QUARTERBACK: Starter - Aaron Rodgers. Backups - Matt Flynn, Brian Brohm.
The A-Rodg era officially commenced at Lambeau Field and there has been mixed results. It was the closure Rodgers needed after a month of uncertainty about whether the starting job truly was his. He is more than ready to take over the offense after patiently waiting behind Favre the last three years. Rodgers earned the trust of his offensive mates, especially the receivers, that he can be a dependable leader. Still, doubts hang over Rodgers because he hadn't started an NFL game prior to this season and is susceptible to injury. More uncertain - and a scary proposition should Rodgers get hurt - is what the Packers have in reserve at the position. Brohm, a second-round draft pick out of Louisville, regressed in the preseason after he had grasped the team's West Coast offense quickly in the offseason. He had a propensity for holding onto the ball too long and had a scattershot arm. Flynn, a seventh-round choice who was at the helm for LSU's title run last season, also struggled with accuracy but closed the gap on Brohm for the No. 2 job with his decision making.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Ryan Grant, FB Korey Hall. Backups - RB Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn, FB John Kuhn.
Head coach Mike McCarthy was ready to go with a running-back-by-committee approach last season, but a slew of injuries scrubbed that plan. Grant became the second-half savior, but all the momentum for him to be the star of the Favre-less offense in 2008 ceased when he had a contract impasse with the team through the entire offseason and then the first week of training camp. Grant finally cashed in with the long-term deal he sought, but he was quickly back on the sideline after suffering a strained hamstring. He didn't return until the final week of camp to play in one game. Consequently, Jackson, coming off a dismal rookie season, will share the load at halfback after he became more decisive as a runner and improved his pass blocking. Hall and Kuhn are a formidable tandem as young, hard-nosed blocking backs.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Donald Lee. Backups - Tory Humphrey, Jermichael Finley.
Other than Lee, the position group didn't give a good accounting for itself in the preseason as Green Bay moves on without another prominent veteran, Bubba Franks, who was cut early in the offseason and remains teammates with Favre in New York. The offense will miss Franks' strong blocking skills. Lee posted career highs of 48 catches for 575 yards and six touchdowns in 2007. Athleticism oozes with Humphrey and Finley, a third-round pick from Texas. Humphrey, though, is a health risk, and Finley has a long way to go to master the art of blocking.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - FL Donald Driver, SE Greg Jennings. Backups - James Jones, Ruvell Martin, Jordy Nelson, Chris Francies.
The Packers were the league's best in yards after the catch last season with 2,294. The starting mainstays are Driver, who has four straight 80-catch, 1,000-yard seasons, and Jennings, who was money in '07 with an average of 17.4 yards per reception and 12 touchdown catches. The normally sure-handed Driver was guilty of a number of drops in camp and preseason games. Jones was a major contributor early in his rookie season last year before faltering and enters this season with a balky knee. Martin, twice rejected by the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted player, rose to the occasion as the group's tallest player and had a big preseason, giving good friend Rodgers an easy-to-find safety valve. Martin will have a role in the multiple-receiver sets McCarthy loves to employ. The speedy Nelson, the team's top draft pick this year, didn't make a jump from the No. 5 role but will be valuable down the road as a big-play producer.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Chad Clifton, LG Daryn Colledge, C Scott Wells, RG Jason Spitz, RT Mark Tauscher. Backups - RG Josh Sitton, G/T Tony Moll, G/T Allen Barbre, RT Breno Giacomini.
Consider it another training camp squandered for the Packers, who enter the season for a fourth straight year unsettled with their guards. Injuries to Wells (back) and Sitton (knee) left the coaches playing a constant game of mix and match throughout the preseason. Wells, who missed three of the four exhibition games because of his recurring condition, is expected to be ready for the opener. If so, McCarthy could opt to go back to the preferred starting five of last season, with Spitz moving back to right guard after spelling Wells most of camp and Colledge gaining a reprieve at left guard after he was demoted again. Sitton, whose tenacious play from the start of camp gave him a leg up at right guard, will miss at least four weeks after suffering an MCL tear Aug. 22. Moll, who was in jeopardy of not sticking with the team when he had an abysmal trial run at left tackle early in the preseason, is an experienced fallback at right guard. Barbre didn't do enough to bump Colledge at left guard. The bookend duo of Clifton and Tauscher enter their ninth year as starters, but the physical consequences of aging in the sport are with them and getting through a full season isn't a guarantee anymore.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LDE Aaron Kampman, NT Ryan Pickett, DT Johnny Jolly, RDE Michael Montgomery. Backups - DE Jason Hunter, DE Jeremy Thompson, DT Colin Cole, DT Justin Harrell,
The winter trade of Corey Williams to Cleveland for a second-round draft pick (used on Brohm) started a problematic domino effect for the line, which was a strong suit last season. Pickett (hamstring), the robust anchor, and Harrell (back), who's headed toward becoming a 2007 first-round bust, were unavailable the entire preseason. Pickett vows to get a full week of practice in before he plays in the season opener, though he admittedly isn't in ideal football shape. The run defense clearly suffers when Pickett isn't on the field. Harrell will spend at least the first six weeks convalescing after undergoing a second surgery. The ever-steady Kampman, who has 27 1/2 sacks the last two seasons, will keep offenses honest with their pass protection.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB A.J. Hawk, MLB Brandon Chillar, SLB Brady Poppinga. Backups - Desmond Bishop, Danny Lansanah.
Thanks to Poppinga's responding to the challenge of what didn't amount to much of a camp battle with free-agent signee Chillar by having his best preseason in four years with the club, the Packers have one of the more complete linebacker corps in the league. The hard-hitting tandem of Bishop and Hodge, who missed all of last season after having both knees repaired, also were standouts the past month and give the position quality depth at a time when the team might need to tap into it. Hawk hasn't been on the field since suffering a sprained chest in the first exhibition game Aug. 11. He'll be questionable for the season opener. Chillar, who excels in coverage, would be an emergency starter but also gives defensive coordinator Bob Sanders with Hawk in the lineup the liberty to periodically put his top four linebackers on the field in a unique 2-4-5 look on passing downs.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Charles Woodson, FS Nick Collins, SS Atari Bigby, RCB Al Harris. Backups - CB Tramon Williams, CB Will Blackmon, CB Pat Lee, S Aaron Rouse, S Charlie Peprah, CB/S Jarrett Bush.
Harris and Woodson, who turn 34 and 32, respectively, later in the season, are among the graybeards on one of the league's youngest squads, so their stock as elite bump-and-run corners is in jeopardy of plummeting. Harris showed signs of being in decline when he was overmatched by Plaxico Burress in the NFC Championship Game. Woodson hasn't lost the instincts to be in position to make the occasional big play. Williams, a surprise first-year situational player last season, continues to progress in press coverage and didn't relinquish the nickel spot in camp to injury-plagued Blackmon and second-round draft pick Lee. Collins' hold on the starting job at free safety is safe for now. Rouse, though, is lurking as a ready replacement who has a knack, unlike Collins, to make impact plays. The hard-hitting Bigby flourished as a first-year starter. Bush, who couldn't cut it as the nickel back last season, was hanging on by a thread as the preseason wound down. His saving grace to stick around might be a transition he was making to safety to bolster depth there.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Mason Crosby, P Jon Ryan, LS Brett Goode, KOR Will Blackmon and Tramon Williams, PR Blackmon.
Neither Crosby nor Ryan had competition in the preseason. Crosby wasn't the least bit affected, as he pounded the football far and frequently between the uprights. That's an encouraging sign because Crosby, although he amassed a league-high 141 points as a rookie in 2007, he was just 12-of-19 on field goals from at least 40 yards. Ryan might have been better served with a combatant in camp. He's been too inconsistent with his hang times on his trademark deep punts, and he was susceptible to shanks when he worked on directional kicks. Jansen was in position as an undrafted rookie to enter the season as the replacement for the dependable Rob Davis, who retired after 11 years with the team. Blackmon and Williams have a flair for making things happen on returns - each returned a punt for a touchdown last season. Rookie receiver Nelson, a game-breaker himself at Kansas State, was making a late bid to join Blackmon or Williams on kickoff returns.
Positional Analysis: Green Bay Packers
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