- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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A weekly look at a player whose performance must improve in 2010.
The lasting memory from the 2009 season for Packers fans has to be the aerial clinic that Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner put on in the first round of the playoffs. Warner threw for 379 yards and five TDs in Arizona's 51-45 overtime win. Say what you want about Green Bay's pass protection, but the biggest issue facing this team is its pass defense.
That puts Al Harris firmly in the crosshairs as he attempts to return from a torn ACL. By all accounts, Harris' rehab is going well. He has been an excellent cover man, but is it wise to count on someone who will turn 36 in December to be the player he was before the injury? That frightens me. The Packers obviously are not as worried.
So what have the Packers done to help the pass defense except for trusting Harris to return to form as the starter opposite Charles Woodson, who was superb last season but will turn 34 in October? Aaron Kampman was not best-suited to play outside linebacker in Green Bay's 3-4 defense, but he could rush the passer. He is now in Jacksonville. Clay Matthews Jr. is a superstar-in-the-making and should improve in his second year, but he is the only threatening edge rusher on the Packers' roster -- which isn't a good thing for a pass defense that has been embarrassed on occasion.
Green Bay did little this offseason to bolster the cornerback position. The Packers did get value in the third round of the draft by selecting safety Morgan Burnett, who is penciled in as the backup strong safety behind Atari Bigby. But Burnett is more of a free safety type than Bigby, and if Burnett works out in his first year, he could surpass Bigby because of his cover skills and range. FS Nick Collins is one of the best cover safeties in the league, but that also was the case last year, so there isn't an upgrade there.
The Packers do have some youngsters at cornerback who are not household names. Tramon Williams quietly had a very good season and surely will get the nod if Harris isn't himself by opening day, but more is needed from the others. Jarrett Bush was beaten with too much frequency, and 2008 second-round pick Patrick Lee needs to stay healthy and assert himself. Will Blackmon also could factor in, but overall this group doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, especially considering that you ideally need three corners.
I feel that Green Bay is a true Super Bowl contender. But the pass defense -- particularly at cornerback -- does give me some pause. And with Mike Martz now in the division as the Bears' offensive coordinator, a vastly improved Detroit passing game and, most notably, a stable of exceptional pass-catchers in Minnesota, that translates into Harris' being firmly in the spotlight for 2010.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
11hEric D. Williams