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By CHRIS HAVEL
Next time McCarthy, Rodgers and Co. assemble it’ll be ‘Back to Football’
The Green Bay Packers’ offseason began with a vivid, timely message delivered by an unlikely source. LeBron James sent it loud and clear Sunday night:
“It’s good to be champion!” said the NBA’s greatest player.
Indeed, James and his trusted sidekick, Kyrie Irving, delivered the city of Cleveland its first professional sports championship since the NFL’s Browns did it in 1964.
The Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors, 93-89, at Oakland in an epic Father’s Day Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
In the process, James and the Cavaliers were a study in determination.
They refused to lose.
Down 3-to-1 in the best-of-seven series, James said his confidence never wavered. He didn’t waste energy bemoaning the team’s doubtful circumstances. Instead, he led by example.
James stayed tough. He stayed focused. He didn’t blink. Meantime, the mighty Warriors with Draymond Green and the Splash Brothers – Steph Curry and Klay Thompson – fell silent.
The tie-in to the Packers’ upcoming season should be clear. Green Bay has a great player (quarterback Aaron Rodgers) surrounded by a championship-caliber roster (in my opinion).
A berth in Super Bowl 51 isn’t going to be easily attained. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible.
Packers GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy have built a roster with a singular goal: To win a championship.
On offense, defense and special teams the 2016 Packers appear to be equipped with all it takes – the whim of the football Gods aside – to advance to the Super Bowl.
A handful of key questions must be answered in training camp. It’s that way for all 32 teams in the NFL. If the 53-man rosters were set the league could dispense with training camp and the preseason and go straight to the opening weekend kickoffs.
What sets the Packers apart from most is the fact that they are proven and battle-tested in the most critical areas.
Few teams have anything close to Rodgers in terms of leadership, toughness and skill. He is in his prime. He has ample weapons, especially with the off-season additions of tight end Jared Cook and rookie receiver Trevor Davis, plus the return of Jordy Nelson. This should be a BIG year for Rodgers.
Eddie Lacy’s weighty challenge has been well-chronicled. It will be fairly obvious early in training camp whether the lead ball carrier is up to the task.
Either way, the Packers have had several months to make sure Lacy’s weight and conditioning are non-issues.
History suggests Lacy will be ready when the bell sounds.
It is pointless to speculate about Nelson’s return.
What matters is that the star receiver is on pace for a complete recovery, and that he is expected to be ready for the regular season.
Meantime, if that doesn’t play out exactly to plan, the reality is that the Packers have had an entire year to figure it out.
At some point, skeptical fans and cynical media members have to rely on the Packers’ track record in the past decade. Furthermore, they don’t lack for motivation what with the Vikings capturing the NFC North championship, and all three division foes beating Green Bay at Lambeau Field.
First win the division, and then the conference, for the Packers.
The rookie class should provide an infusion of much-needed depth, youth and talent. The skill still needs to be developed, but that’s what the coaching staff is for. Fortunately, everyone from nose tackle Kenny Clark to linebackers Kyler Fackrell and Blake Martinez look the part.
They appear to be the NFL’s equivalent to “gym rats.” They love to play the game. Their career dominates their thoughts and constantly motivates them.
If these three don’t contribute (injury aside) I will be shocked.
Clark has a chance to make Mike Daniels better and solidify the unit in the process. Fackrell and Martinez have been smooth thus far, but there’s a long way from practice to a live game. The good news is that nothing suggests they won’t be up to it.
Special teams played much better last year. Some of that had to do with Ron Zook’s replacing Shawn Slocum. And some of it had to do with McCarthy’s relinquishing of play-calling duties in order to spend more time improving the special teams.
It’s good to be champion
Ultimately, the Packers want to accomplish what the Cavaliers finally succeeded in doing last night.
As LeBron James said, “It’s good to be champion.”
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com).
Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.