Davon House (31) breaks up the pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon (14) during last year’s game at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Green Bay Packers‘ offseason activities kick off this weekend with the rookie orientation, and it is time to get excited about the season up ahead. Every year there are a handful of low profile players that are buried on the Packers’ depth chart that really shine during offseason activities and get all of our attention. Examples of this in years past are Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Brad Jones, and Dezman Moses.
As exciting as the new high-profile rookies are, the players that will become the young core of this team will come from a variety of places, like last year’s practice squad.
Let’s take a look at some of the relatively unknown players I believe may surprise us all this offseason and become key contributors to the team going forward. I’m going to pick one player for each phase of the game as my surprise players of 2013.
Tight end Brandon Bostick (48) carries the football as safety Morgan Burnett (42) defends during family night at Lambeau Field last year. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
In case you haven’t read it, Mike Spofford from Packers.com wrote a great article on Bostick and his growth at the tight end position. Bostick spent all of the 2012 season on the Packers’ practice squad. On the scout team Bostick emulated players like Vernon Davis for the defense to practice against, and this gave him the opportunity to showcase his athleticism and receiving ability at the position. Bostick is an athletic tight end, to say the least. He played wide receiver at Newberry College and entered the NFL last season as too big (6-3, 245 pounds) and too slow (4.6 40 time) to play wide receiver at the pro level, but some teams projected him as a tight end at the pro level that could stretch the field and be affective in the passing game.
The Packers brought Bostick in last offseason to convert to tight end, and although he showed some promise, he still had a lot to learn at the new position. Bostick struggled with run blocking early on and had troubles grasping all the various responsibilities the Green Bay offense asks its tight ends to learn. These early struggles prevented the Green Bay coaches from activating him on game day, but the Packers still saw enough potential in the athletic tight end to retain him on the practice squad.
This offseason Bostick raised his weight to 260 pounds, which will help him be more of a presence in run blocking. This will bode well for Bostick as Green Bay will look to be more physical on both sides of the ball this season. If Bostick is able to improve his ability to run block, he could be a real asset to the Packers’ offense.
It will be a long, uphill climb for Bostick to make the final 53-man roster. As of now, Bostick is buried on the depth chart at a very crowded position. However, with Tom Crabtree gone there is no clear-cut second tight end on the roster to line up alongside Jermichael Finley. Andrew Quarless is returning from a major injury and may not be the same player he was in 2010. The other young tight ends still have a lot to prove, and I believe Bostick has more potential and upside than any of them. He has the potential to be another receiving threat at tight end, but he won’t see any playing time unless he shows the coaches he can do all of the dirty work required at the position. If Bostick can put it all together, expect him to make the final 53-man roster and be a key contributor to the offense this season.
CB Davon House
If House comes to OTAs and camp this year and plays well, I’m not sure if this will surprise anyone or not, but it seems at a crowded cornerback position House is often the forgotten man. House’s young career has been defined by injuries. After being drafted by Green Bay in the fourth round in 2011, House saw very little action his rookie season, dealing with hamstring issues and spending most of the season on the scout defense. However, House began the 2012 offseason as a more aggressive and much-improved player.
Davon House (31) catches a pass during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
House was a standout player during OTAs and training camp and was even penciled in as the starting cornerback heading into the first preseason game last year. House looked like a future star in the Green Bay defensive backfield before dislocating his shoulder against San Diego in the first preseason game. House missed the remainder of the preseason and had to play the rest of the year with a shoulder brace. This prohibited Houses’s ability to jam receivers at the line and be aggressive in his tackling. This pushed House down the depth chart as Sam Shields and breakout rookie Casey Hayward played well and solidified the starting and nickel cornerback positions opposite Tramon Williams.
House had surgery to repair the shoulder in January, and with an offseason to heal, there’s no reason to believe House can’t return to his pre-injury form.
I look for House to have another good offseason this year, and barring any major injuries, be a contender to start at cornerback this season. Defensive back coach Joe Whitt Jr. said this offseason there will be an open competition for the starting spots at cornerback. As most will see this competition between Williams, Shields, and Hayward, don’t be surprised if House throws his hat in the ring and comes out on top.
House’s size (6-1, 195 pounds) offers a different body type than the other Green Bay cornerbacks. His physical playing style could be effective against big receivers in the division, like Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson. House was arguably the best cover corner on the Packers’ roster last offseason, and with Williams struggling the last two seasons maybe House will be a better candidate to play the shutdown corner role on the defense. I get the feeling House’s best play is still ahead of him. If House returns this offseason fully recovered from his shoulder injury, I believe he could be a serious contender to start at cornerback, and in the very least, be a solid player in the Packers’ defensive sub-packages.
WR/KR Jeremy Ross
Jeremy Ross (10) returns a punt during the game against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 55-7. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
I imagine Coach McCarthy will relieve Randall Cobb from his returning responsibilities and use him solely on offense this season. If this is the case, I expect Ross to take over the kick and punt returning duties. Ross was a practice squad player last season until he was activated in week 15 against the Chicago Bears. The first time Ross touched the ball was when he fumbled a backward lateral from Cobb on a punt return and the Bears recovered it, nearly costing the Packers the lead. Ross’s brief career has also been defined by his fumble on a punt return in the playoff loss against the San Francisco Forty-Niners. This fumble led to the Forty-Niners going up two scores and putting the game out of reach.
Ross has had his low moments, but he has also shown some promise in his limited action as the punt and kick returner last year. After Cobb left the Tennessee game with an ankle injury, Ross took over returning duties and broke off a 58-yard kick return, and the following week Ross provided the Packers with a spark against Minnesota by returning a kickoff 44 yards and a punt 32 yards. Ross has definitely shown his ability to break a big return, and the best may be yet to come for this young player.
Ross’s size (6-0, 215 pounds) and speed (4.39 40 time) also offer some potential as a breakaway receiving threat in the pass game. Maybe with a full offseason working in the Green Bay offense and catching passes from Aaron Rodgers, Ross shows the coaches he can do more than just return punts and kicks. He could push for the fourth or fifth receiving spots on the roster.
I’m sure Ross would like to erase that fumble against San Francisco in the playoffs, but I look for him to redeem himself in the return game this season and maybe be a surprise receiving option on game day.
There is no way at this time of the year, as a fan and spectator, to predict which players will grow and develop on the roster and have a breakout season. However, you can look at players’ past work and see potential and speculate that under the right circumstances these players may grow and develop into special players. Whether these players pan out or not, look for Green Bay to continually find young talent to build their roster around.