Healthy Rodgers, improved defense should boost Packers

Joe Ballard, News Editor

The Green Bay Packers are looking to bounce back from a subpar season in which the team lost star quarterback Aaron Rodgers for half of the season before limping in to the playoffs only to see a first round exit. The Pack finished 8-7-1 and were crowned the NFC North Champion thanks in part to the implosion of division rivals the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. A playoff appearance is still better than watching the game from your couch in late December.

This year, the Packers look to put up quite a few more wins with its high powered offense getting Rodgers back. If there is a silver lining to the Rodgers injury last year it was the emergence of stud running back Eddy Lacy who helped pick up much of the slack when the teams passing attack wasn’t up to snuff. The Packers also need an improved effort from a defense that ranked 24th in the league and didn’t get enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks or force many turnovers. With the addition of Julius Peppers, the return of Casey Hayward, and drafting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix the defense could be much improved.

In all the Packers have a great shot at getting at least 10 wins and can likely will eclipse that number to send them back to the playoffs in 2014.

Here’s a position-by-position look at this year’s team:


Aaron Rodgers is back under center for the Packers after missing 7 games last year with a broken collarbone. After skipping the first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, Rodgers looked incredibly sharp against the St. Louis Rams. Statistically a season with 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns is well within his grasp.

So far this preseason Scott Tolzien looks to have the better arm and athleticism, but Matt Flynn may have a better grasp on the offensive scheme. Either way the Packers had better hope Rodgers remains healthy this year.

Running Back/Full Back 

Eddy Lacy didn’t suit up for the Packers opening preseason game against the Titans but played very well against the Rams going for 25 yards on five carries. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year will be leaned heavily to help keep defenses honest against one of the NFL’s most high powered offenses. Lacy has also improved in the passing game during the offseason both as a pass protector and receiver out of the backfield.

Behind Lacy the Pack has James Starks and DuJuan Harris. Harris had a good game against the Rams but coughed up the ball in the third quarter and if there is one thing McCarthy preaches every week its ball security. The shifty change of pace back may have lost some ground to Starks who thus far has averaged 5.8 yards per carry on 10 attempts. John Kuhn returns at the full back position giving the Packers a strong lead blocker and pass protector.

 Wide Receiver

Led by Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, the Packers have put up incredible numbers the past few seasons. The emergence of Jarrett Boykin last year allowed the Packers to let go of receiver James Jones this past offseason, who signed with the Oakland Raiders. While Boykin will probably open the season as the third receiver he is being pushed by rookie Devonte Adams. The Packers second round pick has great hands and tremendous athletic ability. Adams could overtake Boykin by the end of the year, but the four receivers give Rodgers a formidable group of weapons to utilize.

Tight End

Jermichael Finley will not be coming back after a neck injury will likely force him into retirement. The Packers now look to a group of players that includes incumbent starter Andrew Quarless. The Packers came in to camp with seven tight ends on the roster. Second year player Brandon Bostick and rookie Richard Rodgers appear to be the front runners looking to challenge Quarless. Rodgers, the Packer’s third round draft pick this year, brings the athleticism the Packers are looking for at the position. The tight end position will probably be a revolving door for much of the season until someone establishes themselves as the clear favorite.

Offensive Line

For the third preseason in a row the Packers had an injury to a player who was likely to be a key contributor to the offensive line. Don Barclay suffered a torn ACL during practice in early August and was lost for the season. Coach McCarthy considered Barclay to be the sixth starter for the unit and was probably the top backup and every position but center. Second year pro J.C. Tretter is the new center for the team, but he will be sidelined to start the season with a fractured knee. So rookie Cory Linsley, a fifth-round pick, will likely be the opening day center.

The rest of the group returns as second year left tackle David Bakthiari looks to continue what was an impressive performance for a rookie last year. Right tackle Brian Bulaga returns from season ending injuries the past two seasons and hopes to remain healthy for the 2014 campaign. Gaurds T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton give the Packers one of the best guard combos in the league.

Defensive Line

In the most notable move of the offseason Green Bay signed Chicago Bears defensive end and eventual hall of famer Julius Peppers. While it is uncertain how the talented pass rusher will be utilized by the Packers many believe he will be standing up at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews in the base 3-4 defense. On pass rushing, nickel, and dime defenses Peppers will most likely be down in a three point stance along the defensive line. With a talented player like Peppers, Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers will use him at several spots to help shore up a pass rush that allowed the 24th most yard per game last season.

Second year end Datone Jones looks to make more of an impact this year after a strong camp. Jones is a strong and versatile player and can play multiple positions up front. He will probably start at one end spot opposite third year end Mike Daniels. Daniels had a strong season in 2013 registering 6.5 sacks and the Packers expect big things from him this year.

In a rare offseason signing of another teams free agents by Thompson the Packers brought in former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion. Guion started the past two season for the Vikings and will likely get more playing time along with Josh Boyd now that B.J. Raji has been lost for the season due to a torn bicep.


All Pro Clay Matthews leads a talented yet underachieving group of linebackers. Matthews did a great job last year for the Packers when he was on the field racking up 7.5 sacks in 11 games. The only problem with Matthews has been his health as he has missed 11 games the past two seasons. Last year he broke his thumb twice and had to have the digit surgically repaired in the offseason. This year it looks like the elite pass rusher will wear some extra protection on his right hand to help reduce injury.

At the other outside linebacker spot the Packers will use former first round pick Nick Perry and Mike Neal along with free agent addition Peppers. Perry has struggled to stay on the field in his first two seasons for the Packers and spent the entire offseason recovering from injuries. His performance so far this preseason has underwhelmed and much more is expected from first round picks. Neal is a versatile back up and is used on the defensive line in some pass rushing fronts.

At inside linebacker A.J. Hawk returns for his ninth year and has been one of the most consistent Packers during his tenure. The Ohio State product put up 118 tackles last year and while he may not make flashy plays he is one of the surest tacklers on the team. Alongside Hawk will be Brad Jones who made 84 tackles in 12 games last year. Fourth year player Jahmari Lattimore started 4 games in Jones’ place last season and showed enough promise that the Packers resigned the hard hitting Lattimore and will likely use him in pass rushing situations throughout the season.


Sam Shields signed a big contract this past offseason to remain a Packer for the next four seasons at a premium price of $39 million. Shields had four interceptions for the Packers last year and many believe his best days are in front of him as he learns how to play corner in the NFL. Tramon Williams will be the other starting corner in 2013. While Williams may not be playing at the elite level he was during the 2010 Super Bowl run, he has missed only one game in the past four seasons and has 15 interceptions during that span.

The Packers have good depth at cornerback with Casey Hayward returning from injury and Micah Hyde’s strong play last year as a rookie. Hyde has been practicing this past offseason at safety and Capers wants to see him on the field as much as possible. Hyde is battling against first round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for the starting free safety job opposite strong safety Morgan Burnett. Both Hyde and Clinton-Dix have made plays during exhibition games and the competition is tough. That is good for the Packers as what was a sore spot on the team last year could be the most improved unit.

Special Teams

Mason Crosby returned to his old self last season hitting 33 of 37 field goal attempts. Punter Tim Masthay is a quality punter and has been a consistent performer for the Packers for the past 4 seasons. He doesn’t set the world on fire but he rarely shanks a punt and ruins field position.

 The Packers are still searching for an answer in the return game. DuJuan Harris appears to be the front runner for both punt and kickoff return duties.