Rodgers anchors offense, but D key again for Packers’ hopes
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Expectations will always be high for the Green Bay Packers’ offense with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
Perennial hopes to return to the Super Bowl might rest on whether the Packers can successfully answer familiar issues on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
It’s all about defense again.
Pass coverage was porous last season at cornerback, so general manager Ted Thompson brought back former Packer Davon House as a free agent, and selected Kevin King with the top pick in the second round of the draft to bolster the position.
Depth at outside linebacker behind starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry emerged as a concern in camp, so the Packers added veteran free agent Ahmad Brooks after he was cut by the 49ers.
”Draft and develop” is still the Packers’ cornerstone philosophy. But Thompson has turned to free agency a bit more this time than in recent years to help fortify the roster. On offense, free agent tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks spice up a potent passing attack.
A ninth straight playoff appearance seems certain in Green Bay. The big question is whether the Packers can return to the Super Bowl after losing in the NFC title game two of the last three seasons.
”We’ve been to the playoffs eight straight years, which is an accomplishment. But you want more titles,” Rodgers said. ”I think us players got to take ownership of it and play better and finish this thing off.”
Rodgers, who turns 34 in December, shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. After the loss to the Falcons in January, Rodgers did talk about making sure ”we’re going all-in every year to win.”
In his prime, Rodgers is ready to make another run.
”We’re in here, we have a job to do. That’s to prepare and perform. The personnel department’s is to bring in players. Coaches is to teach and demand,” he said when camp started. ”We’ve got to do our part, everybody does their part, and that’s how you put yourself in that position to win a championship, and we’ve got to do it again this year.”
Other notes and things to watch this season in Green Bay:
RUN GAME: Ty Montgomery is the unquestioned starter at running back after switching positions from receiver at midseason, showing flashes of potential on the ground. He’s a tricky matchup for opposing defenses with his pass-catching ability. But Montgomery still has to prove he can handle the load for a full season. He’s backed up by three drafted rookies all getting used to the speed of the NFL: Jamaal Williams (fourth round), Aaron Jones (fifth round) and Devante Mays (seventh round). Williams showed awareness in pass blocking in camp, while Jones displayed some explosiveness.
CORNERBACK: A position of weakness last season starts out 2017 with quality depth. House, who sat out much of camp with a hamstring injury, knows what’s expected of cornerbacks in Green Bay. The 6-foot-3 King gives coordinator Dom Capers needed length to help with press coverage. Third-year players Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins showed improvement in camp. After struggling early in camp on the outside, LaDarius Gunter displayed playmaking ability lining up in the slot – and he might be fifth on the depth chart now after injuries left him as the top cornerback late last season.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The front five protecting Rodgers is about as sturdy as they come. The Packers were so impressed with undrafted free agent Lane Taylor’s first year as the starter at left guard last season that they gave him a contract extension Monday. But Green Bay can’t afford a long-term injury to the starters after second-stringers struggled at times in training camp. The most experienced backup, Don Barclay, is on injured reserve (ankle).
SAFETY IN NUMBERS: Safety is a strength on defense, with the emerging Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett forming one of the league’s top tandems. Burnett’s ability to play an inside linebacker-type role in a ”nitro” package helps the Packers get more athleticism on the field. Hard-hitting rookie Josh Jones, a second-round pick, can step in for Burnett when needed, while second-year player Kentrell Brice had a strong camp.
STAYING HOME: The Packers’ postseason road could be determined after the first two weeks of the regular season with games against NFC contenders Seattle and Atlanta. Playing in the cold at Lambeau gives the Packers a decided advantage in the playoffs, of course.
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