COMMENTARY | The 2013 season has not been kind to the Green Bay Packers.
Much like a number of teams in the NFL this year, the Packers have had to deal with major injuries to key players. However, few teams have had to deal with as many big injuries as Green Bay has, with players like Randall Cobb, Casey Hayward, Clay Matthews, Brian Bulaga and so many others missing extended periods of time.
There haven't been any excuses coming from the Packers, as they continue to preach their "Next Man Up" philosophy. The culture in Green Bay is to develop players in-house for situations like this, giving them the opportunity to move into the starting lineup and effectively replace injured starters.
Through the first seven weeks of the 2013 season, we've already seen a number of players step up, so let's take a look at five specific players that have already risen to the occasion.
Jarrett Boykin, Wide Receiver
The Packers typically love to run three-receiver sets during games, but without Randall Cobb and James Jones last week, that wasn't something they were really going to be able to do last week.
With Donald Driver retired and Greg Jennings now in Minnesota, the Packers don't have the same kind of depth their used to at the receiver position. Jordy Nelson was the only well-known receiver playing for Green Bay against the Cleveland Browns last week, but Jarrett Boykin was able to make a name for himself in the win.
After struggling mightily against the Baltimore Ravens, Boykin looked much more in-sync with Aaron Rodgers this past week. He was targeted 10 times, catching eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. A full week of practicing with the first team seemed to pay off, as Boykin was running cleaner routes and making things easier for Rodgers in the passing game.
While the injuries are a concern for Cobb and Jones, this was a big game for Boykin to get on-field experience. This is just Boykin's second year in the NFL, and this was a big opportunity for him to make a name for himself.
With Jones possibly coming back either this week or next, it's nice to know that the Packers still have a No. 3 receiver until Cobb can get healthy.
Davon House, Defensive Back
The secondary for Green Bay has needed some help to start the season with Hayward still trying to get healthy and come back. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are both very solid cornerbacks, but the Packers needed another respectable guy to play in nickel and dime packages.
Over the past two weeks, Davon House has been that guy. He struggled during the first few games of the season, but he's been much better over the past two weeks.
This last game against the Browns was a real eye-opener at what House is capable of doing. Sure, he was going against a weaker group of receivers and Brandon Weeden was the quarterback, but that doesn't mean what House did wasn't impressive. He had three passes defended along with a key interception early in the game when the Browns went for it on fourth down.
Two of his biggest plays came in the fourth quarter of that game. He was able to break up a deep pass on fourth-and-15 to give Green Bay the ball back then broke up a pass intended for Josh Gordon in the end zone on the very next drive. The pass could have very well been a touchdown, but House made a last-second move to get the ball away from him.
Hayward should be close to coming back, but House has been big in his absence.
Jamari Lattimore, Linebacker
Injuries to Perry, Matthews and Brad Jones have let the Packers without a lot of options at linebacker, but Jamari Lattimore has made the most of his opportunities and has really impressed me over the past two weeks.
In his limited play against the Ravens, I had an overall positive reaction from watching Lattimore play. He wasn't a game-changer like Matthews, but he was getting the job done and wasn't a liability in any way replacing Jones.
This past week, he was even better.
Lattimore finished with 12 combined tackles and his first career sack in the win against Cleveland. He made some big hits, including a big hit on Willis McGahee after running through a couple of pulling offensive lineman to stop him for no gain.
I had honestly never really noticed Lattimore before the past couple of weeks. However, it's hard not to notice him now with what he's been doing on defense.
Eddie Lacy, Running Back
Most fans were prepared to have an improved running game, but I'm not sure many people were prepared for the Packers to rank sixth in the NFL with 134.7 rushing yards per game.
A big reason for that success has been Eddie Lacy. He essentially missed two entire games with a concussion, but he's been big when he's played. Since returning to the starting lineup, Lacy has ran for 301 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
What I like so much about Lacy is that he is decisive and explosive at the line of scrimmage. Most running backs tend to slow down and look for a gap to run through, but Lacy just takes off and makes his own hole if there isn't one. That momentum pays off when he first gets hit, allowing him to plow forward for extra yards.
The Packers have been waiting for an impact running back since Ryan Grant was lost for the 2010 season, and now they have one that's currently in the running for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Mike Daniels, Defensive End
Oh, how great of a year it's been for Mike Daniels.
As a fourth-round pick in 2012, Daniels had a decent rookie season, but he's been absolutely vital to the Packers' success on defense in 2013. He's been a huge piece to stopping the run, and he's also shown that he can rush the passer, grabbing a sack against the Browns and another one against the Cincinnati Benglas earlier in the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Daniels has had a solid grade of 8.3 and a run defense grade of 8.0 this season. Among all 3-4 defensive ends, Daniels ranks 10th in overall grade and eighth against the run. He also has the highest overall grade for the Packers on defense, with Morgan Burnett (7.0) in second place.
He may not have the flashiest stats on the box score, but Daniels has arguably been the most vital piece to the Packers' defense this year. With injuries in so many key areas, it's been nice to at least have one key player that's been able to stay in the lineup.
Tyler Brooke is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, focusing on the Packers, Colts and the NFL as a whole. His work has been featured on ESPN.com, CNN.com, SI.com and a number of other sites. Follow him on Twitter @TylerDBrooke
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