With training camp beginning at the end of the month, I am starting to get excited for the upcoming Green Bay Packers season.
Since we’re in the down time between the Packers mini-camp and training camp, I figured now is as good a time as any to get you excited too.
There are some very good reasons to be both excited and optimistic about the Packers in 2009. Nevermind that the Chicago Bears will be better with Jay Cutler at quarterback and the Minnesota Vikings will be better with Judas at quarterback. We’ve got some real reasons to like the Packers chances going into the 2009 season.
1. Dom Capers – Forget that it would be nearly impossible for this guy to field a worse defensive team than the Packers did last season. Forget that he is credited with inventing a version of the 3-4 defense. Forget that he’s been known to work 17 hour days. Take a look at where Dom Capers’ defenses have ranked in his years as a defensive coordinator.
With the exception of a terrible Miami Dolphins team (1-15) in 2007, Capers has always lead a top 15 defense. Four times he lead a top 5 defense. Enough said.
2. B.J. Raji – No. Jobs aren’t won in June, but it was surely a good sign that A. B.J. Raji was lining up with the Packers No. 1 defense during mini-camp, B. he’s athletic enough to play both defensive end and nose tackle, and C. the coaches have done nothing but rave about him.
No. This guy doesn’t look a like a project. He looks like a day 1 starter. And the prospect of Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Cullen Jenkins anchoring the Packers defensive front makes me wet my pants. Go ahead and pick one of those guys to double team. Hell, pick two, and see what happens.
Barring the unpredictable – Pickett begins showing signs of age, Jenkins gets injured, the coaching staff and personnel department is totally wrong about Raji – opposing offenses are going to find that it isn’t so easy to run on the Green Bay Packers this year, or they’re going to be forced to consistently employ an extra blocker.
3. The secondary – We’ve already detailed the depth the Packers have at cornerback. We’ve also noted, on several occasions, that a potential holdout by safety Nick Collins could result in him losing his starting job, meaning there appears to be considerable depth at safety, as well.
Consider – five players in the Packers secondary had more interceptions than, arguably, the best defensive back on the team, Al Harris, last season. While Harris had zero, the numbers show that anyone in the Packers secondary is able to make opposing quarterbacks pay.
4. Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings – The numbers don’t lie for Rodgers and Jennings, either. Rodgers threw for 4,038 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. Jennings had 1,298 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Those are great numbers, but these guys are only going to get better. Both Rodgers and Jennings are entering their prime, and are a year more mature.
Last season was Rodgers’ first as the Packers’ starter, and while he was impressive, there’s no substitute for the experience of being in the battle. He’s been looking more confident this offseason than he ever has, and that will translate when the regular season begins.
Meanwhile, last season was Jennings’ breakout year. He consistently made big plays and established himself as the Packers No. 1 receiver, but he’s only 25 and still has room to improve, which is scary.
This year will be a test to see if Rodgers and Jennings can lead the Packers to the playoffs, but I expect both of them to improve upon last year’s numbers and establish themselves among the league’s elite, at the very least.
5. Contract years – If the Packers, namely Ted Thompson, don’t do something about this, it could turn into a major negative by next year. However, the Packers currently have 15 players entering their contract year. And you know what happens in a player’s contract year? They make sacrifices and play their asses off to ensure a big payday (see Cledius Hunt).
While the Packers may sign some of these players to long-term deals yet this offseason, you can bank on the fact they won’t sign them all. That means there are going to be some hungry football players playing the best football of their lives this season, and several of them are key players.
No doubt I can point out five reasons to be cautious, but I’m not ready to do that, just yet.