For the past several years this team has been one of the top contenders in the NFL. This year they are looking to recapture the glory they achieved by winning Super Bowl XLV. General Manager Ted Thompson has made a few roster changes that he feels will get his team over the hump and back to the promised land after back to back disappointing post seasons. This team hasn’t been missing much, and if the few additions made by the team prove able to contribute right away, this team stands a great chance at playing long into the winter.
In this preview, the Packers will be examined on a position by position basis. It will end with a far too early in the year prediction of what you can expect from the team this year. In the coming weeks we will do similar previews for other franchises leading up to the start of the regular season.
Even a casual fan of the NFL knows that the Green Bay Packers have one of the best, and in my humble opinion the best, quarterback in the league in Aaron Rodgers. The numbers put up by Rodgers each and every season enable his team to win any and every game in plays. Assuming he stays healthy, he has missed games due to concussion already in his career, the Packers will once again be in good shape at the most important position on the field.
Concerns are only at the backup quarterback position, where Graham Harrell has yet to impress anyone in limited preseason action thus far in his career. Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have kept their faith in the young passer so far though as they have not brought in any real competition for him in training camp.
Last year this was a weak point for this team. Desperation sunk in as they brought back Ryan Grant, who was coming off injury and wasn’t even on a roster prior to the Packers handing him back the starting role after seemingly everyone on the depth chart started to get hurit. This year they have plugged the hole in the roster with two high profile draft picks, considered to be the top two backs in the draft by many experts. Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and UCLA’s Jonathon Franklin are expected to take over the load from DuJuan Harris. Harris showed flashes of promise last year, but not enough to warrant another shot at starting this season.
Eddie Lacy is a bruising running back who should take over the one dimensional short yardage back John Kuhn and score plenty of touchdowns around the goal line this year. Jonathon Franklin perhaps fits the Packers offense a little better than Lacy, he has great speed and the ability to make a man miss in space. He also has shown that he can pass protect and catch the ball out of the backfield, giving Rodgers a valuable safety valve in the passing game.
The receiving corps will have a new look this year. Greg Jennings is now a Viking, and Donald Driver has retired. To preview this portion of the Packers we must look at the talent that is left in place, and not dwell on what has been lost this off season. The Packers still have one of the most talented trios of receivers in the league in Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb. James Jones lead the NFL in touchdowns with 14 last year, and Jordy Nelson lead the league two years ago and should be back from injury this year. Randall Cobb is a player Aaron Rodgers said “could catch 100 balls every season” in a recent interview with the Green Bay Press Gazette.
Jermichael Finley finally started to show that he could harness his potential in the final half of the season last year. Plagued by drops to this point in his career, fans were beginning to grow dismayed with the talented tight end prospect. However if he can keep his focus and eliminate the drops and penalties, fans will quickly forget his errors and re-embrace him. Being that he plays for small town Green Bay, Finley probably should cut back on his celebrations too, the Packers don’t tend to value those kinds of antics from their employees.
The offensive line didn’t live up to expectations last year. The running game was non-existent. The pass protection was spotty at best, and coach Mike McCarthy has to find a way to protect Aaron Rodgers this year. As the highest paid player in league history, the Packers in no way can afford to have Rodgers getting hit as often as he was last year. Marshall Newhouse has not shown anything more than a backup level of play to this point in his career. However if Derrick Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga can come back from their injuries and live up to their first round billing, the team has a shot at improving its line play. Evan Dietrich-Smith is the team’s center this year, and apparently management is comfortable with that as they have brought no competition into camp.
BJ Raji will be playing for a contract at the end of this season, as he is in his final year. Raji has shown an ability to play at a high level thus far in his career and most likely will be given the long term deal he desires. Ryan Pickett has been with the team for ages now, but he isn’t getting any younger. If he can give the team one more quality year of play, then maybe Johnny Jolly can replace him. Johnny Jolly is set to be reinstated in the league and the Packers have given the once dominant tackle another shot at the NFL as he comes back from drug charges.
Desmond Bishop is returning from injury, and should once again roam the middle of the defense. Datone Jones should finally give this team the outside rusher it needs to compliment Clay Matthews on the other side. With a two headed pass rush, AJ Hawk shouldn’t be under pressure to make plays and can thrive as the average middle linebacker he is, without having to play out of his level. If this unit stays healthy it has the talent to be the heart of this defense.
Losing Charles Woodson leaves this unit without a leader for the first time in quite awhile. Tramon Williams looked like he still was hesitant to play the aggressive style that made him such a promising player prior to his shoulder injury. If he can once again play aggressive football he can reemerge as a shut down corner in the league. Sam Shields has shown flashes of ability so far in his career as he has came from undrafted free agent to a well-known name around the league very quickly. The speedy corner should be able to make an impact this year, he just has to work on blown coverages.
Safety is perhaps the biggest hole I saw on this roster heading into free agency and the draft, yet it is the position the team did nothing to fix. Previewing this position for the Green Bay Packers, it still looks like a hole to me. Morgan Burnett hasn’t shown the ability to make an impact so far in his career. MD Jennings and Jerron McMillan will compete for the other safety position, both having shown flashes of promise last season, but also getting beat in many situations. Bone headed plays also were common for this defensive backs corps, and one has to look no farther than the blown ‘touchterception’ call against Seattle last year. If Jennings had done what he was supposed to and simply batted the ball down, there would not have been a debate or controversy, the Packers would have won that game.
Other than Mason Crosby, the Packers special teams actually played pretty well last year. They kept big name return men in check, and were able to effectively gain position through pinning their opponents back. Tim Masthay is a good punter who doesn’t make mistakes. The hole in the special teams is still Mason Crosby. Crosby remains in the confidence of Packer’s brass despite struggling in every season but one of his career. Game winners, or any other clutch situation for that matter have not proven easy for the embattled kicker. His powerful leg has not helped him on the long attempts either, he has been near the bottom in 50+ percentage the last two seasons.
The Packers line is able to adequately protect Rodgers thanks to the development of a two headed monster at running back. The defense is strong up front, and despite the holes in the secondary finish middle of the road in points allowed. The team will be playing with a lead often, giving its young runners time to shine. The Packers have a tough schedule this year, but they are up to the task.
Regular season record- 12-4
Post season finish- NFC Championship Game loss
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