Whether it’s team practices, the Family Night scrimmage, or preseason games, training camp provides players plenty of opportunities to compete and prove themselves on the field.
We already know what veteran cornerstone players like Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and Ryan Pickett will bring to the team, but what about the players on the roster about which there is still some uncertainty?
Let’s take a look at the players who could play major roles in the Packers’ success this year, but will need to prove themselves in camp.
This list includes rookies, players returning from major injuries, and players settling into new positions. The players are ranked according to how they could potentially impact the Green Bay Packers team heading into the season.
Top 10 Players to Watch
10) Andrew Quarless
The Packers are deep at tight end this year, but they still need another player to step up behind Jermichael Finley and solidify the number two tight end spot. Coach McCarthy has stated many times he likes to utilize tight ends on the roster, and the Packers should implement more multi-tight end sets on offense this season.
Quarless missed all of last season due to a knee injury he suffered toward the end of the 2011 season. Now returning fully recovered from his injury, Quarless could play a major role in the offense this seasons and really carve out a niche on the team. Quarless is a much better run blocker than Finley and also offers some pass catching ability. Reports from OTAs have said Quarless appears to be moving well on his knee, so Quarless could emerge as another receiving threat at tight end and a reliable run blocker in camp this year.
9) Mike Neal
Mike Neal is one of the surprise players on the Packers training camp physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He needs to get healthy and finally put together an impressive camp. In his press conference, McCarthy said that Neal could be out as long as a couple of weeks. When he returns it will be interesting to see where the Packers play him on defense.
Neal has trimmed down to 275 pounds and will see some time at outside linebacker as a rush specialist in certain defensive packages. However, will the Neal experiment at linebacker mean his role on the defensive line will diminish? That will be something to watch closely once he’s taken off the PUP list and sees some action in camp.
8) Brad Jones
The Packers feel confident Brad Jones is their future at inside linebacker. They re-signed Jones to a contract extension this offseason and released Desmond Bishop because of Jones’s progress last season. It’s still too early to tell if Jones is really the answer at inside linebacker, but training camp will give us a good idea whether or not he can fill the huge void in the middle of the defense left by Bishop.
7) B.J. Coleman
Coleman’s progress this year will be something to watch closely. The Packers really need a reliable backup quarterback, and the jury is still out on Graham Harrell. Coleman could really challenge Harrell in camp for the second quarterback position. McCarthy said the two quarterbacks will split snaps evenly in camp, so that bodes well for Coleman’s chance to prove himself this year. If he performs well in the preseason games he may win the top reserve quarterback spot.
Franklin brings an interesting skillset to the Packers offense. Franklin may not win the featured back role on the team in camp this year, but he could be a difference-maker in specific offensive sets. In college, Franklin was effective running out of shotgun and single-back formations, and he could reprise a similar role in Green Bay. Franklin was also one of the best pass blocking backs coming out of college and could be a receiving weapon out of the backfield. Add in Franklin’s potential as a kick returner and he seems to be a unique player on the roster.
5) Datone Jones
Jones faces some high expectations heading into camp being a first round pick. He is expected to start on the defensive line immediately, but his role on the defense is still undefined. On the first day of camp, Jones started on the interior defensive line in the Packers nickel defense alongside B.J. Raji.
Jones has the potential to make an impact as a pass rushing defensive lineman and could take some pressure off rush backers Matthews and Perry. However, to hold down the starting defensive end spot in the Packers base defense, Jones will have to prove in camp he can hold up well against the run.
M.D. Jennings began camp as the Packers starting safety alongside Morgan Burnett, but many still believe McMillian is the favorite to win the position battle at safety. McMillian has the speed, size, and strength to be an effective NFL safety. His affinity for flying around the field and delivering hits is something the Packers have been missing in their secondary for some time. McMillian has the potential at being an impact player on the field, but he needs to play more consistently and prove he’s reliable in pass coverage.
3) Nick Perry
Perry could be the player that takes the Packers defense to the next level this season, but he is still settling in a relatively new position at outside linebacker and has to prove he can fully make the transition. The Packers desperately need another pass rusher to emerge on the roster. Could it be Perry this year?
He has the ability to close the pocket and the strength to hold up well against the run, but he needs to stay healthy and prove he’s not a liability in pass coverage. Perry and Matthews have the potential to form a dangerous tandem this season, but Perry’s progress at linebacker in camp will determine this.
2) Eddie Lacy
A lot rests on the shoulders of Eddie Lacy this year. The Packers drafted him in the second round in hopes that he’ll be their answer in the backfield this season. The play at running back the past few seasons has been abysmal for Green Bay. If Lacy can produce even middle-of-road numbers this season then he’ll already be a great improvement.
He’ll be faced with plenty of competition in camp, but Lacy’s size (5-11, 238) offers something the other backs on the roster don’t. True power. His physical running style could really help the Packers control the clock and implement a physical ground game.
Lacy could be a real difference maker on offense this season, and if he helps the Packers running game get going, the sky is the limit for the Green Bay offense.
1) Bryan Bulaga
There is no other player on the Packers roster than Bryan Bulaga faced with more pressure entering training camp this year. One of the team’s main goals entering camp this season was to improve their pass protection. To do this, they asked Bulaga to switch from the right side of the line and play left tackle in hopes he’d become the Packers primary pass protector for their franchise quarterback.
That is a tall task. Not only reversing all his blocking technique, but to be the guy most responsible for protecting the quarterback. Bulaga will square off against the elite pass rushers of the NFL this season, and he’ll have to do it primarily alone. If the Packers have to offer Bulaga a lot of additional help protecting Rodgers’ blind side, then the line switch will be considered a failure.
Watch closely how Bulaga fares on the left side during camp and preseason action, because if he can’t hold up at left tackle, the season may be very long and painful.