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|The ground game, led by Ryan Grant, can do a lot to take pressure off of first-year starter Aaron Rodgers.|
Aaron Rodgers did not know it at the time, certainly, but the emergence of running back Ryan Grant last season was one of the best things that ever happened for the quarterback.
Grant can take some of the considerable heat off Rodgers.
The pressure on Rodgers would have been severe enough if Brett Favre had stayed retired. But with Favre back in the league, it's likely the comparisons and the comments will only accelerate with every pass both men throw.
Rodgers will make the first start of his four-year career on the season's opening weekend against Minnesota. Playing behind the indestructible Favre, Rodgers has thrown only 59 passes in three seasons. Instead, he had to learn by watching, and even he concedes it was good for him. Still, look for teams to test Rodgers by throwing things at him on defense they know he has not seen.
That's why it's important for Rodgers to have a running game he can count on. As a new starter, the Packers don't expect him to throw for more than 4,000 yards, as Favre did last year when Green Bay did not have a viable running game until midseason.
Green Bay has had one of the youngest teams in the league the last couple of years, and that hasn't changed. The Packers have done an excellent job of drafting; 18 of their 22 starters never played a game in the NFL for any team other than Green Bay.
Rodgers is one of only two new projected starters on a team that finished 13-3 a year ago and reached the NFC Championship Game. The other is rookie right guard Josh Sitton, who sprained his knee during the preseason but should be ready to go in Week 1. Sitton is forcing Jason Spitz, a two-year starter, to move to left guard.
Green Bay's success in 2007 was fueled in large measure by the emergence of running back Ryan Grant, a training camp pickup. Midway through the season, the Packers ranked dead last in the league in rushing, averaging a meager 72.1 yards a game. But Grant, who became a starter at that time, rushed for 770 yards in the final eight games, beating that first-half average by himself.
Over the second half of the season, the Packers ran the ball as well any team, averaging 4.8 yards a carry. Grant rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns in a divisional playoff victory over Seattle.
On the hot seat
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Following a legend is never easy. Ask Steve Young.
Third-year wide receiver Greg Jennings caught 14 touchdown passes last year, including the playoffs, and hardly anyone noticed because Favre got all the attention. This could be a breakout year for Jennings, who could surpass Donald Driver as the Packers' unquestioned No. 1 target.
Hard road to hoe
Starting with their third game, the Packers face a difficult five-game stretch that includes home games with the Cowboys and Colts and road games at Tampa Bay and Seattle. Most of the division games are after the bye week, but this stretch could set the tone for the season.
Packers will be better than you think if ...
The defense can take charge of games, which it did not do last year even though the statistics were good, and if Ryan Grant proves last season was not a mirage.
Packers will be worse than you think if ...
Aaron Rodgers struggles or the cornerbacks, Charles Woodson (32 in October) and Al Harris (34 in December), show their age.