Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a touchdown pass against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on January 15, 2017. File photo by Shane Roper/UPI | License Photo
GREEN BAY -- Dom Capers didn't come out this spring and just say what many concluded a few months earlier.
A leaky pass defense is what kept the Green Bay Packers from extending their remarkable late-season run last season to Super Bowl LI in Houston in February.
"Everyone knows what our goals are here," said Capers, the team's longtime defensive coordinator. "When we've accomplished that goal (win the Super Bowl) or when we've been close to accomplishing that goal, we've played pretty well on defense. Obviously, when you have an offense like we have and a quarterback like we have, (the expectations) are always going to be up there.
"I think when you look at your team and your goals and you're going to try to be the best, you've got to work toward that. We set a high standard that way. If you don't reach that standard, you feel pressure to go ahead and accomplish it."
In other words, Capers knows the defense needs to hold up its end of the bargain in support of Aaron Rodgers & Co. as the Packers prepare to kick off the preseason with their ultimate goal of winning the league title.
The reigning NFC North champions, who won eight consecutive games before stumbling 44-21 on the road against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, are a confident and retooled bunch.
When the pads go on for the first practice of training camp July 27, what had already been a formidable offense will trot out two more stellar pass targets for Rodgers with veteran tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks.
As for the defense, the convenient scapegoat for the near-miss that was the 2016 season, the secondary has been overhauled with the additions of onetime Packer Davon House at cornerback and the team's top rookie duo of cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones.
"We're athletic," said Mike McCarthy, entering his 12th season as head coach. "I can clearly say that - we're an athletic football team. It's something that jumps out at you on the field, especially when you can see it in your big guys. Obviously, you better be athletic in your perimeter players, but I would say our athletic ability is high.
"(But) let's be honest, you don't really know until you get the pads on and really, really know until the games (start), but we're takin the right steps."
TOP THREE TRAINING CAMP GOALS
--Make the weak secondary a primary strength. The Packers ranked second from the bottom in the 32-team NFL defending the pass in the 2016 regular season, then had their surging postseason end abruptly when they allowed nearly 400 passing yards by the Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan in the lopsided NFC title game. General manager Ted Thompson didn't sit on his hands this offseason to try to turn things around. He let go of veterans Sam Shields and Micah Hyde, re-signed Davon House and then took cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones in the second round of the draft. Before the athletic King is anointed a starter for opening day, he'll have to catch on fast early in training camp after missing a good portion of the spring workouts because of the NFL's controversial rule on rookies not being allowed to participate if their colleges still are in session with classes. "Training camp is going to be very important for him because of the time that he's missed," longtime defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "We'll have a lot of work to get done (in the secondary), but we've got a group of young guys that are competing. I think we made some progress through the offseason, which will give us a chance to hopefully make things very competitive going into training camp."
--How will Rodgers spread the wealth? Aaron Rodgers played only one preseason game last summer - and all of two series in that cameo appearance. More of the same is expected this August for the indispensable 33-year-old quarterback. Hence, the practice field will be where Rodgers will get the most quality time to get timing of pass routes down and solidify the rapport that started in the spring with his new gadgets on offense. Thompson made a free-agent splash on that side of the ball by signing not one, but two big-play tight ends with 10th-year pro Martellus Bennett and seventh-year veteran Lance Kendricks. Blend them in with established receivers Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, the luxury couldn't be better for Rodgers. Yet, he must somehow keep everyone happy as he distributes just one football per snap. That shouldn't be a problem for the ultracompetitive Rodgers, who's focused on the closing the deal by getting the Packers back to the Super Bowl for the first time in seven years after falling a game short last winter. "I thought he had an excellent spring," quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. "I think he's in the best shape he's been in. He's lean, he's muscular, he looks like he's ready to go."
--Don't forget to run the football. Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy has been accused many a time in previous seasons of abandoning the run game. Having a high-octane passing attack triggered by Rodgers is a good reason why the Packers haven't needed to lean much on their backfield. At some point this season, Green Bay will need to run the football. To be determined in the preseason is how the pecking order for carries might look. Gone are young workhorse Eddie Lacy (signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks) and seven-year Packer James Starks (released in February). Ty Montgomery, who made a productive switch from receiver to halfback at midseason, enters camp as the lead back. The rest of the depth order is up for grabs among the three rookies selected in the draft: BYU's Jamaal Williams (fourth round), UTEP's Aaron Jones (fifth) and Utah State's Devante Mays (seventh). "With the young guys in that meeting room, it certainly brings a lot of excitement," offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. "They bring a lot of energy to the room. We're excited about the guys that we have."
PROJECTED CAMP DEPTH CHART
QUARTERBACK: Starter - Aaron Rodgers. Backups - Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan, Taysom Hill.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Ty Montgomery, FB Aaron Ripkowski. Backups - Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Kalif Phillips, William Stanback, FB Joe Kerridge.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Martellus Bennett. Backups - Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers, Beau Sandland, Aaron Peck.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb. Backups - Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis, Malachi Dupre, DeAngelo Yancey, Max McCaffrey, Michael Clark, Colby Pearson, Montay Crockett.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lane Taylor, C Corey Linsley, RG Jahri Evans, RT Bryan Bulaga. Backups - T Jason Spriggs, T/G Don Barclay, T Kyle Murphy, G Lucas Patrick, G Kofi Amichia, G Justin McCray, G Geoff Gray, G Thomas Evans, G/T Adam Pankey, T Robert Leff.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Mike Daniels, DT Kenny Clark, DRE Dean Lowry. Backups - DT Letroy Guion, DT Ricky Jean Francois, DT Montravius Adams, DT Christian Ringo, DT Brian Price, DT Izaah Lunsford.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Nick Perry, ILB Jake Ryan, ILB Blake Martinez, ROLB Clay Matthews. Backups - ILB Joe Thomas, OLB Jayrone Elliott, OLB Kyler Fackrell, OLB Vince Biegel, ILB Reggie Gilbert, ILB Jordan Tripp, ILB Cody Heiman, OLB Johnathan Calvin, ILB Derrick Mathews, ILB David Talley, OLB Josh Letuligasenoa.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Kevin King, RCB Davon House, SS Morgan Burnett, FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Backups - CB Damarious Randall, CB LaDarius Gunter, CB Quinten Rollins, CB Demetri Goodson, S Josh Jones, S Kentrell Brice, S Marwin Evans, CB Josh Hawkins, CB Herb Waters, S Jermaine Whitehead, CB Lenzy Pipkins, S Aaron Taylor, CB Donatello Brown, CB Daquan Holmes, CB Raysean Pringle.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Mason Crosby, P Justin Vogel, LS Derek Hart, KOR Jeff Janis, PR Randall Cobb or Trevor Davis.