Quest for ultimate prize begins in earnest Thursday when Packers kick off season
By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It is finally here.
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The long-anticipated, much-awaited quest to win a Super Bowl begins Thursday when the Packers open training camp.
The Packers’ stretch run after Aaron Rodgers’ bold statement about running the table is one reason. Another perhaps more substantial reason for optimism is the recent offseason.
Clearly, the team’s fortunes rest with the quarterback.
That’s good news because Rodgers, 33, appears to be in a terrific place both physically and mentally. He knows what the goal is and the obstacles are. He will be counted upon to be the steadying, spectacular force that he’s been for forever.
Rodgers’ seemingly grand offseason mirrored his teams’.
Packers GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy seem to have significantly upgraded the talent and depth on the defensive side. They also placed considerable resources into the tight end, running back and defensive line positions.
Frankly, I’m always optimistic about any season with Rodgers as the starting quarterback. Beyond that, though, I’m especially excited because of the acquisitions of Davon House, Ricky Jean Francois, Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Jahri Evans.
That is a lot of experience, talent and desire to incorporate in just one offseason by only adding five players. It isn’t how many free agents a team signs that matters. What counts is which free agents are signed.
Do they blend in with the current stars?
Bennett, Kendricks and Evans are all in with Rodgers. In fact, the quarterback is a big reason they came here.
House’s second time around should be better. He is valuable either as a starting cornerback, or a perimeter corner in the nickel and dime sub-packages.
An excitable Jean-Francois, who can’t wait to play here, also is a quality addition to the defense.
Letroy Guion’s future with the team is cloudy, but this much is crystal clear: Veterans such as Bennett, Kendricks and the rest aren’t going to allow any one, two or even a handful of players sabotage their championship aspirations.
If Guion is still on the roster entering Week 5 – when his four-game suspension is served – the Packers should know whether they want or need his services.
My guess is that the boat already will have sailed on Guion.
The greatest challenge when camp opens is deciding which position group and what drills to watch.
The receiving corps is deep and competitive. So is the running back group. The tight ends also factor in a way that nobody has seen in Green Bay for a long time.
In fact, ex-Packers coach and player Harry Sydney – who was on the team and staff when Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura played tight end – believes Bennett and Kendricks may be better.
If that’s the case look for Rodgers’ completion percentage to go up, his touchdown-to-interception ratio to drop even further, and the Packers’ ability to convert third downs and score in the red zone go up.
The best camp matchups should be the receivers versus the defensive backs. Roster spots and perhaps even a starting job at cornerback are up for grabs. The competition should be keen. I’m guessing (hoping) that McCarthy keeps Nelson’s, Cobb’s and Adams’ snaps to a healthy minimum.
I want to see Kevin King versus Geronimo Allison, and Damarious Randall versus Deangelo Yancey.
I expect backup quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Joe Callahan to be sharp and keep the passing drills crisp.
Naturally, the one-on-one pass rush drills are always a highlight.
How explosive is the older, stronger Kenny Clark?
How slippery and quick is rookie Montravius Adams?
Where does Josh Jones, the defensive back/linebacker, actually line up most of the day?
There are plenty of pressing questions.
If I had to guess, I’d make defensive end Dean Lowry one of my most underrated players going into camp. I think Lowry can win a starting job and play at a surprisingly high level.
I also like Clark a lot.
They may ease the burden felt too often by Mike Daniels.
At any rate, I’ll be shocked if the run defense isn’t good enough. The greater question is this: Can the Packers apply pressure – in fact, can they get home on the quarterback? – rushing only five?
They better be able to or it’s going to be a long season.
Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Daniels seem safe bets to be ready to roll this season. Matthews knows this is a pivotal season for him career-wise. Perry just got paid and I have to believe has much to prove.
Daniels is the rock.
There’s so much to watch come Thursday I can’t wait.
I’ll have weekly updates throughout training camp.