Packer Report's Bill Huber climbed aboard Chris Mortensen's bus following Tuesday morning's practice and asked the ESPN football analyst about the Packers and the NFC North. Green Bay was the fourth stop on his 21-team, 24-day tour.
Sweet ride, Chris. Tell me about the tour. You've wanted to do this for a while, right?
Mortensen: Summer of 2006 was Roger Goodell's election as commissioner. Summer of 2007 was Michael Vick's summer, which went into late August. And Summer of 2008 was Brett Favre's summer, which went two weeks into August. Because we have so much live programming, it really cut a lot of training camp visits for me. And then it was like, the ones I was trying to catch up to and get to, you get summer travel delays and this and that. So, I just pitched this idea to them and they loved it.
What are your impressions of the Packers?
Mortensen: My impressions are right along the lines of everyone else's. They scored one of the big free-agent acquisitions of the offseason when they got Dom Capers. Dom's track record, you can't dispute it. Usually, there's immediate results. It's funny, talking to some of the players, his playbook is kind of like what you used to hear from Rams players when Mike Martz coached the offense. It's really unusual. It's obviously complicated. He demands a lot from them. Ted Thompson drafted B.J. Raji; Cullen Jenkins, if he can come back from injury; it's nice that Harrell is starting to come around. Obviously, Aaron Kampman has to make the biggest adjustment but Jason Taylor had to make that adjustment in Miami. He hated the idea, and eventually, he embraced it. The other thing is, there's a hybrid to it. He'll be able to put his hand on the ground. Then you have a guy like Nick Collins back there at safety, you've got corners that are still good. What we know about the offense is the obvious: getting the offensive line solidified, getting better in the red zone, and that means getting Ryan Grant cranked up.
Even without Brett Favre in Minnesota, this is an intriguing division.
Mortensen: The division is more intriguing than it has been in years because Jay Cutler goes to the Bears. What's funny about that is it wasn't Kyle Orton who kept them back last year. It was their defense. When you think Bears, you think defense. Love Smith has taken over the defense, literally. He's the head coach but he's the defensive coordinator. Then you've got the Minnesota Vikings. They were the division winner. We know what their pursuit of Brett was, but the bottom line is, they didn't need Brett last year to get there. They've got the best defensive front in football. Traditionally, the best front four in football generally goes a long way. Then you take Adrian Peterson and adding Percy Harvin. Percy Harvin on turf is a huge, huge weapon. The Lions, they're not going 0-16. They've added pieces. I like Jim Schwartz. They've got a plan. I don't think they're not delusional, though. They're going to be interesting. Daunte Culpepper really has lost 30 pounds and he's done well. Matthew Stafford, I know some people that were skeptics about Matthew Stafford in the organization. Now that he's been there, they're no longer skeptics. They're very excited about him. But right now, you would say it's a three-horse race with the Vikings, Packers and Bears.
You talk to teams around the league. What is the feeling you get about Green Bay bouncing back?
Mortensen: We all know the statistic that every year, there's five teams that made the playoffs the year before aren't making it and five new teams are going to make it. There's a little bit of a consensus that the Packers and the Bears are going to be one of those teams — or maybe both of them — that turn around and make the playoffs. I think people think the Cowboys might turn around and make the playoffs. Cowboy haters will not agree with that. And I just visited the Saints and it's the same feeling there, where you forget they didn't make the playoffs. Nationally, when people look at it, I think they're curious that if Dom Capers can pull this off, players buy in, then I think there's a strong sense that this team will win 10, 11 games.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.