With team workouts in full swing this week, the Packers have begun preparations for the 2012 season. So, which Packers stand to gain the most from the league's first full offseason since 2010? Here are four names to consider:
Alex Green, RB
By all indications at the end of the 2011 season, Green was ahead of schedule in his recovery from a season-ending knee injury. Before suffering a torn ACL in an Oct. 23 game at Minnesota, the Packers had plans to increase Green's role in the backfield. With no ill-effects from the injury, he should get a shot this season.
Green, a third-round pick a year ago, is a much different back than anyone on the roster. Even at 225 pounds, he combines a shiftiness and ability as a receiver out of the backfield that could give an already-potent offense a dimension it lacked last year.
Headed into the draft, Green joins James Starks and Brandon Saine as the only pure running backs on the roster. Ryan Grant, who had the longest gains as a runner and receiver for the Packers' backfield last season, remains a free agent.
Davon House, CB
House stood up well for a rookie last training camp in covering the Packers' talented receivers, but was buried on the depth chart during the regular season. He played in just two games and was inactive for 13 others (including the playoffs).
House's size (6-0, 195) is a big asset. If he can make strides in the Packers' defensive playbook this offseason, he will have a chance to contribute considering the multiple-receiver nature of the NFL.
After veterans Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, House will compete with at least Sam Shields and recently re-signed Jarrett Bush for snaps as an extra defensive back. Shields and Bush split time in the Packers' nickel defense in the last game of the season against the New York Giants. The Packers also have Brandian Ross on the roster at cornerback.
If Nick Collins retires, Jennings could have a chance to step into a prominent role. As it stands, he already has beaten the odds.
Jennings was a surprise roster selection coming out of training camp last season as a rookie free agent out of Arkansas State. But he made the most of his preseason action – recording 15 tackles and an interception – and then saw action in 15 regula-season games, participating exclusively on special teams.
Without Collins, Jennings most likely assumes the No. 3 safety position behind Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah. But Peprah played poorly as a starter in 2011, which could open the door for Jennings, Anthony Levine or what would most likely be a draft pick at the position.
Vic So'oto, OLB
Physically, So'oto would appear to have all the tools to thrive as an outside linebacker in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. But he will have to continue his progress in learning the nuances of the position to be considered a contender for a starting spot.
So'oto never really played outside linebacker at BYU, but the Packers saw traits in him to make him a rookie free agent signing in 2011. Despite not having an offseason because of the lockout, he played well enough in the preseason to earn a roster spot.
Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene put in extra time last season with So'oto and fellow rookie Jamari Lattimore to keep each up to speed. So'oto saw more time on the field during the second half of the season only as his special teams play improved.
While all the draft talk is centered on the Packers taking an outside linebacker to help Clay Matthews, So'oto might have the best chance among the current players on the roster to give the pass rush a spark.
OTHER SECOND-YEAR PLAYERS (including those on the practice squad or injured reserve a season ago):
Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley, WRs – Practice squad players a year ago, they could push for a sixth receiver spot or a cheaper alternative for Donald Driver if the Packers choose to go that way. The 6-foot-4 Gurley could have signed with the Vikings last season, but choose to stay on the Packers' practice squad instead. Ditto with Borel being offered a shot at the Buccaneers' active roster.
Randall Cobb, WR – For the most part he played wise beyond his years in 2011. He has has room to grow but fits in with the Packers' talented receiving corps.
Ray Dominguez, G – The biggest of the Packers' offensive linemen at 334 pounds. He was called up from the practice squad to the active roster a year ago after Chad Clifton went down Week 5 at Atlanta.
Lawrence Guy, DE – Concussion problems put him on injured reserve for all of 2011. He is still a long shot but at least has a chance along this Packers'defensive line.
Jamari Lattimore, OLB – Showed some pass rush ability in training camp last year, but might need to get bigger (just 230 pounds) to compete at outside linebacker.
Brandon Saine, RB – Could have been included among those who stand to make the biggest gains had he not come on so strong at the end of last year. He played in eight games after starting the season on the practice squad.
Derek Sherrod, T/G – First-round pick in 2011 saw his development hampered by taking reps at guard and tackle last training camp. He saw extensive action in three games at tackle a season ago. His offseason will be one of recovery from a broken leg suffered on Dec. 18 at Kansas City.
Ryan Taylor and D.J. Williams, TEs – Neither saw much action on offense, but that they both made the squad along with three other tight ends last year speaks to their ability. Taylor improved throughout 2011. Williams has more to gain this offseason and is a more-gifted pass receiver.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org