It doesn't seem like football season yet with all the heat and drought that has plagued the upper Midwest this late summer. But soon all that will change when that first taste of a refreshing north wind reminds Cheeseheads everywhere that once again it is business time in Titletown, USA. Let's take a look at the 2003 version of the Green Bay Packers.
Special Teams: Everyone knows what a disaster this area has been for the last couple years. Last year's special teams coach is gone and John Bonamego has been brought in to right the ship. Bonamego inherits a punter, Josh Bidwell, and a placekicker, Ryan Longwell, who actually are pretty good players. Bidwell has been booming his preseason punts, and Longwell has usually been an accurate kicker although his kick-offs lack distance. The real problem area is finding a water-bug quick return guy in the mold of Desmond Howard or Allen Rossum, both of whom managed to slip away in free agency. This past off season the Packers signed Arena Football League standout Antonio Chatman and it appears that he may have earned the job. He looks real quick. The coverage units have to be revamped too and upgraded with better athletes. Hopefully, help may have arrived via this year's college draft which seems to contain some solid young talent.
Offense: The Packers have a good offense and should be better in 2003 than they were in 2002. Last year both starting tackles were lost to injury. The return of talented Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher is very good news. Pro Bowl Tight End Bubba Franks is joined by newcomer Wesley Walls, still an outstanding Tight End at age 37. Look for lots of formations this year using these two TEs. The receiving corps is young and talented. Pro Bowler Donald Driver is one of my favorite players. He is absolutely fearless and a great influence on talented youngsters Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker. Also look for rookie Carl Ford to make some plays this year. Ahman Green is one of the best running backs in the NFL and backup Najeh Davenport will contribute this year as well. Brett Favre continues his absolutely amazing record string of consecutive starts and continues to be the best in the business.
Defense: Defensively, the jury is out on the 2003 Packers. Last year it became obvious that the Pack had to shore up some deficiencies defending against the run. More speed was needed at the linebacker positions in particular to fill the gaps. This year's first round draft pick, Nick Barnett, has been inserted as the new middle linebacker and he has looked good. The other linebacker who has looked good in the preseason games thus far has been Torrance Marshall. Unfortunately Marshall will miss the first four games of the regular season due to a substance suspension. Na'il Diggs is a good linebacker but newcomer Hannibal Navies has not done much to impress. The defensive line has many questions which need answers. KGB, Cletidus Hunt, Aaron Kampman and maybe Joe Johnson are all good players but from there the personnel list has question marks. The biggest (pun not intended) question may be the status of Gilbert Brown. Brown recently suffered a complete tear of the tendon connecting the biceps muscle to his elbow but is attempting to play this year without surgery to repair it. Gilbert has been a heck of a football player for the Packers and I admire his gutsy attitude but I just don't know how long he can play like that. He is 32 years old and weights 340 plus. Mike Sherman has a tough decision to make whether or not to take a chance on Gilbert taking a roster spot. Having stated that, Gilbert is the best nose tackle the Packers have (by far). Backup talent on the line is thin and I fear that there will be some breakdowns in this area. The secondary is talented and has some depth. Cornerback Al Harris is definitely an upgrade over departed Tyrone Williams. Darren Sharper is probably the best safety in the league and the other cornerback, Mike McKenzie is a very good player. The only unsettled position is the other safety spot where fierce competition among a couple talented guys should sort that matter out shortly.
The Packers have cuts to make to get the squad down to league mandated levels and then get prepared for the opener against the Vikes on September 7 in renovated Lambeau. What a great time of the year it is and what a refreshing change professional football is from all of those boring professional sports of summer.