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2014 NFL Preview: Green Bay Packers

by Photo of Sam Cohen

CHARGED talks to Jason Hirschhorn of Acme Packing Company about the 2014 Packers

2014 NFL Preview: Green Bay Packers

In this article…

Don't be fooled by the record that the 2013 Green Bay Packers finished with. While an 8-7-1 mark is very average, the team was without its best offensive player in Aaron Rodgers and defensive player in Clay Matthews for much of the season. Star receiver Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finely were also injured and both players missed most of the season but somehow, the Packers found themselves playing in the postseason.

With a fully healthy Rodgers, Cobb, and Matthews and an improved defense that added Julius Peppers and first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Packers are looking to take home the Lombardi Trophy this season. Green Bay fans have a lot to be excited about for the upcoming season and we had the chance to speak to Jason Hirschhorn of Acme Packing Company about some of the biggest stories surrounding the 2014 Packers.

The Packers decided not to re-sign tight end Jermichael Finley after he suffered a very scary neck injury last season. Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick will have to compete with third-round pick Richard Rodgers as well as undrafted free agent Colt Lyerla, who has loads of talent but comes with major character concerns. Which player do you see as the starting tight end come week one?

The Packers have rotated between Brandon Bostick and Richard Rodgers during most of training camp thus far. Bostick is probably the team's best overall receiver at the position, but his blocking was inconsistent last season, and he's coming off a foot injury that required surgery. Rodgers has better hands, but doesn't possess Bostick's explosiveness. His blocking is also a liability at this point. Andrew Quarless can do a little bit of everything, but he never reclaimed the athleticism he exhibited prior to tearing up his knee in 2011. As for the other name you mentioned, Colt Lyerla is a player just competing for a roster spot. He's not in consideration for a starting job.

Given the small sample size, it's impossible to pick a Week 1 starter with any confidence. I'd give the edge to Quarless because of his experience, but that situation will change week to week as the Packers progress through training camp and the preseason.

The Packers have been one of the best teams in football since 2006. What is different about this group of players than some of the recent Packers teams?

Under GM Ted Thompson, the Packers have experienced significant roster turnover each year. It's one of the reasons that despite having the same regime in place since 2005, Green Bay remains of the NFL's youngest squads.

In terms of specific changes to this year's team, the Packers have revamped their defensive line. The three-man front that started the 2013 opener against the 49ers has effectively changed completely, with Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly off the roster and B.J. Raji shifting to nose tackle. This year's defensive line will include him in the middle with breakout candidate Mike Daniels at one of the end positions and a player to be named later at the other.

Behind them, free agent addition Julius Peppers takes residence at left outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews. While Peppers has never played linebacker before, he represents the best edge rusher the Packers have ever paired with Matthews. Not only are they expecting this combination to generate more pressure, but it also allows Nick Perry and Mike Neal to contribute in part-time roles to which they are better suited.

At the backend of the defense, the Packers will also feature a new starting safety. After struggling at the position a year ago, the team planes to rotate between Micah Hyde and 2014 first-round selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix during training camp and the preseason while it figures out who should start opposite of Morgan Burnett. Regardless of which player wins the starting job, both should see time in Green Bay's dime and sub packages.

The Packers had another bad defensive year last season. Is Dom Capers on the hot seat heading into the season?

While it's possible 2014 is Dom Capers' last season in Green Bay, it would probably take a spectacularly disappointing campaign to oust him. He built a lot of capital with the Packers by virtue of his elite defenses in 2009 and 2010, the latter of which aided the team's Super Bowl run. He also fielded a quality defense in 2012.

But as you mentioned, the Packers struggled defensively last year, and improvement is needed to extend Capers' tenure. Part of last season's defensive woes was the result of injuries. The Packers finished 30th in adjusted games lost in 2013, the vast majority of which came on defense. Players like Casey Hayward, Morgan Burnett, Brad Jones, Sam Shields, and defensive star Clay Matthews all missed multiple games. Better health alone should improve the defense, and probably keep Capers in Green Bay.

Randall Cobb is set to become a free agent after this season. Where are the Packers in extension talks with him?

At the moment negotiations between the Packers and Randall Cobb appear to be on hold. The team recently agreed to a four-year, $39 million extension with top receiver Jordy Nelson, but plenty of cap space remains for Cobb.

Cobb recently stated that he doesn't believe he's done enough to earn an extension. It's a nice sound bite, but it's difficult to take those words at face value. Most likely, Cobb simply doesn't like the offers Green Bay has extended thus far, and is betting on having a healthier season in 2014 than a year ago when he missed 10 games with a broken leg. If he plays well, he'll enter unrestricted free agency at only 24 years of age and considerably more leverage than he holds today.

What ultimately deflates Cobb's value, however, is the market for slot receivers. While boundary receivers like the aforementioned Nelson receive the big bucks, those who line up primarily in the slot aren't as prized by NFL teams. From 2011 through 2012, Cobb played over 80% of his snaps in the slot. That figure rose to nearly 95% last season. Accordingly, Cobb's best-case scenario is a deal similar to that of Victor Cruz, a contract that averages $8.6 million annually. Not bad money by any means, but certainly not the megadeal that some expect Cobb to sign.

Which rookie do you expect to have the biggest impact this year?

Because he has the chance to start at the all-important free safety position, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix projects to have the largest impact in 2014. The last time the Packers possessed an elite defense, they employed rangy-centerfielder Nick Collins in the defensive backfield. When he broke his neck Week 1 of the 2011 season, Green Bay's defense fell off precipitously. Clinton-Dix may not have Collins' pure speed, but his instinctive play and football IQ allow him to cover more ground than any other safety currently on the Packers' roster. Even if he doesn't start, he'll see the field often on passing downs.

Which player are you expecting to break out this season?

As I mentioned in an earlier answer, defensive lineman Mike Daniels has the potential to break out this year, his third in the league. Daniels played sparingly as a rookie in 2012, but created some splash plays such as his 43-yard fumble return for a score. Though still a part-time player last season, Daniels finished second on the team in sacks and first in pressures. If he hits his ceiling, Daniels could be a candidate for the All-Pro team.

What are your predictions for the 2014 Packers?

The NFC North as a whole has improved significantly since last season. The Bears addressed many of their holes on defense, while the Lions finally jettisoned manic head coach Jim Schwartz. Even the Vikings upgraded their roster with the additions of edge rusher Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

But the class of the division remains Green Bay. The Packers possess a deep roster with excess talent at nearly every position, a coaching staff with championship experience, and arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. They've made the playoffs five years running, winning the division in each of the last three. Barring another devastating injury like the fractured collarbone Aaron Rodgers suffered last season (and perhaps even then), the Packers should take the NFC North again in 2014.

For more from Jason, make sure to check out Acme Packing Company, as well as @JBHirschhorn on twitter.

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