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'08 Preview: QB at front of the Pack

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Aaron Rodgers wasn't even a gleam in the organization's eye the last time someone other than Brett Favre lined up as starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.

General manager Ted Thompson ranks as one of the best scouting minds in the NFL, but not even he could have picked out Rodgers from a group of third-graders playing pickup football during recess in Chico, Calif.

After 275 consecutive games with Favre under center, the ball is supposed to transfer hands to the 24-year-old Rodgers, and if so, he better not lose the grip. Not if the Packers want to build on an 18-4 record over the past 22 games, a pace that only slightly trails the New England Patriots' 20 victories in the same span.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

The Packers showed during their run to the NFC championship game last season that they have the defense and passing game to compete with almost anyone, plus a running game that began to show life with the emergence of Ryan Grant.

Still, Favre was the foreman and little got done without his input. Apparently, that was enough of an itch to make him want to come back, putting undue pressure on the organization about its quarterback decision for '08. If Rodgers starts as originally planned, he will not be asked to carry the same load Favre did, but he will have to be efficient, consistent and, most of all, healthy for the Packers to have a shot at winning a championship.

If Favre isn't traded and the Packers indeed welcome him back, it will be interesting if the legend can a) settle for a backup role or b) earn the team's favor enough to start again and put its plans on hold with Rodgers. It's a sticky situation that hopefully will come to a camp resolution that doesn't disrupt the Packers' high hopes for the season.

Offense

Even before Rodgers was about to take over, coach Mike McCarthy tried to establish a power running game. He had a little bit of success last year with Grant, but his offensive line couldn't get it done consistently and he had to go to the air.

This year, he absolutely needs to have a running game. Rodgers can't be expected to throw as often and as successfully as Favre, especially with opposing defenses daring him to run the ball. Favre was outstanding at making audibles into better plays based on the look he got from defenses and could make the switch seconds before the snap.

It's unreasonable to think Rodgers will be able to do the same in his first year as a starter, so McCarthy has to take the pressure off of him with a successful running game. When he does pass, Rodgers will go deep more often than Favre because he throws a very good fade and can attack the perimeter of a defense.

Rodgers has a very talented receiving crew bolstered by the selection of Kansas State's Jordy Nelson, the team's top pick in the 2008 draft.

Defense

Little ever changes with coordinator Bob Sanders' defense. He plays his standard four-across coverage with the cornerbacks in press mode on almost every down. Sanders doesn't blitz often and relies on speedy linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk to clean up. This year, Sanders will have more versatility in the lineup with free-agent linebacker Brandon Chillar and emerging safety Aaron Rouse.

The big question is whether McCarthy will command Sanders to be more aggressive on defense. The pass rush wore down late last season and the defensive line had less success getting to the quarterback than it did early in the year. Sanders tried to blitz more, but it didn't work because the unit does it so rarely.

The book on: Charles Woodson

A rival sizes up the Packers' veteran cornerback:

"I think he still has athletic ability and size and strength. He's an aware player. He's got good feet and good balance. The biggest thing I thought he struggled with was run support. He wasn't very physical. He was very inconsistent. Sometimes he wants to tackle, sometimes he doesn't.

"He guesses in coverage at times. That's how he's made his living. He's better man-to-man. When he's in zone, he'll draft, and that's when he guesses a lot. I don't think he's dropped off a lot. He's got some burst still. He has the ability to mirror. He's better in the short area than Al Harris. He still has good feet and athletic ability."

Bottom line

There's talent all over this team, especially on the D-line and at wideout, but Green Bay will succeed or fail based on the play of its quarterback.

SN prediction: 11-5, first in NFC North.

Tom Silverstein covers the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Sporting News.

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