OTAs Preview: In Search of the Next Daniels

Mike Daniels had a breakout season in 2013; which players could be poised to follow suit in 2014? With OTAs starting this week, we examine some of the possibilities.

The latest poster boy for the Green Bay Packers' draft-and-develop method of building a team is Mike Daniels.

As a rookie fourth-round pick in 2012, Daniels had two sacks and 19 tackles in 14 games.

As a second-year player in 2013, Daniels had 6.5 sacks and 37 tackles in 16 games to emerge as one of ProFootballFocus.com's "Secret Superstars and one of the league's most impactful interior defensive linemen.

With a significant gap between the Packers and NFC powerhouses Seattle and San Francisco, Green Bay needs some of its young players to take a significant step forward this season.

Three weeks of organized team activities begin this week — Thursday's practice is open to fans. A three-day minicamp is set for June 17-19. Those four weeks of offseason practices will be about finding the next Mike Daniels, that next young player — or, preferably, players — ready to elevate their standard of play.

Offensive line: J.C. Tretter is the favorite to start at center. A fourth-round pick in 2013, he didn't play a single snap — preseason or regular season — as a rookie. The coaches are high on him but he's going to have to make tremendous strides physically and mentally. Getting on the same page with Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offensive line begins this week. At left tackle, David Bakhtiari had a successful rookie season. However, among the league's regular starters at the position, only five received a lower grade from ProFootballFocus.com. So, there's plenty of room for improvement. "He learned as he went along," offensive line coach James Campen said. "He had a couple of games where he'd like to have back but the nice thing about it was the next week he outperformed himself again. He's an ascending player that's going to be in the mix for quite some time."

Tight end: The Packers don't have a dynamic tight end on the roster. Andrew Quarless, coming off a knee injury that cost him all of 2012, had his moments but appears limited to being only a possession receiver. Can his blocking return to his 2011 standard? Can Brandon Bostick become a reliable threat in the passing game after flashing a time or two in 2013? "Brandon is a very speedy, stretch-the-field-vertically type of player," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said at the end of last season. "He does have a big body but he has to learn how to use that big body. He hasn't had a lot of experience in run blocking. He did make some strides this year. He does everything that we ask him to do. The one thing that he does well, which was an added surprise, was he finished guys through the whistle. He shows that he has the want-to. It's just a matter of developing him fundamentally as much as we can. I think he's a guy that can definitely have an impact."

Defensive line: Datone Jones, last year's first-round pick, dominated the start of training camp, hurt his ankle in the preseason opener and never was the same player. He had 3.5 sacks but almost never played in the base defense, didn't have a tackle for loss against the run, and had his playing time reduced late in the season. "Tone's a good athlete, and this game means a lot to him. I think he's going to take a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said at the end of last season. Jerel Worthy, a second-round pick in 2012, made almost no impact as a rookie. His season ended with a torn ACL, which basically wiped out his 2013. Can he be anything more than a part-time role player with Daniels and Jones as the primary nickel rushers?

Linebackers: Can Nick Perry stay healthy? When he's been healthy, he's been productive. He had four sacks and three forced fumbles in 11 games last season. However, he missed five games in a six-game midseason stretch due to a broken foot and went without a sack while playing on one good leg for the final four games. "It's hard to give you a true evaluation because we just haven't had any consistency in terms of the amount of time on the practice field and have that be able to carry over into the game over a period of time," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. On the inside, can Jamari Lattimore or Sam Barrington make a run at a significant role after Brad Jones' disappointing, injury-plagued season? Lattimore impressed upon replacing Jones early in the season but struggled down the stretch, but will he ever have the instincts to be a full-time player? Barrington, an intense and intelligent performer, missed most of the season with a hamstring injury. As linebackers coach Winston Moss said at the end of the season, "Sam has all the measurables. He's a great kid. Wants to work hard. Just need more information."

Defensive back: Other than having Clay Matthews for a full 16 games, the biggest key to the Packers' defense would be having Casey Hayward for a full 16 games. Hayward barely played in 2013 after intercepting six passes during his superlative rookie season of 2012. As a byproduct, the Packers went from 18 interceptions in 2012 to 11 in 2013. With a first-round pick used on HaHa Clinton-Dix, how will the Packers use Micah Hyde? Presumably, he'll be the slot tandem with Hayward in dime. Finally, Davon House is entering his final season under contract. He's been painfully inconsistent but, with Tramon Williams also entering his final season under contract, can House state his case to be a long-term solution?

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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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