Green Bay Packers Position Battles to Watch For 2013 NFL Season
Their 2012 season ended in another division title and a playoff victory over the hated Minnesota Vikings for the Green Bay Packers. Yet the celebration was limited by the fact that another season went by with their promising core having failed to get past the divisional round. Time is on their side but Green Bay fans can't deny a slight air of nervousness at the fact the team hasn't improved. If anything they've regressed, if only slightly. A productive 2013 NFL draft may have changed those fortunes and also created a series of enticing position battles that will make the Packers that much better. Which should fans keep close eyes on?
Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin - Running Back
Whoda thunkit? On a team renowned for slinging the ball with Aaron Rodgers and Pro Bowl receivers, the highlight of training camp and preseason could be a one-on-one showdown at running back. Both Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin were taken in the draft and both come in with a lot of buzz about their ability. Lacy helped Alabama win their third national title in four years while Franklin came on big time at UCLA displaying speed and deceptive toughness between the tackles. Expectations are that Lacy will become the feature back for the Packers given his power running ability but that could change if injuries continue to dog him. Franklin is healthier with less mileage on his body and could be a better fit in the pass-first Green Bay offense.
Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay - Right Tackle
Make no mistake. Offensive linemen aren't overlooked anymore. With quarterbacks becoming the focal point of team success, protecting them is more vital than ever. Since Rodgers got sacked 51 times in 2012, it is clear microscopes will scan every line position from the outside in to see who starts and who doesn't. The team did make some key changes so far including shifting Bryan Bulaga from right tackle to left tackle where he played in college. That means a three-way battle could develop at his former position. However, with Derek Sherrod still not healthy the initial contest could be between former left tackle Marshall Newhouse and promising third-year man Don Barclay. One might say Newhouse has the edge given his experience, not to mention his size lends more naturally to the right side. Experts though believe Barclay has played better when on the field.
Mike Neal and Datone Jones - Defensive End
Outside linebacker remains a mystery besides Clay Matthews but an equally puzzling area for the Packers is defensive end. B.J. Raji, who was drafted as a nose tackle, finished his season at end because his pass rush ability fit better there. It isn't clear whether he will stay there but it is clear the other end position is wide open. Veteran Mike Neal, who had 4.5 sacks last season in just 11 games is a front runner but he's not alone. First round draft pick Datone Jones comes in with a lot of buzz about his mixture of quickness and power despite being too small for defensive tackle. That makes him an ideal 3-4 end. It comes down to him earning his spot.
Sam Shields and Davon House - Cornerback
Cornerback is the honey hole GM Ted Thompson keeps going back to. Green Bay has become a factory for young defensive backs. Their latest example is Casey Hayward who spent his rookie season grabbing six interceptions. His arrival spelled the end of the Charles Woodson era and gave the Packers a perfect starter opposite Tramon Williams. The real battle to watch is that all-important slot position. Early favorite Sam Shields has a lot to prove what with his contract expiring in 2014. At the same time Davon House is four years younger and has shown flashes during his limited snaps on the field. The key stat to watch is interceptions. Shields had three last season. House had none.
Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio - Kicker
Oh yeah. Don't deny it. Kickers are people too and Green Bay has no question the stability of this position for one very simple reason: Mason Crosby missed 12 fields goals last season. That is not bad. That is horrible. So, while nobody has any idea who Giorgio Tavecchio is, they will get to know him pretty well if Crosby struggles early in camp and the preseason. The young man from Cal knows there is a chance to get the job and he has said in interviews he will not back down. All the better for the Packers, whether it sparks Crosby or not.