Here’s a look at how the Packers’ first-year players are faring with the regular season over and the playoffs about to begin:
OT Bryan Bulaga (first round): After holding his own much of the season as the starting right tackle, Bulaga has had a pretty rough time the last three games and needs to step up his play in the postseason. Forced to deal with Bears Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers more than a little, the Packers’ first-round draft pick had four penalties in Week 17 (two holding and two false starts), and he admitted to probably being guilty of poor technique on the holds. Bulaga, in effect, halted back-to-back fourth-quarter drives against the Bears. He’s been playing too soft, getting lazy with his feet and not bending his knees enough, and he’s been slow getting to the second level. After playing 20 games, counting exhibition games, a tired body could very well be at the root of his current drop-off.
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): For the second game in a row, Quarless caught the only pass thrown to him against the Bears — a five-yarder. As the primary replacement at tight end in place of the injured Jermichael Finley, Quarless finished the regular season with 21 catches for 238 yards (11.3 ypc) and one TD in 13 games. In five games, Finley had 21-301-1.
OG Marshall Newhouse (fifth round): An emergency insurance policy for the offensive line who was inactive the entire season, Newhouse was released late in the week before the regular-season finale when the Packers signed OG-C Evan Dietrich-Smith.
RB James Starks (sixth round): After being inactive the previous two games, apparently due to practice habits that head coach Mike McCarthy believed left a lot to be desired, Starks was thrust back into the RB mix in Week 17 and did some good things. The first time he touched the ball, he ran for 12 yards on a pass off play-action from Aaron Rodgers. Showing some power and moves in traffic, Starks finished with five carries for 20 yards and two catches for 15 yards. He had a very impressive pro debut in the Week 13 win over the Niners (18 carries for a team-high 73 yards) and could end up being a surprise factor in the playoffs.
DE C.J. Wilson (seventh round): Wilson had a quiet regular-season finale, but he has stepped up on more than one occasion this season on a D-line that always seemed to be dealing with some sort of injury and never once appeared to be overwhelmed. In the regular season, Wilson finished with 19 tackles and a sack.
OLB Frank Zombo — Zombo, who has done a surprisingly solid job as the team’s starting right outside linebacker in place of the injured Brad Jones, missed the final three games of the regular season after spraining his knee against Detroit. The Packers are hoping Zombo will be good to go this Sunday against the Eagles. In the 13 games in which he has played, Zombo has 38 tackles, four sacks for 34 yards in losses and a pair of forced fumbles.
CB Sam Shields — The fleet-footed Shields continued to hold his own in the nickel corner role against the Bears in Week 17, doing a good job overall on Devin Hester in the slot. Shields needs to improve his pursuit angles and trust his speed more, but he did an impressive job defending Jay Cutler’s back-shoulder passes. On another front, it looks like Shields has been replaced by Patrick Lee as the primary kickoff returner for the playoffs. In Week 17, Lee ran much more decisively than Shields had done in that role.
TE Tom Crabtree — Crabtree went back to being solely a blocker and special-teamer in the regular-season finale. But team insiders still believe he could become more of a receiving force in the postseason. Against the Giants in Week 16, he did have a big 21-yard catch of the only pass thrown his way.
RB Dimtri Nance — After rushing nine times for 32 yards with a long gain of six yards in Week 16, Nance was a nonfactor in Week 17, as fellow rookie Starks moved back ahead of him in the team’s RB rotation. In the regular season, Nance finished with 12 carries for 36 yards and three catches for 30 yards.
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 spending 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.