Unit by unit analysis

Projected starters and reserves who are battling for roster spots

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Brett Favre. Backup -- Aaron Rodgers.

Favre has begged to play more in the preseason games than he has in recent years so he can try to get in sync with a mostly young cast of receivers. That is one of the reasons he is playing two to three series in tonight's preseason finale at Tennessee.

Coach Mike McCarthy has played it as safe as possible with his 37-year-old QB, who underwent ankle surgery in the offseason and experienced shoulder soreness during spring workouts. McCarthy's aim is to have Favre turn in his most efficient season of a celebrated 17-year pro career. While a low-risk approach that was instituted last year sliced Favre's interception total from a career-high 29 in 2005 to 18, he had a career-worst 56.0 completion percentage and a career-low-tying 18 touchdown passes. To get those numbers up, a leaner Favre, who is on the verge of a few notable league records, will be moving out of the pocket more.

Rodgers had his best preseason of his first three years in the league, showing off a strong arm and mobility after recovering from a season-ending broken foot. The team appeared to be inclined to keep just two quarterbacks, since it got next to nothing from incumbent No. 3 Ingle Martin and undrafted rookie Paul Thompson. Receiver Carlyle Holiday, a former QB at Notre Dame, was being considered as an emergency backup.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- HB Brandon Jackson, FB Korey Hall. Backups -- HB Vernand Morency, Noah Herron; FB Brandon Miree, Corey White.

The anticipated competition between top holdover Morency and second-round draft pick Jackson for the starting halfback job never materialized because Morency suffered a knee injury on the first day of training camp and has yet to return.

Jackson started the first three preseason games before being knocked out the final week with a mild concussion. He should be ready to start the season opener, though the jury is out on whether the part-time starter at Nebraska can become a productive featured back. The position was in disarray throughout camp. DeShawn Wynn, a seventh-round draftee, hurt his chances to contend for a job when he was out for an extended period with a thigh injury. Thus, undrafted rookie White wound up playing more at halfback than his natural spot of fullback.

A stinger incurred by incumbent Miree cost him the starting job at fullback, where sixth-round draft pick Hall opened eyes with a seamless conversion from linebacker in college. If the team decides to stick with combo back White, Miree could be on the way out. Herron will continue as the third-down back.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Donald Lee. Backups -- Bubba Franks, Zac Alcorn, Clark Harris.

Lee jumped ahead of Franks on the depth chart in the spring, which was construed to be a wakeup call for Franks coming off his worst season in seven years as a pro. Franks did respond with a solid preseason, including a few significant downfield catches in game action.

Lee is considered the better vertical threat but wasn't nearly as productive as Franks and was hampered at times by knee issues.

After losing up-and-comer Tory Humphrey to a season-ending ankle injury at the outset of camp, the Packers have little to speak of at the No. 3 spot. Supposedly sure-handed Alcorn was susceptible to drops. Seventh-round draft pick Harris never stood out. So, it's conceivable the team would look elsewhere for a replacement entering the season.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- FL Donald Driver, SE Greg Jennings. Backups -- James Jones, Ruvell Martin, Carlyle Holiday.

As long as the team has assurances that Driver will be good to go for the season opener after suffering a sprained foot Aug. 23, it was more apt to keep five receivers. Otherwise, fifth-round draft pick David Clowney, a raw receiver, could earn a reprieve after a lackluster showing most of the preseason.

Shaun Bodiford was in good shape for a roster spot until he suffered a severe knee injury returning the game-opening kickoff Aug. 18.

Thankfully, the offense has a playmaking threat in Jones, a third-round draftee. He was the top receiver in the preseason and could be pushing Jennings for the No. 2 job before long. Martin and Holiday are big, possession-type receivers who excel on fade routes in the end zone. Koren Robinson, serving a one-year, league-imposed suspension, would be eligible for reinstatement after Week 2.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Chad Clifton, LG Daryn Colledge, C Scott Wells, RG Jason Spitz, RT Mark Tauscher. Backups -- G/T Junius Coston, G Allen Barbre, C Tyson Walter, T Tony Moll, G/C Tony Palmer, T Orrin Thompson.

Unlike last year, the line has continuity entering the season. Colledge and Spitz survived a baptism by fire as rookie starters in 2006 and join Wells as interior piledrivers in the zone-blocking run scheme. Veteran bookends Clifton and Tauscher are at their best in pass protection. The athletic Coston, who can play all five positions, had his best camp in three years and will be on call for a starting assignment at right guard in Week 1 if Spitz isn't over a calf injury he aggravated in the penultimate preseason game. Barbre, a fourth-round draft pick, looks to be a long-term keeper as a starting candidate at either left guard or left tackle. Moll, a pleasant surprise as a rookie pressed into a starting job most of last season, had a wasted preseason because of a neck stinger and isn't a lock to be kept.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Aaron Kampman, RDE Cullen Jenkins, LDT Ryan Pickett, RDT Johnny Jolly. Backups -- DE/DT Corey Williams, DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, DE Michael Montgomery, DE Jason Hunter, DE Larry Birdine, DT Justin Harrell, DT Colin Cole, DT Daniel Muir.

The team's deepest unit created a veritable logjam for spots on the 53-man roster. Ten linemen likely will survive the final cut. Kampman, Jenkins and Pickett are assured of starting jobs. Jolly, a beast with athleticism, is pushing incumbent Williams for the other tackle spot. Harrell was a projected starter as the first-round draft pick this year, but he never could get more than a cameo rep with the first unit in practice and might be relegated to a game-day inactive early in the season.

Cole and surprise undrafted rookie Muir were battling for perhaps one other spot at tackle. The depth at end is fuzzy because Gbaja-Biamila and Montgomery have been out the last couple weeks with knee injuries. Hunter and Birdine, another rookie free agent who stood out in camp, are on the bubble.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB A.J. Hawk, SLB Brady Poppinga, MLB Nick Barnett. Backups -- MLB Desmond Bishop, WLB Tracy White, SLB Spencer Havner, WLB Rory Johnson.

The Packers are rock solid with young playmakers Hawk and Barnett. Poppinga was a capable first-year starter last season, but he needs to shore up lapses in coverage.

The depth at all three linebacker spots is suspect. However, Bishop, a sixth-round draftee, took advantage of knee problems that likely KO'd Abdul Hodge for the season and is a big-hitting, instinctive understudy for Barnett. White has marginal skills on the outside but is invaluable as a special-teams performer. The last roster spot will come down to first-year Havner and undrafted rookie Johnson, both of whom flashed off and on in camp.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Charles Woodson, RCB Al Harris, SS Atari Bigby, FS Nick Collins. Backups -- CB Jarrett Bush, Will Blackmon, Patrick Dendy, Frank Walker; S Marquand Manuel, Aaron Rouse, Charlie Peprah, Tyrone Culver.

Big-play Bigby made the jump to bump Manuel from a starting job and possibly out of Green Bay altogether. Bigby needs to be more consistent on the back end. Otherwise, there are no qualms with the other three starters, though Collins has to bounce back from an uneven sophomore season.

Bush played his way into the nickel-back spot with his athleticism and ball skills. Blackmon is a keeper because of his kick-return capabilities, possessing quickness and sound instincts as a defender. The last cornerback spot figured to come down to Dendy, who relinquished the nickel-back role, and Walker, the team's only notable offseason acquisition.

Third-round draft pick Rouse has starter potential but is nursing a sore hamstring. If the team indeed cuts ties with Manuel, whom it signed to a five-year, $10 million contract in free agency last year, Peprah or Culver would lay claim to the final safety spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Dave Rayner, Mason Crosby; P Jon Ryan; LS Rob Davis; KOR Will Blackmon; PR Blackmon.

Some consideration was being given to keeping both kickers, but there really is no need because they're strong-legged clones who can handle all facets of the kicking game.

Crosby has a slight edge in a hotly contested camp, and the fact that he was a draft pick (sixth round) could work in his favor to unseat incumbent Rayner.

The booming Ryan has had a prolific preseason, making the necessary inroads in improving his hang time with a new two-step delivery.

Davis, the club's oldest player at 38, remains one of the premier long snappers in the game.

Blackmon, provided he can stay healthy, can give Green Bay an explosive return man for the first time since Allen Rossum in 2001.


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