12 Packers to Watch in ’12August 6, 2012
Aaron Rodgers is the reigning NFL MVP and is considered the best player in the league. But, as we found out last year, for the Packers to win a Super Bowl it will take more than just the excellence of Rodgers and the high-powered offense. With that in mind, here are 12 players to watch starting in Thursday night’s preseason opener. This is not a ranking of the best or most important players on the Packers. It’s just my view of a dozen guys whose level of success or failure this season will help determine whether the Packers win the Super Bowl February 3rd in New Orleans.
- MARSHALL NEWHOUSE—His poise is impressive. The Packers like his potential. But when you’re protecting the blind side of Aaron Rodgers, you can’t afford hiccups. By one count, Newhouse allowed 11.5 sacks last year. One ill-timed hit and the whole thing comes tumbling down. With Derrek Sherrod still out and Newhouse suffering a concussion in the scrimmage, the Packers depth on the offensive line is already being tested.
- ALEX GREEN—I’m not sure that James Starks will ever be a 1,000 yard back. In the Packers system, I’m not sure that’s even possible. But Alex Green offers exciting potential. The coaches aren’t satisfied yet with his blocking, but you get the feeling when the ball is in his hands, something dynamic might happen.
- MORGAN BURNETT—Both Mike McCarthy and Tramon Williams raved about the future of Burnett last week. With the departure of Nick Collins, that future needs to be now. He’s the “quarterback” of the secondary which opens the season with several question marks. The maturity and communication skills of Burnett needs to come forth this season.
- JEREL WORTHY—One play in a scrimmage doesn’t mean he’s ticketed for the Pro Bowl. But it catches your eye, doesn’t it? You love to see him flying in there with a tackle for a loss. Like Aaron Rodgers in practice, opposing quarterbacks will try to take advantage of his youthful exuberance by getting him to jump offside. If he keeps his composure without losing the zest and energy, the results could be special.
- NICK PERRY—So much is expected of the kid that it’s only natural that he would feel the pressure. It doesn’t help that Erik Walden has been suspended by the NFL for the opener. It would be nice if the rookie didn’t have to start right away. Making the adjustment from college defensive end to pro outside linebacker is not easy. I trust the Packers coaches to develop Perry but no one should be stunned if he’s much better later in the season. It would be amazing but not impossible for undrafted rookie Dezman Moses to make an immediate impact.
- JEFF SATURDAY—I have great respect for anyone who misses just 6 starts at the demanding center position over the last 12 years. He knows how to work with a cerebral, fast-breaking quarterback from his days with Peyton Manning and the Colts. Having said that, Saturday is 37 years old. You hope he physically holds up. Otherwise, we’ll hear a lot about how Scott Wells slipped away.
- JERMICHAEL FINLEY—He’s a writer’s dream and a coach’s nightmare. He can be a frightening figure for opponents and Packers fans. But he oozes with talent. That’s why the Packers haven’t given up on him. They might have cut loose a lesser talent. But Finley’s tantalizing possibilities need to be explored. Let’s see if he cuts down on the drops and penalties this season. If he does, look out.
- TRAMON WILLIAMS—He showed great toughness last season by playing through a serious shoulder problem. Without question, his performance suffered. He says the shoulder is fine now but he has to cut down on missed tackles like the one he had the other night in the scrimmage. He must play like he did in 2010.
- CHARLES WOODSON—He will play safety in the base defense but still be at corner much of the time. Wherever he lines up, can he still make enough big plays to make up for his eroding cover skills? I think Woodson and Dom Capers are smart enough to try to hide the inevitable aging process the best that they can. Talented opposing offenses will find Woodson and test him, however.
- SAM SHIELDS—Do you get the feeling from these that I think the defense and the secondary must be improved? Anybody who watched last season knows that. This is a defining time for Sam Shields. He was a positive force on the way to the Super Bowl two seasons ago. He has regressed into someone who gambles and loses since then. What happened? The Packers have enough options that he’d better get it together if he wants a job. Remember, he’s a converted receiver who is still very raw.
- RANDALL COBB—He must move from special teams threat to big-play receiver. The Packers have many options on offense but I never hurts to give Aaron Rodgers another option and defenses another player to worry about.
- A.J. HAWK—His rear view mirror is full of D.J. Smith. I know that Hawk does a great job of lining up the defense but you expect more than that from the 5th pick in the draft. No interceptions and no caused or recovered fumbles last season leads to the perception that he had no impact. Big plays are needed from him because he’s being well-compensated to make them.
I didn’t include Graham Harrell We all hope that he spends the season on the sideline with a baseball cap and a clipboard, except for mop-up duty in lopsided wins. That means Aaron Rodgers is healthy. But just in case…