Rodgers surrounded by a few good men

The Green Bay Packers showed Monday night in their exhibition opener that they won't have to rely on first-year quarterback Aaron Rodgers to carry bulk of the load this year, says Packer Report's Todd Korth

In a little more than a quarter of the preseason opener on Monday night, Green Bay Packers fans got their first few snapshots of what is to come in the 2008 regular season. While there will be a lot of focus on Aaron Rodgers, it's obvious that the Packers will be leaning on their stingy defense, special teams and offensive backfield to shoulder the bulk of the load.

Rodgers will be calling the shots and taking a few shots downfield, like he did on his 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver James Jones in Green Bay's 20-17 loss to the Bengals, but the first-year quarterback will have a lot of help.

Offensively, second-year running back Brandon Jackson proved against the Bengals that he is much improved over last season. Jackson rushed six times for 44 yards for a 7.3-yard per carry average. In the process he showed that he can react better than he did as a rookie in the team's zone-blocking scheme and be slippery as well.

Providing Ryan Grant can return 100 percent healthy from his current hamstring injury, the Packers will have a 1-2 punch in the backfield that is necessary to get through a long season and succeed in the playoffs. The Giants' Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw combined to be a textbook example last season.

The Packers have one of the better receiving corps in the NFL behind Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, pretty much the same crew plus top pick Jordy Nelson, that led the league in yards after the catch last season. Plus, Green Bay's offensive line is deeper and a little more versatile between veteran tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.

Defensively, Green Bay's secondary and linebackers is flush with playmakers. If the Packers' defensive line can avoid any major injuries, the Packers should be able to play the field position game with opponents and avoid any shootout situations.

Also, if punt returners Will Blackmon and Nelson can stay healthy, the Packers should be able to get the ball on a much shorter field to work with on offense. Blackmon is a threat for a big runback every time he returns a punt. Nelson showed against the Bengals that he can be elusive with a 19-yard punt return in the third quarter. Tramon Williams appears to be the frontrunner on kickoff returns and also is a threat to take it back anytime he touches the football.

Where does this leave Rodgers? In a good, no-pressure role. He will have plenty of pressure from the media and fans the way it is, stepping in from out of the shadow of Brett Favre. But general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have planned since Favre announced his retirement how to reinforce the supporting cast around Rodgers. In the process, they signed free agent linebacker Brandon Chillar, drafted cornerback Pat Lee and offensive guard Josh Sitton, and re-signed Grant and linebacker Brady Poppinga to multi-year deals.

The Packers still utilize a West Coast-type of offense, but it probably will not be the same kind of pass-oriented offense that the Packers had when Favre was behind center. At least not for now. Rodgers is a very good passer and has demonstrated a strong arm in practice and against the Bengals. For now, however, the feeling here is that the Packers will take it slow with Rodgers by relying on others to relieve pressure.

That's not to say that Rodgers isn't capable of taking over a game. He has done it before in college at California. Though he hasn't had a chance in the past three years to play much, he is more than ready to assume the leadership role that a quarterback has to have in order for the team to succeed. In four series against the Bengals, Rodgers completed 9 of 15 passes for 117 yards with a touchdown and one interception.

"I think Aaron Rodgers did a number of solid things," said McCarthy. "There was a lot of production on offense ... I liked the tempo. The production was there. I liked his mechanics. It was a very good, solid first effort."

Rodgers has been doing all the right things thus far on and off the field. The chemistry between him and teammates appears to be pretty good. He has been classy through the Favre saga with fans and his teammates. He definitely deserved the standing ovation that he received from the Lambeau Field crowd prior to the game. "I think that speaks volumes of Green Bay Packers fans," said McCarthy.

Something tells me that before long, he'll be making the most of his opportunity when the real season begins with, of course, a little help from his friends.

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