Mid-season MVP's

Driver, Kampman are top players so far; good and not-so-good surprises

Halfway through the 2006 season and the Green Bay Packers are 3-5. Looking back at losses to St. Louis, New Orleans and Buffalo, this season already has a taste of what could've been? Each of those games the Packers could've/should've won, but found ways to lose. Honestly, we weren't expecting much from this group this season. Not with a rookie head coach and little talent.

However, in some ways this team has teased us into thinking it could be at least 4-4. It's been an up-and-down season with many things going right and wrong. The right things are players like Aaron Kampman and Greg Jennings. The bad things are like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Below is a look back at the halfway point of the season. We'll look at the surprises good and bad, top rookies and MVPs of the team so far.

Brett Favre can always be the pick, but let's go with Donald Driver. Despite not having any proven wide receiver to start the season, Driver has continued to be Favre's go-to guy with team highs in catches (50) and yards (447). If Driver continues his pace, he'll become the third player in team history to catch 100 passes in a season, joining Sterling Sharpe and Robert Brooks.

Any doubt it's Aaron Kampman? Many raised their eyebrows when the Packers signed Kampman to a $21 million deal in the off-season. Now, it looks like a bargain. Kampman leads the NFL with 9 1/2 sacks and has truly worked his way into the penthouse among top defensive ends. He always could play the run, now he's lethal as a pass rusher. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the second half as teams focus more and more on him.

Ahh, let's see. Greg Jennings or Greg Jennings? There's nobody else, although guards Jason Spitz and Daryn Colledge get better week by week. Jennings has given Favre a true No. 2 receiver, who can strike for the big play (17.2 yards per catch). Once on pace to break Sharpe's rookie record for catches (55), Jennings has been slowed in recent weeks with an ankle injury. Nonetheless, the 37th pick in the draft is proving to be a rookie star. Imagine the passing game without this kid. Yikes!

This is as easy as picking Jennings for the rookie offensive MVP. Linebacker A.J. Hawk leads the team with 73 tackles and rarely makes a mistake. Has he displayed big-play potential all the time? No, but Nick Barnett is positioned to be the impact linebacker on this defense. Hawk will get better every week and be a star in short time.

-- The kicking game. The Packers didn't re-sign Ryan Longwell and they cut B.J. Sander. In their place, the Packers selected unproven kicker Dave Rayner and punter Jon Ryan. Both have done well. Rayner is 12 of 16 in field goal attempts, and was jipped out of a team-record 55-yard field goal in Miami via penalty. He's been steady. Ryan is averaging 45.9 yards per punt, which would look better if his net wasn't 34.8.

-- Running game. After a rough start in the zone-blocking scheme, the Packers have had three different running backs rush for 100 yards in a game, and Ahman Green has a string a three straight 100-yard games entering this weekend's game at Minnesota. Furthermore, Green is on pace for another 1,000-yard season and that was certainly not a guarantee after suffering a season-ending tendon injury last year.

-- Brett Favre. Although he threw two INTs last week, he has just seven halfway through the season. He has displayed discipline this season, something he lacked last year.

-- Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. He continues to be a non-factor on a weekly basis. Yeah, maybe he makes a play here and there but he's not an asset on defense. He has three sacks.

-- Bubba Franks. He has taken a backseat to David Martin as the receiving tight end. Franks has 12 catches for 123 yards. No longer is he a threat in this passing game.

-- Marquand Manuel. The Packers inked him to a five-year, $10 million deal to replace Mark Roman and who does he remind us of? Mark Roman. He misses tackles and is late on pass coverage. Why five years for this guy?

-- Special teams. The coverage units stink. No other way to say it. If the units don't improve in the second half, Mike Stock has to go. As a special teams coach he hasn't figured a way to cover a kick (see Ryan's net punting average) or produce a good return.

Doug Ritchay

Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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