7 Players the Green Bay Packers Need to Step Up in 2012

Matt SmithContributor IIIJuly 5, 2012

7 Players the Green Bay Packers Need to Step Up in 2012

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    After tearing up the regular season with a 15-1 record and proceeding to disappoint with a first game playoff loss, the Packers have little to do but learn from their many mistakes and move on.

    Many players who were key in Green Bay's Super Bowl run were nowhere to be found last season. Still, these players' flaws were masked by the brilliant play of Aaron Rodgers, who kept the Packers in games every week.

    Unless they want a repeat of last year's ending, the whole team will have to improve a whole. And if the whole unit is going to improve, these seven players are really going to have to step up.

The Entire Defensive Line

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    OK, so maybe this isn't one player, but it wouldn't be fair to single out one person. It's safe to say they more or less equally sucked.

    Part of the reason Green Bay's defense was so bad last year was that Clay Matthews and Desmond Bishop were the only people who could generate a quality amount of pressure, and a good bit of that blame falls on the defensive line.

    B.J. Raji took a major step back as the anchor of the line, and the players surrounding him didn't do much either.

    Rookie Jerel Worthy will be in the mix for heavy snaps as a player who could fix part of the Packers' pass-rush problem.

Nick Perry

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    Although just a rookie, Perry has already been given the starting outside linebacker job opposite Clay Matthews and has more or less been given the task of fixing Green Bay's broken pass rush.

    Perry is an athletic specimen who could've gone earlier in the draft but scouts were wary of his perceived low motor and questioned his ability to transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker (what he's playing in Green Bay).

    The first-round pick out of USC should see plenty of one-on-one battles opposite Clay Matthews in a string of matchups he'll need to take advantage of.

Tramon Williams

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    In order to regain his 2010 form and be truly effective, Williams will have to prove he's past the nerve damage that severely affected his ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage last year.

    Williams' injury was one of the reasons why the Packers gave up the most yards in the NFL last year, as their premier outside cornerback couldn't do what he does best.

    If he isn't healthy, the Packers will need other cornerbacks like Sam Shields, impressive second-year player Davon House and possibly second-round pick Casey Hayward to step up.

A.J. Hawk

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    Hawk's inclusion on this list shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, especially since he's been one of the most scrutinized Packers over the past few years.

    Ever since being selected with the fifth pick, Hawk has been criticized for not making the same amount of impact plays as he did at Ohio State. That showed in 2011.

    A year after recording 111 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes defended, Hawk laid a dud in 2011 by posting only 84 tackles, not intercepting a single pass and only three passes defended.

    It should be noted he only played in 14 games, although it should also be noted that that isn't a legitimate excuse for the lack of impact plays.

    Though his contract isn't easily movable, Hawk will be the subject of trade talks in the media unless he steps it up.

James Starks

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    By declining to re-sign Ryan Grant, the Packers made it clear that James Starks will be the feature back this season.

    Behind him on the depth chart are Alex Green, who is recovering from a torn ACL, and former undrafted free agent Brandon Saine. Neither are a major threat to his carries.

    Starks is a versatile player who should be able to play all three downs, but whether he can handle the workload is a question.

    The Buffalo product hasn't turned in a full season since his college days—and even then he missed his senior year due to a shoulder injury.

    If he can stay healthy, he should be able to accumulate the majority of Ryan Grant's rushing yards from last year.

    On a fantasy sidenote, why Starks is being selected behind many backup running backs in fantasy drafts is beyond me. He's an unquestioned feature back and major fantasy steal as an RB3 as long as he stays healthy.

Marshall Newhouse

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    Rather inconsistent in his play over the course of last season, Newhouse is looking to prove that he is indeed Green Bay's long-term answer at left tackle.

    He's off to a good start, as Coach McCarthy is pleased with the progress he's made this offseason and seems committed to starting him at left tackle.

    Newhouse is only 23 but may not get another chance to start a game if he doesn't perform well this season.

James Jones

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    According to Pro Football Focus, Jones has the worst drop rate of any active player over the past three seasons.

    That's a big problem when you have Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb all vying for snaps.

    Jennings and Nelson are locked in as the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers and Driver should start off the season as the primary slot receiver. Cobb will be looking to steal snaps mostly from the slot, but could take some of Jones' as he sometimes played on the outside last year.

    If Jones can't focus on the ball and limit his drops, especially at critical times like in the playoffs, his snap count will decrease. He'll need those snaps to prove he belongs on the field and not on the trade block.