Everyone has an opinion, everyone thinks they are right. As we head into the first live action of the season, I leave on the record my predictions for 2009.
With the joke that was Mike Stock no longer taking up space, the special teams will show a slight improvement.
Our kickoff return team will be average. Without the wedge, big kick returns will be few and far between. Will Blackmon, Tramon Williams, and Jordy Nelson will be solid, recording two TD’s in the return game.
The kick coverage team will again finish near the bottom of the league. The gamble on Jarrett Bush does not pay off. Still searching for answers after the Tracy White debacle, and with injuries mounting to the rookie draft class, the kick coverage unit finds itself fair to middling at best, again.
What the Packers lose on kickoff return they will gain back on punt returns. Will Blackmon, finally healthy for an entire season, electrifies Packer fans all year long. Blackmon finds himself with three touchdowns and a spot on the Pro Bowl roster.
Finally, expect a slight improvement in the punting unit. Jeremy Kapinos, having solidified the starting role in week three, has a consistent, albeit bland season. Limiting his mistakes in cold weather Kapinos stays neck in neck with most second tier punters in the league.
Once thought to be the strength of the team, the secondary becomes a question mark early. Unable to make the transition to zone, Al Harris begins to hear rumblings favoring Tramon Williams in a starter’s role. The entire organization knows that Harris will not take kindly to the demotion and continue to start him. Patrick Lee never fully recovers from his back injuries leaving Dom Capers slightly thin. Aaron Rouse turns out to be a disappointment again this season, leaving Capers (who prefers to use a safety in his dime packages) starting Anthony Smith in those situations.
Injuries take their toll on the line backing crew right out of the gate. First round pick Clay Matthews is hindered by a hamstring injury for the entire season. Lack of field time, and practice time force Matthews into a situational role when he is healthy. Much like A.J. Hawk in 2008, Matthews is ineffective. Taking Matthews place is Brady Poppinga who once again earned the spot during training camp. Avoiding the injuries suffered by Matthews and projected starter Jeremy Thompson, Poppinga does a pedestrian type job for the first eight weeks. Thompson, although healthy, never exhibits the flash the Packers had hoped for. Aaron Kampman proves to be serviceable. Nasty off the edge, Kampman delivers double digit sacks. Although impressive, Kampman remains average in coverage.
The jam at linebacker becomes apparent in week 6 when Nick Barnett is deemed fully recovered from injury. Barnett takes his spot back full time from a very impressive Desmond Bishop. Bishop’s success, along with the success of Brandon Chillar, starts forcing a heavy dose of rotations both inside and out. In week nine, Chillar finds himself with the starting role outside, as Bishop fills in the gaps for Hawk and Barnett.
The Defensive Line
After Justin Harrell is placed on IR in week two, the Packers look for rookie B.J. Raji to make some noise. Raji is impressive for a rookie, finding playing time at both end and tackle. Ryan Pickett keeps his starting job in the middle and performs at a high level. Pickett’s success is due in part to the play of Cullen Jenkins who returns to form after last season’s injury. It is Jenkins and not Kampman that teams plan around, leaving plenty of opportunity for the big men in the middle. Johnny Jolly and Michael Montgomery prove to be consistent backups. Jolly, although upset about his loss of time to B.J. Raji, keeps fairly quiet about the issues on the heels of his court case and certain free agency.
Aaron Rodgers finally dispels of the label injury prone this season. He does miss the fourth quarter of one game, while Matt Flynn continues to display the reasons he will never be a true number two quarterback. There are a few days of Favre to replace Rodgers discussions, but Aaron’s injury does not cause any further lost game time. Rodgers finishes the year second in passing and third in touchdowns. Aaron also finds himself at the bottom of another list with a paltry 9 interceptions. This lands Aaron as the second quarterback on the season’s Pro Bowl team in the NFC.
The Packers find themselves once again with inconsistencies at the running back position. Ryan Grant remains the starter, although he finds himself pushed by a finally healthy DeShawn Wynn. Grant, breaks a few big plays, but continues to struggle with a 3.75 yard per carry effort. There is public outcry about starting the emerging Wynn, but the organization decides to let Grant start for unknown reasons. Brandon Jackson never really gets an opportunity, and his future as Green Bay Packer is uncertain.
Surprisingly, the Packers offensive line has remained cohesive. The emergence of Breno “Guacamole” Giacomini allowed the Packers to move Josh Sitton to guard and Jason Spitz to center. This along with a healthy Chad Clifton and improving Daryn Colledge has led to the first consistent line in nearly half a decade. Aaron Rodgers has had plenty of time to find his targets, and the running game deficiencies can be blamed more on Grant’s lack of vision than poor play up front.
Fantasy owners across the country are elated with either of four Green Bay Packer receivers. Greg Jennings has more than lived up to his contract, posting a personal best 15 touchdowns and nearly 1250 receiving yards. This effort has earned him a position on the Pro-Bowl roster along with his young QB.
Donald Driver continues to age gracefully. Although not the every down threat he was, Donald continues to make key plays at crucial times. His six touchdowns are a little below his average, but the non-stop double teaming of Jennings has left Driver with plenty of opportunities between the twenties.
Jordy Nelson and James Jones have finally started to give the Packers a little credibility over the middle. Nelson continues to make progress, while Jones returns to his 2007 form. Jones sees the majority of the reps at number 3, but the lack of a running game forces the Packers into more 4 wideout sets on third and long. Nelson finds himself with plenty of opportunities in those long yardage situations.
Much of Donald Drivers lack of production in the red zone can be attributed to Jermichael Finley’s monster 2009 performance. Dominating the seam between the twenties and owning the corner of the end zone, Finley has produced 7 touchdowns where it matters the most. Although many people have expressed interest in Finley assuming the starting role from Donald Lee, Lee’s proficiency in the blocking aspect of the position have kept him as the starter all season.
The Packers win the NFC North in the final week of the season with via tie-breaker over the 9-7 Chicago Bears. The Packers are unable to keep pace with the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs. Drew Brees overcomes an unusually mild day in Lambeau to torch the Packers secondary for over 400 yards.
Although it is disappointing, the Packers late season run has rejuvenated a previously divided and uncertain fan base. Both Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy hold on to their jobs riding a late wave of success. Ted Thompson immediately picks up a seventh rounder from the Bengals.
The Minnesota Vikings, as always, continue to suck.