As a team, the Green Bay Packers will be looking to reverse their fortunes from last year as the 2009 season approaches. With a brand new defensive scheme in place and another year of experience under the offense’s belt, the Packers will look to improve on their 2008 campaign that saw them win just six games.
Looking to help that cause are five players who are ready to break out of the shadows and become impact players for the Packers this year.
1. Jermichael Finley, Tight End
When he was drafted out of the University of Texas, the one knock on Finley was that inexperience would plague him. After playing just two seasons for the Longhorns, Finley was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft (91st overall) as the seventh tight end.
In his rookie season, Finley was used sparingly on offense and ended the year with just six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. In a November game against the Tennessee Titans, he was critical of quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a failed fourth down pass, saying Rodgers “didn’t throw it good at all”.
After the comments, Finley went back to a much smaller role in the offense for the rest of the season and caught some heat for the words.
One could describe those comments as a microcosm of Finley’s rookie season: immaturity. Just 21 years old, Finley was a raw talent (4.82 forty-yard dash and 35 inch vertical) who was more of an athlete than a football player.
A year later, Finley is back as a complete player who is consistently making plays during practices and is pushing to be the starting tight end this year. He has improved his blocking skills ten fold and head coach Mike McCarthy says he feels comfortable using him in just about any set.
If Finley is able to overtake current starter Donald Lee in the offense, he will add a much more athletic and bigger option for Aaron Rodgers that can stretch the field.
2. Deshawn Wynn, Running Back
Since he was drafted in 2007, Deshawn Wynn has had problems staying on the football field. In his rookie season, he was pegged as the starter but a shoulder injury caused him to miss the team’s last nine games. Last season, Wynn was waived and later assigned to the practice squad for the Packers.
He was brought back to the 53 man roster in week six, but a calf injury caused him to miss six games once he was back. In the limited action he saw towards the end of last year, he rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown in the season finale against the Lions.
This season, Wynn is fully healthy and ready to contribute regularly to the running game. The ex-Gator will battle Brandon Jackson for the third down running back spot, but position coach Edgar Bennett has been singing Wynn’s praises all through camp.
Wynn has all the physical tools to succeed at the NFL level, but staying healthy will be the one obstacle he must overcome. If he is able to do so, look for him to make a large impact on the run game and screen game.
3. Jeremey Thompson, Outside Linebacker
When it was announced that the Green Bay Packers would be moving to a 3-4 defense followed by the hiring of Dom Capers, the first player that came to mind as someone who will love this change was Thompson.
Drafted out of Wake Forest as a defensive end, Thompson started just three games late in the season for the Packers and only appeared in nine games as whole, but showed a ton of speed and quickness that made him the perfect specimen for a switch to a 3-4 linebacker.
At 6′4″, 270 lbs., Thompson is the perfect fit for an outside linebacker in Capers’ scheme and will fight for a starting spot with rookie Clay Matthews III. While Matthews is now seeing reps with the first team, Thompson still figures to see a ton of playing time this season.
He will need to play more physical at the point of the attack, something Matthews does very well, but his speed and quickness combine with his frame to make a freak of an athlete that the Packers will somehow use this season.
4. Allen Barbre, Right Tackle
After Mark Tauscher went down with a torn ACL last year, it was apparent that his time in Green Bay was running low. Still a few months away from being 100 percent, the Packers have not re-signed the former Wisconsin Badger and have decided to move on.
Battling for the right tackle position this year will be Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini. Barbre, the third year tackle out of Missouri Southern State, has not seen much action in his first couple years with the Packers but is now the front runner to win the RT spot.
He played tackle all throughout college but was immediately moved to tackle when the Packers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2007 Draft. Now, he is being asked to move back to tackle and early returns say he is succeeding there.
Dominant in the run game, Barbre will need to be more consistent (just as the whole O-line will need to be) if he wants to keep his position on the field. He is smaller than Giacomini by three inches and seven pounds but moves a little quicker. This is important in the zone blocking scheme the Packers run and is one of the reasons he is in line to win the job.
If he wins the job this year, Barbre will be the right tackle of the future for the Green and Gold.
5. Jordy Nelson, Wide Receiver
One of the story lines coming into training camp this year was the battle the Packers had going on for the third wide receiver position. Second-year receiver Jordy Nelson and James Jones were to battle for the spot and thus far the two have both performed well in camp.
While both have different skill sets, Nelson’s rough demeanor and soft hands make him a candidate for the last break out player.
Last season, Nelson caught 33 balls for 366 yards and scored on two occasions. His blocking was outstanding and he dropped the fewest passes on the team. This season, he will see more playing time and hopefully have created even more chemistry with Aaron Rodgers.
As a part of one of the deepest receiving corps in the league, Nelson will join Donald Driver and Greg Jennings on the outside, which should free up some room for Nelson to run free. At 6′3″, Nelson has the body of a tight end with track speed that makes him a rare talent.
This spot on the list easily could have gone to James Jones, but Nelson has the potential to become better than Jones if he continues to work on his skills. Time will tell, but Nelson looks to be the replacement for Driver, and a good one at that.