|15||Julius Peppers||OLB/DE||6-7||287||34||13||North Carolina|
|17||T.J. Lang||G||6-4||318||26||6||Eastern Michigan|
Peppers: Peppers won’t be the focal point of Green Bay’s defense, like he was for the past four seasons in Chicago, but he could be a missing piece to the Packers’ defensive puzzle as an outside linebacker/defensive end/defensive tackle.
"I can tell you that things we’ve asked him to do, he’s done a nice job of,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He’ll be one of those, quote, hybrid-type guys. He’ll rush, he’ll drop, he’ll do a lot of different things. He’ll play different spots for us. I’m glad we have him. He’s a rare guy from a talent standpoint. He’s done a nice job mentally of picking up what we’re asking him to do and, quite frankly, has looked pretty comfortable doing it.”
Even in what was considered a down season for the future Hall of Famer, Peppers recorded seven sacks, forced two fumbles and intercepted a pass. Only once in Clay Matthews’ career has he had a teammate record as many as seven sacks. Peppers averaged 54.1 snaps per game while playing in all 16 games for the sixth consecutive season.
At 34, how much gas is left in the tank? Plenty, according to left tackle David Bakhtiari, who watched Peppers tally two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble in last season’s matchups.
“I’m extremely happy that he’s on our team. Flat out,” Bakhtiari said. “Good luck to people going against him.”
Clinton-Dix: If Clinton-Dix were assured a spot in the starting lineup, he’d be much higher on our list. But there are no assurances that he’ll be out Hyde for the starting gig opposite Morgan Burnett.
However, Alabama’s defenders under coach Nick Saban overwhelmingly have fallen far short of expectations in the NFL. Clinton-Dix’s lack of strength concerned scouts, too. He put up 11 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the Scouting Combine. The average for the other safeties selected in the first four rounds was 15.4. And his combination of 4.58 speed in the 40-yard dash and a 33-inch vertical made him the worst athlete among the four-round safeties.
“He’s plenty fast, plenty physical, has the range, has the flexibility that you look for,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “But again, so much of it is going to depend on how well and how fast he comes in and picks up things, how well he does some of the little things in terms of tackling, communicating and so forth because we put a premium on those things, and he’s going to have to be really good at that.”
Clinton-Dix’s four-year contract is worth almost $8.34 million, including about $7.56 million guaranteed. He is being paid to start and provide a dramatic upgrade at a position group that didn’t intercept a pass or force a fumble last season.
Lang: Lang bounced back from a miserable 2012 in which he battled a bad elbow and a midseason move from left guard to right tackle and then back to left guard.
Moved to right guard as part of the big offensive line makeover in 2013, Lang had a strong year in helping power one of the game’s powerhouse running games. He cut his sacks allowed from 11 to four and his holding penalties from two to zero, according to STATS. ProFootballFocus.com ranked Lang 15th among guards and sixth among right guards. He might not be a great athlete but he went across the formation to deliver the key block on Eddie Lacy’s game-turning 60-yard run at Dallas.
Lang, who has played in 47 of a possible 48 games the last three seasons, is entering the third season of a deal that runs through 2016 and is worth $22.1 million. He has a cap number of $5.1 million for 2014.
Bulaga: Can Bulaga stay healthy? After missing four games due to two separate knee injuries in 2011, Bulaga missed the final seven games of 2012 with a broken hip and all of 2013 with a torn ACL. In all, he has missed the last regular-season 23 games.
As a first-round pick in 2010, Bulaga replaced veteran Mark Tauscher and allowed 11 sacks and was flagged three times for holding in 12 starts. Bulaga took an enormous step forward in 2011 with one sack allowed and one holding penalty in 12 games. In his abbreviated 2012, he yielded five sacks and was flagged for three holding penalties. In 2013, he spent the offseason and training camp at left tackle. He’s back at right tackle for 2014, his final year of a five-year rookie contract worth $13.25 million.
"I think he looks good,” guard Josh Sitton said. “The first week, I know he told me he was a little bit shaky here and there, just (because) he hadn’t done anything in a year. But this week it seems like he’s back to normal. It’s a pretty good transition. He’s the type of guy that’s going to work his (butt) off to get healthy and he’s done that. I think he probably could have played at the end of last season at some point from what he told me. But he’ll be just fine."
Hyde: Hyde will enter training camp as the starter ahead of first-round pick Clinton-Dix.
Don’t be surprised if he pulls it off. At the Scouting Combine, coach Mike McCarthy said he’d “like to see Micah compete to play all three downs on defense.” A month later at the owners meetings, McCarthy reiterated his confidence in Hyde, who had 53 tackles (eighth on team) with one sack, one forced fumble and four passes defensed as a rookie fifth-round pick.
“I’m going to say it again, make sure we’re clear: Micah Hyde deserves the opportunity to be an every-down player on our defense,” McCarthy said. “And as we go into 2014, that’s our responsibility as a coaching staff to create those competitive opportunities for him to get that done. I got to a point in the season where Micah was standing on the sidelines too much. He’s a good football player and I thought he deserved the opportunity to compete to play. We’re going to give Micah the opportunity to play on all three downs — whether that’s corner, nickel, dime, safety, that’s the versatility I think he brings to our football team.”
With a 4.52 in the 40 at the 2013 Combine, most scouts considered Hyde too slow to hold up at cornerback. That speed, however, is perfectly acceptable at safety. In fact, he’s faster than Clinton-Dix (4.58). It’s possible Hyde starts at safety and moves to the dime position on third-and-long so Clinton-Dix can be eased into action. At worst, Hyde will play the dime and reprise his role as punt returner, where he ranked fifth in the league with a 12.3-yard average.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.