Behind Enemy Lines: Lions Pt. 2

Bill Huber of Packer Report and Nate Caminata of Roar Report break down the NFC North rivals in Part 2 of this series. Should this team have Super Bowl aspirations? How good is Charles Woodson? Those answers and more!

Nate Caminata: Well, let's start with the obvious: Aaron Rodgers. His Pro Bowl year yielded some statistical fortitude, but the team dropped four of its bigger matchups in 2009 (two losses against Favre's Vikings, a loss at Pittsburgh and the team's playoff loss at Arizona). Because of the high expectations for Rodgers and the Packers, would anything less than an NFC championship presence and beyond be considered a disappointment? Can he survive another 50-sack season in Green Bay, and is he finally endearing himself to the Packer (and Favre) faithful?

Bill Huber: Getting the easy stuff out of the way, he won't have to survive a 50-sack season because those holes were plugged at the midpoint of last season. And yes, Rodgers has endeared himself. He's tough and he's produced — and the team won last year.

For the first part of your question, I think this team should have championship aspirations. Not that this team is without flaws, but it is without any crippling weaknesses. The quarterback is great, the running back is efficient and doesn't screw up, the receivers make plays, the tight end is dominant and the line allowed only nine sacks in the final seven games and added first-round pick Bryan Bulaga. The defense, for all of its warts in the playoff game, should be better in Year 2 of Dom Capers' scheme.

Nate: Aaron Kampman's name was always that name to be weary of whenever facing Green Bay in the last decade. But he departed for Jacksonville this offseason following a subpar, injury-shortened 2009 campaign, which many attributed to him playing "out of position" at outside linebacker. How big is Kampman's loss to the defense, and who will fill his shoes?


Aaron Kampman
Amy Sancetta/AP Images
Bill Huber: It's a loss but not a huge loss. Kampman did struggle in the transition but he was still the team's most consistent pass rusher, even if that didn't show up in sacks. Even while missing half of the season, he almost led the team in quarterback hits. As far as all-around game, though, the Packers were better off with Brad Jones last year. Even as an undersized rookie seventh-round pick, the defense played better with Jones in the lineup than with Kampman. After Kampman went down against San Francisco, the Packers ranked third in total defense and fourth against the run. By season's end, they were second in total defense and tops against the run. Jones is smooth and fearless and is the steal of that entire draft.

Nate: Green Bay picked up some long-term protection for Rodgers by snagging Iowa's Bryan Bulaga late in the first round. While it's clear he'll sit behind veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, which of the team's other draft picks (or rookie free-agent acquisitions) should we look for? 

Bill Huber: The one to remember is third-round pick Morgan Burnett, who has a good chance of beating out incumbent starter Atari Bigby at safety. While Bigby was (and is) refusing to sign his restricted free agent tender, Burnett was melding into the secondary. He picked off 14 passes in three seasons at Georgia Tech, and he made a big play almost every day during the offseason work.

The only other rookie who figures to see substantial playing time (barring injuries) is second-round pick Mike Neal. A powerful defensive end from Purdue, he might become the main backup on the defensive line if Johnny Jolly winds up in prison or suspended because of charges for possession of codeine. Neal is really strong and has good quickness, and the team is counting on him to upgrade its interior pass rush from the get-go.

Nate: Charles Woodson is a name that, regardless of his current employer, still evokes fond memories for many UM alum. Even at 33, Woodson has managed to inherit some of the same, freakish longevity as Favre, even garnering a Pro Bowl nod and AP defensive player of the year last season. How important is Woodson to the Green Bay defense? Does he show any signs of slowing down, and how much more do you feel he has left in the tank?


Charles Woodson
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images
Bill Huber: Nine interceptions, three sacks and five forced fumbles. Yeah, that's a pretty good season for Woodson. How important is he? Never mind the stats, if you can. He is the prized chess piece in Dom Capers' defensive scheme. Need someone to blanket a top receiver, like Calvin Johnson? Call on Woodson. Need someone to take away the tight end, like Dallas' Jason Witten? Call on Woodson. Is the top receiver in the slot? Call on Woodson. Need a big play by a surprise blitzer? Call on Woodson. He really did everything for this defense.

Is he slowing down? The season will determine that. I will tell you that he weighs less than last season after picking up boxing during the offseason. And he is the smartest guy on the defensive side of the locker room by a mile.

Nate: Ryan Grant has been a solid, productive running back the previous two seasons (almost 2,500 yards between the two). But he is also Green Bay's lone backfield threat. Are there concerns about the tires ultimately wearing thin, especially at a position that takes such a physical beating over the course of an NFL season? Does Green Bay have an insurance policy at the position?

Bill Huber: No and No. Take away scrambles by Rodgers last season, and Grant got 75 percent of the rushing attempts. That figure was slightly higher in 2008. That's an astounding number in a league that increasingly has taken a by-committee approach. The heavy workload hasn't slowed him one bit. In the first half of last season, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry with four touchdowns. In the second half, he averaged 4.8 per carry with seven touchdowns.

The fallback plan is Brandon Jackson, who the Packers love as a pass protector but don't love with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his career-low 58 touches last season. Sixth-round pick James Starks really has a ton of promise but there's so much more that goes into being a running back than running the ball, so I'm not sure how much the coaches will trust him with a marquee role as a rookie.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and Nate Caminata is publisher of Roar Report. If you missed Part 1, click here.


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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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