Will A.J. Hawk move beyond his safe play and take the next step forward for the Packers?
Raymond T. Rivard photograph
NFL.com just published its 10 storylines to watch between now and the start of the season, which is just 10 weeks away. Here are my 10 Packer storylines to watch before the Green and Gold travel to San Francisco for week one of the regular season.
• The Race for Starting Running Back. Many draft analysts gave the Packers high marks for selecting both Eddie Lacey and Johnathon Franklin in the April draft to breathe life into an anemic rushing attack. The general consensus is Lacey is the front-runner to be the main back. He will have to beat out Alex Green, who is at the top of the depth chart for the time being, according to the Milwaukee Journal’s Tyler Dunne.
• The Plans to Improve the Defense. Packer brass will tell you the D wasn’t all that bad in 2012. Eleventh in the league in fewest yards allowed per gameand points allowed per game. Fourth in sacks. Eighth in interceptions. Creating more fumbles and stopping the read-option are
The possible return of Johnny Jolly. A big storyline for Packers in 2013. Photo: John Dewey
the big goals for the Packer D in 2013. Desmond Bishop’s designated replacement for 2013, Brad Jones, was credited with just one takeaway total for the last two seasons. His partner in the middle, A.J. Hawk, had zero in 2011 and 2012. Clay Matthews, despite his 13 sacks, had only one forced fumble and many near misses in 2012 after forcing three fumbles in 2011. Those guys should produce more forced fumbles in 2013. The healthy return of Nick Perry and the drafting of Datone Jones are part of the plan to stop the read-option.
• Johnny Jolly’s Second Chance. Does anyone really expect former drug addict Johnny Jolly to make the final roster, much less have an impact on the field? The last time he played in a game was in January 2010. Brett Favre hasn’t been out of the game that long. Coach McCarthy likes Jolly’s passion and wants to give him a chance. He would appear to be the longest of long shots to make the team. What a story it would be if he suited up against the 49ers this September.
Randall Cobb is primed for a huge 2013.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph
• Randall Cobb’s Role in the Offense. Expectations for Randall Cobb have gone through the roof. One NFL commentator said Cobb is a real threat to lead the league in receptions in 2013. While he was targeted a team-leading 104 times in 2012, NFL reception leader Calvin Johnson was targeted 204 times. I wouldn’t make any bets on Cobb leading the league in receptions. With improving performances expected from Jermichael Finley and James Jones, both in contract years, the potential removal of Cobb from punt and kick returning duties, and with Eddie Lacey potentially stealing touches from Cobb, number 18’s total yardage contribution will likely fall in 2013. Nonetheless, opposing defenses will keep an eye on Cobb wherever he lines up. He hasn’t hit his prime and he is the most electrifying player on the team’s offense.
• Players Returning from Injury. I think the two biggest story lines in this category are former first round selections: offensive tackle Derek Sherrod and outside linebacker Nick Perry. Sherrod broke his right tibia and fibula in his rookie season in December 2011 and missed all of 2012. The team announced Sherrod recently had a second surgery and he was kept out of OTAs. When he returns is uncertain. Knee and wrist injuries to Perry limited his opportunities in his rookie season in 2012. Still, he had two sacks in five games including this rundown of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Perry also had what could qualify as the Packers
Nick Perry’s return is much anticipated.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph
biggest hit of the season when he pummeled Andrew Luck and forced a fumble. Unfortunately, a roughing penalty was called, nullifying the play. Of the two players, a healthy Perry is best positioned for a come-back season since he should return to his starting role. Sherrod, meanwhile, would have to fight for a backup position, and is in danger of being permanently labeled a draft bust.
• The Competition for Return Specialist. Coach Mike McCarthy wants someone other than Randall Cobb to step forward and earn the right to be the return specialist. McCarthy may have to borrow a phrase from the former television game show To Tell the Truth and proclaim, “Will the real Green Bay Packers return specialist please stand up.” Jeremy Ross and Johnathon Franklin are in the mix, though Franklin never returned a kick or punt in college. Advantage Ross.
• The Offensive Line Flip-Flop. We already have the Lambeau Leap. Introducing the Lambeau Flip-Flop. Can this strategy of flipping offensive linemen around produce a running game and reduce the number of times Aaron Rodgers gets sacked? It’s a plan.
• Cap Space. The Packers are in the top 10 in the NFL in available cap space, according to several websites. They reportedly have more than $16 million available. Does this mean they will use the cap money to sign some of their players to new long-term contracts? James Jones or BJ Raji for instance? Or will they roll the money over to assist in player signings for 2014? They also may look at signing one key free agent or castoff from another team that fits a need. For now, we just imagine a pile of money.
• Jermichael Finley’s Performance. Fans seem to either love him or hate him. He got rid of the dropsies in late 2012 and he is entering a contract year after underperforming on his last contract. Simply put, he should have motivation to be a top five tight end in the league. It helps that the stock has dropped for two of the league’s previous top tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. According to blogger Kevin Seifert, offseason weight training has added bulk that may give Finley stronger hands and more confidence to withstand collisions in the secondary while stretching for the ball.
• New Stadium Seating. The 7,000 additional seats added to Lambeau Field for the 2013 season should bring a louder roar from Packer faithful. Small-town Green Bay now is home to the fourth largest stadium in the NFL, according to Wikipedia. Will that translate into an unstoppable home field advantage during the season? It won’t hurt. Packers.com published a video about the finishing touches on the new “Wall of Sound.”