Crosby, Hall and Jones again are expected to play important roles for the Packers. In training camp this year, Green Bay will be giving a few more players from that class an opportunity to help the team in a bigger way.
Considering their performance from last year, here are three sophomores who should emerge as potential starters in training camp this summer for the Packers:
Allen Barbre, Guard
Barbre has made some big improvements this offseason, not only in becoming more familiar with the scheme, but in his physique. The guard, taken by the Packers in the fourth round (119th overall) of the 2007 NFL draft, has gotten leaner and stronger this offseason, adding 16 pounds of lean muscle mass and losing 10 pounds of fat, according to coaches. That should help him in his competition in training camp against veteran Daryn Colledge for a starting spot at left guard this season.
Colledge has the starting experience, but he was inconsistent last season. If Colledge is unable to show improvement in camp and Barbre continues his progress, there will be a change at guard.
"Allen is in competition for one of the inside spots," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. "Really just like we've had the last two years, we'll continue to play different combinations of players there. Daryn Colledge, you'll probably see him at every position on the line. Jason Spitz has done that for us in the past, and we're giving Junius Coston more work at center. It's just that flexibility, the uniqueness of the athletic ability of the offensive line; it's a very athletic group. Allen Barbre would probably be one of the more athletic guys in that group. You're just trying to prepare yourself for that 45-man roster. Those are always the toughest decisions to make. It's an easy trap to fall into; you sit there and work four, five, six centers during the course of spring and training camp, and then you come to game day and you only have two. That's really what we're trying to accomplish."
Aaron Rouse, Safety
When Rouse had a chance to play last season for the injured Nick Collins, he made the most of it. The lanky Rouse had two interceptions when stepping in for the injured Collins and a few big hits. He showed all kinds of potential, but at the same time showed that he can be prone to injuries.
Rouse missed a number of training camp practices last season with a hamstring injury. Later in the season, he hurt his knee. He played in 11 games with three starts, while Collins was out with a knee injury, but has a good chance of overtaking Collins in training camp this season, if he can stay on the field.
Rouse's ability to make an interception gives him a big edge over Collins, who has dropped numerous potential interceptions in the past three years. Rouse, taken in the third round (89th overall) last year, probably will win the starting job in camp this season if he can show an ability to cover receivers better than Collins. Collins has struggled at times covering tight ends and other receivers.
Atari Bigby, who had impressive season in his first year as a starter last year, appears to be locked in at the other starting safety position. That leaves Rouse and Collins duking it out.
"Aaron Rouse is having an excellent offseason," McCarthy said. "I'll tell you, he is very instinctive. He is getting his hands on the ball. You can see the comfort level of Aaron as a second-year player. It's kind of been the pattern around here for our young players, and I like that. It tells that the players are taking advantage of the program and the teaching. He is coming on. He is going to be someone that has a chance to maybe have an impact this year.
"There is competition throughout, and that's another position. I think Atari Bigby is really coming on strong. Nick Collins is as talented of a player that we have in our back end on the defensive perimeter. Charlie Peprah is another young man that just continues to improve, so that's an excellent group. You'll see (cornerback) Jarrett Bush at some point start working back there, too. There is a lot of talent back there. The competition has definitely picked up, so time will answer that question."
Justin Harrell, Defensive Tackle
The door is wide open for Harrell to make an impact for the Packers this season. With Corey Williams off to Cleveland, it is sink or swim time for the defensive tackle who was taken 16th overall in the draft last year by the Packers.
If Harrell can overcome offseason back surgery, and that's a big if, look for him to make the most of it. That's nothing more than a hunch at this time, probably a big-time stretch in fact, but who knows?
Harrell has a great attitude. He has the frame. He's got to be a little bit stronger and more knowledgeable of what's ahead now as compared to last year at this time. It is time for him to show Packers fans that he belongs in the starting lineup on a consistent basis.
The Packers will know early in camp whether he will be a contender for a starting job or a pretender. Thus far, Harrell has been nothing but a pretender. He was limited by injuries during his rookie season. If he has gotten stronger this offseason, maybe, just maybe, he will rise to the expectations that the Packers have of him.
The Packers need Harrell to step up and contribute in a bigger way this season. Harrell has a golden opportunity to rebound and make something of his NFL career. Will he? All Packers fans can do is hope.