Hawks in the NFL: Packing a punch

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JULY 07, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Green Bay Packers came painfully close to reaching the Super Bowl last season, blowing a 16-0 lead to Seattle in the NFC Championship.

Now, ahead of 2015, they have reloaded heading into training camp. With the team still young on defense, two ex-Hawks will play key roles and are still bargains on their  contracts.

On offense, the team is as stacked as ever. Re-signing wide receiver Randall Cobb on a hometown discount was a major break for the Packers, as was bringing back a staple on their offensive line.

Micah Hyde, DB

The biggest concern for the Packers in 2015 is in its secondary. They lost cornerbacks Davon House and Tramon Williams to free agency in the off-season, meaning that young players will be expected to fill big roles.

Last summer, Hyde made the position switch from corner, where he played at Iowa and his rookie year in Green Bay, to what appears to be physically a better fit for him at free safety.

He is expected to back up Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the position, but he brings versatility and depth to a team that desperately needs it. If injuries visit Clinton-Dix or strong safety Morgan Burnett, expect Hyde to give the Packers relative peace of mind.

The Packers picked two cornerbacks early in this year’s draft and expect both to see action early. But if either of them struggles in camp, don’t be shocked if McCarthy goes with Hyde as a nickel back, charged with handling slot receivers.

Although his move to safety largely revolved around his perceived physical shortcomings in covering teams’ top receivers — his biggest asset may come as a punt returner.

The 24-year-old had two touchdown returns last season and one as a rookie in 2013 — allowing Cobb to focus solely on receiving duties.

With a solid training camp, Hyde can increase his role on defense, but his versatility makes him an asset to the team.

Bryan Bulaga, OT

The Packers’ first-round pick in the 2010 draft signed a five-year, $33.75 million contract after the season, making him the 24th highest-paid tackle in the league.

Teams were reluctant to give the former Hawk big money as a free agent because of his injury history (he missed half of 2012 and all of 2013 with an ACL tear).

But Bulaga stayed healthy last season and proved to be a mainstay on what turned out to be one of the league’s best offensive lines.

Given the importance of reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, protecting him is of the utmost importance. And with the presence of third-year back Eddy Lacy, the Packers’ running game has the potential to be elite — creating what quite possibly could be a historic offensive campaign for the Pack in 2015.

When on the field, Bulaga has steadily improved into one of the better tackles in the NFL, putting the strength and athleticism the team saw in him as a prospect on full display.

For him, the main concern in training camp is avoiding injury — something that seems to have plagued the Packers in the Mike McCarthy era.

Mike Daniels, DE

Green Bay took Daniels in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, and he hasn’t disappointed the Packers. Now entering his fourth year, he has a starting spot at defensive end all but locked up.

In the team’s 3-4 defensive scheme, most of the pass rush comes from the linebackers — particularly those on the outside such as Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers.

But those in front still battle for control of the line of scrimmage and play critical roles in attacking the line through twists, stunts, and pure one-on-one battles.

In the running game, Daniels’ spot is key. The middle of the Packers defense is traditionally a weak spot, and it starts up front. Not only will Daniels need to keep his man from getting to the next level, but he will need to penetrate into the backfield as much as possible.

He had 5.5 sacks in 2014 rushing from the inside, and the 26-year-old has to continue to turn his upside into production to maximize his value in free agency — which for him comes after the season.

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