Green Bay Packers  

 

Packers put old you-know-who in past, focus on winning in 2009

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings walked to his locker to discuss his contract extension this week, media scrambled to get to him. This was big news. About the biggest news with the franchise this offseason since the team drafted defensive lineman B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews. Talk of Brett Favre barely causes a ripple in the locker room or in the street.

So over Him.

Yet in Minneapolis -- actually, anyplace where there's an NFL pulse -- Favre's expected arrival there has been the buzz for weeks. In Detroit, the freshness of new head coach Jim Schwartz, the perpetual signing of free agents and the acquisition of $72 million quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first overall draft pick has made the league's first 0-16 team relevant -- for now. Quarterback Jay Cutler's arrival in Chicago has spawned hope of another Super Bowl run.

While those teams cast themselves into the spotlight, it's the Packers who finally feel they've stepped out of the shadows. Well, Favre's shadow. The pall of the acrimonious split and the notion that No. 4 would be wearing another uniform captivated the focus on the Packers leading into last season. They never gained any traction and spent much of their teetering season getting jabbed about winning just six games without Favre.

Discuss: Rodgers ready?
As part of NFL Network's 32 teams in 32 days series, Brian Baldinger and Jamie Dukes examine Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in his second season as a starter. More ...

Now, he's just another ghost at Lambeau.

The talk is about quarterback Aaron Rodgers being better in his second year as a starter and whether the switch to a 3-4 defense will be any better at stopping the run than last year's team, which was among the worst in the NFL in that category. There is no outward electricity, but there is internal confidence.

So over Him.

"Stuff has happened across the division and we're getting a little more respect as a division but I think we're kind of an afterthought, maybe," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the team's final minicamp practice this week. "Chicago, with the addition of Jay; the things going on in Minnesota with the team they already have in place; Detroit, they have no way to go but to be better.

"But we love the guys we've got. We have the kind of team (Coach) Mike McCarthy is looking for. We are a team that is very united in the locker room, united in purpose and believes in the schemes on both sides of the ball."

Universally, well, at least in Green Bay's locker room, there is no mention of Favre unless it is brought up by someone else. For the most part, his expected return to the Vikings is referred to as the "situation" or "possibility" in Minnesota.

Worrying about what Favre plans to do pales to what the Packers plan to do to him. And Cutler. And Stafford or Daunte Culpepper in Detroit.

Green Bay is busy becoming the only team in the NFC North that will use a 3-4 defense -- a defense that specializes in getting after the quarterback.

"With all the new quarterbacks around, I look at it as a chance to add some more names to (my) list," said defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who missed most of last season with a torn pectoral injury but is expected to be medically cleared by the start of training camp.

While the Packers might barely be registering on the NFC North meter at the moment, Green Bay's offense is hardly generating conversation within its own ranks. That's because there have been no major additions to that side of the ball, unlike those made (or expected) with every other team in the division.

Jeff Gross / Getty Images
Ryan Grant has helped the Packers stabilize their running game.
Packers' offensive yardage leaders (last five seasons)
Year
Passing (Yds)
Rushing (Yds)
Receiving (Yds)
Aaron Rodgers (4,038) Ryan Grant (1,203) Greg Jennings (1,292)
Brett Favre (4,155) Ryan Grant (956) Donald Driver (1,048)
Brett Favre (3,885) Ahman Green (1,059) Donald Driver (1,295)
Brett Favre (3,881) Samkon Gado (582) Donald Driver (1,221)
Brett Favre (4,088) Ahman Green (1,163) Javon Walker (1,382)

The lack of turnover and having tailback Ryan Grant with the team all offseason -- he did not take part in offseason workouts last season in a contract dispute -- has generated a sense of cohesion that has players feeling they'll be a step ahead when the season opens.

"Our chemistry is great and chemistry is No. 1," Jennings said. "We're making sure we're on the same page and that we stay focused with one goal -- and that's to be the best offense in the NFL."

The Packers ranked eighth in overall offense last season, but they could not generate game-to-game consistency. Part of that was due to Grant getting off to a slow start because of a hamstring injury. Though he finished with more than 1,200 rushing yards, his yards per carry dropped from 5.1 to 3.9. Grant has been dialed in during offseason workouts, and said he's already stronger than he was at any point last season and that he feels capable of re-emerging as the breakaway threat that helped bolster all elements of the offense in 2007.

"For me, breaking the long run is big," Grant said. "Last year, the initial injury and not having that explosion hurt. In this offense, exploding through the first tackle helps break the big run. I'm getting back to it now because my legs are strong. Consistency and explosion is what I'm looking for."

Grant's big-run potential also helps set up the play-action passing game that allows the offense to thrive. The receiving corps, led by Jennings, Donald Driver and tight ends Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley, is very dangerous. Rodgers looks even more comfortable than he did last season when he threw for 4,038 yards and 28 touchdowns to rank fourth in the NFL and have Packer Nation feel somewhat more at ease that the team can move on without Him.

"We feel like this is like the '07 scenario where we were coming off an 8-8 season in '06 and go 13-3," said Rodgers, who was Favre's backup during that referenced period. "Last year, with the high expectations and not being able to win a lot of close games, or put up the kind of numbers we were capable of putting up, it was an underachieving season.

"What we've done now is we put more stuff in, stuff that we used last year that we were successful with. We put that in earlier this year. It was stuff we installed week-to-week during the season. I like the weapons we've got. We've got a healthy Ryan Grant. The guys up front -- it's the deepest offensive line we've had in five years. I am excited about them. They're athletic and smart and hopefully we stay healthy there so we don't have to move guys all over the place like last season.

"We feel like the only thing that can stop us is ourselves."

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15