€ off the dangerous return units, and keep him healthy and on the field full-time as a 100-catch guy for RODGERS. If ROSS could also show enough as a receiver to capture that No. 5 receiver slot then it would be a huge win for the depth chart. COBB needs to be protected, but die-hard PACKERS fans remember how unproductive the teamâ€™s return game was for a decade before COBB arrived, and no one wants the team to regress to that stage again. ROSS may be your most overlooked potential contributor on the current roster.
JOHNNY JOLLY/DTÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I think this is a bigger long shot than many PACKERS fans would like to believe. 3 years is a long time to be out of football, and JOLLY comes back to the team as an overweight, poorly conditioned, 30-year old. But he was a solid NFL player when personal issues took him down. If you scratch your memory bank carefully you might also recall that he had an uncanny knack for getting into QB passing lanes and tipping thrown balls. He brings things to the team that have definite value. Can he step up and shake off the rust quickly enough to earn himself a job?
MASON CROSBY/KÂ Â Â Â CROSBY had the worst year of his career kicking in Green Bay. He has to bounce back. In his favor is the fact that he is still only 28-years old, and that he had his best season recently, in 2011. He did seem to regain some touch and confidence in December last year. That needs to carry over to 2013. I think the coaching staff has to accept the fact that he is not confident past 45 yards out, and Offensive play calling needs to be adjusted to work a bit harder at times to get just a little closer to shorter FG range on 3rd down out at mid-field. CROSBY was 2 of 9 from 50-yards and beyond.
The 2013 Rookie Class looks very strong, and hopefully will force the coaching staff to provide more Rookies with more playing time than the team has traditionally done under MIKE McCARTHY. PACKERS fans should hope & believe that MEL KIPER is still a strong NFL-potential talent evaluator, because MEL sent out good vibes for multiple PACKERS Draftees in his final Blue Book in April. Here are some examples of MELâ€™s opinions.
In his listing of Top 100 Draft Prospects, regardless of position, the PACK selected Melâ€™s No. 21/LACY, No. 38/JONES, No. 98/FRANKLIN.
He listed 37 players who improved their Draft stock with good All-Star game performances. The PACK took 2 of those guys in FRANKLIN & JONES.
MEL listed 38 players as â€˜On The Riseâ€™. Green Bay selected 2 of them in LACY& J.C. TRETTER.
He listed 42 players as being â€˜Underratedâ€™. TED THOMPSON drafted 1 of them in WR/CHARLES JOHNSON and signed one other as an URFA in JAKE STONEBURNER/TE/H-B.
KIPER hadÂ 52 players listed as â€˜Sleepersâ€™. The PACK has two from that list on itâ€™s Training Camp roster in JOHNSON & TRETTER.
And finally, MEL had 2 negative lists in his Draft Guide. One was for players â€˜On the Slideâ€™. The other was labeled the dreaded â€˜Over-Ratedâ€™. 56 players names were on those two lists and not one is headed to Green Bay.
As I said, if you still believe that MEL KIPER knows his stuff, then the PACKERS under TED THOMPSON did their thing quite well again this year.
One last reminder that we should still expect the PACKERS to be one of the youngest rosters in the NFL in 2013. They are heading into Training Camp with only 4 guys 30 or older as the 2013 season will begin. Then AARON RODGERS would make it 5 in December when he celebrates his 30th birthday. As far as TED THOMPSON is concerned Green Bay is no country for old men.
I could go on and on, and of course we will over the coming weeks. But for now thatâ€™s a glimmer of information I wanted to share with you as we get ready for some NFL football.
This post was brought to you by friend of the site, Pigskin Paul, NFL Draft maven and long-time Packers fan. You can find more of Paul’s work at his website, Pigskin Paul’s Place, or follow him on twitter.----------
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He is a PFWA member who can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.