Rodgers masks every Packers weakness

This is the first in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Green Bay Packers’ July 26 start of camp.

July 10: Quarterbacks
July 11: Running backs
July 12: Wide receivers
July 13: Tight ends
July 16: Offensive linemen
July 17: Defensive linemen
July 18: Linebackers
July 19: Safeties
July 20: Cornerbacks
July 23: Specialists
July 24: Coaches
July 25: 5 things to accomplish in camp
July 26: Fans’ guide to camp


Rating (1-to-10 scale):

Projected starters: Aaron Rodgers (8th season)

Backups (asterisks indicate players expected to make the roster): *B.J. Coleman, *Graham Harrell

The breakdown: There is little argument that the Packers have the best player in the NFL as their starting quarterback. As a Super Bowl champion in 2010, the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2011 and the NFL Network’s top-ranked player (selected by his peers), Rodgers has already done it all.

Just as important in Green Bay, though, is that there is no longer any reason for even the biggest Brett Favre supporters to believe general manager Ted Thompson didn’t come out with the best result possible when the situation with No. 4 got complicated in 2008. Some may still argue that Favre’s departure from the Packers wasn’t handled well by the organization, but the end result was Rodgers blossoming into the game’s best player.

And at age 28, Rodgers’ career in Green Bay is just getting started.

In 2011, Rodgers was nearly unstoppable in his seventh season overall and fourth as a starter. Throwing 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions helped Rodgers set the NFL’s single-season QB rating record.

The Packers raced to a 15-1 record on the strength of Rodgers’ passing – never mind that Green Bay’s running game ranked 27th in the league and its defense allowed more passing yards than any team in league history.

But with Rodgers completing 68.3 percent of his passes, very little else mattered. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson went from 582 yards receiving in 2010 all the way up to 1,263 yards in 2011. Greg Jennings continued his pace as one of the NFL’s best wideouts, and then-rookie Randall Cobb showed why he could become the Packers’ next great playmaker.

Rodgers is the facilitator of all of that. He frequently states that he’ll throw the ball to the open receiver, no matter who it is, and he’s proven that to be true. Rodgers rewards his receivers when they create space downfield and has the respect of everyone inside the team’s locker room. He’s a leader in every sense of the word.

The task of keeping the team’s incredibly deep and talented group of receivers happy will likely be even harder this season for Rodgers. Donald Driver, at age 37, is back with the Packers, and James Jones — who signed a three-year deal before last season — sometimes gets lost in the shuffle despite his playmaking talent. Plus, there’s pass-catching tight end Jermichael Finley, who is out to prove himself after signing a two-year, $15 million deal to stay in Green Bay. Finley has stated that he and Rodgers never developed good chemistry as a duo last season, but if that changes in 2012, it will be difficult to find any defense that can stop the Packers’ passing attack.

Game-planning against Green Bay’s offense means game-planning for Rodgers. He is what makes everything go right now. As long as Rodgers stays healthy, it seems impossible for the Packers to fall out of Super Bowl contender status anytime soon.

Best position battle: The backup quarterback job is Harrell’s heading into training camp. After spending nearly two full seasons on Green Bay’s practice squad, Harrell’s level of responsibility is taking a major step forward. With previous No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn signing in Seattle for a chance to start with the Seahawks, it’s Harrell’s turn to prove that he can be dependable in a tough spot — just as Flynn had done.

If coach Mike McCarthy and his staff were worried about Harrell, they would have signed a veteran quarterback to play behind Rodgers. But with McCarthy’s reputation for developing young QBs, they want to take a chance on Harrell.

However, it’s possible that Coleman could make some noise in training camp and make Harrell look over his shoulder from time to time. The Packers drafted Coleman in the seventh round, a move that indicates Thompson wanted to at least give Harrell some legitimate competition for the No. 2 spot. Considering Flynn was a seventh-round pick, Coleman certainly will be given a shot.

Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Packers; 2. Lions; 3. Bears; 4 Vikings. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford actually threw for more yards last season than Rodgers, but it was Stafford’s first healthy season since being selected No. 1 overall by the Lions in 2009. Stafford now needs to prove that he can perform at that high level consistently. An injury to Chicago’s Jay Cutler marked the end of the Bears’ playoff hopes last season, but Cutler has yet to become the great quarterback many expected him to be. Minnesota’s Christian Ponder didn’t have the luxury of waiting several years before becoming a starter like Rodgers did. With Vikings running back Adrian Peterson recovering from a major knee injury, Ponder could be in for a long season.

Rodgers says: “I throw it to the open guy. If there’s any issues, they know where my locker is at. I think we do a good job of keeping things in-house for the most part and not worrying about the ‘I’ as much as the ‘we’ and hopefully that continues.”

Follow Paul Imig on Twitter.