This upcoming 2014 NFL season, a wide variety of relatively unheralded sophomore and third-year players will inherit or take over key roles for even the best teams in the NFL. Whether it's an already established starter who will now be assuming more responsibility or a green, untested player who will now look to become a reliable backup, every roster depth chart has a few big question marks.
In this series, we've been breaking down "who" we think those players are, "where" they play, "why" they'll potentially play a key role in 2014, and "how" they'll succeed in that.
On tap today, we have the Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers
Who: Bakhtiari joined the Packers as a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Coming out of Colorado, he was initially pegged as a reserve lineman and possible a swing tackle. Those plans didn't last long and Bakhtiari was thrust into the starting left tackle job early in training camp when Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL. Bakhtiari started the season opener as a 21-year-old rookie.
Where: Even with Bulaga now healthy, the Packers opted to keep Bakhtiari at left tackle and shift Bulaga to right tackle. That means Bakhtiari will once again be tasked with protecting Aaron Rodgers' blindside.
Why: Bakhtiari didn't play at an All-Pro level last season, but he played well enough. For a rookie thrust into a starting job, he acquitted himself well. He was solid in pass protection, even going up against a number of the top rushers in the league. With a year of conditioning and added strength, he figures to only improve. By keeping Bakhtiari at left tackle, Green Bay can shift Bulaga back to right tackle where he had success earlier in his career.
How: Coming off a solid year and set at left tackle, the challenge for Bakhtiari is now taking the next step.
"I had a great rookie year. That's how I look at it. I had a great rookie year; I had an OK year as a player." - David Bakhtiari
"I had a great rookie year. That's how I look at it. I had a great rookie year; I had an OK year as a player," Bakhtiari said via ESPNWisconsin. "But I don't have that tag this year. I want people to be like, ‘He had a good year as a football player.' Not rookie, not second-year, any of that. Throw all that out. ‘He was a good player. He's a guy we want on our team.' I want the organization to want me here - want me at left tackle."
Bakhtiari, still just 22 years old, said he's added strength this offseason. That could help him as a run blocker, an area he had some issues last year. Even though Bakhtiari kept his job at left tackle, it isn't without competition. Derek Sherrod, a first-round pick in 2011, is finally healthy and could challenge for playing time.
Who: A fourth-round pick in 2013, Tretter played tight end and offensive tackle at Cornell. He suffered a broken ankle last offseason and is yet to appear in a game.
Where: Although he played on the edge in college and doesn't have any experience playing along the interior, Tretter will get the first opportunity to replace Evan Dietrich-Smith as the Packers starting center.
Why: The Packers opted to let Dietrich-Smith depart via free agency, leaving Tretter and rookie fifth-round pick Corey Linsley atop the depth chart at center. Although Tretter doesn't have any in-game experience, he has spent a year in the system. With Bulaga returning, Green Bay has the makings of a very solid offensive line if Tretter can hold his own at center.
How: Tretter is no slouch athletically, but the key to his success at center may be his football IQ. Tretter played at Cornell and has been praised for his understanding of the offense. Playing center requires a lot more than the physical elements of lineplay, as the position comes with the responsibility to call checks at the line of scrimmage. Tackling the mental part of the job is a key and something offensive line coach James Campen said Tretter does well.
"Certainly with him, he's such a calm demeanor guy that understands what's expected him from a mental standpoint," Campen said, via Thenorthwestern.com. "He's a smart kid, he certainly is."
Photo Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
DT Datone Jones
Who: Following a successful college career at UCLA, the Packers nabbed Jones in the first-round. He came to Green Bay with high expectations and said he wants to model his game after Reggie White.
Where: Jones has the versatility to play a couple spots along the defensive line, but he's currently penciled in to start at defensive end. Jones was limited by an ankle injury last year. He's healthy now and with Johnny Jolly currently a free agent, Green Bay is relying on Jones to fill a major role in the front seven.
Why: There is no question Jones is talented, and at 6'4 and 285 pounds he's a quick athlete with the versatility to play up and down the line. Although he didn't play much last season and was limited by an ankle injury when he did play, he still managed to come away with 3.5 sacks.
How: Jones didn't have much of an impact during his freshman season at UCLA, but made a significant jump in his second year. He's healthy now and has been working to refine his technique. The combination could lead to a similar breakout in Year 2 in the NFL. Jones flashed his potential last year, like his two-sack game against Philadelphia. One of those sacks occurred when he bull rushed Jason Peters then disengaged and wrapped up Nick Foles. If he can show that ability on a consistent basis, Green Bay's front seven could be much improved.
Photo credit: Gregory Shamus
Who: An undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech, Boykin initially signed with Jacksonville but didn't last long. He eventually landed with Green Bay in 2012 and stuck on the roster. Injuries opened a door for him to play last season and he responded with a much-improved season.
Where: Boykin can play any of the wide receiver spots and is battling for the No. 3 job behind Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The No. 3 job is currently vacant with James Jones leaving Green Bay for Oakland. In the Packers' offense, this seemingly-extraneous role is a valuable one.
Why: Unlike rookie second-round pick Davante Adams, Boykin has proven he can play at this level. A series of injuries at wide receiver thrust Boykin into a bigger role and he responded by playing very well. He averaged 8.3 yards per target on 83 targets, acquainting himself quite well for an undrafted free agent who came into the season with five career receptions.
How: Boykin needs to continue to do what he did the last two years, because Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy has heaped praise on him. When the head coach says things like this, you're doing something right.
"I'm as high on Boykin as anybody in our building," Mike McCarthy said via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He had a heck of a year, and I still think he has another jump in him."
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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