From 1 to 89: Special Teams

In Part 5, it's rookies Nate Palmer and Micah Hyde, along with four core members of the special teams: Jarrett Bush, Jamari Lattimore, Robert Francois and Ryan Taylor.

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. 50: Production wanted

Historically, rookie outside linebackers have made an impact, and there's certainly an opportunity at hand for sixth-round pick Nate Palmer.

In two seasons at Illinois State after transferring from Illinois, Palmer tallied 17 sacks and 25.5 tackles for losses. He led the nation with 27 quarterback hits as a senior. During the offseason work, coach Mike McCarthy was so impressed with Palmer's ball skills that he joked about moving him to tight end.

The depth chart wasn't impressive, even before Erik Walden signed with Indianapolis and Frank Zombo signed with Kansas City. Moreover, Brad Jones (2009), Zombo (2010) and Dezman Moses (2012) all were late-round or undrafted players who played key roles as rookies. So, there's an opportunity for Palmer to earn playing time behind Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Moses. Special teams, of course, will be critical.

"A good, fine young man, extremely coachable, willing to learn and willing to do it the right way and implement the technique and fundamentals that I'm teaching," position coach Kevin Greene said. "Self-conscious kid, he's more hard on himself as far as making a blown assignment than I am."

No. 51: Hyde and seek

Defensive backs are like greenbacks: You can never have enough of them.

Thus, Micah Hyde is listed one spot ahead of an established veteran and special-teams star in our pecking order.

Hyde was a three-year starter at Iowa who posted eight career interceptions. As a senior, he won the Big Ten's Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year. He fell into the fifth round due mostly to his 4.56 clocking at the Scouting Combine.

During the offseason practices, he lined up in the slot, and he'll challenge Jerron McMillian for the dime position. That's a key position, with defensive coordinator Dom Capers going with six defensive backs for 20-plus snaps most weeks.

As with most rookies and plenty of veterans, special teams will be a key factor of whether Hyde makes the team — and whether he has a role on Sundays.

"A young guy like Micah Hyde will be interesting to see how he fits into the mix there, because I think he's an instinctive young guy," Capers said.

No. 52: Special teams leader, I

If there were a Hinkle/Nitschke Field Hall of Fame, Jarrett Bush would be a lock. No defensive back makes more plays on the ball at practice than Bush. Unfortunately, that's never carried over to Sundays; the Super Bowl being a notable exception. At age 29 and entering his eighth season, there's no reason to believe Bush ever will be a reliable member of the secondary.

Bush's calling card, of course, has been special teams. A regular special-teams captain during past playoff seasons, Bush has been a dynamic weapon for coordinator Shawn Slocum. He matched his career high with 17 special-teams tackles last season, and he's got 92 in 110 career games. However, he was guilty of six of the team's 16 special-teams penalties, compared to just one in 2011.

Bush has two years remaining on his contract, with cap charges of $1.45 million in 2013 and $1.7 million in 2014. It could wind up being Bush vs. Hyde for a roster spot.

No. 53: Special teams leader, II

Jamari Lattimore made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and not only has earned a spot on the roster but the respect of his peers. Lattimore joined Bush as the team's special-teams captains last postseason. He finished with 10 tackles on the kicking units, recovered Mason Crosby's surprise onside kick against St. Louis and was penalized once.

Lattimore was an outside linebacker as a rookie but moved inside in 2012, when he played eight snaps. Don't be surprised if he makes some noise on defense. He had 11.5 sacks as a senior at Middle Tennessee State and could find at least a situational role.

"Jamari has made that steady improvement and it's been exciting to see his development," position coach Winston Moss said. "He's excited about the things that he brings. Versus the run, he's going to run sideline to sideline and be very athletic and be able to beat guys one-on-one and make a play. His blitz skill, I really do like what he's shown. He has that strength and power, as well, and he has that length to be able to stress an offensive tackle out, stress a running back out."

No. 54: Taylor made

Ryan Taylor is another key special-teams player who is vying for a bigger role on offense. A tight end drafted in the seventh round in 2011, Taylor has caught one pass in each of his two seasons. He went from 32 snaps on offense in 2011 to 143 in 2012 as the Packers sought blocking production in Andrew Quarless' absence.

Taylor led the special-teamers in snaps in 2012, playing in all 16 games and registering eight tackles. Because of his special-teams prowess, he'll likely earn a roster spot among a deep group of tight ends.

No. 55: Favre trivia

To acquire Brett Favre in 2009, the Vikings released Robert Francois. Francois joined the Packers' practice squad in December 2009 and has played in 35 games the past three seasons. In 2012, Francois played in all 16 games and finished second with 13 tackles on special teams.

Francois played outside linebacker for much of the 2010 NFC Championship Game. He was moved to inside linebacker in 2011, started two games and produced three takeaways. In 2012, however, he didn't play a single snap on defense as he was stuck behind A.J. Hawk on the depth chart.

"Robert, who has that big body and likes to play the run," Moss said. "Francois has some size to him, as well. The pick that he had in Detroit, you've got a big guy that you're trying to throw over, he plucks the ball from there. Same thing in the Raiders red zone. He plucks the ball because he's got great height. It's very tough, with a tall guy who has range, to throw over him. It's very effective to have that body type."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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