With Aaron Rodgers' receiving corps healthy, a tight end (Jared Cook) who might be able to stretch the middle seam, and a rejuvenated and purportedly slimmer Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers' fans have high hopes for the 2016 season. Photo by Art Foxall/UPI | License Photo
FACTS AND STATS
2015 Finish: Second in NFC North
Record: 10-6, 1-1 in postseason; Wild Card
DIVISIONAL RECORD: 3-3
TOTAL OFFENSE: 334.6 (23rd)
RUSHING: 115.6 (12th)
PASSING: 218.9 (T25th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 346.7 (15th)
RUSHING: 119.1 (21st)
PASSING: 227.6 (6th)
COACH: Mike McCarthy
11th season as Packers/NFL head coach
112-62-1 overall; 8-7 postseason
--Last year was a tough one for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Nelson is his favorite target and safety blanket. He also didn't trust some of the team's young receivers, most notably Jeff Janis, so he held the ball more rather than risk a tight throw. Rodgers' 92.7 rating, the first time he's been under 100 since his first season as starter (2008), tells his season's story in one number. With Rodgers' receiving corps healthy and a tight end (Cook) who might be able to stretch the middle seam, the Packers are expecting to see Rodgers return to MVP-type form.
2016 UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS
By TSX reporter covering team:
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Aaron Rodgers. Backups -- Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
Aaron Rodgers (12) hands off to running back James Starks (44) during the NFC Wild Card game adjacent the Washington Redskins on January 10, 2016. Photo by David Tulis/UPI
Sixteen days will have passed since Rodgers played a football game until he plays another in Sunday's season opener at the Jacksonville Jaguars
. Somehow, some way, however, Rodgers kept insisting throughout an atypical August that he would be ready to go once the games start for real. The Packers' brain trust of general manager Ted Thompson
and head coach Mike McCarthy better hope so because the 32-year-old Rodgers had the luxury of doing his least work in a preseason with regard to game action. He played only one game, all of two series and just 26 snaps. Rodgers was far from sharp in that cameo appearance. Yet, his solid 6-of-9 passing performance for 60 yards with a short touchdown throw to Randall Cobb
, which capped a nifty 87-yard drive before Rodgers promptly exited for the rest of the preseason, is encouraging for how well the offense could function right out of the gate. Hundley was supposed to get the bulk of the playing time in the exhibition games in his newfound role as Rodgers' understudy, but the second-year pro played only one contest, in which he aggravated a nagging left ankle injury. After missing the last two games, Hundley is said to be fine to run the scout team in practice for Week 1. Nevertheless, Thompson and McCarthy decided to hold onto a third quarterback for the third straight year. Callahan took advantage of all kinds of playing time thanks to the inactivity of Rodgers and Hundley and, as the undrafted rookie noticeably improved each week in training camp, ultimately forced the Packers' hand on the final roster cutdown day. The former Division III standout doesn't have prototypical size at 6 feet, 1 inch and 216 pounds, but he compensated with his mobility and coming through with a slew of completions when he was accurate with the ball. "This is just clearly Joe Callahan earning the job," McCarthy said Monday. "I mean, how the hell is he not on your team? I think it was clear. Just watch the games, watch the video ... I thought it was very obvious what he accomplished during the preseason."
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Eddie Lacy, FB Aaron Ripkowski. Backups -- James Starks, Jhurell Pressley
Eddie Lacy (27) scores on a short run during the NFC Wild Card game on January 10, 2016. Green Bay won 35-18. Photo by David Tulis/UPI
As with Rodgers and a number of other key players, Lacy played sparingly in the preseason. The rejuvenated and purportedly slimmer Lacy packed plenty of punch in his limited game work, however. In just 34 snaps spanning four series in three games, Lacy ran with authority, averaging 5.7 yards per rush with 114 yards and a touchdown in 20 carries. After a full offseason of getting his body right in the wake of criticism from McCarthy at the end of last season, Lacy not only has to stay in shape going forward but must pick up the production this season as he enters a contract year. The Packers have their reliable fallback in Starks for a seventh season. He didn't jump out in the preseason, averaging just 3.4 yards per touch with 61 yards in 18 carries. The waiver-wire addition of Pressley on Sunday meant the end of the road in Green Bay for promising undrafted rookie Brandon Burks. Pressley, an undrafted guy as well out of New Mexico, makes the move inside the NFC North from the Minnesota Vikings
. The small, but quick Pressley left the Vikings on a high note with a long catch-and-run touchdown and an even longer 106-yard kickoff return from one end zone to the other one in their final preseason game. "He has big-play ability," McCarthy said Monday. The rugged Ripkowski takes over full time at fullback in his second year after the transition from longtime fan favorite John Kuhn started last season.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Richard Rodgers. Backups -- Jared Cook, Justin Perillo
The Packers surely viewed former Rams tight end Jared Cook as an upgrade and a downfield threat when they signed the veteran free agent to a modest one-year, $2.75 million contract in late March Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
The Packers listed Rodgers as their top tight end throughout the preseason. Yet, there was no denying the team's best tight end the last month was Cook, and the argument could be made that Perillo was second-best. Cook and Perillo each had nine catches in the preseason games, while Rodgers had only one. As much as Rodgers made a nice jump in his second season in 2015 with 58 catches and eight touchdown receptions. Once healthy again early in training camp after he recovered from minor foot surgery, the 6-foot-5 Cook stood out in camp practices as the new big target for Aaron Rodgers. Perillo also had a solid preseason as a reliable pass catcher, earning a roster spot at the start of the season for the first time in his three years with the team.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb. Backups -- Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
Jordy Nelson dives for the end zone on a 45-yard touchdown pass on November 30, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. UPI/Brian Kersey
Not that a nine-year pro who's regarded as one of the premier wideouts in the league needed them, but the training wheels have come off for Nelson. "Jordy's full go, and we expect him to line up and be full bore in Jacksonville," McCarthy said Monday. The game Sunday will be Nelson's first live action in nearly 13 months. He missed the 2015 season because of a torn ACL in his right knee. A minor injury to his left knee delayed his return in training camp until mid-August. Nelson then spent the final two weeks of camp building up his work in practice, primarily running routes and working on his timing with Aaron Rodgers. Nelson's presence on the field again should help Cobb, who is healthy and has bulked up in recent months, to make amends for a challenging 2015 season with less attention paid to him in the slot. Adams also is out for atonement from last season. The talented third-year player had a mostly superb camp, though he dropped too many passes. No longer saddled by injuries that curtailed his first two seasons, Abbrederis led the receiver group in the preseason with eight catches for an average of 12.5 yards and can be a nice complement to Cobb inside. Montgomery returned to the field in early August after being out since last October because of an ankle injury that required surgery in his rookie season. The up-and-down Janis (broken finger) and the speedy Davis (shoulder), a fifth-round draft pick this year, had injury issues at the end of the preseason.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor, C JC Tretter, RG T.J. Lang, RT Bryan Bulaga. Backups -- T Jason Spriggs, T Kyle Murphy, T/G Don Barclay, C Corey Linsley
David Bakhtiari (L) congratulates Eddie Lacy on a two yard TD leap on September 8, 2013. UPI/Bruce Gordon
Now that the shock waves have subsided from the holiday weekend, the Packers are content to start the season without Josh Sitton
for the first time since he assumed a full-time starting job in 2009. Green Bay dumped its oldest (30) and most tenured (eight seasons) offensive lineman in the final roster cutdown without getting anything in return. "A tough decision," McCarthy later termed the transaction. Though Sitton was coming off a second straight season of earning a Pro Bowl invitation at left guard, his high salary-cap number of nearly $7 million no doubt was a big factor in his release. The Packers had all of their starting linemen except Bulaga entering the final year of their contracts, so they would have been hard-pressed to keep all of them at season's end anyway. Sitton's abrupt departure opens the door for Taylor to try to seize a starting role. The fourth-year pro has only two starts in his career, but McCarthy declared Monday, "I have all of the confidence in the world in Lane. He's earned this opportunity." The Packers are hoping for the best with the 6-3, 324-pound Taylor, who excels at run blocking, at least early in the season. The potential exists for another lineup change to be made at midseason after Linsley is expected to be ready following his mandatory six weeks sidelined on the physically unable to perform list. A chronic hamstring injury cost Linsley his job at center, where Tretter has landed in his fourth season but would be a candidate to move to guard if needed later on. The Packers will be counting on dependable mainstays Bakhtiari, Lang and Bulaga to stay healthy with only three backups on the roster. The rookie duo of Spriggs, a second-round pick, and Murphy, a sixth-rounder, still need development before they can be thrown into the proverbial fire. Fifth-year pro Barclay provides versatility, adding center in the preseason to his pedigree.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Kenny Clark, NT Letroy Guion, DRE Mike Daniels. Backups -- DE Dean Lowry, DT Christian Ringo, DT Mike Pennel (suspended four games)
Green Bay Packers nose tackle Letroy Guion celebrates after making a tackle on November 26, 2015, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Photo by Frank Polich/UPI
Thankfully for the Packers, they don't play many linemen with defensive coordinator Dom Capers
' dependence on mostly nickel and dime packages. Green Bay starts the season with incredibly thin numbers among its heaviest position on that side of the football. Pennel, an improving third-year pro, is suspended for the first four games because of a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Clark, the team's first-round draft pick this year, missed the last two preseason games because of back injury. That leaves his status up in the air for the season opener. That could leave the Packers' going with a modified rotation of veteran leaders Daniels and Guion and intriguing rookie Lowry, a fourth-round draft pick. Ringo, a 2015 sixth-round draft pick who spent last season on the practice squad, provides a body with pass-rush skills until Pennel gets back.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB Julius Peppers, BLB Jake Ryan, MLB Blake Martinez, ROLB Clay Matthews. Backups -- OLB Nick Perry, OLB Datone Jones, ILB Joe Thomas, OLB Jayrone Elliott, OLB Kyler Fackrell
Inside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) sacks Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) for a fumble in the NFC Wild Card game on January 10, 2015. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The Packers also are conspicuously thin at inside linebacker, which was the position of greatest concern for the defense going into the offseason. They wound up keeping only three players with two starting jobs to fill. Second-year pro Ryan and compelling rookie Martinez, a fourth-round draft pick, opened the preseason as the starters and stayed there until a hamstring injury sidelined Ryan for a few weeks. That coincided with the return of Sam Barrington from a foot injury that robbed him of all but the first game of the 2015 season. Thompson, however, chose to cut the fourth-year pro at the end of camp and stick with his younger players. They include Thomas, a second-year player whose second go-around with the team last season resulted in increased playing time and contributions toward the end as a situational linebacker. Of course, Capers has the flexibility to move Matthews inside on occasion after experimenting with the All-Pro pass rusher in that role the last 1 1/2 seasons. However, McCarthy was adamant Monday about where Matthews will line up in his eighth pro season. "My goal is to play Clay outside. That hasn't changed," said McCarthy, who made his preference known after last season. Keeping Matthews outside adds to how stacked Green Bay is with playmakers' coming off the edges and also moving down along the line to put their hands on the ground as so-called elephant ends. The coaches plan to be careful with how much they play the 36-year-old Peppers so as to maximize his impact in harassing the opposing quarterback. That will allow Perry, the team's underachieving 2012 first-round draft pick, to play more on early downs. Jones, the first-round pick in 2013, has adapted well in his move from a true defensive lineman. More pass-rush punch can come from third-year player Elliott and rookie Fackrell, a third-round selection who flashed as a playmaker in the preseason games.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Damarious Randall, RCB Sam Shields, SS Morgan Burnett, FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Backups -- CB Quinten Rollins, S Micah Hyde, CB LaDarius Gunter, S Chris Banjo, CB Josh Hawkins, S Marwin Evans, S Kentrell Brice, CB Demetri Goodson (suspended 4 games)
The secondary has strength in numbers with the decision to keep 12 -- it had been 13 until undrafted rookie cornerback Makinton Dorleant was placed on injured reserve Monday to free up a roster spot. The defensive backs also could collectively be the strength of the defense this season. Much depends on the health of Burnett. The seventh-year pro didn't play a preseason game because of a back injury. He returned to the field the last week of training camp. Whether he's healthy enough to jump right back in as a starter in Sunday's opener is a big question mark. The Packers, though, have the fourth-year Hyde as a reliable fill-in. Banjo provides further depth at safety, though the third-year player is more valuable on special teams. Evans and Brice made the team as undrafted rookies. Green Bay returns its top three cornerbacks from last season. Shields' luster as a lockdown cover guy could be wearing off in his seventh season, so the hope is the second-year tandem of Randall and Rollins continues to progress as full-time contributors. Randall is the logical choice to move inside with Rollins on the perimeter when the Packers go nickel. And, Gunter, who made the team as an undrafted rookie last season, also could factor into the alignment. Hawkins won a roster spot as an undrafted free agent this year with a team-high two interceptions in preseason play. Goodson, a third-year pro, is suspended for the first four games because of a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mason Crosby, P Jake Schum, LS Brett Goode, KOR/PR Jared Abbrederis, PR Micah Hyde, KOR/PR Trevor Davis
Kicker Mason Crosby (2) kicks a 29-yard field goal under pressure on January 10, 2016. Green Bay won 35-18. Photo by David Tulis/UPI
Ol' reliable Crosby, the team's all-time scoring leader, is back for a 10th season at age 32. He knocked through 28 of 32 field goals last season, including the playoffs, and was perfect on extra points. What is different for one of the team's oldest players, however, is Tim Masthay is gone after six seasons as the punter and also Crosby's reliable holder. Thompson cut Masthay just two days before the final preseason game and brought in Schum, a second-year player who is 27 years old. Schum was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
' punter last season, but they exposed him to waivers late in the preseason. No sooner did he join the Packers than Schum solidified a roster spot by posting strong averages of 45.5 gross yards and 41.3 net yards with eight kicks in the preseason finale. Schum will hold on kicks. He will receive the football in the dual role from Goode, whom Green Bay re-signed this week as it let go of first-year replacement Rick Lovato. The ninth-year pro had been idle since he sustained a torn ACL toward the end of last season with the Packers. Goode hadn't missed a game since opening the 2008 season as Green Bay's long snapper. "Our history with Brett is the way we turned in this particular decision," McCarthy said. Depending on how involved he is with the offense, Abbrederis could handle kickoff and punt returns, though special teams coordinator Ron Zook
seems to be comfortable with the experienced Hyde for the latter. Davis' shoulder injury sustained in the final preseason game makes him an unlikely candidate to fill a return role, though his explosiveness in college intrigued the Packers during draft weekend.
PRACTICE SQUAD: WR Geronimo Allison, LB Carl Bradford, LB Beniquez Brown, LB Reggie Gilbert, RB Don Jackson, G Blake Muir, G Lucas Patrick, DT Brian Price, WR Herb Waters, S Jermaine Whitehead
All times Eastern
Sept. 11, at Jacksonville, 12:00
Sept. 18, at Minnesota, 7:30
Sept. 25, DETROIT, 12:00
Oct. 9, N.Y. GIANTS, 7:30
Oct. 16, DALLAS, 3:25
Oct. 20, CHICAGO (Thu.), 7:25
Oct. 30, at Atlanta, 12:00
Nov. 6, INDIANAPOLIS, 3:25
Nov. 13, at Tennessee, 12:00
Nov. 20, at Washington, 7:30
Nov. 28, at Philadelphia (Mon.), 7:30
Dec. 4, HOUSTON, 12:00
Dec. 11, SEATTLE, 3:25
Dec. 18, at Chicago, 12:00
Dec. 24, MINNESOTA (Sat.), 12:00
Jan. 1, at Detroit, 12:00