While the team tries to build on its momentum from a strong finish a year ago, injuries and failed physicals have overshadowed the promise shown by some of the team's youngest players. It is still early, but where the Packers are losing players will test their depth, if not reveal their weaknesses.
At positions the Packers have legitimate question marks – fullback, running back, and tight end – at least three players have significant injuries. Two of those players, Brandon Miree (Achilles) and Vernand Morency (knee), cannot afford to miss much practice time as they compete for starting roles for the first time in their short careers. Another player, Tory Humphrey, broke his ankle and will be out for a while, if not the season. The Packers' starting tight end position is basically up for grabs, though longtime incumbent Bubba Franks is still there.
All of the above injuries pale by comparison, however, to the startling news that wide receiver Donald Driver still has an issue with a shoulder that he injured last December. Driver failed his physical and although he returned to practice Tuesday night, any lingering effects would be devastating to an offense already thin on proven play-makers.
"It's a big difference when Donald is out there," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "He's a Pro Bowl player, and he makes plays all the time. What we really missed was his leadership. I thought we've been dead on offense, and to have a spark plug of leadership out here I thought was a big bonus for us."
McCarthy's words speak volumes like Driver's failed physical. Because his shoulder is still weak even after a full off-season suggests he may have to play with it throughout the season. Worse yet he would miss regular season time, which has to be a possibility considering the long-term nature of the injury. Surgery does not appear to be an option.
The Packers have downplayed Driver's injury, but deep down they have to be worried. They have virtually no chance to improve offensively without Driver. Though they have a group of young receivers that are showing promise, none have significant game action with Brett Favre, nor do they provide him a security blanket like Driver.
A year ago, even with Driver a marked man by opposing defenses, the wiggly receiver had the best year of his eight-year career. He caught 92 passes for 1,295 yards (14.1 yards per catch) and eight touchdowns. After suffering the shoulder injury Dec. 10 against the 49ers, his production fell off. He did catch 19 passes over the final three games, but only for a 10.1-yard average with one touchdown.
General manager Ted Thompson has remained steadfast to adding depth the past three years through the draft and by adding young free agents, so this preseason will provide an indication of how his long-term process is working. The regular season, though, will provide the true test.
Thompson did not get a major trade done or sign a major free agent that would have provided an immediate impact this year. If there was any year to make such a move, it was this one. Instead, he added draft picks and is relying on improvement from his young players. It is a philosophy Packers' fans have become accustomed to under Thompson, but now are anxious to see results.
Fortunately, the Packers are set up quite nicely on defense to handle injuries. Unlike the offense, they have several more veteran players and proven play-makers. The depth along the defensive line is good with little drop-off from the backups. More and more, it looks like the defense will have to carry the Packers this year.
As much as the recent heat and humidity in Green Bay has made for an uncomfortable atmosphere to start Packers' training camp, the team has to be sweating for other reasons, too. Not only is Driver's situation unsettling, but there also seems to be much more hoping than thinking going around.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.