Breakthrough players for 2008

Bob Fox predicts who will excel for the Green Bay Packers this season

One of the biggest reasons Green Bay's success last year was the fact that a few players - Greg Jennings, Ryan Grant, Donald Lee and Atari Bigby - had breakthrough seasons for the team. The 2008 Packers will need that to happen as well. Who might be the players that break through this year?

Aaron Rodgers
The spotlight will be on Rodgers, who showed he had excellent comprehension of Mike McCarthy's offense in the preseason of 2007 and in a regular-season game at Dallas. The 2008 preseason has been spotty, but the Packers need Rodgers to be consistently good and injury free if they hope to have the same success this year compared to last season.

Brandon Jackson
Jackson should have a much more expanded role this year. He finished last season strong with 113 rushing yards in the last game of the season, and looked much more comfortable in his backup role against Seattle in the playoffs. This past offseason, Jackson has pushed himself to get in the best physical shape, and it has paid off. The only chink in his armor is his ability to pick up the blitz. But his rushing and receiving skills look like they will much improved over last year.

Jordy Nelson
With the recent knee injury to James Jones, one that could sideline Jones for a few weeks, Nelson has an opportunity to get more playing time and more opportunities to showcase his talent. He has shown flashes of his return ability on kickoff returns — where he will get a chance with the No. 1 unit on Thursday against Tennessee — but he may get more of an opportunity at wide receiver. Nelson has the ability to to take a screen or a slant to the house, plus he has the speed to go deep.

Tramon Williams
Williams looks like he will win the nickel job in the secondary. Williams also has shown that he has excellent return ability as well, as do a few players on this list. Williams returned a punt for 94 yards against the Panthers last year. His play as nickel back is where he needs to be continue to stay consistent.

Will Blackmon
Blackmon is running a close second to Williams for the nickel position, but Blackmon's real opportunity will come as a returner. He showed his potential on special teams last year when he scored on a 57-yard punt return vs. the Raiders and also a fumble recovery for a touchdown after a Raiders fumble on a punt. That distinction puts only Blackmon and Travis Williams in exclusive company in terms of scoring two special teams TDs in a game over the long history of the Packers. Besides continuing to show his abilities this preseason, Blackmon also showed this ability in college, where finished his college career only 119 yards shy of being the all-time kickoff returner in Division I-A history.

Aaron Rouse
Rouse continues to show his knack for getting turnovers in the preseason, but the two players playing in front of Rouse, Nick Collins and Atari Bigby have had solid camps and Rouse is on the outside looking in. Rouse will get more of an opportunity on Thursday night, as Bigby will sit out the game against the Titans with an ankle injury. Competition breeds success, and Collins and Bigby are aware of this with Rouse lurking over their shoulders. If nothing else, maybe Collins will have the breakthrough year that the Packers have expected out of him for a couple of years.

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