The way NFL franchises remain relevant for long periods of time is through young players developing. When teams struggle, it's usually because key youngsters have failed to do so.
The perfect example of this is the Jacksonville Jaguars. They invested in a major way in Blaine Gabbert, but he never developed like Jacksonville expected.
Fortunately, the Green Bay Packers haven't suffered those types of difficulties. They've been able to draft and develop at a pretty decent rate, which has allowed them to be extremely successful for the past handful of seasons.
This year could be a little different, however. The Packers could struggle to take that next step of being a quality team to a legitimate contender if a handful of their young players don't develop.
Today we're going to highlight three players that need to mature rather quickly in 2014.
JC Tretter, Center
Let's start with the most important young player for the Packers. While the center position often gets overlooked, it's easily one of the most important positions on the entire roster. Without a strong center, the whole offensive line goes downhill.
The Packers will be breaking in their fourth different starting center in four years this season. The man most likely to be giving the ball to quarterback Aaron Rodgers every single snap is Tretter, a fourth-round pick in last year's draft.
The crazy thing about Tretter is that he's never played a single snap at center in his football career. However, offensive line coach James Campen has no worries about that. He had this to say, according to Tom Oates at the Wisconsin State Journal:
He’ll have enough preseason work and enough things that you do in training camp and watching in the drills. If a player can handle it in training camp, he can handle it in an opening situation. And certainly with him, he’s such a calm-demeanor guy that understands what’s expected from a mental standpoint, that I have no problem with that.
If Tretter fails to develop quickly, then the Packers are really in some trouble. If that preseason work and time in training camp doesn't prepare Tretter for the regular season, it could get ugly real quick for the Packers on offense.
However, if the opposite happens and Tretter does grow up during the remainder of the offseason, the Packers will have a legitimate starting center for the foreseeable future. There's no doubt that would keep Mr. Rodgers happy, and when Mr. Rodgers is happy, everything seems to work out better for the team as a whole.
Datone Jones, Defensive End
Last year's first-round pick was expected to have a major impact on defense. Unfortunately, Jones struggled for most of the year, never really living up to those high expectations.
The main reason everyone was so high on Jones was because of his incredible athleticism. After Jones learned last year that athleticism isn't going to guarantee success in the NFL, he's starting to change the way he plays, according to Rob Demovsky at ESPN.com.
Jones said, "After last year, I had a chance to reevaluate my game. I noticed that I could have come with a lot more power because I'm a strong guy, and I was telling Mike that's one thing I need to keep doing is use my power more."
With Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly still unemployed, the Packers will likely be relying on Jones as either a starter or a heavily used backup this year. They're going to expect him to make an impact on defense, both against the run and pressuring the quarterback.
Whether he uses power or athleticism doesn't really matter as long as he's making positive plays. Should Jones fail to make that next step forward, we could see the Packers defense struggling again like it did last year.
Jamari Lattimore, Inside Linebacker
The final player who needs to develop quickly is Lattimore. The reason for this is that the Packers desperately need someone to replace Brad Jones at inside linebacker, and Lattimore has the best chance to do so.
He's made some plays during OTAs and minicamp, but linebacker coach Winston Moss continues to push that Jones still has his starting job:
What Lattimore will ultimately need to do throughout training camp and the preseason is continue to have a positive effect on the game. He showed last season in limited time that he can have impacts on the game.
However, he'll need to prove to coaches that he's more consistent than he was last year and that he's ready to be an every-down player. If he can do that, the Packers defense would be much improved with Jones on the bench.