Bill Huber: This area is where the Packers are clearly better team than a year ago. What a difference one guy makes — even a guy who has no chance to start, barring injury.
Last year, the Packers had nothing resembling an honest-to-goodness left tackle after Clifton went down twice with an ankle injury. So in the games against the Vikings, Jared Allen got to run through guard-turned-tackle Daryn Colledge (at the Metrodome) and around rookie T.J. Lang (at Lambeau Field). If Allen received any bonus money for collecting 14.5 sacks last year, he probably should send some of that money to Aaron Rodgers as an apology for sacking him 7.5 times in those matchups. This year if something happens to Clifton, they can insert Bulaga, the first-round pick out of Iowa.
At right tackle last year, Allen Barbre was an unmitigated disaster in his seven starts. Ray Edwards beat him for two sacks at Lambeau last year. A couple weeks later, Tauscher was ready to roll after tearing an ACL in December 2008. Tauscher's insertion seemingly solved everything that was wrong with the Packers' line last year — with Rodgers' sack total going from 41 in the first nine games to nine over the final seven. If Tauscher goes down this year, Lang — who is seen as the right tackle of the future — will step in.
Tim: Speaking of musical linemen, please explain what the Packers are doing with their defensive line and how the suspension of Johnny Jolly will affect everything there.
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
To start with, Jolly was going to be demoted from the lineup anyway, since the coaches wanted to get last year's top pick, B.J. Raji, in with the starters. Raji's best position is seen as nose tackle, so he'll start at the nose, Ryan Pickett will move from the nose to Jolly's old spot at left end, and Cullen Jenkins will resume his role at right end. At the risk of oversimplifying things, there really isn't a whole lot of difference between nose tackle and defensive end in the 3-4, other than the nose tackle facing more double teams, so Pickett should be fine as he slides outside.
But who will provide the depth without Jolly? Second-round pick Mike Neal, a powerful end from Purdue? C.J. Wilson, a seventh-round pick from East Carolina? Second-year player Jarius Wynn? Or will 2007 first-rounder Justin Harrell be healthy for a change? There are options but nothing certain.
Tim: How is Al Harris progressing and what are the other issues facing the Packers secondary?
Bill: Harris' comeback has been documented on a series of videos on National Football Post. Coach Mike McCarthy said Harris is the only one of the injured players who might not be ready for the first day of camp on July 31, but Harris holds a different opinion. He's busted his butt since tearing up his knee against San Francisco on Nov. 22 but he's 35 years old.
Anyone who watched Favre, Ben Roethlisberger or Kurt Warner dissect the Packers' secondary knows that the pass defense will be what makes or breaks this season. If Harris and Pat Lee, a second-rounder in 2008 who has played in only five games in his career, are healthy and can contribute, a weakness will become a strength. Considering their history, I'm not sure I'd bet on those guys being healthy, though.
Tim: After a very good season turned in by Aaron Rodgers, what is the feeling in Packerland on him and Brett Favre now that it's been a couple of years removed?
Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The fans love Rodgers. The Great Unending Favre Debate hasn't affected Rodgers, especially after he produced great numbers and a playoff berth last year. The big loser has been general manager Ted Thompson. Coaches and general managers without championship rings (and even with them) will never find universal love, but the notion that Thompson ran Favre out of Green Bay — rightly or wrongly — will forever be a bruise on his legacy. There is genuine hate for Thompson among, at least, a very vocal minority.
Tim: What do you view as some of the hidden keys and players to the Packers unseating the Vikings in the division this year?
Bill: I'll give you four quick-hitting keys.
1 — Health. OK, that's an easy one, but it's not the injuries that kill a team but what areas of the team are impacted. Last year, knee injuries took away three of the top five cornerbacks. No wonder Warner threw more touchdown passes than incompletions in the playoff game.
2 — Special teams. The Packers don't have a proven punter. Mason Crosby has been an inconsistent kicker. Will Blackmon, the only proven kick returner on the team, is coming back from a torn ACL. The return units had a penchant for holding. The coverage units had a penchant for allowing big returns. Other than that, special teams are a strength.
3 — Bulaga. Clifton's history says Bulaga will have to play left tackle for a game or two (or four). Some scouts harbored doubts about whether Bulaga could play left tackle in the NFL.
4 — Brad Jones. Clay Matthews, a Pro Bowler as a rookie, is the only proven pass rusher. If Jones can't provide a threat, Matthews will have to beat a double team on practically every passing play. If you can't pressure, it's awfully hard to cover.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.