9 Packers Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2013

Bob FoxContributor IMay 14, 2013

9 Packers Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2013

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    Head coach Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff of the Green Bay Packers had an opportunity to see the 2013 rookie class, as well as second-years players at a mini-camp held this past weekend.

    McCarthy had a number of observations about the start of camp via Packers.com.

    "My expectations for every young man who dressed today is what I told them last night", McCarthy said. "I told them makeup of team is sixth-, seventh-round draft picks and free agents. I’ve changed the philosophy of our program. We’ve been known as a draft-and-develop football team but we’re a draft-and-undrafted football team."

    McCarthy also talked about what he is looking for from the second-year players. "We had one practice today, but that whole group as second-year players who are able to participate in a second camp, you look for them to be a cut above. If they’re not, that’s not a positive sign."

    Overall, McCarthy was pleased with how the camp compared to others in the past. "We're off to a good start with the camp", McCarthy said. "Had a number of guys have travel issues, but were able to complete all the physicals. We’re able to get into introduction to trainers and practice. Comparing today’s work to prior years, we’re a little bit ahead and that’s a tribute to this group of players. We feel we’re off to a good start."

    This slideshow will talk about a number of rookies and second-year players who I expect to be real difference makers for the Packers in 2013.

Defensive End Datone Jones

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    Count head coach Mike McCarthy as one who is happy Datone Jones is a Green Bay Packer.

    "I’m glad Datone Jones is here. Datone and Johnathan [Franklin] got in late last night", McCarthy said. "Two fine, young men and both very talented. Jim Mora is a heck of a football coach. You can see Jim has made an impression and has that program off to a great start. I think they’ll be fine."

    McCarthy also talked about the familiarity Jones will have to the defense scheme the Packers employ under Dom Capers. "Datone hit the lottery in a number of different ways. The defensive coordinator [of UCLA] grew up in the [3-4] system in Pittsburgh."

    The main reason the Packers drafted Jones was because of the painful memory of the NFC divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, when the Packers gave up 579 total yards. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had 444 total yards just by himself.

    Jones had very good success against teams that used the read-option offense in college, according to his defensive coordinator at UCLA, Lou Spanos.

    “Oh yeah, one of the things about Datone, we played quarterback read [option] teams like Nebraska, Houston and Arizona State,” Spanos said via packersnews.com. “He does a great job of bending low and attacking and being disruptive in the backfield. In all those games he made impact plays throughout the game, created turnovers, safeties, fumbles. He plays with extremely low pad level.”

    Jones will get his first big test on opening weekend of the 2013 season, as the Packers will face Kaepernick and the 49ers in San Francisco.

Running Back Eddie Lacy

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    Mike McCarthy likes what Eddie Lacy can bring to the Green Bay rushing attack. "Eddie Lacy definitely is very smooth", McCarthy said. "You can see things in the run game he did at Alabama. His comfort with footwork was my first impression. I’m glad he’s here."

    Lacy can help the Packers in a number of ways. The Packers haven't finished in the top 10 in NFL rushing since the 2004 season. The highest the Packers have ever gotten in the McCarthy-era was 14th in 2009.

    In addition to that, the Packers have had issues running the ball in short-yardage situations. Lacy is the type of back who has had very good success in those situations while he played at Alabama.

    Also, the Packers saw defenses last year playing their two safeties deep in coverage. Why? They didn't respect the Green Bay running attack, plus they wanted to thwart the deep-passing attack of the Packers.

    Both of those issues should change with Lacy in the Green Bay backfield.

    Bottom line, the Green Bay offense should be much more efficient in 2013. The Packers weren't bad offensively in 2013, as they were ranked 13th in the NFL. But except for last year, every offense under McCarthy has been in the top 10 of the NFL.

    Expect that to happen again with the addition of Lacy.

Running Back Johnathan Franklin

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    Johnathan Franklin is another excellent piece to the running back puzzle that the Packers are trying to solve this year.

    With Eddie Lacy, you have a back that loves to be physical and pound his opponents. Franklin uses a little more finesse in his running style, although he can be physical as well.

    Both Lacy and Franklin have the ability to be three-down backs. Franklin talked about why he and Lacy are now with the Packers, via Packers.com.

    “They brought us here for a reason; we have to contribute,” Franklin said. “We have to work hard at this. At running back or special teams, we’re going to make this team better.”

    Lacy rushed for 1,322 yards and had 17 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide in 2012, while Franklin had 1,734 yards rushing and had 13 touchdowns for the UCLA Bruins. Both backs also catch the ball well and are above-average blockers.

    Franklin also talked about how he felt about being in Green Bay. "It's a blessing. It's a dream come true. I love the game of football and I have a passion for it", Franklin said. "I can't wait to have practice today to be able get better."

    If the track records of both Lacy and Franklin in college carry through to the NFL, it looks like the Packers may have their own version of "Thunder and Lightning".

Offensive Lineman David Bakhtiari

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    David Bakhtiari has played both left tackle and right tackle when he played at Colorado. The last two years he played left tackle, but as a freshman, he played right tackle. Either way, Bakhtiari played just fine.

    When he was a right tackle with the Buffaloes, he had 59 knockdown blocks. The Packers are looking for that type of tenacity at right tackle this year, as the team decided to move both Bryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton to the left side of the line.

    That means the starting right tackle job is up for grabs. There should be plenty of competition for the position. Besides Bakhtiari, the Packers will also look at Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod, Don Barclay and Andrew Datko.

    Where he plays doesn't matter to Bakhtiari, as he talked to reporters via Packers.com.

    “I’m most comfortable at left tackle; that’s where I played the past two seasons,” Bakhtiari said. “But wherever I can get the most time and reps at, I can feel comfortable at that position. Wherever they want to put me is where I’m going to play.”

    Right tackle is that spot, and based on his success at Colorado, Bakhtiari is definitely a candidate to start there for the Packers in 2013.

Outside Linebacker Nick Perry

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    Nick Perry only played in six games as a rookie last year, as a wrist injury put him out for the season. That being said, Perry showed flashes of being effective at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews, as he had two sacks in his shortened season.

    Perry also split time with Erik Walden at his left outside linebacker position, but that will not be the case in 2013. Walden left via free agency, and the Packers are hoping that Perry will be an improved player in his second year under the tutelage of coach Kevin Greene.

    Perry had to adjust being upright last year, after being a 4-3 defensive end at USC in college, when he had his hand on the ground. Slowly, but surely, you could see that Perry was getting more comfortable at his new position.

    Perry has the speed, strength and athleticism to be very productive in the NFL, especially with another former USC Trojan Matthews on the other side as a bookend and also the drafting of defensive end Datone Jones of UCLA.

    In fact, I'll be the first to use the phrase that could define the pass rush of the Packers in 2013 with Perry, Matthews and Jones.

    The "California Gold Rush".

Safety Jerron McMillian

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    Jerron McMillian got plenty of reps last year as a rookie, especially after Charles Woodson went down with a broken collarbone in Week 7.

    McMillian played in all 16 games last year and had 27 tackles, five pass deflections, one interception and one fumble recovery.

    The Packers utilized both McMillian and M.D. Jennings at the strong safety position while Woodson was out. To me, I see more upside for McMillian, as he is a better tackler than Jennings, and he is more physical in the box in stopping the running game.

    The fact that the Packers did not draft a pure safety in the 2013 NFL draft, tells you that the team has a lot of trust in both McMillian and Jennings.

    Both will get a real opportunity to earn that trust in 2013, but McMillian is the player I'm looking at to really up his level of play this season.

Offensive Lineman Andrew Datko

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    Andrew Datko looks like a changed man in 2013. He looks stronger and more chiseled. More importantly, he appears to be healthy.

    Before Datko had shoulder problems at Florida State, he looked like a possible first-day selection in the 2012 NFL draft, or certainly a second-day selection. Instead, Datko wasn't drafted until the seventh round by the Packers.

    In training camp last year, Datko was not completely healed, and you could tell by watching him that he didn't have total strength in his shoulders. The Packers ended up putting Datko on their practice squad.

    This year, the Packers will give Datko an opportunity not only at tackle, but also a guard. With his health no longer an issue, I expect Datko to make a spirited move to try and win the starting right tackle job with the Packers and at the very least become a valued offensive lineman on the bench.

Inside Linebacker Terrell Manning

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    Terrell Manning had a rough start with the Packers his rookie year. In training camp, Manning was affected by stomach ailment that caused Manning to lose 15 pounds during the camp.

    The ailment basically derailed Manning's rookie season, although he did get to play in five games in 2012.

    The Packers expect much more from Manning in 2013. Manning had a great career at North Carolina State, where he proved he could be a three-down linebacker. In his career as a member of the Wolfpack, Manning had 193 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and five interceptions.

    Manning will be vying for time at inside linebacker for the Packers, but also has the ability to play on the outside.

    I expect Manning to be much more productive in his second year with the Packers.

Quarterback B.J. Coleman

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    Quarterback B.J. Coleman has already shown a lot more improvement in his second year compared to last season, when he was a rookie.

    “What I had to see from B.J. is him [having] looked like he’d been here for a year, be in charge of the drills and be productive,” head coach Mike McCarthy said via Packers.com after the final minicamp practice. “And that was evident in all three practices.

    “Now there’s a couple things that he’ll learn from. Actually, I was talking to B.J. coming off the field about a particular play in the final team period. So he’s got ability. There’s just some things that he’s done in the past and the way he’s played the position that are total opposite of the way he’s being taught, so we got to get that part figured out. But I think he’s definitely making a lot of progress.”

    That's a great sign for the Packers, as Coleman will push second-string quarterback Graham Harrell for the role of being the No. 1 backup to Aaron Rodgers. Coleman has got a better arm and is quicker in the pocket than Harrell, but up until this point has not been as polished in knowing the offensive system for the Packers.

    The Packers will be bringing four quarterbacks to training camp this year. Obviously, the Packers will have Rodgers, plus Harrell and Coleman, and also undrafted rookie Matt Brown.

    I expect Coleman to get quite a bit of playing time this preseason, to judge whether or not he truly can pass Harrell on the depth chart. Harrell will have something to say about that as well, but except for his final appearance last year in preseason for the Packers, Harrell was largely inconsistent and ineffective.