Struck by the dreaded injury bug after Week 7 last year, running back Alex Green believes he’s inching closer to full strength and is excited about the upcoming season. Considered one of the better running back prospects coming into the 2011 NFL Draft, Green was selected by the Packers in the third round with 96th overall pick.
Green benefited from playing in the spread attack at the University of Hawaii and garnered several individual awards. He was named honorable mention All-American by SI.com, Capital One Impact Performer of the Week and WAC Player of the Week multiple times. Possessing exceptional athletic ability and ideal size for the position, Green has all the tools to make it at the next level. At Hawaii, he was the first running back since 1992 to exceed 1000 yards rushing and broke the single game school rushing record with 327 yards on 19 carries against New Mexico State.
Professional athletes are no stranger to injury, and just when Green was starting to find his place within the Packers’ offense last season he tore the ACL in his left knee while blocking on a kick return.
Despite injury, the Packers showed confidence in their second year back when they opted not to draft a running back. Now, more than six months after the injury, the 6-foot, 225 pound back is running four days a week, picking up speed and doing all of the power cleans, dead lifts, single-leg squats he did before the injury.
If Green continues to recover and show great instincts as a blocker and receiver, he can expect to get the playing time to prove his worth.
Being a bit undersized at 5’11 hasn’t stopped linebacker D.J. Smith from developing into a tackling machine. His second season in the league will likely make him a fan favorite after a stellar rookie year in which Smith was thrust into the starting lineup after an injury to AJ Hawk. Smith made his share of rookie mistakes; however, he also made several turnover producing plays that Packer fans had hoped they would see more often from Hawk.
Smith is an effective run stopper and has shown a knack for getting to the quarterback when blitzing. What really makes Smith stand out is how efficiently he tackles. His 18.0 ratio (measured by how many tackles made per tackle missed) would have ranked in the top 10 of all inside linebackers if he had played more snaps.
While Smith has proved to be stout against the run and adept at rushing the passer, he still has a ways to go before becoming reliable in coverage. Like the rest of the Packers’ defense, Smith found himself lost in coverage too many times last year and was responsible for giving up several big plays. If Smith is going to breakout and become an every-down player for the Packers, he is going to need to improve his coverage skills dramatically. Don’t be surprised if Smith starts the season as a reserve and finishes as a starter.
Heading into the 2011 season, Jermichael Finley didn’t quite perform as we expected. In the final year of his contract, coming off the injured reserve and not having an off-season to prepare, he was under intense scrutiny by fans--especially for dropped passes. But facts are facts, 55 receptions, 767 yards and 8TDs is a solid season for any tight end.
Although the career-high catches last season was good enough to get him a two-year extension, Finley is focused and ready to take the next step in his game this year. “If you go over the years I’ve done well,” Finley notes, “we had an offseason program, we had minicamps, we had training camps. So, we had three processes that we were going through for us to get the chemistry. This year, I feel it and it’s going to be a good one. I guarantee it.”
Jermichael looks at the criticism as fuel to, as he says, “perfect the imperfect.” His offseason training focused on getting faster, stronger and smarter. A second Super Bowl championship is realistic if Finley can unleash his enormous potential.
Finley has proven he can play at a high level. He is motivated, focused on football and confident in his chemistry with Rogers. So relax and enjoy this season, Packer fans. His evolution into one of the NFL’s premier tight ends is just starting.