There is always opportunity for growth in a Packers organization full of youth and elite coaching. While it will be difficult for some players to top 2011 performances, there are others who have more than enough room to improve. Which Packers will be the Jordy Nelson and Bryan Bulaga of 2012?
The Packers suffered against the deep ball last season when Charlie Peprah was paired with Morgan Burnett deep instead of Nick Collins. However, Burnett has endless talent and room to improve and should be looked at as a driver of secondary production in 2012.
Sitting amongst a crowded tight end position in Green Bay, this former Tar Heel could fly under the radar in 2012. Taylor didn’t get see much playing time in 2011 but showed serious signs of versatility. The Packers will look for Taylor to emerge as a blocker, pass catcher and special teams contributor in a role formerly occupied by Spencer Havner.
It’s clear that the Packers won’t be bringing back Ryan Grant and with that will effectively turn the backfield’s reins over to James Starks. While second-year backs Alex Green and Brandon Saine will surely be in the mix, Starks will much more of an every-down back than last season. The starter role should help Starks establish a rhythm and limit the inconsistency experienced last season.
It’s rare to see a player regress from one season to next the way Sam Shields did in 2011. However, I believe Shields to have the necessary skills to get back on the map this fall. He will be pushed by second-round pick Casey Hayward, who will vie for time in the nickel. With the Packers coming out with five defensive backs so often, Shields will have more than enough opportunity to return to stardom.
Donald Driver was brought back in the offseason but I don’t expect that to fully burden second-year receiver Randall Cobb’s ascent in the offense. As most fans recognize, the explosiveness and play making ability now resides with Cobb and not Driver. Cobb was not utilized nearly as much as he should have been last season but will have the chance to make up for that in 2012.