| Rodgers can count on a deep and dependable set of receivers.
8 MINNESOTA (M)
14 at Detroit
28 at Tampa Bay
12 at Seattle
2 at Tennessee
9 at Minnesota
24 at New Orleans (M)
14 at Jacksonville
22 at Chicago (M)
Al Harris, Cornerback: The 11th-year vet had a poor season (37 tackles, nine passes defended) and hit rock-bottom against the Giants in the NFC title game, when Plaxico Burress had a career-high 11 catches for 151 yards. The continued overhaul of the defensive line could create added pressure on the secondary, so it's important that Harris get his game back.
It's Year One A.B. -- and, as team brass insisted during the Favre flap, the plan is in place for a smooth transition.
When Brett Favre aired his grievances to Fox's Greta Van Susteren in July, he
cited three reasons why he'd lost faith in Packers general manager Ted Thompson.
In doing so, Favre highlighted the frugality and forward thinking that have
characterized Thompson's four-year regime -- and that will determine Green Bay's
fate in 2008.
Foremost among Favre's complaints was Thompson's decision in March 2005
not to re-sign Pro Bowl guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, who'd spent a
combined 15 years with Green Bay. Instead, the first-year G.M. avoided a
salary-cap hit and turned to the draft. That April, Thompson selected Junius
Coston in the fifth round, and in '06 he took Daryn Colledge in the second and
Jason Spitz in the third. With those three combining for 32 starts last year,
the line began to click. During the final eight games of '07, Green Bay
allowed a league-low six sacks and ranked seventh in rushing, with
127.5 yards per game; in the playoffs they averaged 131.5. This year the
Packers will again use a guard rotation, with 2008 fourth-round pick Josh Sitton
expected to play a significant role, and possibly to start, once he's back from
a sprained knee.
Thompson faced another financial dilemma with franchised defensive tackle
Corey Williams this off-season, and he stuck to his plan. Rather than pay dearly
for Williams, he traded him to the Browns for a second-round pick, which he used
to add depth at quarterback (Louisville's Brian Brohm). Thanks to some nifty
drafting and waiver-wire work, Thompson has plenty of young, mostly homegrown
bodies to insert into Williams's spot. Two 2006 acquisitions, Ryan Pickett (UFA)
and Johnny Jolly (sixth-round pick), will likely start; and last year's
No. 1 choice, Justin Harrell, will rotate in. While concerns remain about
all three -- in July, Jolly was charged with felony drug possession in Texas and
had an Aug. 27 court date; Pickett and Harrell missed parts of camp with
injuries -- depth at defensive end means the Pack could also use Cullen Jenkins or
Michael Montgomery on the interior. The latter says he spent the summer studying
how the Giants aligned nominal end Justin Tuck over guard last year. "We need to
replace Williams's 14 sacks [since '06] somehow," says line coach Robert Nunn,
"and those two bring that speed."
Thompson's thriftiness extends to the skill positions, which was Favre's
second point of contention: the team's unwillingness to chase wideout Randy Moss
in the spring of 2007. Thompson chose to stick with veteran Donald Driver and
two of his draft picks, Greg Jennings and James Jones. The trio helped Green Bay
finish second in the league in receiving yards and, as a testament to how they
fit into coach Mike McCarthy's short-passing system, lead the league in yards
after the catch.
The able wideout corps will help ease the Pack's transition to fourth-year
veteran Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. So too will Rodgers's rapport with backup
receiver Ruvell Martin and tight end Donald Lee; they became fast friends with
Rodgers while playing on scout and second-team offenses the past two seasons. "I
try to think of one way in which this [move to Rodgers] will be hard," says Lee,
"and that just isn't the way it is. After all our time together, you have no
idea how ready we are for him to be quarterback."
McCarthy is the man charged with making the transition seamless, and therein
lies Favre's third complaint against Thompson. In 2006 he hired McCarthy over
Favre's choice, Steve Mariucci. The next year McCarthy led the Packers to the
NFC Championship Game -- and he did it with the NFL's youngest roster. That's the
way his players like it. "We're blessed that we have a lot of young guys and a
lot of depth," says fifth-year defensive tackle Colin Cole. "We have some of the
best nonstarters in the league, and they know that [Green Bay] is a place where
you can earn your way up." Just as Thompson planned it. -- Adam