GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson say it every offseason: It is not the rookies who will make the difference for the Green Bay Packers but rather the returning players.
With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks we will take a look at returning players who need to take their game to another level in 2014.
Now, it's inside linebacker Brad Jones.
Why he needs to step up: Maybe we should not have expected anything more from Jones just because the Packers gave him a three-year, $11.75 million in 2013. But if the Packers are going to pay Jones that kind of money, they expected more of a return on their investment. Instead, Jones took a significant step backward. How big? In ProFootballFocus.com's player ratings system, Jones was a minus-4.1 last season. That may not mean anything to those who don’t study PFF's ratings, but know this: The year before he was a plus-9.8. He was especially deficient against the run last season.
What he has to do: At the very least, Jones needs to return to his 2012 form, when he became the starter in Week 7 after injuries to Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith. The Packers thought so much of Jones that season that he took over as the defensive signal caller and played on all three downs. Last year, the Packers made A.J. Hawk their three-down inside linebacker, meaning Jones usually did not play in the dime defensive package.
Outlook: Although the Packers insist Jones' starting spot is not in jeopardy, look for Jamari Lattimore to push for more playing time. Lattimore made four starts last season while Jones was sidelined with hamstring and ankle injuries. Whether Lattimore can earn more playing time this year probably depends largely on how Jones performs in the early going. Jones is entering just his third year as a full-time inside linebacker after beginning his NFL career as an outside backer.
Quotable: "Brad's our starter until I'm told otherwise," linebackers coach Winston Moss said near the conclusion of the offseason program last month. "Brad has fought through injuries as of late, but when Brad was healthy and Brad was dialed in, Brad was playing his [expletive] off."