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Cheese Curds, 11/2: Packers’ youth continues to take bigger roles

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First- and second-year players have been critical to the Packers’ successes so far in 2017.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Jim Matthews-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the 2017 season, much was expected of Kenny Clark, the Green Bay Packers’ second-year defensive tackle. Clark had come off a rookie season that saw him steadily improve as the year went on, and a strong offseason appeared to put him in a position to be a major contributor.

On the other side of the spectrum was fourth-rounder Blake Martinez. Injuries and a rotation at inside linebacker left him as a bit of a forgotten man before this season started, and all the talk about the Nitro package left some writers assuming that he would be the one coming off the field in favor of a safety rather than third-year pro Jake Ryan.

One of those players confirmed our preseason assumptions while the other one has far exceeded expectations, but both are playing like centerpieces to the Packers’ defense this season.

Add in the emergence of a pair of rookie Joneses, running back Aaron and safety/linebacker Josh, and you can start to see a young core forming in Green Bay that should be in place for years to come.

In today’s curds, we look at Martinez and Aaron Jones, while also taking a look ahead to see what positions the Packers need to invest their future resources in to keep the team moving in the correct direction.

Statistics just the starting point for Blake Martinez | Packers.com
Martinez led the NFL in tackles through seven weeks of the season, but he says he still has a long way to go: "A lot of people last game were like 'you had 16 tackles,' but yeah, I should have had 25."

Packers' fifth-rounder Aaron Jones: I felt I belonged with top backs - ESPN
Jones isn't surprised that he's playing so well, because he always felt that he could compete with the other running backs in this year's draft class. Offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, who knows a thing or two about playing running back, had some high praise for the rookie as well.

Bye week was ‘definitely nice’ for Packers’ ailing offensive line | Packers Wire
Getting that line back together and healthy will be the goal for Monday night, and based on Tuesday's practice it sounds like the likelihood of that happening is high.

Injuries: Lions LT Decker (labrum) returning to practice - NFL.com
Meanwhile the Lions are working back their top offensive lineman off the PUP list, but since he just started practicing this week it is unlikely that he will be active on Monday night.

Packers must devote multiple draft picks to pass rushers | Packersnews.com
Maybe Vince Biegel will return this week and provide a spark, but even if that happens the team will need an infusion of new blood on the edge. Ahmad Brooks won’t be around next year and Kyler Fackrell isn’t getting it done, so depth will be a concern. However, the rush as a whole just isn’t producing, with the team ranking in the bottom five of the NFL in sacks per game.