2012 training camp preview: Green Bay Packers

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

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Training camp goals

1. Large construction cranes have towered over Lambeau Field, where expansion of the famed stadium has been fast and furious this offseason with the addition of new scoreboards and more seats. The building hasn't stopped there.
General manager Ted Thompson has charged head coach Mike McCarthy and coordinator Dom Capers to repair the defense after the Packers fell hard to the bottom of the NFL rankings last season. They allowed a league-record 4,796 net passing yards.
"For us in the secondary, it stings a great deal to be attached to the worst passing defense in the league," veteran cornerback Charles Woodson said.

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The makeover started in the spring when Thompson used his first six draft picks on defensive players, to go with a few free-agent acquisitions, and will pick up in earnest when camp begins July 26.

For the Packers to cut down on the abundance of big plays allowed, their pass rush must get better. First-round draft pick Nick Perry is being paired with Clay Matthews at outside linebacker to hammer away at the latter.
2. Green Bay's electrifying offense, led by league MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, covered a lot of the blemishes by the defense in a 15-1 regular season.
As Rodgers and his talented cast of receivers look to set the bar higher after the Packers racked up the second-highest points total (560) in league history, they will be reminded every day in camp about the importance of a clean effort.
Four turnovers, including three fumbles, and a half-dozen dropped passes ultimately derailed Green Bay's bid to repeat as Super Bowl champion in a 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Ball security will be drilled over and over as the Packers look to stay out in front of defenses that think they have figured out McCarthy's pass-centric scheme.

Player to watch

Running back James Starks. With Rodgers behind center, it's no secret the Packers want to throw the football. They haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher the last two seasons but have a player capable of doing big things with Starks, if he's given the opportunities.
Starks enters the preseason as the lead back after splitting duties last season with veteran Ryan Grant. The Packers took a pass on re-signing Grant as a free agent.

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Starks is stoked for the season. He's leaner and faster, not to mention motivated to silence his doubters who note his litany of leg injuries that kept him from playing a full season his first two years in the league.

A healthy Starks has the goods to keep Green Bay from being a predictable, one-dimensional offense.

On the hot seat

Cornerback Sam Shields. Shields equaled the number of interceptions (four) he had as an undrafted rookie in 2010, but his second pro season was a letdown. Questions about his aggressiveness, or lack thereof, as a frequently deployed nickel back were raised after Shields had a slew of missed tackles.
Capers isn't without options for replacing Shields if he doesn't make amends in the preseason, what with the second-round selection of Vanderbilt playmaker Casey Hayward, the offseason emergence of second-year player Davon House and veteran fallback Jarrett Bush.

Strategy and personnel

Hamstring issues, or the threat of them, reared their ugly head in the latter part of the Packers' offseason program this spring. Matthews was held out of drills during OTAs and the subsequent minicamp as a precaution given his history of leg injuries.

A hamstring injury kept fellow outside linebacker Frank Zombo from participating in OTAs and the minicamp.
Still, at the conclusion of the spring workouts June 14, McCarthy professed optimism about what he expects of the team's health when the players report for training camp July 25.
Full Packers team report

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