What's New for the Green Bay Packers in 2013-14?
General manager Ted Thompson is now in his ninth season running the front office of the Green Bay Packers. Thompson has a very favorable track record in terms of wins and losses. The team has been 78-50 since 2005, won three NFC North titles and a Super Bowl.
Thompson leads a very coherent operation in terms of running the front office and the rest of the football operations in Green Bay.
Thompson has only had two head coaches (Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy), and that change was made in his second year on the job.
Yes, there was that change at the quarterback position in the summer of 2008 which brought the Packers into the crosshairs of the national media. It was like watching a soap opera for a few days.
That was unwanted attention as far as Thompson was concerned.
Bottom line, year to year in Green Bay things stay very much the same. The philosophy. The offense. The same defense since 2009. The same coaching staff for two consecutive years.
Thompson runs a consistent ship.
There are some new faces obviously, with the new rookies and free agents and with some key veteran players leaving, including Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings and Desmond Bishop. There are also some subtle assignment changes.
I will talk about seven players, and how important their roles will be for the Packers this upcoming season.
Running Back Eddie Lacy
The Packers haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher for three straight seasons now. They haven't had a running back gain 100 yards in a game since early in the 2010 season. In terms of team rushing in the NFL, the Packers have finished 24th, 27th and 20th in the league the past three seasons.
That is the big reason Eddie Lacy was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. That, and his sparkling track record as a running back at Alabama, a school that has won three national titles in four years.
In his career at 'Bama, Lacy rushed for 2,402 yards and had 30 touchdowns. He also caught 35 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns.
Lacy had a fabulous year in 2012, as he rushed for 1,322 yards and had 17 touchdowns, but he was best in big games.
In the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, Lacy had 181 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns, while he had 140 yards rushing and two total touchdowns in the BCS National Championship Game versus Notre Dame.
Although Lacy had hamstring issues for a week or so in camp, No. 27 has shown enough flashes to encourage the team that he can turn things around for them.
The Packers don't want to wear Lacy out, but the big back can run with power, as well as catch and block effectively.
He will also force the two safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, as opposed to what happened last season. More often than not in 2012, teams would have the safeties deep against the Packers because they didn't respect the running game.
That will change in 2013 with Lacy in the backfield.
Can he rush for 1,000 yards this year? If he doesn't, I think he'll come close.
Will he rush for over 100 yards in a game or multiple games this season? I would say yes.
Time will tell.
Defensive End Datone Jones
In OTAa, minicamps and the first part of training camp, defensive end Datone Jones looked exactly as a first round draft choice should look.
He was physical, quick and fast to the ball. Then came the opening defensive series against the Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 9. Jones sprained his ankle after making a quick first-move. After a week or so with the medical staff, Jones has tried to play with that injury the last two preseason games and in practice.
The difference is very noticeable. Jones was drafted because he is so quick off the snap. He uses that quickness to get to the ball carrier or the quarterback in a flash. That is why he had 19 tackles for a loss and had 6.5 sacks for the UCLA Bruins last year.
Jones hasn't been able to utilize that quickness since the injury. The Packers need the guy that looked so good before the ankle injury. Hopefully the healing process is going well.
Jones has the ability to be a real difference-maker on defense, but he also needs to be healthy.
Defensive Lineman Johnny Jolly
When a player has been out of the NFL for three full seasons due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, the odds of getting back on the field and playing effectively are long.
But it looks like 30 year-old Johnny Jolly is close to making that happen.
When Jolly last played for the Packers as a defensive lineman, he was very stout against the run with 75 tackles and 11 batted-down passes
Jolly has shown those same traits this preseason. When Jolly last played with the Packers in 2009, Green Bay led the NFL in run defense. The Packers were 17th in that category last season.
Jolly brings a lot of different variables to the defense of the Packers, but his nastiness as a player can also add some spice to the "D".
Jolly won't get as many snaps as he did in 2009, but will be a solid addition to the defensive line.
Offensive Tackle David Bakhtiari
Right from the start in training camp, rookie offensive tackle David Bakhtiari impressed the coaches. He was primarily competing at the right tackle position and was winning the competition there. Then came the ACL tear suffered by starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga during the Family Night scrimmage.
That injury had the Packers immediately switch Bakhtiari over to left tackle. That was nothing new to Bakhtiari, as he had played both right and left tackle at Colorado.
Bakhtiari is very capable and has shown well in pass protection this summer in camp and in games. No. 69 can also get to the second-level with ease in his run-blocking, but still needs work at the point of attack.
Bakhtiari's number one job, however, is to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers with his pass-blocking.
In that regard, I think Bakhtiari will be more than adequate.
Defensive Back Micah Hyde
Every training camp there is always one rookie who everyone talks about. This year it was fifth-round draft pick Micah Hyde, who plays defensive back. Hyde has played exceptionally well, both at practices and in games.
Hyde has shown a real knack for finding the football. Hyde doesn't have great speed, but has excellent instincts and awareness.
No. 33 has gotten some looks at the slot-corner position, and has played very effectively, in both coverage and tackling. But that job will eventually go to Casey Hayward, so Hyde will probably be used in a different capacity.
Hyde was primarily a cornerback at Iowa, but also played some safety there.
That might be the position that he eventually will play in Green Bay.
Bottom line, Hyde will get on the field and make things happen. He looks to be a corp player on special teams, and might end up as the primary punt returner.
Tight End Matthew Mulligan
Mike McCarthy wants to see an improved rushing attack this year, which is why the Packers selected two backs—Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin—in the 2013 NFL draft, and signed free agent tight end Matthew Mulligan.
The Packers have never been an elite running team under McCarthy, as the highest the team was ranked in rushing in the NFL was 14th in 2009. The last three years, the Packers have been ranked 20th or lower in rushing.
Mulligan will help the cause due to his very good run-blocking ability. Mulligan only has 14 receptions in his four-year career, so he isn't much of a receiving threat.
No, his job is to run-block. And do that well. That and play effectively on special teams, where he had a blocked punt in 2012 when he was with the Rams.
* The Packers have released Mulligan according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, after first releasing another tight end, D.J. Williams. The move to release Mulligan is very surprising, based on the team's wish to improve their rushing attack.
Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Mike Neal
If you have been to Packers training camp this year, you have seen Mike Neal practice with the defensive linemen in certain drills and in defense alignments on the field.
Plus you have also seen Neal working with outside linebacker's coach Kevin Greene in drills with the outside linebackers—particularly in the blitz-drill.
The Packers like what Neal can do to aid in the team's pass-rushing ability. After only playing in nine games his first two years in the NFL due to injury issues, Neal played in 11 games last year, after first serving a four-game for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Neal had 4.5 sacks in 2012, and he helped Clay Matthews to get some more one-on-one opportunities in rushing the passer thanks to his play.
The Packers are trying to get their best players on the field during pass-rush opportunities, which is why Neal has gotten some looks at outside linebacker.
Neal has lost some weight and has looked pretty comfortable standing up, as opposed to having a hand in the dirt.
It depends on the down and distance, but I look for Neal to have another solid year in terms of rushing the passer.