Packers camp preview: It all depends on Rodgers
Editor's note: These camp previews are up to date as of the start of preseason games. For the latest changes since then, check our updated rankings, projections and profiles.
The Super Bowl should've been the Packers.
Brett Favre played so well and so smart all through the 2007 season, and then on the second play of overtime in the NFC Championship Game, he made a terrible, maverick-style throw intended for Donald Driver, Corey Webster (Corey Webster!) intercepted it, and that was all she wrote. (Of course, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes probably shouldn't have missed a 36-yarder as regulation expired, but that's neither here nor there.) That's how Favre's spectacular Green Bay career ended: not with a bang, but a whimper.
There are other questions: Budding star defensive tackle Corey Williams left for Cleveland, there are injury questions among the remaining defensive linemen, a big-name cornerback tandem has gotten a year older, Grant held out of minicamps because of contract unhappiness and the backup quarterback situation is anything but resolved. Nevertheless, Green Bay expects to contend for a championship again this year, provided the franchise gets good play out of Rodgers. So he'll be the focus of everything the Packers do this July and August. Heck, considering the legend he's replacing, Rodgers just might be the lead training camp story in the entire NFL.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers will have to step up for the Packers' other top options (Grant, Jennings, Driver, Crosby) to maintain their value.
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But there should be some drama among the backups. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, rookie quarterback Brian Brohm struggled to pick up the Packers' complex offense (and another rookie, Matt Flynn, was reportedly even worse), so Brohm is no guarantee to be Aaron Rodgers' understudy. And while running back Brandon Jackson reportedly has made strides in his second year and is currently ahead in the battle for third-down and backup duties, there's still time for players such as DeShawn Wynn, Vernand Morency and/or Noah Herron to get into the mix. Perhaps a clear handcuff to Ryan Grant will emerge in camp.
Fitting in: He's not new to the organization, but Rodgers is new as a starter. Under Rodgers, whose arm is just about as strong and whose wheels are quite a bit better than the latter-day Favre, expect the Packers to run a more traditional West Coast offense, with shorter throws, more spread sets and some bootlegs. Physical tools really shouldn't be the question with Rodgers; it'll be all about decision-making and health. Remember, this is a guy who has played significant minutes in just three regular-season games in his NFL life, and he was seriously injured in two of them.
On the line: Former offensive tackle Junius Coston emerged as the '07 season proceeded, partially accounting for the improved run blocking this O-line produced later in the season. He hurt an ankle and had to go on injured reserve before the playoffs, but he's healthy now and sends Daryn Colledge back to a utility role. The other guard, Jason Spitz, fought through a quad injury in the playoffs and should be ready to go, too. The tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, and the center, Scott Wells, rank among the NFL's best players at their position. Assuming good health in camp and thereafter, the O-line shouldn't be a reason the fantasy forces on this team don't perform.
On the mend: The key injury situations to watch are mostly on defense. Last season's first-rounder, Justin Harrell, was something of a bust in limited action in '07 and needed back surgery this winter, but again, because of Williams' departure, the Packers' strategy of keeping the guys upfront fresh for the fourth quarter could rely in part on Harrell. Also, mainstay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is coming off knee surgery, and it's no sure thing he'll be ready to go for camp. If Gbaja-Biamila isn't at full strength, DT-to-be Cullen Jenkins might have to move back outside, where he played for much of '07, but wasn't particularly effective.
Finally, the aging cornerback tandem of Charles Woodson and Al Harris had a high-profile year in '07, playing lots of man-to-man and allowing the safeties to creep near the line, but each battled injuries (Woodson had knee and toe problems; Harris had hand, back and elbow issues). Harris, in particular, looked a shadow of himself in '07, and he needs a strong camp to rejuvenate his game. The Press-Gazette says that Tramon Williams is the favorite to be the team's nickel man, with the possibility of eventually working into a starting corner job.
The Packers' fortunes, and the fantasy fortunes of the team's key players, rest with Rodgers. First and foremost, it's important he show his teammates and the football world that he can take a hit because he's been injury-prone in his short career. Listen, the NFL doesn't have a great history of producing star quarterbacks who come directly after other star quarterbacks (Steve Young leaps to mind), so it's possible Rodgers goes all Brian Griese on us. But he won't be asked to throw downfield as much as Favre did, so if his head's on straight, he could produce a young- Matt Hasselbeck type of season. But he doesn't prove in the preseason he can maintain a 60 percent completion rate, it could be a long year.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.
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