GREEN BAY – As the Packers begin retooling their defense, they have a pair of returning draft picks eagerly awaiting the chance to prove themselves after injury-riddled rookie campaigns.
Defensive tackle Montravius Adams and linebacker Vince Biegel were expected to factor into the rotation at their respective positions this past season after Green Bay selected them in the third and fourth round, respectively.
Instead, Biegel missed the entire offseason program and training camp due to foot surgery. The former Wisconsin standout started the year on the physically unable to perform list before suiting up for the first time against Detroit on Nov. 6.
Biegel was a fixture in the meeting rooms during the time he was inactive, which aided him once he was activated for the last nine games of the season. However, the Wisconsin Rapids native still faced a steep climb to catch up midseason.
"I think the most important thing is Vince gets to start from Day 1 and go through a normal offseason," said Head Coach Mike McCarthy at the NFL Scouting Combine. "Tremendous work ethic. He was there the whole summer, every day. When you miss training camp, especially as a rookie, that's difficult. I think he'll benefit tremendously from going through an offseason program."
Like Biegel, Adams' rookie season was hampered by a foot injury that sidelined him for all but two training-camp practices. While the 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive tackle returned in time for the regular season and spent all 17 weeks on the Packers' roster, Adams played only 65 defensive snaps in seven games.
Fortunately for Green Bay, the defensive front proved to be one of the deepest positions on the roster. Along with Mike Daniels' first Pro Bowl season, 2016 draft picks Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry made significant strides in Year 2.
The Packers continued to bolster their front during the first week of free agency in signing Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. With Adams now healthy, Green Bay hopes the former Auburn standout can follow in the developmental footsteps of Clark and Lowry.
"We always look for a big second-year jump. That's kind of been a staple of Mike's program," General Manager Brian Gutekunst said the NFL Scouting Combine. "Montravius kind of got sidetracked with the injury and stuff (but) we expect big things from him."
Biegel, a native of Wisconsin Rapids, managed to get nine games under his belt as a rookie. He played 259 snaps between defense and special teams, recording 16 tackles behind veteran linebackers Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Ahmad Brooks.
Green Bay is set to return four younger rushers behind Matthews and Perry next season in Biegel, Kyler Fackrell, Chris Odom and Reggie Gilbert, who spent most of his first two NFL seasons on the Packers' practice squad before a late call-up.
It also is conceivable Green Bay could address the position in next month's NFL Draft. The Packers have selected at least one edge rusher in six of their last seven drafts.
They haven't forgotten about Biegel, though. As the defense looks to build under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Biegel remains in the Packers' plans for the pass rush.
"He probably will have a bigger first to second year jump hopefully because he's finally healthy," Gutekunst said. "He got back out there at the end of the year, but when you have injuries like he had, it just takes time to get healthy."