The crisp, clear air that swept into the upper Midwest this past week was a reminder that the professional football season is almost upon us. In Titletown the Packers recently celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Packer organization and are hard at work in training camp. Technically, training camp is over and 3 of the 4 preseason games have been played, of which the Packers have won all three.
The big change in Green Bay has taken place with the coaching staff where new defensive coordinator Dom Capers and staff have installed a new “3-4” scheme. Adding an athletic but smaller linebacker and subtracting a defensive lineman to the base defense has been an effective tool that Capers has successfully orchestrated at previous stints in the NFL. Can the 2009 Packers do the same?
Thus far what Cheeseheads have witnessed in the three preseason games has been impressive. The starters on defense have allowed only 10 points in the three games. Granted, the preseason doesn’t count, but the fact that the new 3-4 seems to be working with basically the same defensive players as last year is encouraging.
The Packers invested two first-round draft picks this past spring to bolster the defense. B.J. Raji, the Packers’ highly-touted first-round draft pick didn’t immediately report to camp due to a contract squabble. With his late start, Raji has seen limited action but I like his enormous potential. The Packers’ other first-round pick, linebacker Clay Matthews, hasn’t yet played in preseason due to a hamstring injury.
On offense there is even more reason for optimism. In the short time the starters have played in preseason, they have racked up something like 70 points. Aaron Rodgers looks confident and is throwing the ball extremely accurately this year. The Packers’ receiving corps, arguably one of the best in the NFL, has added yet another weapon to their arsenal this year with the emergence of second-year tight end Jermichael Finley. Finley, only 22 years old, is a huge target with good speed and excellent hands. Watch for him to have a breakout season.
The Packers have reconfigured their offensive line, inserting Jason Spitz at center and second-year player Josh Sitton at right guard. Allen Barbre is the new right tackle so three of the starting five positions are different from last year. This is a group that warrants some cautious watching. Sitton and Barbre have very little NFL experience and it could be a problem if they should sputter.
Another position of concern is that of the punter. Both punters in camp have been inconsistent. Ted Thompson, for some inexplicable reason, has a horrible record of recognizing and bringing in talent at that position. Last year’s revolving door of punters was a disaster and this year is starting out no better. Jeremy Kapinos appears to have the upper hand presently, but I would not be surprised to see the Packers pick up a punter cut from another team ending up on the final 53-man roster.
The final tune-up Thursday against the Titans will prove interesting as numerous “on the bubble” players struggle for roster positions.