The road to Super Bowl XLV begins today as the Packers officially begin their offseason workout program.
Ted Thompson has clearly committed to the teams "improve from within" mantra. He has a team that went from 6-10 to a Wild-Card berth and a first round exit in the playoffs. That's improvement. But the next step is the toughest - ensuring the team doesn't experience the terrible slide that saw it spiral from a 13-3 Championship Game participant to the aforementioned 6-10 squad. Ensuring that the Green Bay Packers are playoff contenders for years to come, the way clubs in Indianapolis, New England, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are.
The good-will engendered with the signings of Clifton, Collins, Pickett and Tauscher should dissipate as soon as fans remember the litany of challenges facing this Packers team, the same team those four players were a part of last year. Those four, while incredibly important to the cause of bringing the Lombardi trophy home, are not the key to the Packers returning to their rightful place as Champions. No, that distinction lies with players like Brad Jones, B. J. Raji, Brandon Underwood and Clay Matthews. THESE four players are key. Improve over their showings last year, and no matter what the draft brings, the Packers are a Championship contender and, without question in my mind, a much more complete team than the team that went 13-3 and within an overtime drive of the Super Bowl in 2007.
Yes, the draft is coming and there, not the first weeks of free agency, is where Thompson will find fresh talent, and if his 2010 draft is even half as good as his 2009 the team should be able to find two or three real players that can help get the Packers to the Super Bowl. An offensive tackle. A defensive back. An outside linebacker. All would be welcome.
But the offense, which I thought was not as good as everyone was making it out to be last offseason, is now set as one of the premier units in the league. Yes, another gamebraker on offense would be welcome, especially when one remembers how pedestrian the offense looked at times this past season without Finley. But the maturation of T.J. Lang behind the veterans Tauscher and Clifton leaves a much better safety net than going into the season with the plan of having your left guard slide over in case of emergency. The offensive line finally played up to its capabilities the last half of the year. The weakest link in the chain, the left guard position, will be in competition throughout training camp. Whatever the outcome there, the offensive line will do its job enabling Rodgers the time to do his - namely getting the ball into the hands of the multiple weapons on offense. The one major blemish that Head Coach Mike McCarthy must correct is the constant slow starts that have plagued not only his offense but his team.
The most improvement must come on the defensive side of the ball. (This is no secret, obviously) - the teams number one ranking against the run, while a nice talisman, could be viewed as the product of going up against some extremely pedestrian offenses throughout the year. And its hard to forget how well the Cardinals, not a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust group by any means, ran the ball in the playoff loss. Here is where Raji must make his biggest impact. Of course the biggest improvement must come against the pass and against veteran quarterbacks. Brady and McNabb loom on the 2010 schedule, both away from the friendly confines of Lambeau Field. The Packers secondary and their chief architect Dom Capers must fix whatever caused the continual breakdowns on the back end and the best place to start is by not letting the pass be thrown at all.
This team has the makings of a champion. There will be many hills and valleys along the way, but the Lombardi Trophy is there for the taking.
And it all begins today.
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