Green Bay Packers 2008 Preview Report

Rodgers

By Andy Benoit, www.NFLTouchdown.com

Predicted: 2nd

2007 Record: 13-3 (1st NFC North)

Head Coach: Mike McCarthy (3rd year)

Roster Quick View

*rookie

**new veteran

Offense

QB: Aaron Rodgers No pressure.

RB: Ryan Grant Led the NFC in rushing over the second half of last season. Wants a long-term contract. Packers would be wise to give him one.

FB: Korey Hall College LB who has performed well at FB. Should be able to keep his job from challenger John Kuhn.

WR: Donald Driver Veteran leadership, toughness and mastery of the offensive scheme make him arguably the most valuable WR in the NFC.

WR: Greg Jennings Lightning in a bottle. Had 12 TD’s and averaged 17.4 ypc last season. Must become a greater possession target in order to take the next step.

TE: Donald Lee Dependable athlete who operates well in the West Coast system. But how much of his effectiveness had to do with Favre?

LT: Chad Clifton Experienced tactician who rises to the occasion in big moments. Not a dominant run-blocker, but very reliable in pass protection.

LG: Daryn Colledge Good fit in zone scheme, but inconsistency in second season puts his starting job in serious jeopardy. Must fend off the more naturally talented Allen Barbre.

C: Scott Wells Classic example of an unheralded cog up front.

RG: Jason Spitz Can play G or C. Excellent power and command when he’s able to get his hands on guys. Needs to show this more often though.

RT: Mark Tauscher Gritty mauler who shutdown Patrick Kerney in the playoffs last year. Sloppy technique, but invaluable veteran wisdom.

QB: Brian Brohm* Has first-round talent and enjoyed three successful years in a West Coast offense at Louisville. Are we sure he’s here to be a backup?

RB: Brandon Jackson Struggled as a rookie starter last year but proved to be serviceable in a third-down role.

WR: James Jones Must avoid another late-season drop-off. Excellent over-the-middle receiver who, when not fumbling, can do damage after the catch.

WR: Jordy Nelson* Will push for the slot receiver job that he manned so well at Kansas State.

TE: Jermichael Finley* Very raw, but has fantastic potential as a pass-catcher. Be patient with him–speed is not quite there and blocking needs work.

Defense

LDE: Aaron Kampman Has recorded an NFC-high 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Also a marvelous run-defender.

DT: Ryan Pickett Overwhelming power makes him a magnet for double teams against the run.

DT: Johnny Jolly Has opened some eyes, though must prove he can bounce back from a serious November shoulder injury that shelved him all offseason. Also facing felony drug charges.

RDE: Cullen Jenkins Can play inside or outside. Tailed off a bit last season though should continue to be an important piece up front.

SLB: Brady Poppinga Must improve in coverage if he wants to keep his job from newcomer Brandon Chillar. Reportedly talking new contract with team officials.

MLB: Nick Barnett Gets better each season. A tackling machine who has great speed and improved instincts. The leader of the front seven.

WLB: A.J. Hawk Somewhat of a ho-hum sophomore year, though he’s still a big, fast, strong first-round talent.

CB: Charles Woodson Turns 32 in October and has a mild history of injuries. Nevertheless, has not yet shown any signs of slowing down.

SS: Atari Bigby Could breakout into a Pro Bowler in 2008. Plays fast and fierce, and has a true knack for creating turnovers.

FS: Nick Collins Fourth-year pro who has not blossomed into an upper-echelon centerfielder. Still, is a very solid presence overall.

CB: Al Harris Renowned press-defender, but turns 34 in December. Plaxico Burress ate him alive in the NFC Championship.

DL: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila Archetypal pass-rushing specialist who has a fabulous first step. Should post around 10 sacks again this season.

LB: Brandon Chillar** Great strength at the point of attack. Will push for the starting SLB job.

NB: Jarrett Bush Not physical enough to meet this scheme’s demands. Only a matter of time before second-round pick Patrick Lee beats him out.

Key Players Acquired

LB Brandon Chillar (Stl)

Key Players Lost

LS Rob Davis (retired)

QB Brett Favre (retired)

TE Bubba Franks (NYJ)

TE Ran Krause (Hou)

G Tony Palmer

WR Koren Robinson

CB Frank Walker (Bal)

DL Corey Williams (Cle)

Favre’s retirement has kind of been a big deal. Replacing him probably won’t be as easy as replacing Davis. Franks hit a wall a few years ago. Robinson revived his career here, though there was too much depth at WR to keep him around. They’ll miss Williams when they realize that their defensive line depth isn’t everything they thought it was. Chillar has a chance to earn a starting job at SLB.

2008 Draft

Rd

Sel #

Player

Position

School

2

36

Jordy Nelson

WR

Kansas State

2

56

Brian Brohm

QB

Louisville

2

60

Patrick Lee

CB

Auburn

3

91

Jermichael Finley

TE

Texas

4

102

Jeremy Thompson

DE

Wake Forest

4

135

Josh Sitton

T

Central Florida

5

150

Breno Giacomini

T

Louisville

7

209

Matt Flynn

QB

Louisiana State

7

217

Brett Swain

WR

San Diego State

Green Bay traded out of the first round and wound up with three crucial picks in Round Two. The headliner is Brohm. There’s no way they intended to snatch the QB when draft day began, but Ted Thompson couldn’t pass on him at No. 56. They didn’t need a WR, but then again, they didn’t need many things. Nelson was too enticing in the slot. Lee is a great fit for the scheme, but he comes in awfully raw. The Packers need him to develop because Al Harris’s tank is nearly empty. Finley is a project while Thompson brings some versatility. Sitton plays RT but could also compete for a job at G. Flynn won a national championship at LSU.

Green Bay Packers 2008 Preview Report

What is it they, say, careful what you wish for? You don’t need to tell Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that. It has long been common knowledge that the former first-round pick would one day face arguably the toughest mission in all of sports: replacing a legend under center. In this case, the legend is the incomparable Brett Favre. Rodgers’s situation is not unlike an aspiring rock artist finally making it to the limelight, only to follow Jimi Hendrix on stage.

Brian Griese and Jake Plummer found out the hard way how arduous replacing a legend can be. But despite the fact that John Elway capped his Hall of Fame career with back-to-back Super Bowls, the uphill climb that Griese and Plummer faced was not as steep as what is in store for Rodgers.

For starters, Denver, CO is not Green Bay, WI. Denver isn’t Titletown, and it isn’t a community that centers entirely around its football team. Secondly, John Elway is not Brett Favre. Both were great, but only one was unconditionally beloved by all. What’s more, when you think of the Denver Broncos during the Elway era, you think not only of No. 7 but also of Terrell Davis, the famed zone-blocking offensive line and head coach Mike Shanahan. Think of the Green Bay Packers during the Favre era and you think only of No. 4.

No organization is as syncopated to its own history as the Packers. While Elway’s club has since moved into Invesco Field and has long forgotten the Mile High Salute, Favre’s club has only immortalized Lambeau Field and its patented Leap. The rich culture in Green Bay is part of what made (makes) Favre the NFL’s greatest star. He truly was (is) the Green Bay Packers.

Whether or not Favre plays in 2008 is anyone’s guess. He’s made it clear that he wants to, but the Packers have been reluctant to say the least. The discussion to be had on this subject is one that has ceaselessly played out on every media platform throughout the summer. The consensus is everyone would love to see Favre play. But not everyone wants to see him in a different uniform (especially not the Packers).

The Packers apparently do not even want to see Favre in the same uniform. This raises another debate: are GM Ted Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and the rest of the decision-making brass crazy? Green Bay‘s supporters reason that the Packers have spent the past four months adjusting to life without Favre. Green Bay‘s detractors argue that it’s freakin’ Brett Favre we’re talking about. And, this team is a freakin’ Super Bowl contender. You know it’s a great debate because both sides seem to be right.

Caught in the middle of it all is Rodgers. If Green Bay‘s only concern was protecting the young passer’s psyche, Favre would be welcomed back with open arms. After all, with everything that’s gone on this summer, plenty of psychological damage has already been done. But the Packers’ trepidation about No. 4 isn’t just about protecting No:.–what number is Rodgers? After all, Green Bay’s not even certain that Rodgers is their guy.

Back in April, GM Ted Thompson used a second-round draft choice on Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm. For his first three years with the Cardinals, Brohm was an ace in the type of West Coast offense that McCarthy employs. Before his senior season, many thought Brohm would be an early-first-round pick. He is not projected to be a backup in this league, which makes his presence in Green Bay officially the worst bode of confidence anyone could have given Rodgers. On a positive note, maybe the pressure of Brohm’s presence can offset the pressure of Favre’s absence. (Doubtful.)

If Favre is gone, Rodgers will still have to win over the fans. Even if the Green Bay faithful are supportive, what about the rest of the country? The Cowboys are America’s team, but Favre was (is) America’s player.

What happens between now and Monday, September 8 is anyone’s guess. The only certainty is that everyone will still be talking about Brett Favre.

Offense

There is more to this Packers team than the quarterback position, believe it or not. Running back Ryan Grant will be an integral element in 2008. With his No. 25 jersey, upright and downhill running style, and vision in setting up his blocks, the surprising star evokes memories of Dorsey Levens. Green Bay’s rushing attack was a cut below inept last season until Grant came along in early November. Over the final eight games, he rushed for 929 yards (second most in the NFL, behind L.T.). He had 201 yards in the playoff win over Seattle.

Grant is playing for the NFL minimum wage this season ($370,000). At 25 and having toiled around the New York Giants’ practice squad as an undrafted player out of Notre Dame the past few years, it is understandable that he’s seeking a long-term contract. The Packers need Grant here long-term. Last year’s second-round pick Brandon Jackson has proven to be more of a third-down back. The guys behind Jackson–Vernand Morency, DeShawn Wynn and Noah Herron–have all had their moments but are nothing more than teases.

Korey Hall has made a nice transition from Boise State linebacker to Green Bay fullback. Hall (236 pounds) is not vigorous at the point of attack, but he’s a very intelligent player who moves well enough to land every block. When the Packers need more of a pounder leading the way, they’ll call on 255-pound backup John Kuhn.

It is a priority for the Packers to improve their run-blocking in 2008. The front five is outstanding in pass protection (only 19 sacks allowed last year) but inconsistent with their zone scheme on the ground.

Heading into training camp, the spotlight is on the left guard position. Third-year pro Daryn Colledge has held down the job the past two years. Colledge is excellent on the back side and he’s a cut above adequate in pass protection. However, he is plagued by inconsistency (especially in ’07), which is why perennially unpolished but constantly intriguing Junius Coston has pushed for his starting job in recent years. This year, Colledge’s biggest challenger is second-year pro Allen Barbre who, like Colledge, played tackle at the NCAA level. Barbre is said to have more raw talent than any of Green Bay’s interior linemen.

Right guard Jason Spitz is serviceable, thanks to his power. If he hasn’t already cemented his starting job, landing firm blocks on a more consistent basis will do the trick. Spitz is actually better at center, but fifth-year veteran Scott Wells is far too solid to supplant there.

Tackles Chad Clifton (left) and Mark Tauscher (right) form one of the sturdiest bookend tandems in football. Both players excel no matter how many chips are stacked against them. It remains to be seen how effective they’ll be if Aaron Rodgers ends up behind them. Both players–Tauscher especially–have thrived in large part because of their fantastic chemistry with Favre.

Whoever is under center will be fortunate to have an outstanding crew of receivers to work with. And whoever it is will also benefit from a system that generates big gains off of short completions. Last season, the Packers led the league with 2,294 yards after the catch (51.5 percent of their total passing yards).

Tenth-year veteran Donald Driver is still the class of the group. Driver possesses the toughness and consistency that demands extra attention from opposing defenses. Given the stability he brings and timeliness of his big plays, it’s not inconceivable that Driver is the most valuable wide receiver in the NFC.

Third-year wonder Greg Jennings is fast becoming Green Bay’s most lethal weapon. Jennings has terrific speed and the quickness to get separation in the offense’s quick-hit routes. The next step for him is increasing his reception total (he had 12 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards in ’07, but caught just 53 balls).

James Jones has shown flashes of brilliance running in-routes from the slot. However, he’s negated many of them with costly mental gaffes. If Jones doesn’t settle down in a hurry, he’ll lose his job to second-round rookie Jordy Nelson. Tight end Donald Lee is an excellent outlet option who always seems to run faster than expected. He’ll have no trouble keeping his job from callow third-round rookie Jermichael Finley.

Defense

Validating Green Bay’s renaissance is a defensive unit that is solid yet ascending in all three sectors. The Packers’ greatest strength is a front line that, when fully functioning, is among the deepest in the league. The headliner is Aaron Kampman, who, unlikely as it sounds, could be the best defensive end in the NFL. Kampman plays with an unmatched motor that makes him a demon against both the run and pass. His 27.5 sacks over the past two years are the most in the NFC.

Opposite Kampman is auxiliary force Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins shows a great combination of agility and strength playing inside and out. He typically slides to defensive tackle in passing situations to make room for speed-rushing specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Jenkins is also relieved by Mike Montgomery on occasion. Neither KGB nor Montgomery can start (the former gets overpowered in run defense and the latter lacks first-rate explosiveness), but both are crucial elements to the D.

The Packers are hoping that they won’t have to call on Jenkins to play inside fulltime in 2008. The possibility exists, though, after the trade of Corey Williams to Cleveland and the questions about the health of Johnny Jolly, Colin Cole and Justin Harrell.

Jolly was performing masterfully before his ’07 season ended in November with a shoulder injury. He missed the entire offseason recuperating from surgery. He also got arrested on felony drug charges. Cole is an upper-echelon backup who will likely rebound from the broken arm suffered one week after Jolly went down. Harrell was the team’s first-round pick a year ago. He, unfortunately, seems destined for an injury-riddled career. Harrell missed most of his rookie year offseason recovering from a torn biceps injury. This past April, he landed on the operating table after rupturing a disc in his lower back.

Whoever lines up at defensive tackle will enjoy facing one-on-one blocking as a result of playing next to 322-pound Ryan Pickett. No longer decried by critics who question his effort, the 27-year-old Pickett is regarded as one of the preeminent run-stuffers in football.

His services are appreciated by middle linebacker Nick Barnett. The team’s top tackler in four of the past five years has steadily matured into a leader and quasi-Pro Bowl force since being drafted in the first round back in 2003. Barnett has sideline-to-sideline speed, though he’s relying on it less and less, thanks to his progressing instincts. Most noteworthy about Barnett is that he’s mean as torture at the point of attack.

A somewhat lackluster sophomore season shouldn’t prompt people to sour on Barnett’s excellent cohort, A.J. Hawk. Hawk–6’1″, 247–is a custom-made linebacker who has top-level speed and a high football IQ. He just needs to make more big plays. Strongside linebacker Brady Poppinga is somewhat limited though still capable of starting. His consistency in coverage will determine his fate. Should Poppinga struggle, the Packers will call on free agent acquisition Brandon Chillar. Chillar is stronger and coming off his best season as a pro. However, having spent his first four years in St. Louis, he can’t match Poppinga’s familiarity with the system.

Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders puts a lot of stock in the man-to-man coverage abilities of his veteran cornerbacks, Charles Woodson and Al Harris. Few players can handle such mountainous responsibilities. Unfortunately, Harris may no longer be one of those few. Thirty-four in December, he is starting to lose what little speed he had to begin with. He was repeatedly kicked in the crotch by Plaxico Burress during the NFC Championship–and Burress doesn’t even have to the quickness to exploit Harris’s limited closing speed. Backup corners Jarrett Bush and Tramon Williams are not capable of starting, and second-round rookie Patrick Lee, while a great fit for this scheme, is said to be far too raw at this point (he might still be frozen). Thus, Green Bay will have to rely on Harris for at least one more season.

This shouldn’t be a problem because, not only is Harris a proud veteran, he’s also playing alongside two good young safeties. Free safety Nick Collins is establishing a reputation as a reliable centerpiece in the Packer pass defense. He doesn’t always take the best angles to the ball, but he’s fast enough to make up for it. Strong safety Atari Bigby is a burgeoning star with an uncanny knack for creating turnovers. Bigby can rattle bones when laying into guys, and he’s capable of disrupting passing lanes (five interceptions, nine passes defensed in 2007). Not to be overlooked is the fact that Bigby is playing for a new contract. As long as he continues to cut down on his mental blunders–such as missteps in coverage and foolish penalties–he’ll garner big money come spring.

Special Teams

Kicker Mason Crosby led the league in points (141) last season, though it’s silly to pretend that anyone cares about scoring statistics in football. What people care about is Crosby’s ability to kick under pressure and from long range. He’s decent in these areas (12/19 from beyond 40 yards as a rookie in ’07). Punter Jon Ryan has a strong leg, and he’s aided by a coverage unit that ranked fourth a year ago.

Charles Woodson is not as dangerous fielding punts as his reputation suggests. His longest return last season was just 34 yards. Backup safety Tramon Williams–the team’s primary kick returner–has more speed and could be a better option here. Williams returned six punts in 2007–one of them 94 yards for a touchdown.

Bottom Line

Not to put any additional pressure on the guy, but if Favre is indeed gone, then Green Bay’s season comes down to Aaron Rodgers. Very rarely does a Super Bowl contending team undergo such a dramatic change at such a dramatic position. If Rodgers doesn’t perform well right away, it will be almost impossible for the Packers to establish championship-caliber unity in 2008.

Myth Buster

Al Harris is a shutdown cornerback

Al Harris is a gritty man-to-man defender who has the demeanor of a shutdown cornerback. Few players are as physical and feisty as the 11th-year pro.

That said, Harris–who attended Texas A&M-Kingsville and began his career in Philadelphia–is not a stopper. Not even close. Unofficially, he was targeted 88 times by opposing quarterbacks last season. He gave up 45 completions and five touchdowns. And he practically matched these numbers in the NFC Championship loss against New York.

Harris lacks elite quickness and acceleration, which prevents him from being a playmaker. As his age rises, so do his limitations.

This is not to say that Harris hasn’t had a very stellar career. It’s not even to say that he’s not currently an above average defender. But his reputation as a shutdown corner is exaggerated. Also, the dreadlocks make him look more intimidating than he really is.

Open Thought

It’s too bad that so many stadiums have built low walls behind the end-zone, thus enabling players to mimic the Lambeau Leap outside of Wisconsin. One of the neatest traditions in all of sports has been watered down and cheaply regurgitated by players across the league.

It would never happen, but in a perfect world, players would be fined and flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct every time they leapt into the stands outside of Lambeau Field.


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