The NFL is full of cliches and one of the most common you hear about is the jump players make from year one to year two during their career. As a good blogger I added to that cliche last time, highlighting four players I view as particularly ready to make that giant leap for Packer-kind. After taking some time to think about it here are a few more players ready to take the step forward as well.
Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse is probably the main guy people wanted to point out that I forgot. There is plenty of good reason for this too, since Newhouse is now stepping into the starting LT role in his own right and did show promise last year. Really his situation reminds me of Bryan Bulaga's situation a year ago. Bulaga stepped into the starting lineup due to the injury to Mark Tauscher and seemed to have an uneven season his rookie year. Profootball Focus rated him poorly and there were mixed messages about Bulaga and if he was going to pan out throughout the offseason last year. This past year though Bulaga was one of the best right tackles in the NFL and one of the most solid offensive linemen the Packers put on the field. Newhouse had a similar story, stepping in for Clifton's injury last year and having some up and down performances (great against Jared Allen but not so good against Jason Pierre-Paul). Now with his first full offseason, Newhouse looks to combine true NFL training with his previous experience to become the heir to Chad Clifton.
Alex Green. I had a tough time choosing between Green and Brandon Saine. There was some push for Saine, but in the end I only wanted one running back on the list and I think Green is the stronger choice. Green has got the size and speed to be successful for the Packers. Better yet, he is the best threat as a receiver among the current running backs which should give him a leg up for getting playing time. The major question surrounding him is his health status after an ACL injury. Right now most reports have been positive, and if these reports are accurate it could be a big season for Green.
D.J. Smith. I want to start by saying that taking a big step is not necessarily starting, especially in the case of Smith. A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop have those starting jobs locked down. Smith did have some shining moments in his relief duty last year; with his speed and nose for the ball he may be able to push for some playing time...especially in subpackages and in coverage where Hawk has been known to struggle. If Smith is able to show something this year and continue to be a high energy playmaking force he will probably be in line for a starting role push next year.
Graham Harrell. I'm not sure if this is unadulterated hope on my part or blind faith in McCarthy and company, but Harrell may be ready to make the biggest leap of all. Perhaps the saving grace for this particular prediction is that if everything goes right we will probably never see it...save for garbage time. So far McCarthy and crew have worked with three backup quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, and Brian Brohm) besides Harrell; and all three have gone on to be starting QB's. Okay, sure Brohm started just a handful of games for some pretty woeful Bills teams, but he still started. Even if you take Brohm out of the equation and you just look at the development of Rodgers and Flynn and that's a pretty good track record. Harrell has finally had a chance to go through QB School and have a full offseason to learn the playbook and go over fundamentals. More importantly, if Harrell taking a step forward means he should be at least a solid backup should the worst happen. If he can put together some good preseason games, maybe even have some good showings like he did last year, he may even be trade bait someday.