Packers’ youngsters need to stand, deliver

By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA

Here are six players – two each from past three drafts – who are being counted on

GREEN BAY, Wis. –     The Packers have been busy via the draft, free agency and even a trade this offseason.

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They’ve also wrapped up OTA’s and minicamps.
The majority of Green Bay’s 53-man roster for 2018 is in place.
The addition of veterans Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Byron Bell, Muhammad Wilkerson, Tramon Williams and Davon House – plus Aaron Rodgers’ return – suggests the Packers are going to be a force this season.
In order for that to happen the younger players, as well as the veterans, need to make significant contributions. Here are six players – two each among rookies, second- and third-year pros – who are being counted on heavily to make an impact this year:
On defense, it is tempting to believe Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson or both will be impact rookies. It might happen that way, but my choice would be Oren Burks.
The third-round pick from Vanderbilt has an opportunity to be a key in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s sub-packages. Think of Burks, described as a “hybrid” linebacker, as a stronger, faster and more talented Joe Thomas.
The need for NFL defenses to match up against running backs and/or tight ends in the passing game is essential.
The Eagles, Patriots, Saints and Falcons are a few of the teams who rely on the short-passing game to move the chains, control the clock and set up big plays.
The Packers appear to finally have gotten the memo.
On offense, I’m thinking Cole Madison will be in the mix on the right side of the offensive line. He’ll either replace Jahri Evans at right guard, or he’ll be asked to hold the fort until Bryan Bulaga returns at right tackle.
Bulaga, by the way, is the only player NOT expected to be healthy at the start of training camp. Everyone knows Bulaga’s mind is willing, but is his body able?
If there’s one player on the Packers’ roster you’re certain will do everything in their power to return from an injury it’s Bulaga.
Madison is a promising insurance policy.
On defense, much is being expected of Josh Jones, who is counted on to be Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s new sidekick.
However, it’s time for Montravius Adams to make a statement. Hopefully, the statement is: “I’m healthy and ready to roll.”
Adams, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, needs to bring some interior pass-rush juice at defensive tackle. He also needs to be good enough and available often enough to be in the rotation with Clark, Daniels and the rest.
He was too good at Auburn, and too high a draft pick, to be viewed as a second-tier defensive lineman. His goal should be to start. I’ll be happy if he contributes on a regular basis, especially in passing situation sub-packages.
On offense, the Packers need more from Aaron Jones.
The back’s elusiveness and explosiveness are plenty good. It’s his health that is a concern. It’s likely the Packers will go with a “running back by committee” arrangement.
That’s fine so long as Jones’ big-play skills are utilized properly.
If he does his part, I suspect Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin will do theirs and use him.
I might list Jamaal Williams, except he’s already showed everyone that what you see is what you get. Williams, in my opinion, will be the lead dog of the running back unit. If Jones and Ty Montgomery do their part it could be a special group.
On defense, Blake Martinez, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry are entering their third season. My hunch is that all three will continue to elevate their games. Clark could become an All-Pro, while Lowry’s path is that of a rock-solid NFL lineman.
Martinez, who took a significant jump in Year 2, just might continue to ascend through this season. He has the instincts, intellect and sideline-to-sideline speed to be a play-maker.
If anyone is likely to blossom in Pettine’s scheme, I’ve got to believe Martinez is at or near the top of that list.
On offense, it’s a tie between receivers Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis, with offensive lineman Jason Spriggs a close second.
It’s terrific that the Packers’ personnel department identified and drafted three receivers with interesting potential. If one of them is a key contributor as a rookie it would be a mild surprise.
It’s why Allison and/or Davis need to deliver.
Allison has the ability to get open. He just needs to remember to catch it when it’s thrown at him. Davis has straight-line speed and is solid in the return game. However, his route-running has been inconsistent and he’s also had issues catching it cleanly.
As for Spriggs, it’s possible he’ll make strides forward. Then again, it’s just as likely Kyle Murphy will surpass him. Either way, Packers’ fans should be grateful that Byron Bell is here.