Age-old question surrounds Packers

With most of the game's most important positions manned by aging players,'s Steve Lawrence wonders if the Packers can remain an elite team.

For the NFL's youngest team, age could soon become a major weight that drags down a promising team from among the league's top teams.

Quick: Name the most important positions on the football field.

If you answered, in no particular order, quarterback, cornerback, offensive left tackle and defensive tackle, you are correct.

When next season kicks off, quarterback Brett Favre will be 38 years old (he'll turn 39 on Oct. 10), cornerback Al Harris will be 33 (34 on Dec. 7), cornerback Charles Woodson will be 31 (32 on Oct. 7) and left tackle Chad Clifton will be 32 (his birthdate is June 26). And don't forget No. 1 receiver Donald Driver, who turns 33 the day before the Super Bowl.

As he did at the end of the 2006 season, coach Mike McCarthy this week emphasized the need to improve from within the roster. With young, talented and hungry players manning key roles up and down the roster, that's a legitimate expectation, but even still, can there be enough improvement to offset possible slippage in play from the old veterans?

Barring the acquisition of one or two powerful, road-grader offensive linemen, the 2008 Packers will again be a pass-first team. How can that offense remain among the league's elite — it ranked second in yards and fourth in points this season — if a banged-up Clifton can no longer handle top pass rushers?

How can a pass-first offense function if Favre finally stops defying NFL history? Last year, the Chicago Tribune's Don Pierson studied the NFL's all-time elite quarterbacks, and noticed how many of them played like they were 60 once their 38th birthday hit. Obviously, that wasn't a major problem for Favre this past season, although his three worst games in terms of quarterback rating this season came after his birthday. Still, Favre had an amazing and inspiring year, but even he can't defy age forever.

How long can Driver remain a No. 1 receiver? This wasn't his greatest statistical season — his touchdown against the Giants in the championship game was his first since Week 3 against San Diego — but his impact on opposing defenses was evident in Greg Jennings' monster year against No. 2 cornerbacks. Driver was the Packers' best offensive player against the Giants.

And what about the Packers' defense? We saw during the NFC championship game what happened when Harris can't handle a top receiver. Plaxico Burress had a field day, and played the key role in the Giants playing keepaway and forcing Favre and Co. to shiver on the sideline. Both Harris and Woodson battled nagging injuries all season. Is that a sign of things to come?

To play successful defense, you either need a strong pass rush or lockdown cornerbacks. The Packers' pass rush is average, so if Woodson and Harris slip from elite status, Green Bay's defense can't be expected to take another step forward, even with such in-their-prime standouts as Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk, Ryan Pickett and Aaron Kampman.

All of which makes this a supremely important offseason for Ted Thompson, McCarthy and the rest of the Packers.

Thompson needs to keep adding pieces to the puzzle — all while holding the 30th pick in each round. McCarthy and his staff need to coax more out of the young players. The young players — perhaps expecting championship games to be commonplace — can't allow themselves to get sucked into the malaise that doomed last year's NFC championship game combatants, Chicago and New Orleans.

Super Bowl-or-bust is a strong statement concerning the 2008 season. But with the ages of Favre and Co., it's not far from reality.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories