8 Green Bay Packers Veterans on Notice in 2012
April's draft might be the closest thing to an offseason Super Bowl for NFL fans, but for veterans, it represents the latest crop of faster, stronger and younger talent.
Do the math: Only 53 players will be on the active roster when each season begins, and the eight rookies Green Bay drafted could all make the final roster, leaving many of those who started last season to prove the job is theirs to lose.
But even years of production cannot guarantee a contract in the NFL. In some cases, the unavoidable effects of age combined with Ted Thompson's preference for youth eventually lead to an inevitable exit from Green Bay, whether via retirement or free agency.
The following eight players, including a pair of fan favorites, face competition from rookies and other, younger veterans going into the 2012 season. Each is on the hot seat, leaving fans to discuss and debate which will retain their starting roles when the season begins in September.
Rookie Terrell Manning is lurking in the wings, waiting to replace Hawk if he has a consecutive disappointing season, so rest assured he has a target on his back.
Hawk, who has drawn the ire of Packers fans everywhere with whiffed tackles and blown coverage assignments, also has the potential to be a Pro Bowl linebacker.
Unfortunately, he seemed to have grown complacent last season, satisfied to exert the minimal level of effort. Coincidentally, Hawk re-signed with the Packers for five years in the spring of 2011, months before leaving his game in the locker room on Sundays.
After recording five interceptions in 2009-2010, Hawk finished with none last season, adding to that dismal statistic a career-low mark for tackles. If Hawk doesn't improve his play in 2012, don't be surprised if the hype next April concerns Ted Thompson eying an inside linebacker.
Sam Shields and Charles Woodson
With Charles Woodson in the twilight of his career, Green Bay's options to replace him include Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and rookie Casey Hayward. Williams is a lock to start opposite Woodson this season, but Shields and Hayward will be fighting for the nickel role.
While Shields has flashed the potential to be a starter in the past, Hayward is an instinctive corner with a nose for the football. Shields snagged four interceptions last season, and Green Bay's offense provides defensive backs like Hayward with plenty of opportunities to ruin the day of hurried quarterbacks.
Left tackle Marshall Newhouse is set to replace Chad Clifton, but the third-year offensive tackle, who seemed to fall asleep on some downs last season, isn't done proving himself yet.
2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod was described by a fellow Bleacher Reporter as "the most likely candidate...to come off the board first," and if not for a broken leg suffered during Week 15 last season, he'd be in more talks to challenge for the role next season.
And toss Andrew Datko into the mix. While the seventh-round pick may still need to earn a contract, his size (6'6", 315 lbs) and college career, which was lauded at Florida State before shoulder injuries plagued him last season, suggest he has the potential to develop into the position.
In either case, Newhouse faces stiff competition at left tackle, and his hold on the position is anything but secure.
Though Peprah performed adequately in the absence of Nick Collins, the latter's offseason exit forced Green Bay to draft Jerron McMillian in the fourth round. While he'll make his most immediate impact on special teams, McMillian will be given the opportunity to earn a starting role.
Add to that the fact Peprah is entering the final year of his contract, and it's apparent Green Bay will give him and McMillian every opportunity to prove they can be long-term solutions at safety.
Brad Jones and Erik Walden
The combination of Jones and Walden added up to 79 tackles and 4.0 sacks last season, struggling to reach the passer or convince offensive coordinators they were a credible threat to do so.
Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy hope Perry can match those numbers this season and force his way to the quarterback.
Drafted to start opposite Clay Matthews, Perry is an ideal pass-rusher who will make an immediate impact in the rotation at right-side linebacker, relegating Jones and Walden to the sideline most downs.
Thinking about this list, Driver's name surfaced and resurfaced to my attention because, as it has grown inevitable to obvious the past two seasons, Green Bay is preparing to move on.
In 2011, the team provided James Jones more opportunities and began working Randall Cobb into the offense, leaving the 36-year old Driver just 37 receptions last season, the fewest of his career since 2001.
Dancing with the Stars ought to be reserved for players who have already left the game and can't hang on to gigs doing pre-game babble, but for Driver, still tangoing after eight weeks, I'll make an exception.
Those of us living in Wisconsin have enjoyed Inside the Huddle with Donald Driver since 2004 and dozens of regional McDonalds commercials in that same span. At the apex, he was on local airwaves more often than Peyton Manning.
So it's only fair we share him with the rest of the country after practically keeping him secret all these years.
He's been a star player and fan favorite for the Packers since 2002, racking up more than 10,000 yards in his career, and a three-season stretch 2004-2006 was highlighted by 262 receptions, more than 1,200 yards per season and a 14-plus yards-per-reception average.
Driver only made one Pro Bowl in that span and three in his career, perhaps in part because coverage from major media outlets rarely recognized his consistency and work ethic, saving precious air time and space in print for the players pulling cell phones from under goal posts and performing sit-ups in their driveways.
So without getting long-winded, it's a rare treat to see an under-reported athlete with a big smile and a bigger heart receiving some well-deserved time in the spotlight. It might be Dancing with the Stars, but it will have to do.
And when it's over, Donald can return to the huddle (and the Huddle) for one more season. It will be good to have him back.