Brett Favre will reprise the climactic movie scene in The Natural, playing a
football version of Roy Hobbs in Packers jersey number 4. Ahman Green will be
fully recovered from quadriceps surgery that cut short his 2005 season and will
rush for at least 1,300 yards. Rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk, the fifth pick in
the draft, and free-agent corner Charles Woodson will make a respectable
defense better. New coach Mike McCarthy's sunny disposition will help expunge
the memory of last year's dismal 4--12 campaign, Green Bay's first losing
season since 1991.
There is plenty of juice left in Favre's Hall of Fame right wing. "Believe
me, guys still have to get their hands up in front of their faces coming out of
their breaks," says Donald Driver, the Packers' leading receiver in three
of the last four years. How much is left in Favre's heart, gut and
soon-to-be-37-year-old legs is another issue. McCarthy and his staff are in a
ticklish position, building their first season around an old quarterback who
will be gone before they are. During off-season workouts that focused on
second-year quarterback Aaron Rodgers, new offensive coordinator Jeff
Jagodzinski told McCarthy, "We're getting ready for A.F.--After
In the present,
Favre is coming off a year in which he had a career-high 29 interceptions and a
career-low 70.9 quarterback rating. Then he came to training camp and
implausibly called this team the most talented in his tenure. More correctly,
it's a team of question marks. Green didn't start hitting until midway through
camp. He and Favre will work behind a retooled line that includes rookie guards
Tony Moll (fifth round, Nevada) and Jason Spitz (third, Louisville).
running game has to keep the Packers out of third-and-long, the situations in
which Favre, these days, is inclined to gamble. The trouble is that the
receivers are scarcely more diverse than a year ago. Wideout Javon Walker, who
caught 89 balls in 2004 but blew out his right ACL in the '05 opener, was
traded to Denver. The reliable Driver returns, and the next-best receiver could
be rookie Greg Jennings, a second-round pick from Western Michigan.
ranked seventh in the NFL last year, but the Packers were minus-24 in
turnovers. McCarthy's new coordinator, Bob Sanders, has not changed Jim Bates's
matchup-zone system. "For the most part, we know what we can do and we know
what's expected of us," says end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
Much is expected
of Woodson (seven years, $39 million, a three-time All-Pro from Oakland) and
Hawk (six years, $37.5 million, out of Ohio State). The 6'1", 245-pound
Hawk has to develop quickly into the dynamic playmaker he was in college, where
he specialized in sideline-to-sideline pursuit and swift coverage drops.
"We think he can get on the edge and rush the passer, too," says
McCarthy, increasing the load on his rookie. Hawk welcomes the heat. "They
have high expectations," he says. "I have high expectations
Yet the Packers'
season could be defined by their ability to avoid a severe drop in morale, like
the one that led to embarrassing defeats in the second half of '05. "As a
coach, I can say we're over going 4--12," says McCarthy. "But I'm not
naive; we need to start fast, or all those negative emotions will come right