Here’s a look at how the Packers’ first-year players are faring through 12 games:
OT Bryan Bulaga (first round): Firmly entrenched as the starting right tackle with veteran Mark Tauscher being placed on injured reserve, Bulaga continues to hold his own and show steady improvement. He did give up a half-sack to San Francisco strong man Isaac Sopoaga in Week 13 but — as was the case with all the Packers’ O-linemen — Bulaga did a much better job run-blocking than he did the week before against Atlanta.
DE Mike Neal (second round): Neal was placed on injured reserve before the Jets game in Week Eight with a season-ending shoulder injury. He showed good potential in the two games in which he was able to play, but he had problems staying healthy.
SS Morgan Burnett (third round): Burnett was placed on injured reserve after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week Four. He entered the season as the starting strong safety after an excellent offseason and training camp.
TE Andrew Quarless (fifth round): Quarless has become the Packers’ primary weapon at tight end in place of the injured Jermichael Finley, who is out for the season. After making three catches for 35 yards splitting time with fellow rookie Tom Crabtree in the Week 12 game against Atlanta, Quarless was targeted only twice last Sunday and caught one pass for four yards. He ran a bad route on one of the two balls that came his way.
OG Marshall Newhouse (fifth round): Newhouse has yet to be activated this season and remains an emergency insurance policy for the offensive line.
RB James Starks (sixth round): Starks, who was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list on Nov. 9, made an impressive pro debut against the Niners with 18 carries for a team-high 73 yards in his first game action since January 2009. He made very few mistakes and consistently managed positive yardage, including one 16-yard gallop on which he broke a couple of tackles. Starks also had a pair of kickoff returns for 25 yards against the Niners.
DE C.J. Wilson (seventh round): Wilson has not had much of an impact lately, but that could change with Cullen Jenkins possibly being out for a couple of games with a calf injury. Either Wilson, who previously had two starts at left defensive end in place of the injured Ryan Pickett, or DeShawn Wynn will replace Jenkins while he’s out.
OLB Frank Zombo — Zombo continues to be a pleasant surprise replacing the injured Brad Jones at left outside linebacker, seemingly getting more comfortable each week. Against the Niners he had a sack and three tackles and did another good job setting the edge.
CB Sam Shields — The fastest player on the team continues to be reliable both as the nickel corner and primary kickoff returner (3-59 vs. Niners). Green Bay’s special-teams coaches believe Shields is a good bet to go the distance on a kickoff return any game now.
TE Tom Crabtree — Run-blocking and special-teams work continue to be Crabtree’s primary duties, with Quarless being counted on as the primary receiving threat at tight end, where the production has been scant without the injured Finley in the lineup.
RB Dimitri Nance — The ex-Falcon was inactive last week with a concussion, but plans call for him to be part of a three-man rotation at halfback down the stretch along with Brandon Jackson and Starks.
OL Nick McDonald — The undrafted center-guard from Division II Grand Valley State is currently the team’s 10th offensive lineman and is not likely to see any playing time unless there is suddenly a major rash of injuries on the O-line. But the Packers like his versatility and toughness and believe he could have a promising future.
CB Josh Gordy — Previously having spent four months with Jacksonville as a rookie free agent before being cut Sept. 1, Gordy is fast and athletic with skills similar to those of Shields. While he is expected to contribute more in the future, he shapes up as an emergency fill-in for now.