State of the Packers

Mike Sherman is setting some high goals for his team this season. Sherman recently told Green Bay Packers shareholders that the Packers possess the talent, chemistry and mental toughness to win the NFC's Central Division and the Super Bowl this year.

"Where we're going has never changed in my mind. It's always the same. We have to win our home games. We have to win the NFC's Central Division. We have to win the NFC Championship, and we have to win the Super Bowl.

"If you play your cards right. If you play smart and don't beat yourself like we have in the past, who knows what could happen?" said Sherman, the team's second-year coach and new general manager.

Sherman spent about 35 minutes in front of about 2,000 shareholders July 11 in the Brown County Arena in Green Bay breaking down the Packers by position, complete with depth charts that were projected on two large screens. Here's how he described the team as it inches closer to the start of training camp on July 28:

Offensive line: The line is as experienced as it has been in recent years. It could include two new starters, but they are familiar faces. Mike Flanagan enters camp as the starter at center ahead of veteran Frank Winters. Mike Wahle is the starter at left guard for the departed Ross Verba, but Wahle will be pushed by rookie Bill Ferrario from the University of Wisconsin.

Right guard Marco Rivera, left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Mark Tauscher are the other starters. Veteran Earl Dotson will be pushing for playing time behind Tauscher.

"I believe we're as strong as we've been, even stronger in the offensive line than when we went to the Super Bowl in '96 and '97," said Sherman. "I believe this group of men are tireless workers and athletic. They're a young group."

Tight ends: The Packers are suddenly thin at this position. Second-year pro Bubba Franks is the starter, but the Packers are scrambling to find a replacement for Tyrone Davis. Davis recently underwent surgery to repair his torn right hamstring. Davis suffered the injury in the June minicamp and may miss at least half of the season, if not the entire season.

"That will take some time to come back," said Sherman. "At what point he will be available to us, if at all, I can't really say right now."

The Packers were impressed with rookie sixth round pick David Martin, but Martin will have to display sufficient blocking skills in training camp in order to see any playing time this year.

Other top reserves include Adam Newman, who played in NFL Europe this spring, and Jason Freeman, who was on Tampa Bay's practice squad last year.

Running backs: Barring an injury, Ahman Green will start at running back and William Henderson at fullback. Both are coming off their best seasons as pros.

Dorsey Levens' fate won't be known until the pads go on. If he can hold up, he will be a valuable back up to Green. Levens' full participation in the June minicamp was a good sign that he may have overcome the soreness in his arthritic right knee. Snider will likely return to play behind Henderson. The fifth spot will be up for grabs between De'Mond Parker, Rondell Mealey and Herbert Goodman. Whoever plays well on special teams will probably get the nod, according to Sherman.

Quarterbacks: The Packers have reportedly agreed to terms of a contract with free agent Billy Joe Tolliver and are expected to announce his signing this week. Tolliver will compete with Doug Pederson for the No. 2 spot behind Brett Favre.

Henry Burris likely has the No. 3 spot nailed down because of his great arm strength and potential.

The Packers traded Matt Hasselbeck to Seattle in order to move up in the first round of the April NFL draft. Green Bay used the 10th overall pick on Florida State defensive end Jamal Reynolds.

"We took a calculated risk by trading Matt Hasselbeck to improve our team," Sherman said. "We weren't waiting to play Matt five years down the road. We want to win now, and we needed a pass rusher. By trading Matt Hasselbeck allowed us to get a top 10 pick and get a pass rusher. If we had stayed where we were, the player we would have chosen would have been an offensive guard, the same player Mike Holmgren took at Seattle (Steve Hutchinson)."

Wide receivers: "I believe we added depth," Sherman said.

Sherman explained by citing the addition of Texas A&M's Robert Ferguson through the draft and a healthy Corey Bradford.

Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder are expected to start. Donald Driver and Charles Lee will be pushing for playing time/roster spot, depending on if the Packers keep five or six receivers.

"I feel that group collectively has improved to the point where we can be competitive, and hopefully give Brett Favre the targets that he needs to executive out offense," Sherman said.

Defensive line: This should be the team's most improved position this season. Each position on the line is packed with experience. The new additions of rookie Jamal Reynolds, and veterans Jim Flanigan and Gilbert Brown offset the injuries to tackles Santana Dotson and Steve Warren.

Sherman said Dotson may be able to play or practice in the preseason, and could start by the Sept. 9 opener against Detroit.

Ends Vonnie Holliday and John Thierry are coming off off-season surgeries, which raises some concern, but the speed of the line should be improved nonetheless.

Linebackers: Expect the Packers to draft a linebacker high in the 2002 NFL draft. The team returns its starters in middle linebacker Bernardo Harris, strongside linebacker Na'il Diggs and weakside linebacker Nate Wayne, but the talent level drops off from there.

Middle linebacker Torrence Marshall is the exception. The rookie third-round pick was considered by many draft experts as a steal in the recent draft. Sherman and his staff have been impressed by Marshall's talent thus far in minicamps.

"I feel good about the backups, but we probably need to find another 'mike' (middle) linebacker to help us get through (training) camp," Sherman said. "But we don't have tremendous depth at this position in my mind."

Secondary: The Packers have one of the finer secondaries in the NFC. It got better when Green Bay selected Penn State cornerback Bhawoh Jue in the NFL draft this year. Jue adds size and quickness to the secondary, which will allow backup Antuan Edwards to focus on the safety position.

Sherman said the secondary should improve because "the pass rush has improved in the last couple of months."

Special teams: Punter Josh Bidwell will have to have a good preseason, or he could lose his job to rookie Kevin Stemke. Sherman said that he plans to sign a veteran punter as well in training camp.

"Punting is a lot like golf," Sherman said. "There so much of a mental part of the game that (Bidwell) has to grow in to. I feel like he will, but we don't have time to wait. That has to happen fast in the preseason, but he'll have competition."

Packer Report Top Stories