Packers 2013 primer: The offense
Minicamps and OTAs are in the books and we're 5 1/2 weeks from the start of training camp. Welcome to the dull part of the NFL calender, where the only news is which players couldn't stay out of trouble.
So it's an ideal time to start looking ahead to the 2013 season and we'll start with the Packers offense, which will look drastically different than 2012. At wide receiver, Greg Jennings left for Minnesota in free agency and Donald Driver retired. While Driver's impact last year was minimal Jennings was a top target in the Packers offense. However, with Randall Cobb continuing to see an increase in his role and with James Jones coming off a career year the Packers were comfortable letting Jennings go. Likely part of the decision was the fact that Jennings had missed 11 of the last 22 games going back to the 2011 season. The Packers also restocked the depth at the position by drafting Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey. Jeremy Ross is likely to see his role increase as well. So there's certainly not a lack of bodies at wide receiver. There's no question there was some risk involved in the decision, especially considering Jennings signed with rival Minnesota. But with Cobb, Jones and Jordy Nelson still in the fold the Packers air attack isn't likely to miss a beat.
Unless, of course, the Packers can't protect Aaron Rodgers. Last season Rodgers was sacked 51 times during the regular season and four more times in the postseason. Those numbers are startling and even more so when you consider how often Rodgers was pressured when the Packers lost. In six losses Rodgers was sacked 27 times. That's nearly half of the sack total in only a third of the games played. The game plan was simple: get to Rodgers and you beat the Packers. Thus Mike McCarthy made a switch in the offseason, moving the left side to the right sideand vice versa. Bryan Bulaga will now be the left tackle while Marshall Newhouse moves to the right side. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang also flip positions. Obviously the question here is, will it work? We'll find out right from the start when the Packers face San Francisco (a team that sacked Rodgers four times last year) in Week One.
Running back is another position that will look much different with the drafting of Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. The Packers showed a much stronger commitment to the running game down the stretch last year and McCarthy at one point said the Packers knew they couldn't be a one dimensional team after the 2011 postseason loss to the New York Giants. After this recent round of OTAs McCarthy said the Packers will run the ball better. With the two rookies the Packers are in position to be a much stronger run team. Lacy is big and physical and can grind between the tackles while Franklin is smaller but quicker and can glide outside both in run and pass situations. If the Packers really want to protect Rodgers they will need more from their running game in 2013. Just as a good defensive line can mask secondary issues a good running game can ultimately help with pass protection. If teams are forced to play the run more they won't be able to tee off on Rodgers.
It will be a make-or-break year for a number of tight ends, most notably Jermichael Finley. Back in March it looked like the Packers were going to keep either Jennings or Finley but not both. The team elected to keep Finley by giving him a roster bonus. Now he must deliver. A task that isn't a given considering Finley's inconsistent play last year. However, this is also an important year for D.J. Williams (who hasn't met expectations) and Andrew Quarless (who must stay healthy.)
The reality is as long as Rodgers is behind center the Packers will be a force offensively. Many are wondering if backups Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman are NFL ready but we won't really know unless one is pressed into duty. After all, who knew T.J. Yates and Kirk Cousins would help guide their respective teams into the postseason in back-to-back years? To be sure, there are some question marks with this offense: how will it look without Jennings? Will position changes lead to better protection? Are a pair of rookies ready to lead the ground game? Will this finally be the year Finley reaches his potential? Whether we get the answers or not the Packers are still the team to beat in the NFC North with Rodgers at the helm.