Green Bay Packers  

 

Aaron Rodgers' supporting cast built to help carry Packers' load

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- All those people who've wondered when Green Bay will give Aaron Rodgers more help will have to find something else to complain about this fall. The talent in the Packers' backfield should be more diverse. There will be a variety of receivers to throw to, and the offensive line thus far has been the steadiest unit in training camp. Basically, this offense should be scarier than it was in the second half of last season, as long as injury problems don't plague Green Bay once again.

Anybody who follows the Packers can tell you that it's nice to hear such news about their team. There's been constant chatter in recent years about the lack of resources around Rodgers, the amount of time the star quarterback has spent carrying the offense and the refusal of general manager Ted Thompson to bolster that unit through free agency. Well, it's a new day in Green Bay, one that should lead this team to make more noise come January. One season after rebounding from a 4-6 start to go all the way to the NFC Championship Game, the Packers have enough offensive firepower to push their way back into a Super Bowl.

The key is how fast their new additions adjust and how well their younger players handle heightened expectations. "It's a lot of fun," said Rodgers, who threw for 4,428 yards and 40 touchdowns with just seven interceptions in 2016. "We've done the same installs [of the offense] every year at this time, but it's always changing. We're always trying to put guys in different positions. We're trying to fit our scheme and our approach to the guys we have. ... It's the tweaking of these personnel groupings and the matching of these plays that gets you daydreaming about possibilities and ultimately what we could have on offense."

The first obvious difference about this year's Packers is the free-agent additions of tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. Thompson has rarely been willing to use the open market to add talent, but it's easy to see what he hopes to gain with this duo. Both players are big, athletic and capable of creating matchup problems for opposing defenders. Throw in Richard Rodgers -- who is entering his fourth season with the team -- and the Packers have never been stronger at the position during the Aaron Rodgers era.

The emergence of running back Ty Montgomery also is something that can't be ignored. Injuries forced the former wide receiver into that backfield role midway through last season, and his mark of 5.9 yards per carry earned him the full-time job for good. Even though the Packers used three draft picks on running backs in April, Montgomery's growth will play a major role in their success. His skills as a ball carrier and pass catcher could also stress a defense in ways that ease the burden on Rodgers.

The theme that continues to develop here is that Green Bay will have more mismatch possibilities on offense than at any time in recent memory. This used to be a team that relied regularly on Rodgers operating with three- and four-receiver formations. There will still be plenty of that dimension, with wideouts Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb capable of making big plays. The significant change this year will be the introduction of a more physical, less predictable element to the Packers offense.

That might be strange to say of an offense that ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring (and averaged 32.1 points per game during an eight-game winning streak that followed that 4-6 start). However, Green Bay is looking forward to adding more elements. "It will be good for us," Rodgers said. "We haven't had a lot of two-tight-end sets for a while. That really evens things out with the defense. It makes coverage abilities -- or the ability to run multiple coverages -- a little harder. You have to guard against the run and the pass on both sides. With two tight ends, we're playing more downhill, and we haven't been able to do that in a while."

Added head coach Mike McCarthy: "It's like anything -- a good system of offense takes advantage of every player in the program. We'll be doing more of what we did a little bit in the past. Like two tight ends -- we've used it before, but just not as much as we will now."

It's apparent the Packers are trying to maintain some perspective when contemplating the potential of this current bunch around Rodgers. He actually made a point of referring back to the 2011 season, when Green Bay went 15-1 and boasted an offense that included several veteran wide receivers (Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Donald Driver), a freakishly gifted tight end (Jermichael Finley) and a solid running game. Many of those same players helped the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV a season earlier. They also had a huge role in Green Bay winning 19 consecutive games from 2010 to '11.

Rodgers said this year's supporting cast could "get in the conversation" when it comes to being as dynamic as that group, but he added that "there are a lot of unknowns," specifically in terms of who aides Montgomery in the backfield and how the tight ends all fit together. He did acknowledge that Green Bay found some silver linings amidst all the injuries they've sustained on offense over the last couple of years. Montgomery emerged after health problems plagued the running back position in 2016. The team also had to ask more of Adams (who broke out with 997 yards and 12 touchdown receptions last season), as well as younger receivers like Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis.

Even the willingness to rely more on the tight end position can be traced back to the invaluable contributions Green Bay received from Jared Cook, who signed a one-year deal in March of 2016, late last year (Cook signed with Oakland this offseason). "It puts some stress on you, because you don't know what you have until you see it," Rodgers said when asked how much the team learned from other players when injuries sidelined starters. "We tell all those guys the same things once we cut down to 53 players every year. Every one of them will get an opportunity at some point to make an impact on this team. You have to be ready for it. Those who are ready become bigger parts of the offense. Those who aren't -- well, they probably aren't here anymore."

Rodgers also faces the added responsibility of communicating with so many potential contributors to the offense. McCarthy said that shouldn't be an issue, because his quarterback always has excelled at pulling players aside to talk about chemistry in the passing game. As McCarthy said, "He not only sees the game, but he also has great recall and knows how to apply what he's seen in past situations." Even more beneficial to Rodgers is that he's had a full offseason to think about all the ways he wants to utilize the talents of this current group.

What Rodgers also has is the knowledge that he has to be prepared for any possible scenario this fall. He's lost all types of weapons in the past, and he's proven he can still keep the Packers in playoff contention, regardless of the odds. The nice thing about this bunch is that, when adversity strikes, Rodgers won't have to do it all by himself -- this time around, there will be plenty of help to make his life easier.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.

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