From 1 to 89: Showdown on DL

In Part 4 of our series, we start hitting on some of the team's key players. Can Graham Harrell hold off B.J. Coleman? Can Johnny Jolly beat out Josh Boyd? Can James Starks stay healthy? Can Giorgio Tavecchio beat out Mason Crosby?

As we've done in past years, we're counting down the Green Bay Packers' roster, from No. 89 to No. 1.

These rankings are not simply based on skill. Players were ranked on their importance to the team. Skill, a player's position, the depth of his position group, the odds he contributes, salary and draft history all play a part in how a player is ranked. More than the ranking itself, hopefully you will learn a little something about each of the 89 players in the process.

No. 56: Backup battle

Graham Harrell closed the books on a record-setting college career in 2008. It wasn't until 2010 that Harrell signed his first contract and 2012 that he saw his first regular-season action and threw his first career pass.

Harrell replaced Matt Flynn as the No. 2 quarterback last season. He stumbled and fumbled on his first NFL snap near the goal line against New Orleans and completed 2-of-4 passes for 20 yards in four games.

He'll have to fight off a challenge from B.J. Coleman to retain the No. 2 job and perhaps his spot on the roster. Harrell has made big gains in terms of strength and athleticism over the past two offseasons but he isn't as physically talented as Coleman. Harrell, however, has a great feel for the game and has experience on his side.

"The more comfortable you feel, the more pop you're going to get on (your passes)," Harrell said. "You just don't think, you just throw, so that makes the game easier for sure."

No. 57: Rookie defensive lineman

Josh Boyd started 41 games in four seasons at Mississippi State. He finished his career with 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for losses, including just 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for losses as a senior.

Boyd (6-3, 310) has some athleticism (5.14 in the 40) and plenty of strength (32 reps on the bench). Not only could he be in the mix as an end in the base defense, but he has the potential to contribute when defensive coordinator Dom Capers uses his nickel package on regular down-and-distance situations.

"For a big man, he has some nice movement," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said.

Boyd, however, will have to beat out this veteran to win a roster spot.

No. 58: Veteran defensive lineman

After a three-year suspension and time in prison, Johnny Jolly returns. With B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels returning (and Jerel Worthy's availability in doubt), Jolly might find himself battling Boyd for the final roster spot on the defensive line.

When Jolly last played in 2009, he led the Packers' defensive line in tackles and the NFL's defensive linemen in passes defensed. His ability to play strong against the run but be a factor in the passing game makes him a great fit in Capers' nickel-centric defense.

Whether Jolly can shake off three years of rust, earn the coaches' trust and win a roster spot won't be determined until deep into August. Age (30) is working against him, the defensive line is deep and Jolly wasn't exactly a dominant player in his prime.

"The true test is going to come in training camp," Trgovac said. "Johnny's smart. Johnny loves football. Johnny's a good football player but you really can't tell anything right now. He understands the game. Some of the things we changed since he left, he picked right up. … It's too early to tell on that because we're not really hitting anybody out there. We'll have to talk after a couple weeks of training camp. From the little bit that I've seen, he got right in there yesterday and flipped his hips. He hasn't done it in awhile. It's just too early to say anything right now."

Jolly's base salary (and cap number) is the minimum $715,000.

No. 59: Starks' last shot

When James Starks is healthy and in a groove, he's an above-average running back. For his career, he averages a respectable 4.0 yards per carry. Chances are the Packers wouldn't have won the Super Bowl in 2010 without the rookie sixth-round pick providing the consistent running threat the team had lacked all season.

Starks carried 81 times in those four playoff games but just 210 times in the 2011 and 2012 regular and postseasons combined. In those seasons, he's played in 20 of a possible 35 games due a litany of injuries.

"Accountability and availability" is a favorite phrase of coach Mike McCarthy. Starks simply hasn't been available often enough to be trusted to have any kind of sustained role. With draft picks invested in Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris having shown so much promise last season, Starks needs a productive and, more importantly, healthy training camp to have a shot to stick around for his fourth and final season under contract.

No. 60: Crosby's challenger

It's no surprise the Packers brought in a kicker to challenge Mason Crosby. What was a surprise was the choice to sign Giorgio Tavecchio. The Packers made the move about a month before the draft, deciding to ignore a deep draft class or a proven veteran in lieu of a kicker who made 75.0 percent of his field-goal attempts and missed eight extra points during a four-year run at Cal.

Tavecchio served as a camp leg for veteran David Akers at San Francisco last summer, lasting long enough to make a 29-yard field goal in the first preseason game. Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum swears Tavecchio is a legitimate challenger and isn't just a talented project who needs to hone his craft before being ready for prime time. As a senior, he did make 20-of-23 field-goal attempts but just 36-of-42 extra points.

"He's well capable. He can do it all," Slocum said. "He can kick off and make field goals. It will be fun to watch him progress."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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