Talented Packers give fans reason to dream of title this year

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Morry Gash / Associated Press
Donald Driver continues to be a dominant force at wide receiver, even at the age of 35.


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In Green Bay, the expectations seem to run a little higher than other destinations.

The city affectionately known as "Titletown" has come to expect the Packers to compete for a Super Bowl annually.

Although the Packers' last title came in Super Bowl XXXI, the dominance in the 1960's under Vince Lombardi has cast a large shadow over the franchise that makes anything less than a championship unacceptable in the minds of fans.

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Most NFL cities harbor those same aspirations, but the reminders of the Packers' illustrious past are rampant throughout town. That standard is reinforced when taking a walk through the hallowed halls of Lambeau Field, where pictures of Packer greats adorn the walls.

While the weight of such lofty expectations has the potential to cripple some teams, this group has embraced the notion of wearing the crown. The bounce in their step emits an aura of confidence that embodies a champion.

It begins with Aaron Rodgers, who is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter. He has been magnificent in replacing Brett Favre as the face of the franchise. He has posted nine 300-yard games and had a passer rating over 100 in 18 of his 32 career starts. The numbers earned Rodgers a Pro Bowl nod last season and cemented his status as one of the budding stars at the position.

While Rodgers deserves his place among the elite, he has benefitted from playing with a stellar supporting cast that has made the Packers an offensive juggernaut and one of the favorites in the NFC.

Pro Bowl caliber receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver have helped the Packers finish among the top 10 passing offenses the last two years. The duo's ability to deliver has resulted in a league-high 33 completions over 40 yards during that stretch.

With tight end Jermichael Finley emerging as another explosive option, the offense is poised to continue its reign as one of the league's most feared.

Although Rodgers and Co. are capable of carrying Green Bay to the postseason, it is a stifling defense that could be the key to the Packers' title hopes.

Last season, Dom Capers transformed a unit that was the 20th-ranked in 2008 into the league's second-best defense in his first year as coordinator. Fueled by cornerback Charles Woodson, the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, the Packers led the league in takeaways (40) and finished with the league's top rush defense (83.3 yards per game).

Despite seemingly unraveling during the team's 51-45 playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the unit still made significant strides in its transition to the 3-4. With another offseason to master the nuances of Capers' system and a few key additions along the defensive line and secondary, the defense should wreak even more havoc in 2010.

Fittingly, the Packers will unveil their 1929 championship jerseys as their alternate uniform this season. If coach Mike McCarthy can get the Packers to fulfill their immense potential, there could be more hardware to add to the team's legendary history.

CAMP OBSERVATIONS

» Atari Bigby's offseason absence and training camp injuries have paved the way for rookie Morgan Burnett to start at safety. He has been working with the first unit since his arrival, and flashes the kind of playmaking skills that the team covets. Although he must continue to show coaches that he can be a dependable tackler, his extraordinary ball skills make him a potential difference-maker.

» Capers continues to take advantage of the outstanding linebacker depth by creating a variety of packages to get his top players on the field. Brandon Chillar is among those who could benefit from Capers' creativity. The seventh-year pro has emerged as a quality utility player for the Packers after seeing action as an outside linebacker, safety and nickel linebacker in the past. Expect Chillar to be a key contributor as a jack of all trades.

» The Packers have reshuffled their defensive line to compensate for the loss of Johnny Jolly. Ryan Pickett has moved to defensive end (he was the team's starting nose tackle last season), and last year's first-round pick, B.J. Raji, will take over at nose tackle. Cullen Jenkins will remain at the other defensive end spot to add more size and strength up front. Although Jolly's run-stuffing skills will be sorely missed, the Packers have the talent to make up for the loss.

» Jordy Nelson and James Jones are embroiled in a heated battle to become the Packers' No. 3 receiver. Jones, who tallied 32 receptions for 440 yards with five touchdowns a season ago, entered training camp as a slight favorite to win the job. However, Nelson has made a strong push for the spot in camp. He has caught everything thrown in his direction and displayed good running skills in the open field. Although the Packers' preference for using four-receiver sets will guarantee both a lot of playing time, the compeititon for the slot spot is one to watch this preseason.

» After erupting in the postseason loss against the Cardinals, Finley immediately earned recognition as one of the league's breakout players. Based on the rave reviews from Packers' personnel, it appears that Finley is on the verge of stardom. He was dominant in the team's intra-squad scrimmage and flashes the skills to be a Pro Bowler. At 6-foot-5, 247 pounds, Finley has the body of a basketball power forward with the speed of a receiver. With his game continuing to round into form, Finley will cause a lot of sleepless nights for opposing coordinators.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

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The Packers' much-maligned offensive line returns intact without any changes on the first team. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher remain the holdovers at the tackle positions, while Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells and Josh Sitton are inside. Although Jason Spitz is still in the mix to steal one of the inside positions, the Packers appear to be content to trot out the same group from a year ago.

LASTING IMAGE

The Packers had 47,844 fans attend their Family Night Scrimmage at Lambeau Field. While other teams will have a fair share of fans attend their respective team nights, Packers fans pride themselves on being a "G-Force" that provides the extra energy to make a difference in the outcome of games. Given the Packers' outstanding home record in recent years, the impact of the "G-Force" is still alive and well in Green Bay.

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