Todd Korth: Aaron Rodgers is as ready as ever to start. When Brett Favre decides to retire, or is forced out of action by injury (long shot), the Packers will turn to Rodgers without hesitation. In fact, after Favre sets a few major NFL records, which should be attainable early this season, and the Packers are struggling on offense, don't be surprised if Mike McCarthy turns to Rodgers, who has seemed to connect better with the team's younger receivers on and off the field. Aside from Donald Driver, the Packers have a stable of young, up-and-coming receivers.
DF: There seem to be several questions about the Packers' starting offense, starting with the rushing attack. Which skill players have to step up for Green Bay to make a playoff run?
TK: Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin told me Tuesday that the Packers currently have "no established running back or fullback." The Packers also have unproven receivers behind Donald Driver, a first-year starter at tight end in Donald Lee, and a veteran tight end in Bubba Franks whose confidence has been shaken in the past two seasons (Franks has had a bad case of the drops).
The Packers are counting on rookie Brandon Jackson and third-year pro Vernand Morency to share the load at running back. However, Morency, who has one career start, has been injured since the first day of training camp and may not return until later this month. If the season were to start today, Jackson would be the starter with either third-year pro Brandon Miree or rookie Korey Hall (a converted linebacker) as the starters at fullback.
In other words, the Packers are counting on a number of young, skill position players to emerge, and that's making Favre, who lobbied for the team to trade for Randy Moss this off-season, uncomfortable lately.
DF: Conversely, the defense is given high marks by almost every analyst, and the consensus seems to be that this unit is really on the rise. Why is this the case?
TK: The Packers feature one of the best defensive front seven league, led by Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman and linebackers A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett. Cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson are among the best veteran tandems around, and the Packers have been focusing on buildig depth at the safety and cornerback positions. Former Seahawk Marquand Manuel struggled last season, but probably will be the starter on opening day next to third-year pro Nick Collins.
In an effort to defend better against the run, the Packers surprised many analysts by selecting defensive tackle Justin Harrell out of Tennessee in the first round of the NFL draft. Harrell, who missed most of last season with a biceps injury, reported to camp in less than tip-top condition and has struggled. He currently has been playing with the third-team defense. But the Packers feature veteran defensive tackles Ryan Pickett, Corey Williams and Colin Cole in the middle, and versatile Cullen Jenkins at end opposite Kampman. So, the Packers can wait until Harrell gets into better shape and turns into the play-maker that they feel he can be in the NFL.
DF: Mike McCarthy put together an impressive coaching debut despite a relatively undistinguished past. What is it about McCarthy that makes it work between him and his team?
TK: He seems to relate well with the players, general manager Ted Thompson and his coaching staff. McCarthy is offensive-minded and coached the Packers quarterbacks in 1999 before moving on to New Orleans and San Francisco as offensive coordinator. He gets along good with Brett Favre and always seems to have a good pulse on the team. McCarthy and his staff have a tremendous confidence to coach-up young players as well as communicate well with veterans.
DF: Seattle fans are very familiar with the work of Packers GM Ted Thompson. He's got a great record as an executive from a draft standpoint, but he's also drawn some heat for a passive approach to free agency. What are your thoughts about Thompson's tenure, and which Packers rookie has been most impressive through training camp?
TK: Thompson has been rebuilding the Packers in the past two seasons around Brett Favre. The Packers obviously want Favre to break some major NFL records as a Packer this year, and Thompson has obliged, despite using his first-ever draft selection as Green Bay's GM on Aaron Rodgers. Thompson says he is building the foundation of the team from the offensive and defensive lines out, which is what he has done in the past two seasons. While there are a few veterans sprinkled throughout the roster, especially at key skill positions, the Packers are one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Take Favre and veteran long snapper Rob Davis out, and the Packers are the youngest team in the league.
Of those young players, rookie wide receiver James Jones has been most impressive in training camp. A third-round pick by the Packers this year, Jones has shown an ability to catch the ball over the middle in traffic as well as separate from defenders on deep patterns. He has great hands and has connected well, thus far, with Favre and Rodgers. Jones is contending with second-year pro Ruvell Martin for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart behind starters Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.