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It’s finally that time of year again. The time where teams get back together, and a new season begins. With the way last season went this day couldn’t come fast enough for the Packers. Stripped of their hall of fame quarterback for most of the year, the team showed its flaws by going 3-5 in the game Aaron Rodgers didn’t finish. While they gave the Steelers a run for their money in a Sunday night game that would’ve been huge in their hope for a playoff run, in the end their lack of effective QB play was their downfall. That’s not to say there aren’t other issues but those seem to be addressed this offseason and I am excited to see how it all plays out on the field. Here are a couple of things to watch at training camp this year.
The quarterback play may have been subpar, but the defense didn’t help either. Some injuries mixed with some poor play and sprinkled with the need for a new voice in the room left Green Bay with the 26th ranked defense (points for wise). Dom Capers was replaced by Mike Pettine in a move I think was long overdue. Dom is a legendary coach, but it was time to change things up because what they were doing just wasn’t working. The most exciting addition for me is former Jet Mo Wilkerson. Wilkerson was a 4 time 2nd team all-pro from 2012-2015 and then signed a 5 year 85-million-dollar contract in 2016 and it went downhill from there. He’s in Green Bay on a one-year deal to prove himself and a motivated Mo on a line with the up and coming stud Kenny Clarke and the Pro-Bowler Mike Daniels will be a defensive line to be reckoned with. The other upgrade was made to the Cornerback core. After trading the highly volatile Damarious Randall there were a lot of spots to fill back there. They did that through the draft and free agency. The packers used their first two picks on the top two ranked corners in the draft Jaire Alexander out of Louisville and Josh Jackson out of Iowa and signed our old friend Tramon Williams who was ranked as the 9th best corner in football by pro football focus last season. Those 3 along with 2nd year player Kevin King who showed his potential last year and veteran Davon House back in the fold gives the packers a solid mix of veterans and young players that are the most talented group they’ve had since the 2010 super bowl team. The loss of Morgan Burnett and the lack of an addition to the outside pass rush are both issues but Wilkerson should offset the weak outside pass rush and Josh Jones showed flashes of a playmaking ability that could step in for Burnett and solidify the back end.
The moves that were made with the receiving core are the most concerning to me. Jordy Nelson was cut for cap reasons and was replaced, hopefully production wise, by Tight End Jimmy Graham. Jordy and Aaron were the best receiver/QB combo in their time together and had a connection like no other. Devante Adams showed he can be a number one outside threat last season, and we have seen how good Rodgers can be with a downfield threat at tight end like Graham but the hole at receiver opposite Adams remains. Randall Cobb will get most of his snaps from the slot, so Nelsons replacement will come from a trio of late round draft picks in J’Mon Moore from Missouri, Marquez Valdes-Scantling from USF and Equanimeous St. Brown from Notre Dame. The packers took a similar route in filling their running back need and it worked wonderfully as they found two diamonds in the rough with Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. St. Brown is the most interesting to me, he had a great year two years ago with former first round pick and current backup QB DeShone Kizer but once he left St. Browns production dropped. If any combination of the three show any type of upside, the offense shouldn’t skip a beat from the number 4 ranking they had in 2016.
The NFC is a war zone now. The Vikings added Kirk Cousins to solidify their QB position. I don’t think this is a huge upgrade over the play they got from Case Keenum last year, but it ensures they will get that level of play consistently instead of a one-year fluke. The defending champs will get their stud QB back and make a run at back to back titles. Outside of them every team in the conference has a franchise QB or at least a plan for one. That means every game will be tough and that any team can step into a playoff spot. It will be a very interesting race. There hasn’t been a season since his first as a starter that Aaron Rodgers has been healthy and out of the playoffs and I don’t see that changing this year but to get back to the promise land and bring the Lombardi trophy home things will need to go according to plan and that starts in camp.