It's been a real boring summer for football news, and as well it should be. The Packers moved along with mini-camps and coaches and the GM talking up players and such. We are finally within 2 days of training camp so there is something to actually discuss.
The biggest news is that RB Brandon Jackson has finally signed and will be reporting to camp on time. This is a huge win for the Packers, and Jackson. RB's who hold out from camp come in behind the curve and just never seem to catch up, so it's almost a wasted season. Jackson can come in from the start and learn the system. We still have to get DT Justin Harrell and WR James Jones signed, but I think they will both be finished up fairly soon. The Steelers signed their pick (#15 overall) to a deal already, so the market is set for Harrell, it's just details at this point. Jones is admitedly a project, so I wasn't expecting much from him this year anyways.
Let's take a look at the roster to see what we should be looking for in camp:
With Favre returning, we are set at QB. I've heard all the negative talk about how he's fading and blah blah blah. But he's still the best QB in the division, so suck on that you fans of the rest of the NFC North.
The running game is going to be the biggest key this year. The OL all returns with Clifton reportedly in the best shape he's been in since Sapp cheap-shotted him several years ago. With a year of the zone blocking system under their belts and Colledge, Spitz, Wells and Moll all taking part in the offseason lifting program in Green Bay this offseason, look for the blocking to improve quite a bit. Last year we saw some flashes of what they can do, just need those to increase and be more consistent this season. The running back duo of Morency and Jackson should provide a surprising 1-2 punch. While both have questions around them that neither can be a featured back, but there is no expectations of that. It's a RB-by-committee approach, so they should see equal time with McCarthy going with whomever is hot that day.
The offensive line needs to improve it's pass blocking from last season, and they should. Last year there were games with 3 rookie OL in and the Packers had to use a max protect package far too often. It limited the passing game as only 2-3 receivers could go out at any given time. Easy defense for most teams (except the Vikes, they sucked at pass coverage). Again, given the former rookies now have that year under their belts and a solid offseason, they need to step it up.
The wide receivers are an uninspiring bunch after superstud Donald Driver and surprise 2nd yr man Greg Jennings. Jennings needs to build on his spectactular first half of his rookie season and be more consistant. As for the rest of the WR corps, it's a crapshoot. Jones, as I mentioned earlier, is a project and not really counted on for big things. Ferguson is a waste of a uniform, and the rest of the group hasn't really shown anything. Need to have someone step up their game and show they belong.
With the drafting of DT Justin Harrell, the Packers have one of the better DL in the NFC. After Kris Jenkins was moved to DE, the line overall excelled in stopping the run, being one of the best units in this category over the last 4 games last year. Harrell will add even more interior run-stopping ability and give us unprecidented quality depth at that position. Uber-DE Aaron Kampman should see a similar season this year as his 15.5 sack season last year. Definately the strength of the team is the front 4 (or 8 in our case)
The linebackers are an interesting group. MLB Nick Barnett is underappreciated in Packer circles with many gleefully pointing out his faults. He's been in 4 different schemes in 4 seasons, and he has thrived. Now he gets the same scheme for the first time in consecutive seasons so he should only be better and start turning into the playmaker we need him to be. AJ Hawk. He lived up to the billing last year and should be even better this year. Brady Poppinga is the interesting case study here. He's fast and has that "never ending motor", he certainly has the physical ability to play at a high level, but injuries have kept him from getting there. The constant theme with all of these guys is their less than stellar pass coverage. This is a definate area that needs to be addressed in camp.
Speaking of pass coverage, how about that elite duo of CBs Al Harris and Charles Woodson? These guys define shutdown and the team looks for them to help lead the defense. The nickle back position is a bit sketchy, but the Packers have several promising young CBs in Walker and Blackmon who look to fill this spot. The safties, *sigh*, are another story. After a brilliant rookie season, Nick Collins regressed last year. One argument for that was he had to make up for the absolute piss-poor play of Marquand Manuel. To say Manuel sucked is an insult to hookers everywhere. Many Packer fans hope that Marviel Underwood, who was outstanding last camp and preseason before being lost to injury, steps up as the starter. I am simply hoping that Manuel goes from terrible to average. That would be a big improvement. The safety position absolutely needs to improve this season or we'll be seeing a lot of the big pass plays being given up again.
The punt and kick return units were dreadful last year and need to improve big-time this year. We were one of (if not the) worst kick return units last year. The young WRs need to step up in camp and show they have some return ability. The draft this year was geared towards getting players who were special teams standouts so let's see if that translates to better kick returns and coverages.
I fully believe that P John Ryan and K Dave Rayner will still be our starters. Both are young guys who will only get better and both have loads of potential.
There's my pre-camp thoughts on the team. We have a lot of question marks, but certainly we have some solid bases to build around. Let's hope for no major injuries and that Harrell and Jones sign soon. Go Pack!