Here's what I think I know

What apologies to SI's Peter King, here is what PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence thinks he knows after watching training camp and the preseason.

So, after a month's worth of training camp practices, a scrimmage and four preseason games, what have we learned about the Green Bay Packers?

We won't get definitive answers until the Sept. 9 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, at the earliest. But, to borrow (or is it shamelessly steal?) from Sports Illustrated's Peter King, here's what I think I know.

I think I know Brett Favre will be OK this season. Frankly, I was worried about Favre, who turns 38 in about five weeks. He had more poor practices this summer than in perhaps his last dozen training camps combined. He was awful in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh.

But Favre improved through each preseason game, culminating in a tidy performance against Tennessee on Thursday in which he went 8-for-10 for 82 yards and a touchdown. Give him something resembling a running game, and this Packers offense might score enough points to help the defense win some games.

I think I know the running game is cause for concern. Concern, but not outright panic. Yet. Like I said last week, a running game needs dedicated play-calling to be effective. The No. 1 offense never got a chance to even try to mount a serious running game this summer, with coach Mike McCarthy rightly worried about getting another running back injured and, therefore, choosing to unleash Favre in all four games.

McCarthy has said since Day One that his running game is supposed to be OK in the first quarter, then improve throughout the game until it controls the fourth quarter.

Is the Packers' No. 1 line good enough to do that? Is there a legit running back or fullback on the roster? We'll get some answers against a so-so Philadelphia run defense in the opener. If the Packers can't run against the Eagles in Week 1, then it might be time to reach for the panic button.

I think I know James Jones is just what the doctor ordered. Nobody outside of San Jose State and perhaps his parents had heard of Jones before the draft, but all the third-round pick did was tie for the NFL's preseason lead with 21 receptions. Sure, he made some mistakes — and he'll continue making a few — but for fans clamoring for Randy Moss all offseason to take some of the heat off of Donald Driver, Jones seems more than capable of keeping defenses honest.

Speaking a moment ago of Moss, I think I know the Packers are content with their decision not to pursue him. Moss missed all of the preseason in New England with some mysterious leg injury, and who knows if he'll ever be the dominant force he was about five years ago. The man the Packers wouldn't have been able to draft had they sent that pick to Oakland for Moss, offensive lineman Allen Barbre, meanwhile, looks like the real deal. He's an exceptionally polished pass blocker.

I think I know the Packers' defense will be a top-five unit this season. This group has talent — not one weak link among the starting 11 — and, just as importantly, attitude. They know they're good, and they're chomping at the bit to show the rest of the league.

Because of Ray Lewis, Baltimore's linebackers always will get the most hype. Rightly so, but the Packers' crew of Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga is on course to be the best group in the NFC. Yes, better than Urlacher and the gang in Chicago.

Nobody outside of Green Bay knows who Colin Cole, Johnny Jolly or Corey Williams are, but those guys give the Packers enviable depth at defensive tackle. They're so good that first-round pick Justin Harrell won't have a chance to shake off the rust that 11 months away from the game caused him to accumulate, leading to a lackluster training camp.

Finally, I think I know today's team is better than the one that finished last season with four consecutive wins to get to an 8-8 record. Now, that doesn't mean the Packers are destined for nine or 10 wins and the playoffs. The schedule is a lot tougher, so an argument can be made 7-9 in 2007 would be a bigger accomplishment than 8-8 in 2006.

If there's one key to the season, I think it's the play of the offensive line. This group has received a lot of praise for accomplishing very little in their short time together. If Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Scott Wells are as good as Ted Thompson says they are, the running game will click — no matter who is carrying the ball. If that happens, the Packers will finish a hard-earned 9-7. If not, 6-10 might be overly optimistic.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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