5 Biggest Needs the Packers Have Yet to Address This Offseason

Bob FoxContributor IMarch 20, 2014

5 Biggest Needs the Packers Have Yet to Address This Offseason

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The 2014 free agency period in the NFL started a little over a week ago, and the Green Bay Packers have been surprisingly busy. Normally, under the watch of general manager Ted Thompson, the team is usually very quiet during the initial stages of this process.

    The Packers have re-signed a number of their own players during that time, a list which includes cornerback Sam Shields, defensive lineman/outside linebacker Mike Neal, nose tackle B.J. Raji, tight end Andrew Quarless and running back James Starks.

    But the big splash in free agency happened when the team signed defensive end Julius Peppers, formally of the Chicago Bears. Shortly after that signing, the Packers also signed defensive tackle Letroy Guion, who played the first four years of his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings.

    The team has also lost a few players during free agency as well. It started when safety M.D. Jennings signed with the Bears, after the Packers did not tender him a contract offer while he was a restricted free agent.

    Then late last week, center Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And recently the Packers saw wide receiver James Jones sign with the Oakland Raiders.

    The Packers still have a number of needs to be addressed, whether in free agency or in the 2014 NFL draft.

    I am going to list five of them in this slideshow.

     

Safety Help

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    So far in free agency, we have seen a lot of talented safeties sign with other teams. Jairus Byrd signed with the New Orleans Saints. T.J. Ward signed with the Denver Broncos. Donte Whitner signed with the Cleveland Browns. Antoine Bethea signed with the San Francisco 49ers.

    And just in case you were wondering, former Packer Charles Woodson just re-signed with the Raiders.

    Speaking of the Packers, the team saw free-agent safety M.D. Jennings sign with the Bears, after the team did not tender him a contract offer. I don't believe anyone in Green Bay is losing any sleep over that particular situation.

    So, where will the Packers get some help at the safety position? A position that stuck out like a sore thumb last year, as none of the safeties had an interception, were also involved in several blown coverages, plus missed multiple tackles.

    The 2014 NFL draft is where the Packers will most likely get some help there. I would not be surprised if the Packers took either Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville, if either were available at the 21st pick of the first round.

    If Green Bay tries to bolster it's depth at safety through free agency, players like Chris Clemons, Jim Leonhard and Thomas DeCoud are possibilities.

    The Packers are also expected to give Micah Hyde an opportunity at safety this upcoming season, but only if cornerback Casey Hayward comes back 100 percent healthy from his hamstring woes, which caused him to miss most of the 2013 season.

A Proven Backup Quarterback

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    The Packers had to have learned their lesson about having proven backup quarterbacks last year. The team floundered for a number of games after starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers fractured his clavicle in Week 9 against the Bears.

    Injuries like that hadn't happened to a starting quarterback of the Packers for over 20 years. Brett Favre never missed a start in 16 years. Aaron Rodgers had missed only one game due to injury (concussion) in five-and-a-half years.

    But that all changed last year, when the injury to Rodgers caused No. 12 to miss seven games.

    Part of the problem for the Packers last year was the game of musical chairs the team played with the backup quarterbacks.

    In training camp, the Packers had Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman battling for the backup position behind Rodgers. Neither one of them impressed the coaching staff, so the team signed Vince Young to compete.

    When it was all said and done after training camp, Harrell, Coleman and Young had all been released.

    The team signed veteran Seneca Wallace to backup Rodgers and also brought in Scott Tolzien to the practice squad.

    But after Rodgers was injured, Wallace soon followed that path as well. In just his first start for the Packers against the Philadelphia Eagles, Wallace suffered a groin injury which ended his season.

    By then Tolzien had been elevated to the active roster, and although he showed some promise, he also made some critical errors.

    After the injury to Wallace, the Packers brought back Matt Flynn, who had been the backup to Rodgers from 2008-2011.

    After the Packers had lost three straight games and Tolzien was struggling against the Vikings, Flynn got his chance and brought the Packers back from a 20-point deficit to at least earn a tie that game.

    Flynn struggled against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, but he played very well down the stretch, as he led the Packers to two comeback victories over the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys and almost did the same against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Flynn basically saved the season for the Packers, as he put the team in position to win the NFC North in Week 17 when Rodgers was able to return against the Bears.

    Tolzien will be back this season, but the Packers need to make sure that Flynn is also brought back.

    Flynn has a very solid track record as a backup in Green Bay, and although he hasn't fared very well in other NFL locations, he has found a comfort zone with the Packers.

     

Inside Linebacker Depth

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    The Packers had a big problem in 2013: In the last half of the season, the defense of the Packers just couldn't stop the running game...of anyone.

    There were a lot of factors involved. There were key injuries to be sure, but mostly it was because of bad tackling.

    No one on the defense was immune to this. The defensive line, the linebackers and the defensive backs all played a part in that scenario.

    Things were fine for a half of the season. Going into the Week 9 game versus the Bears, the Packers were ranked 11th in total defense in the NFL, and they were also ranked fourth in rushing defense; the team was giving up only 83.6 yards a game on the ground.

    That all changed drastically over the last half of the season. The Packers finished 25th in total defense and plummeted to finish 25th in rushing defense, giving up an average of 125 yards a game for the season.

    When it come to defense in football, as it is in baseball, you have to be strong up the middle.

    The Packers have already re-signed B.J. Raji and plan to move him back to nose tackle, where he had been most effective. But the team still needs a thumper at inside linebacker as well. Someone who can meet the runner at or behind the line of scrimmage with force.

    It would also be helpful if the Packers had a linebacker who would be an asset in coverage as well.

    Veteran inside linebacker A.J. Hawk had one of his better years in Green Bay last year, but he's no spring chicken, as he recently turned 30. Brad Jones is the other starting inside linebacker for the Packers, but injuries limited him last season, and he didn't play as well as the team had expected after he was re-signed as a free agent prior to the 2013 season.

    The help the Packers need to get at inside linebacker will most likely come from the 2014 NFL draft. The Packers would be thrilled if C.J. Mosley of Alabama was still available at No. 21 overall.

    Other linebacker possibilities early in the draft include Chris Borland of Wisconsin, Shayne Skov of Standford and Yawin Smallwood of Connecticut.

A Center with Solid NFL Experience

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    JC Tretter
    JC TretterMike McGinnis/Getty Images

    I just happened to be talking with scout Chris Landry when it was announced that center Evan Dietrich-Smith had signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Landry thought that the signing of Dietrich-Smith was a good signing for the Bucs, but he also thought there was a solid free-agent option for the Packers to sign at center. That option would be Brian de la Puente of the New Orleans Saints.

    De la Puente has been a solid starting center for the Saints' fast-paced offense for three straight seasons. Plus, the 6'3", 306-pound center is just 28.

    The Packers do have other options at center, if they choose not to sign a veteran at the position.

    The Packers love the athleticism of JC Tretter, who can play all three offensive line positions. The 2013 season was almost a total washout for the rookie from Cornell, as he broke his ankle during an OTA practice. Tretter was able to get healthy enough to land a roster spot late in the season, but he never got an opportunity to play.

    The Packers also might use left guard T.J. Lang at center, as he played there for a bit last season, when Dietrich-Smith was injured. Another option is right tackle Don Barclay, who got a look some looks at center in training camp last year.

    Bottom line, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be taking snaps from his fourth different center in seven years this season.

     

A Return Man Who Is a Difference-Maker

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    Devin Hester
    Devin HesterJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Packers have played in five Super Bowls, and on two of those occasions, the Packers had a phenomenal return man on their team.

    In 1967, it was Travis Williams, who led the NFL in kickoff returns that year with an astonishing 41.1 average with four kickoff returns for touchdowns.

    In 1996, Desmond Howard led the NFL in punt returns, as he had a sparkling 15.1 average, plus he had 875 return yards and three touchdowns.

    Howard added to his incredible regular-season with a spectacular postseason. He returned a punt for a touchdown versus the 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round and added a kickoff return for a touchdown against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

    That Super Bowl return thwarted a Patriots comeback, and it also led to Howard being named the MVP of the game.

    The Packers might be able to add another weapon like that in 2014. Perhaps the greatest return man in NFL history. I'm talking about Devin Hester.

    According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, the Packers could be interested in adding Hester.

    That would add an explosive dynamic to the team if landing Hester did indeed happen. Like Howard, Hester has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, which he accomplished in Super Bowl XLI, opening the game with a 92-yard return for a score.

    If you take a look at his career numbers, they are staggering. In eight NFL seasons, Hester has 13 career punt returns for touchdowns as well as five career kickoff returns for touchdowns. He's recorded an unbelievable 11,632 all-purpose yards in his career.

    By the way, Hester led the NFL in kickoff returns in 2013.

    The Packers are looking for a return man, as the team does not want to use Randall Cobb in that area anymore, and although Micah Hyde was adequate in returning kicks and punts last season as a rookie, nobody can match the explosiveness and game-changing ability of Hester.

    If the Packers can't sign Hester, the team will try and find a return specialist in the 2014 NFL draft.