The Packer Report: Positions

With two dominating preseason wins in the books, we examine the Packers, from quarterback to punter. So far, it's a rosy picture, but a better test awaits on Friday night.

There's nowhere to go but down for the Packers.

Green Bay has won both preseason games, outscoring Cleveland and Buffalo by a combined 38-0 in the first half of those games. The No. 1 offense hasn't punted while the No. 1 defense has allowed seven first downs and forced four turnovers.

So, the Packers are 2-0 by beating up on two teams who won a combined 11 games. The Packers can't be this good already, can they? Friday's game at reigning NFC champion Arizona will be telling. But so far, so very, very promising.

Offense

Quarterbacks: In two games, Aaron Rodgers has completed 13-of-19 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating is a glittering 142.5. He hasn't been sacked, and his accuracy is a direct measure on the pass protection. On Saturday, he completed 8-of-9 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. The only incompletion was a perfect pass to Donald Driver at the goal line. Rodgers has been on the field for six drives. The result: five touchdowns and a drive that died on a failed fourth-down run from the 15-yard line. Matt Flynn appears to be an able backup, though with Brian Brohm's struggles, the Packers might be scanning the waiver wire for a veteran to add to the mix. With Flynn's status in doubt for Friday night, Brohm might get another make-or-break extended look.

— Battle: Brohm vs. free agents.

Running backs: Ryan Grant looks poised for a breakout season after an injury-plagued 2008. He's averaging 4.4 yards per carry in two games and has scored two touchdowns. That burst through the hole is back. But who will be the backups? Brandon Jackson, a second-round pick in 2007, has been productive and DeShawn Wynn has value as a superb pass-blocker, but Tyrell Sutton has been electric. There's almost no chance that Sutton would make it through waivers to sign onto the practice squad, and keeping four halfbacks is a major luxury. Kregg Lumpkin did himself no favors with a fumble against the Bills. At fullback, it's a toss-up between Korey Hall and John Kuhn, with fifth-round pick Quinn Johnson in reserve.

— Battle: Kuhn vs. Hall.

Receivers: With a healthy James Jones, this group figures to take a step forward after a good season last year. Driver has made two elite plays in as many games. On Saturday, with Rodgers scrambling out of the pocket, Driver started to break across the end zone, only to hit the brakes, reverse back to the sideline and catch the ball while falling out of bounds. Pure brilliance.

— Battle: None. Things are pretty well set, with Driver and Greg Jennings starting, Jones as the No. 3, Jordy Nelson the No. 4 and Ruvell Martin the No. 5.

Tight end: The Packers didn't add anyone of note to the offense during the offseason but what they did get is a more experienced Jermichael Finley. At 6-foot-5 and with good speed, the 22-year-old appears to be an impossible matchup. He's caught all five passes thrown his direction in the preseason for 64 yards. With Finley doing his work on crossing routes, it's going to be much more difficult to double-team Jennings on his deep routes.

— Battle: Is multi-tasking Spencer Havner good enough to be the third tight end?

Offensive line: The left side of the line is solid with tackle Chad Clifton and guard Daryn Colledge having strong camps. Questions abound at the other three spots, especially at right tackle, where neither Allen Barbre or Breno Giacomini have proven to be anywhere close to the air-tight blocker that Mark Tauscher was for so many years. Barbre, though, has been better in pass protection during the games, and when so much of the offense revolves around the quarterback, that's what's important. His pull around right end to lead Grant's touchdown run was impressive work.

— Battle: If they haven't been settled, Barbre vs. Giacomini at right tackle and Scott Wells vs. Jason Spitz at center.

Defense

Defensive line: A weakness last year, the top four appear to be a major strength. It's been a foregone conclusion that Johnny Jolly (pictured) would be the key reserve with the addition of B.J. Raji, but Jolly was one of the best players on the field against Buffalo. It's not that Jolly had two sacks, but it's that he wouldn't be denied in getting to the passer. Raji is incredibly strong, Ryan Pickett is a quality anchor at nose tackle and Cullen Jenkins is a force. Depth is a concern, though, with neither Michael Montgomery, Jarius Wynn or Ronald Talley having ideal size and Justin Harrell looking like a nonfactor again.

— Battle: Wynn, Talley and Montgomery for two spots.

Linebackers: This is why the Packers went to the 3-4. There is an absurd amount of depth. This group is so strong that it's been thriving — not just surviving — with presumed starters Nick Barnett (knee) and Clay Matthews III (hamstring) on the sideline. Like Jolly, Brandon Chillar wouldn't be denied in his blitzes to the quarterback, and it's impossible not to notice Desmond Bishop, who is equally determined to get into the backfield when he blitzes. Aaron Kampman might not be great in coverage, but he makes up for it with his pass-rushing ability and physical play against the run. They might not have a do-everything linebacker, but coordinator Dom Capers can mix and match based on situation.

— Battle: Cyril Obiozor, Brad Jones and Danny Lansanah for the last spot or two.

Secondary: It's not that just Charles Woodson and Al Harris are good in coverage, it's that they're such good all-around players. Woodson will be used more than ever as a blitzer, and Harris was superb in run support against the Bills. Tramon Williams is an exceptional nickel corner. At safety, Nick Collins looks like a perennial Pro Bowler. There's a brewing battle at the other safety, where Atari Bigby is strong against the run and Anthony Smith's athleticism makes him better against the pass. Not having corner Pat Lee (back spasms) is a major disappointment after he had a strong offseason.

— Battle: Bigby vs. Smith.

Special teams

Judging by his performance at training camp the last week or so, Mason Crosby seems primed for a breakout season after scuffling along at about 80 percent accuracy on field goals during his first two seasons. Will Blackmon, an elite punt returner, had a 34-yard kickoff return against Buffalo. The coverage units — a major sore point last year — have been superb against two big-time returners (Josh Cribbs and Leodis McKelvin). Of course, the big battle is at punter. With Durant Brooks' problematic hip flexor — which bothered him in college and last year for the Redskins — it appears to be Jeremy Kapinos against the waiver wire. Kapinos allowed 1 return yard against the Bills on five punts.

— Battle: Kapinos vs. waiver wire.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.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.


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