The Packers report to training camp on Friday with 21 of the 22 players who started the playoff game at Arizona back for another run at the Lombardi Trophy. Because of this stability – not to mention the league’s No. 6 offense and No. 2 defense – Green Bay should be one of the elite teams. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some important questions that need to be answered. Here are the top 10 (in descending order):
Who’ll be the No. 3 wide receiver?
James Jones and Jordy Nelson pretty much split the job in 2009 and both enjoyed excellent offseasons. There’s a good chance the time-sharing will continue, but if we had to pick one or the other, we’d go with Nelson. He’s the more consistent of the two players and the organization has a bit more invested in him. Plus, he seems to have some real chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
What happens if Ryan Grant gets hurt?
Brandon Jackson is probably best-suited to the role he’s in now, but the offense could survive with him as the featured back. This is an offense that thrives when the running game is clicking, but it’s talented enough at quarterback, tight end and wide receiver to score 25 or 30 points with Eric Torkelson running the ball.
Will B.J. Raji play like a 9th overall pick?
Raji was just another guy as a rookie, but he was also playing out of position and on a bad ankle. If healthy, there’s little doubt that he’ll be very effective in 2010. You can count on one hand the number of nose tackles who possess his combination of size, strength and athleticism.
Will the special teams be better?
Is Shawn Slocum still the coordinator? Seriously, it’s hard to imagine this unit being worse than it was a year ago. Kicker Mason Crosby should be better, punter Jeremy Kapinos is gone and returner Will Blackmon should be back. Don’t expect greatness, but competency might be attainable.
Can Al Harris return and be effective?
Yes and maybe. Whether it’s in the middle of September or at the beginning of November, Harris will return to the field. That’s a given. Whether his 35-year-old body and surgically repaired knee will allow him to play at a high level remains to be seen. The guess here is that Harris will see most of his action this season in nickel and dime packages and not as a starter.
Is there a legitimate punter on the roster?
Hard to say. Neither Chris Bryan nor Tim Masthay looked overly impressive in the offseason, but both looked better than Kapinos. That’s damning them with faint praise, but it’s the best we can do right now.
Can Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee step up?
GM Ted Thompson is betting the house they can. Underwood had a very good offseason (dalliance with prostitutes excluded). And while Lee wasn’t as impressive, if healthy, it’s hard to imagine him not being an improvement over the likes of Jarrett Bush and Josh Bell. So can the young corners step up? Definitely. Will they? Still way too soon to tell.
Will the offensive line get off to a faster start?
It had better, or else beleaguered coach James Campen will have a lot of explaining to do. An injury to Chad Clifton and the ineptitude of Allen Barbre killed the line early last season, but with Clifton healthy, rookie Bryan Bulaga behind him and Barbre either on the bench or in the UFL, there’s no excuse for another slow start. This group should come out firing on all cylinders from the get-go.
Will the pash rush be good enough?
There’s a chance, but only if Clay Matthews stays healthy, Brad Jones improves upon his solid rookie season and Cullen Jenkins turns his potential contract year into a showcase. If all three of these things don’t happen, it’s hard to see a scenario where the Packers are able to get enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to win more than a game or two in January.
Can the Packers win without Rodgers for an extended period?
Probably not, but let’s be honest, that would be the same answer for about 3/4 of the teams in the league. While we’ve never believed that Matt Flynn has what it takes to win consistently at this level, the front office and the coaching staff beg to differ. Hopefully, Packer fans won’t have to find out the answer to this question.
What’s Mike McCarthy hiding?
Sun or rain. Hot or cold. Indoors or outdoors. It doesn’t matter the weather or the place, Green Bay’s coach never exposes any part of his upper body. Whether he’s wearing a sweatshirt, a windbreaker or a suit, you can be sure that no skin will be exposed until you get to the chins area. He’s like that virgin you dated in high school who always kept the top button of her blouse fastened tight. So what’s going on? Is it possible that Mike is hiding an “I Heart Brett” tattoo from 1999?