Brett Favre will reprise the climactic movie scene in The Natural, playing afootball version of Roy Hobbs in Packers jersey number 4. Ahman Green will befully recovered from quadriceps surgery that cut short his 2005 season and willrush for at least 1,300 yards. Rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk, the fifth pick inthe draft, and free-agent corner Charles Woodson will make a respectabledefense better. New coach Mike McCarthy's sunny disposition will help expungethe memory of last year's dismal 4--12 campaign, Green Bay's first losingseason since 1991.
There is plenty of juice left in Favre's Hall of Fame right wing. "Believeme, guys still have to get their hands up in front of their faces coming out oftheir breaks," says Donald Driver, the Packers' leading receiver in threeof the last four years. How much is left in Favre's heart, gut andsoon-to-be-37-year-old legs is another issue. McCarthy and his staff are in aticklish position, building their first season around an old quarterback whowill be gone before they are. During off-season workouts that focused onsecond-year quarterback Aaron Rodgers, new offensive coordinator JeffJagodzinski told McCarthy, "We're getting ready for A.F.--AfterFavre."
In the present,Favre is coming off a year in which he had a career-high 29 interceptions and acareer-low 70.9 quarterback rating. Then he came to training camp andimplausibly called this team the most talented in his tenure. More correctly,it's a team of question marks. Green didn't start hitting until midway throughcamp. He and Favre will work behind a retooled line that includes rookie guardsTony Moll (fifth round, Nevada) and Jason Spitz (third, Louisville).
Nevertheless, therunning game has to keep the Packers out of third-and-long, the situations inwhich Favre, these days, is inclined to gamble. The trouble is that thereceivers are scarcely more diverse than a year ago. Wideout Javon Walker, whocaught 89 balls in 2004 but blew out his right ACL in the '05 opener, wastraded to Denver. The reliable Driver returns, and the next-best receiver couldbe rookie Greg Jennings, a second-round pick from Western Michigan.
The defenseranked seventh in the NFL last year, but the Packers were minus-24 inturnovers. McCarthy's new coordinator, Bob Sanders, has not changed Jim Bates'smatchup-zone system. "For the most part, we know what we can do and we knowwhat's expected of us," says end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
Much is expectedof Woodson (seven years, $39 million, a three-time All-Pro from Oakland) andHawk (six years, $37.5 million, out of Ohio State). The 6'1", 245-poundHawk has to develop quickly into the dynamic playmaker he was in college, wherehe specialized in sideline-to-sideline pursuit and swift coverage drops."We think he can get on the edge and rush the passer, too," saysMcCarthy, increasing the load on his rookie. Hawk welcomes the heat. "Theyhave high expectations," he says. "I have high expectationstoo."
Yet the Packers'season could be defined by their ability to avoid a severe drop in morale, likethe one that led to embarrassing defeats in the second half of '05. "As acoach, I can say we're over going 4--12," says McCarthy. "But I'm notnaive; we need to start fast, or all those negative emotions will come rightback."
24 at Detroit
2 at Philadelphia(M)
8 ST. LOUIS
22 at Miami
5 at Buffalo
27 at Seattle(M)
3 N.Y. JETS
10 at SanFrancisco
31 at Chicago
(M) Monday (T)Thursday
NFL rank 31
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage .449
Games against playoff teams 4
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE PACKERS
> This is mydark-horse team to have a solid year. Brett Favre is still good, just a littleinconsistent. But he's still got the arm and he's a tough guy at heart.
> If theythought Aaron Rodgers was ready, they wouldn't have tried to get Favre back andwaited so long for him to make up his mind.
> It was agood move getting rid of Javon Walker. Big-time receivers want the ball all thetime, and they tear up the locker room.
> One playeron this team who is overrated is Aaron Kampman. Green Bay re-signed him for alot of money [four years, $21 million], but he's just a try-hard defensive endwho doesn't make any plays.
> I think theoffensive line will be all right, but the Packers aren't deep there and can'tafford any injuries--or they'll be in trouble.
New defensivetackle Ryan Pickett plays his best against the good teams, which is unusual inthis league.
The Packerscredited the fourth-year middle linebacker with a team-record 194 tackles in2005. Typical of the quick, smallish (6'2", 232) linebackers who controlsome of the NFL's most effective D's with pursuit and sure tackling, Barnetthas missed just one game in three years. Flanked by talented rookie A.J. Hawk(and possibly another rookie, Abdul Hodge from Iowa), Barnett, the team'sfirst-round draft pick out of Oregon State in 2003, should ascend to the elitelevel at his position after two years as a Pro Bowl alternate.
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COACH MIKEMCCARTHY (0--0 in NFL), first season with Green Bay
DAVE RAYNER (NewAcquisition)
JASON SPITZ (R)(New Acquisition)
TONY MOLL (R)(New Acquisition)
A.J. HAWK (R) (New Acquisition)
SACKS 9 1/2¬†
SACKS 6 1/2
RYAN PICKETT (NewAcquisition)
BEN TAYLOR (NewAcquisition)
JON RYAN* (R)(New Acquisition)
TACKLES 53 ¬†
MARQUAND MANUEL(New Acquisition)
CHARLES WOODSON(New Acquisition)
(R) Rookie(college statistics) *CFL stats
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 30/7/18 DEFENSE 23/1/7
RISK MANAGEMENT The Pack must minimize third-and-longs, when Favre has tended to gamble too much.
HELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BERKWITZ