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NFC Central: Green Bay Packers
In the second of five installments on the NFC Central, we take a look at the Green Bay Packers.
Last season, the Packers missed out on the playoffs despite a late season run by the always dangerous Brett Favre. The Packers are upbeat this season after returning 21 of 22 starters. However, they did very little to improve the team through free agency, and are currently relying on a young draft class to add talent.
There is no introduction needed for the Packers starting Quarterback. Brett Favre is aging, and is probably no longer the best Quarterback in the league, but he's still a fierce competitor who gives his team a chance to win every week. Without Favre, this team would have been a lot worse these past few seasons. Doug Pederson was signed to be Favre's backup. Pederson isn't a passing threat, but he knows how to run an offense and control a team in the huddle. However, if Pederson is forced into game action, the Packers can kiss there playoff hopes goodbye because he's definitely not Brett Favre. Michael Bishop and Henry Burris will battle for the clipboard-holding job.
In the backfield, Ahman Green and Dorsey Levens will get time at the Running Back position, but Green appears to be the long-term answer. Add in the fact that Levens can rarely stay healthy, and you'll most likely see Green take the majority of the carries this season. Green had a breakout year last season after coming to Green Bay from Seattle, and is a perfect fit for the offense this team runs. Rondell Mealey will most likely be the third Running Back. William Henderson returns as the blocking back.
The receiving group isn't the best in the league, but they can get the job done. The key will be WR Antonio Freeman, the closest thing the Packers have to a big-play receiver. After receiving a big-money contract, Freeman didn't live up to his end of the deal. Bill Schroeder is a consistent receiver with speed, but can't make things happen on his own. Donald Driver and Corey Bradford are competing for the third receiver spot, while recent 2nd round draft pick Robert Ferguson is struggling to learn the offense, a common thing among rookies in the West Coast Offense. Tight End Bubba Franks has come in to camp in better shape and has hands that could make him Favre's go-to receiver if Freeman can't get back on track. Rookie David Martin will back up Franks.
Up front, the Packers lost one starter, the only starter not returning on the team, Ross Verba. The team drafted Bill Ferrario to replace him, but it looks like Mike Wahle will take that honor. At the tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will return for their 2nd seasons', as well as their 2nd season as starters. Tauscher still might be pushed by Earl Dotson, but it hasn't happened yet. Mike Flanagan will handle the Center position while Marco Rivera will play Right Guard.
The Packers are still weak up front, despite there recent efforts to upgrade the group. Left Defensive End Vonnie Holliday is a solid End, but isn't going to create much of a pass rush. That's why the Packers drafted DE Jamal Reynolds to provide a pass rush. However, Reynolds, like many other Florida State Defensive Ends, are having to learn that they can't just run around Tackles. Reynolds has yet to make a dent in the lineup. John Thierry will start at Right Defensive End until Reynolds is ready, if he ever is. The team will use Russell Maryland and brought Gilbert Brown back after a one-year absence to help inside, and the help is needed badly especially after losing Steve Warren for the first half of the season. Cletidus Hunt will start at the other Tackle spot opposite Maryland, with Brown rotating in often in run situations. Watch out for Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, he's a solid pass-rusher which is something this team is in dire need of.
The Packers Linebackers also aren't a strong group, but they're hoping they can play well enough to not hurt the team. Weakside-backer Nate Wayne is probably the best bunch, as he led the team in tackles last season. Middle Linebacker Bernardo Harris was second in tackles, but more because of the position he played. The Packers drafted Torrance Marshall to push Harris, but thusfar he hasn't played well and might not even be able to start if Harris goes down. Na'il Diggs returns as the starter at the Strong Side, after a decent rookie campaign in 2001. However, Diggs will have to step up his play to keep this crew solid.
The secondary is the strongest part of this defense, but that's not saying much. The Safeties are as good as they come, following in line with a number of stellar Safeties in the NFC Central. LeRoy Butler will play Free Safety, while Darren Sharper is the Strong Safety. Tyrone Williams and Mike McKenzie are the starting Corners, and while neither are shutdown guys, both are solid. McKenzie has improved and could very well be one of the better Cornerbacks in the league this year. Bhawoh Jue was drafted to add depth, but the depth was never the problem. Tod McBride will also be helpful.
The Packers will always be close to the playoffs because of Brett Favre's knack for making plays. However, Favre is aging and this team doesn't have the talent to help Favre get the team where it wants to go. Only a late-season surge last year got them back in the playoff race, and if they fall off early again, it will be much harder to get back into it. The offense doesn't seem to have one cohesive unit. The Offensive Line can pass block well, but struggles in run blocking. The problem is, the Packers need to get Green and Levens moving to open up the passing game. The defense has trouble stopping the run, and while the secondary is solid, the Defensive Line can't create a pass-rush, which will eventually lead to tired Cornerbacks and big plays for the opposition.
8-8, Fourth in the NFC Central