Mike Vandermause column: 6 Packers who need to step up this season

Mike Vandermause
Press-Gazette Media

Datone Jones has heard the whispers that he didn’t do enough last season to live up to his first-round draft status.

Jones saw limited action in defensive subpackages and produced just 3½ sacks during his rookie season, a far cry from the expectations for the No. 26 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

“Last year, I probably was getting a lot of heat,” said Jones, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive end out of UCLA.

He readily admits it was frustrating not seeing much action on first and second downs.

“Yeah, I’m a competitor,” he said. “It should hurt anybody that’s not playing. If you’re not playing, then you should look yourself in the mirror and want to get out there and compete and help the team win ballgames. That’s just the attitude I’ve been in, and it hurt. It hurt watching it.”

Jones is determined to make things right in 2014 and is convinced things will be different.

“One thing I do want people to know is I’m not satisfied, and I’m ready to progress and I’m ready to keep going so we can win big games here,” he said.

Jones isn’t alone in feeling a sense of urgency to step up this year and make a significant contribution after a lackluster 2013 season.

For six players who were plagued by either injuries or ineffectiveness, the upcoming season will serve as a chance for redemption. Or to put it another way, it’s time to put up or shut up.

Datone Jones

He refuses to make excuses despite suffering a training camp ankle injury that bothered him for months. Coaches say it hampered his impact, especially after Jones showed flashes of stellar play early in camp.

“I don’t like using any excuses or anything that’s going to handicap my game,” Jones said. “All I can tell you is that I know myself and I’m going to get better.”

B.J. Raji

He would just as soon forget 2013, arguably his least effective pro season despite being in a contract year.

Raji reportedly turned down a lucrative $8 million per year offer from the Packers before the season, then was a disappointment on the field in failing to live up to his status as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 draft.

The Packers are partly to blame for not using Raji much at his most effective position — nose tackle — but are bound and determined not to make that mistake again.

Raji, who signed a modest one-year unrestricted free agent contract to return to Green Bay, needs to prove himself in order to earn a better contract next year, either here or elsewhere.

“You can take that how you want to take it,” Raji said. “I just thought this was the best opportunity for me, this year. I believe going back inside and doing some things I am accustomed to doing a few years back, I just felt like this is a good move for me.”

Nick Perry

The Packers’ list of under-performing first-round draft picks is growing, and Perry’s name shows up because he hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug during his first two seasons.

He was drafted No. 28 overall to play outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and serve as a pass-rushing threat. While Perry has enjoyed his moments, they have been too few and far between.

The Packers couldn’t afford to wait around for Perry to get healthy, so Julius Peppers and Mike Neal are ahead of him on the pass-rushing depth chart.

That could make it difficult for Perry to emerge if he doesn’t get enough opportunities to put his skills on display.

Derek Sherrod

This is the case of yet another first-round draft pick who has failed to live up to his billing, primarily due to a broken leg suffered during his rookie season in 2011.

But Sherrod didn’t threaten to grab a starting job before the injury, and it’s very possible he will be destined for a career as a backup.

That’s not what the Packers had in mind when they selected Sherrod at No. 32 overall. It wouldn’t be a complete shock if doesn’t make the roster this season.

Jerel Worthy

The defensive end was taken in the second round in 2012 at No. 51 overall, but like Sherrod suffered a devastating injury as a rookie and hasn’t been the same.

Even before suffering a torn ACL near the end of his rookie season, Worthy looked like he had a ways to go. Now he’s going to need to pull out all the stops just to land a spot on the 53-man roster.

Johnathan Franklin

Fourth-round running backs come and go, and there is no guarantee Franklin will be at full capacity this season after suffering a season-ending neck injury as a rookie last season.

His lone bright spot came in the second half at Cincinnati when he rushed for more than 100 yards. But there has to be more where that came from in order for Franklin to stick around on a roster brimming with running back talent.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com or follow him on Twitter @mikevandermause.