Five Packers most impacted by lockout

Posted July 28, 2011 @ 12:08 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Most league observers agree that the Packers figure to be ahead of the curve when it comes to bouncing back from this offseason's prolonged lockout. Fresh off their fourth Super Bowl title with no significant changes in their coaching staff or schemes on both sides of the ball, the Packers seem better-equipped than most teams to resume their normal routine. That said, there are bound to be some major adjustments in store for more than a few players. What follows is a rundown of the five Packers players most impacted by this offseason's work stoppage, presented in reverse order.

5. SS Morgan Burnett — The Packers' 2010 third-round draft pick probably would have gotten the nod from most team observers as last season's biggest training-camp sensation, performing well enough to begin the season as the starting strong safety. But Burnett's play was uneven before suffering a season-ending torn ACL in Week Four. With Burnett out of the mix, Charlie Peprah picked up the baton and did a decent job, setting the stage for what figures to be a spirited battle with Burnett for the starting SS job. It would seem Burnett would have been best served having a full offseason of work to strut his stuff and once again make a favorable impression. His work ethic and intelligence should come in handy, but he needs to become a lot more physical and improve his run support. The more time spent popping pads and hitting people, the better off he would be.

4. OG Nick McDonald — As a rookie free agent out of Grand Valley State last season, McDonald barely sniffed the field. But with his excellent size (6-4, 316 pounds), decent athleticism and classy demeanor, McDonald is considered by many close to the team as the top candidate to take over at left guard, with holdover free agent Daryn Colledge choosing to sign with the Cardinals. Problem is McDonald is very raw, and the time lost this offseason because of the lockout could be a huge handicap.

3. WR-RS Randall Cobb — Of all the team's rookies, the versatile Cobb figures to make the biggest initial impact, most notably on special teams, where he appears to be the front-runner to return both kickoffs and punts. With the return of free-agent WR James Jones considered very iffy, Cobb also could quickly make his presence felt as the team's No. 4 wide receiver. But even though he is reportedly smart as a whip, he is, after all, a mere rookie who could use as much time as possible to whip himself into shape at the pro level. It's also worth noting that the Packers' WR coach, Edgar Bennett, is a newbie at his job after switching from RB coach to replace the departed Jimmy Robinson.

2. DE Mike Neal — One of the biggest concerns in Packers Nation is the team's pass rush, which could be weakened by the likely departure of free agent Cullen Jenkins. Neal, a second-round pick last season who is as strong as a bull but prone to injury, is the best bet to replace Jenkins as the starting right end and the team's primary inside pass rusher. Coming off a torn rotator cuff that prematurely ended his rookie campaign, Neal is facing an interesting lockout-induced catch-22 situation. While the time lost due to the lockout probably has helped his recovery from shoulder surgery — he recently indicated that it could be late October before his shoulder is 100 percent — it has hurt his learning process in a new full-time role that features a lot of subtle nuances that will take time to master.

1. RB James Starks — Starks was a late bloomer as a sixth-round rookie last season after sitting out the first 11 games with a pulled hamstring. With an upright running style reminiscent of Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, the 6-foot-2 Starks is a very intriguing prospect with definite every-down ability. He showed enough late last season to seriously challenge veteran Ryan Grant for the starting RB job this season. But with a shorter time frame to mount that challenge because of the lockout, Starks' hopes of becoming a starter from the get-go have probably dwindled accordingly.