5 Packers with Untapped Potential Ready to Contribute in 2012
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It's natural for football fans to remain caught up in the hype of the 2012 NFL draft; after all, it took place just last weekend. However, one thing that's often forgotten is that most rookies need time to develop before being ready to contribute, with only a select few ready to do so from day one.
The competition to play is particularly fierce in Green Bay due to a roster that boasts as much depth and talent as any in the National Football League.
Yet, the Packers know pro football is a young man's game. Accordingly, they are more than willing to give young players an opportunity to play once they've earned it. Some players simply need a year or so of development for numerous reasons before they are entirely ready to contribute.
On that front, the good news for Packer fans is that the Green Bay coaching staff, led by head coach Mike McCarthy, is one of the best in the NFL at developing and preparing young talent to play.
There are numerous examples of the Packers turning little known prospects into big-time contributors; Desmond Bishop, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Sam Shields, Marshall Newhouse, Tramon Williams and John Kuhn were all drafted in Rounds 4-7, or not at all, yet went to start in Green Bay.
The Packers thrive on the cultivation of their young talent; therefore, let's take a look at five players who weren't quite ready for the NFL last season but could become regular contributors for the Packers in 2012.
Saine is a sleeper at RB this year for the Packers.
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If there is one position that the Packers are looking for a young player to step up and take control over, it's running back.
Presently, the Packers have just three holdovers at the position: third-year pro and projected starter James Starks, as well as second-year backs Alex Green and Brandon Saine.
Green and Saine entered the league in much different fashions. Green was selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft, while Saine fought his way onto the team as an undrafted free agent, beginning last season on the practice squad.
Saine, who played at Ohio State, was a solid player who never held down the starting running back spot for the Buckeyes.Yet he showed promise carrying the ball 301 times for 1,408 yards, scoring nine touchdowns and posting 4.7 yards per carry average. He also caught 55 passes for 616 yards and eight touchdowns.
Green, a Hawaii product, originally earned the third spot on the running back depth chart before suffering an ACL tear early in the season, which opened the door for Saine to get promoted to the active roster.
While, the former Buckeye did not get many opportunities in 2011, he carried the ball 18 times for 69 yards, caught 10 passes for 69 yards and returned two kicks for 40 yards in limited action.
Here is Bob McGinn's take on his 2011 season by way of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
A rookie free agent, Saine was promoted from the practice squad after Green went down. In 75 snaps, he proved to be a smart, well-prepared player with a legitimate future. He has good speed, catches the ball well and runs more recklessly than he did at Ohio State. He proved to be a no-nonsense kind of back, making one cut and digging out what he could.
There is little doubt Saine has the talent to be a weekly contributor to the Packers offense. He is a perfect fit for what they want in a running back. He is decisive with the football, good in pass protection and catches the well and runs with purpose.
By now, if the Packers were going to bring in a veteran back, it seems they would have done so. Therefore, Starks figures to be the primary ball carrier, with Green and Saine as the top backups.
Green may have had an edge on Saine due his speed and athleticism, yet it's hard to predict how he will recoup from a serious knee injury, which opens the door for Saine to earn the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
Gurley is the big, physical receiver the Packers currently lack.
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The Green Bay Packers know they are set at wide receiver. At least for the time being. Not only do they boast two of the top wideouts in football in Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, they also have a ridiculous amount of depth, with James Jones, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb rounding out the depth chart.
Yet in the NFL, teams must never rest on their laurels. The second a team stops improving is when it starts falling behind.
Therefore, the Packers will have some tough decisions to make at wide receiver come training camp, especially because of one talented practice squad player in particular: Tori Gurley.
Gurley signed with the Packers last season as a rookie free agent out of South Carolina, where he played just two seasons, catching 75 passes for 901 yards and six touchdowns before he surprisingly entered the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore.
Although it may have been wiser for the 6'4", 216-pound receiver to stay in school, he clearly showed in training camp last season that he belongs as an NFL receiver.
Gurley showed such promise in his first year in the league, that near the end of the season, the Minnesota Vikings offered him a spot on their active roster as opposed to being a member of the practice squad in Green Bay.
Yet, Gurley passed up a chance to play right away, turning down the offer, according to Pro Football Talk for what he saw as a better long-term opportunity in Green Bay.
However, the vast untapped potential of the South Carolina product presents the Packers with a difficult dilemma of their own.
Gurley may have passed up a spot on another team's roster once, but is unlikely to do so again, meaning the Packers either need to jettison the beloved Donald Driver or carry six receivers on the 53-man roster.
Either way, Gurley is too good to spend another year on the practice squad and, if given the chance, could add a physical element to the receiving core that currently does not exist.
Lattimore has a chance to make an impact as an edge rusher
It's unlikely more than a few Packer fans know the name Jamari Lattimore. However, if things go as planned, he could be a well-known member of the defense by the end of the season.
Lattimore, who is entering just his second NFL season, signed with Green Bay as a rookie free agent in 2010 as an undersized defensive end coming out Middle Tennessee State.
The former Blue Raider was an outstanding pass-rusher in college, notching 20 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in three seasons as a starter. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year in the Sun Belt conference in 2010.
As a rookie, Lattimore flashed potential as a pass-rusher, showcasing a quick first step and an ability to turn the corner on offensive tackles. Eventually, the Packers thought enough to keep him on their 53-man roster.
Here is what Packers insider Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said about Lattimore at the end of last season:
The Packers kept this rookie free agent from Middle Tennessee State because of his special-teams flair and potential as a pass rusher. He beat out draft pick Ricky Elmore because he was faster and more physical. Other than an eight-play stint in Game 15, Lattimore had to be content playing special teams. By the end of the season he was weighing in the high 230s; the Packers hope he can get to 245 by August. He will warrant a long, long look in August.
Lattimore did contribute on special teams last year, registering four tackles. However, the team is very high on him and hope that after a year in the Packers vaunted offseason program, he will develop into a reliable pass-rushing threat at outside linebacker.
House will be part of tough competition at CB
There is a saying in the National Football League that you can never have enough good corners. This is particularly true in today's era of pass-happy offenses, which are putting up points and yards in an astonishing fashion.
Therefore House, a fourth-round pick in 2010 out of New Mexico State, who played in just two games in last season due to injury, has a chance to contribute in a meaningful way this season.
The athletic corner with little seasoning showed promised early on in training camp last season, thrusting himself into contention for the a spot in sub-packages. Unfortunately, injuries derailed any hopes of significant playing time as a rookie.
Yet there are still plenty of reasons to be excited about his potential going forward. For starters, he possess a rare blend of size (6'1", 200 pounds) and speed (4.32 40-yard dash). He was also very productive as a collegiate, intercepting 11 passes and breaking up 48 in four seasons.
In the lead-up to the draft, teams came away impressed with his skill set, prompting some around the league to view him as a potential second-round pick per the National Football Post, which shows how evaluators view his talent.
House will face some stiff competition to see the field again this season, especially with Green Bay selecting Vanderbilt corner Casey Hayward in Round 2 of the draft.
Yet players usually show the most improvement in their second season, and if House can take the next step in his development, he will see the field at some point, at least in sub-packages. After all, in the NFL, you really can never have enough quality corners.
Jennings is under the radar now but could see time at safety this season.
It was not long ago when the Green Bay Packers appeared to be set at the safety position. Entering the 2011 season, not only did the team boast Pro Bowler Nick Collins, it also had promising youngster Morgan Burnett.
Unfortunately, Collins suffered a horrific neck injury and was recently released by the team. His departure left the club without an adequate replacement, causing a position of strength to turn into one of need.
Last season, Charlie Peprah stepped in for Collins, but struggled in his absence. Despite intercepting five passes, he was a major weakness in coverage, giving up big play after big- play. He's OK as a starter but is a liability in coverage due to his speed; therefore, the team may look to replace him with a younger, more athletic prospect.
One such candidate is second-year safety from Arkansas State M.D. Jennings, who impressed enough last season to make the 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent.
In college, Jennings was a starter for three seasons and enjoyed a productive career that included 241 tackles, eight interceptions, 23 passes defensed, 7.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Following Collins' injury, Jennings became the third safety, yet saw limited action and registered seven tackles, mostly on special teams.
Here is McGinn's season-end analysis of Jennings:
Some were surprised when this rookie free agent from Arkansas State made the team. That didn't include a scout for another NFC team, who said, "I liked the way he moved. I was hoping they'd cut him, but I knew they wouldn't." Though undersized, Jennings is a tough kid with good ball skills and feel in coverage. His speed is above average, too. Despite being the No. 3 safety for the last 15 games, he never had to play from scrimmage.
The Packers did little to address their concerns at safety. In fact, the only player added of any importance at the position was Maine product Jerron McMillian, who the team picked in Round 4 of the draft.
At this point, Burnett is the only sure-fire starter, although it appears likely Peprah will being the season as the starter, Jennings is going to get every chance to earn his way onto the field in 2012 as the Packers search for an upgrade.