Young core a key to Packers' success in 2016

McCarthy sees players between second and fifth seasons as important group


GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy is accustomed to coaching a young team, and it's his youthful core that could put the Packers over the top in 2016.

McCarthy said as much in his season-opening press conference on Monday, a little less than 24 hours prior to the first training camp practice on Tuesday morning.

In breaking Green Bay's roster down into three parts – veterans with six-plus years in the league, young players with two to five years, and rookies – McCarthy sees a lot of promise, and a lot falling on, the middle group.

"Those guys will really play a big part in the success of our football season," he said. "It's the way I train them, the way they're instructed, the way I view the roster."

McCarthy has always put a lot of emphasis on second-year players making a big jump from their first seasons, which shines a significant spotlight on three defensive draft picks from 2015, cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins and inside linebacker Jake Ryan.

All three stepped in and played significant roles as rookies, but the consensus is their best football is yet to come.

Same goes for the offense's 2015 draft picks in receiver Ty Montgomery and fullback Aaron Ripkowski. Montgomery's rookie season was cut short after just six games due to injury, but he had shown he belonged in the NFL. Ripkowski is stepping in as the No. 1 fullback now that John Kuhn hasn't been re-signed.

Just as much, if not more, will be asked from the Packers' third-year players. Center Corey Linsley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix already have been two-year starters and will be expected to play more like polished veterans. McCarthy has made no secret that he views Clinton-Dix as a potential difference-maker in Dom Capers' defense.

The trio of receivers from the 2014 draft class – Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis – will be competing at a loaded receiver group with plenty to sort out regarding playing time and the pecking order. Tight end Richard Rodgers has a new running mate in free agent Jared Cook, and outside linebacker and special-teams ace Jayrone Elliott will look to get more snaps in the pass-rush rotation to become a more complete player.

"It's a group you really have to knuckle down on and make sure you're crystal clear about the potential opportunities you're trying to create there," McCarthy said.

Realistically, how McCarthy views the fourth- and fifth-year players depends on their experience. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels, outside linebacker Nick Perry, left tackle David Bakhtiari, running back Eddie Lacy and defensive back Micah Hyde are among those that have established themselves and are considered more like veterans, given their extensive playing time.

Still, plenty of eyes will be on Lacy, as he took a step back in his third year and must get back on an ascending track.

Other fourth- and fifth-year guys are in different places, though. Linebacker Sam Barrington is coming back from a season-ending injury, elephant rusher Datone Jones is transitioning to a new position, and offensive linemen JC Tretter and Lane Taylor got starts under their belt last year, raising expectations should they be called upon to step in again in 2016.

As for the rookies and the veteran group, McCarthy has seen a professional, high-energy approach from the former, and quality leadership from the latter.

"It's great to get started," McCarthy said. "There's tremendous energy in the building. We're ready to get it kicked off here."

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