Under-the-Radar Green Bay Packers Ready to Break Out in 2012
"We're a draft and develop program," McCarthy said in May via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "This is essential to our development. I've been real happy with it, particularly with our second- and third-year players. They're here; they're into it. You really see the benefits when you see the third- and fourth-year players."
That being said, I have put three second-year players into the under-the-radar category as the Packers are early into training camp in 2012.
I have also added two rookies to this equation, as both have shown early glimpses of what the future may hold for them in the NFL.
All told, these five players have a real opportunity to make a lot of noise in 2012 and also in the future for the Packers.
It's early in training camp, but CB Casey Hayward has stood out with his play as a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers. Hayward isn't starting yet, but that all could change if his development continues.
Ted Thompson knew what he was getting when he drafted Hayward in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Hayward was a ball hawk who had a great senior year, picking off seven passes. The former Vanderbilt Commodore had 15 career interceptions as a matter of fact.
Right now, the Packers are starting Jarrett Bush and Tramon Williams at CB in their base defense, as Charles Woodson has moved over to S, along with Morgan Burnett.
When the Packers line up in their nickel look, Woodson slides down to the slot and the Packers bring in S M.D. Jennings.
When the Packers utilized their 4-1 dime defense Saturday, it was Williams and either Sam Shields or Davon House outside, with Woodson and Bush in the slot and Burnett and Jennings at safety.
But Hayward has opened some eyes when he has had his opportunity.
During Friday's practice, QB Graham Harrell threw outside during an end-of-game situation, and Hayward picked him off.
"I was in the slot in nickel," Hayward told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We were in some man concept. They either run vertical, the in or the out. I guessed the out because they were running 2-minute and was able to get a pick."
Hayward then picked off Harrell again on Saturday and stood out in the one-on-one coverage drill.
That led to the coaching staff putting Hayward in the dime scheme later on Saturday, as he moved into one of the slot positions and Bush moved outside with Williams.
When it's all said and done, I expect Hayward to become a starter at CB when training camp ends, both in the base opposite Williams and also in the nickel and dime looks.
Hayward has been there and done that.
"Playing in the SEC, I played against A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery, all those guys," Hayward said in the aforementioned article. "I pressed those guys. Like today, I was pressing in the slot, especially in the one on ones, and I held my own.
"I've been holding my own since I've been playing this game."
D.J. Williams was considered one of the better receiving tight ends coming out of college when he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft. In fact, Williams won the John Mackey Award as a senior at Arkansas.
Williams had a quiet 2011 season for the Packers, as he played in 13 games and only had two receptions for 13 yards. The three games he was inactive was due to a mistake Williams made during the ninth game of the season versus the Minnesota Vikings.
Williams came onto the field late, lined up in the wrong spot and forced quarterback Aaron Rodgers to take a timeout near the goal line.
Williams knows he has an opportunity for increased playing time at TE in 2012, and he has come to training camp noticeably stronger.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has noticed the transformation.
"He's playing with much more balance and strength," McCarthy said via Packers.com. "That's one of the things you see with a younger player. They're not off their feet very often and that's obviously important.
"D.J. is stronger, more comfortable. He's doing a lot better job of attacking the middle of the field. I'm excited to see him put the pads on and do the interior stuff."
Jermichael Finley figures to get the bulk of the playing time at TE, but Williams has an opportunity to be part of the blocking scheme due to his added strength and also the passing game due to his natural abilities.
Williams is battling Tom Crabtree and Ryan Taylor for some time on the field. Andrew Quarless is still unavailable for action at TE due to his late-season knee injury versus the New York Giants.
Williams is making the most of his opportunity so far in camp, with both his blocking and the way he is catching the ball.
The last two seasons, the Packers have seen an undrafted OLB who opens the eyes of the coaching staff and makes the team. Examples are Frank Zombo in 2010 and Vic So'oto and Jamari Lattimore in 2011.
It sure looks like Dezman Moses could become part of that club. The 6'2", 249-pound Moses, who played his college ball at Tulane after transferring from Iowa, has stood out at organized team activities and minicamp.
The trend is continuing in training camp. Moses is getting a lot of time at ROLB and on special teams, and he looks like a good shot to make the team right now.
Even though Moses was a DE at Tulane, he still had 15 sacks in 23 games. He has shown an ability to cause havoc with his physical style of play so far with the Packers.
"That's pretty much the way Coach (Kevin) Greene explains it," Moses told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Saturday. "He teaches us to play with passion. Obviously, I love the game. Once we put on the pads today, that was fun for me.
"Getting to hit a little bit, contact, get the blood flowing; it's fun."
Moses, along with fellow rookie Terrell Manning, has looked outstanding on special teams thus far in camp too.
It's early, but I see Moses making the team right now. Perhaps at the expense of one of the other undrafted rookies who made the team the past couple of years.
If there is one guy who is looking over his shoulder about being replaced as a starter, it's ILB A.J. Hawk.
Hawk needs to play like he did in 2010, if he expects to keep his starting job. Hawk saw his tackle total drop by 27 tackles in 2011 compared to 2010, plus had no interceptions last year, while he had three picks in 2010.
The other starter at ILB, Desmond Bishop, had a much better year, as he had 115 total tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles.
Both Hawk and Bishop missed time in 2011 because of calf injuries. As a matter of fact, Bishop didn't pass his physical heading into training camp this year due to another calf injury a week before camp opened. Time will tell when Bishop is ready to play again.
Just like in 2011, however, this has opened the door for D.J. Smith at ILB.
Smith started three games for the Packers in 2011, and he had 38 total tackles, with one interception and two passes defended. Right now, the Packers are using Smith as their lone ILB in the dime look, as both Hawk and Bishops showed pass-coverage deficiencies in 2011.
Smith isn't tall, as he's only 5'11", but he's very instinctive against the run and showed flashes in pass coverage.
Hawk needs to step up his game, plus Bishop needs to get healthy, if they both expect to line up as starters again in 2012.
Smith will be pushing both of them for playing time, especially Hawk.
Brandon Saine played in eight games for the Green Bay Packers in 2011. Saine didn't wow people with his stats, as he only rushed for 69 yards and only caught 10 passes for 69 more yards.
However, Saine did impress the coaching staff because he was very good with his assignments and was on the field with the offensive unit when it was crunch time.
The Packers were 15-1 in 2011 and didn't play in a lot of games that came down to final drives. But the game against the New York Giants on the road in early December did.
The game was tied 35-35 when Aaron Rodgers took the Packers down the field from their own 20 with only 58 seconds left in the game. The drive ended with a 30-yard field goal by Mason Crosby as time expired.
Brandon Saine was on the field with the offensive unit on that drive. Saine proved to the coaching staff that he could be trusted in key points of the game.
He runs hard and fast, catches the ball very well and also is good at picking up blitzes. What's not to like?
Saine never fumbled the ball in all of his years at Ohio State. He rushed for over 1,400 yards and scored nine TDs in his career as a Buckeye. Saine also had 55 career catches for eight more TDs.
One RB stood out to the coaching staff earlier this year at the OTAs and the minicamp.
That RB is Brandon Saine.
"Brandon (Saine) is so consistent, probably the most consistent guy we have back there," said head coach Mike McCarthy during a one of the OTAs held by the Packers in June. (h/t cheeseheadtv.com)
We shall see if this continues during training camp and how the RB situation plays out, as Saine will battle James Starks, Alex Green and others for playing time. All I know is that you shouldn't be surprised if Brandon Saine gets a lot of action once everything unfolds.
Especially during crunch time.