It's said that the children are our future.
By the looks of Green Bay's roster, the future is now.
The Packers will trot out one of the league's youngest teams in September, and Generation X will be the X-factor in the team's fortunes.
Last year's newbies helped the Pack finish the season with a four-game winning streak, stirring hopes for a playoff push in 2007 . However, many fans were disappointed by the team's inactivity in the offseason, when Green Bay whiffed on a trade for Randy Moss and reeled in what's-his-name CB Frank Walker.
As it stands, the Packers seem to be counting on their ability to cultivate homegrown talent. The 2006 draft class was superb: LB A.J. Hawk, guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, and WR Greg Jennings all started and played significant roles.
The Packers' brass are hoping the 2007 draft haul brings the same results. First-round pick Justin Harrell should provide much-needed depth at defensive tackle. RB Brandon Jackson will have a chance to compete for a starting job. S Aaron Rouse, WRs James Jones and David Clowney, and K Mason Crosby will all be expected to contribute.
Many outside the organization have questioned the approach—and no less a Lambeau demigod than Brett Favre has expressed frustration with the Green Bay front office.
In fairness to the veteran QB, Favre does have a point. The Packers' shortcomings are obvious: no proven running back, little depth at wide receiver, Bubba Franks at tight end, weak safeties. Young players may make an impact in some or all of these trouble spots...but living and dying by youth isn't a popular pastime in today's NFL.
That said, though, young teams are often the ones who surprise the league—as the Packers did last year with their four-game winning streak. Unlike the 20-somethings staffing your local burger dive (or bleacherreport.com), the Pack's kids have talent.
Take Hawk. The Ohio State standout was one of the league's finest defensive rookies in 2006. He led the Packers in tackles, and forms one of the best young linebacker groups in the league with Nick Barnett (in his fifth pro season) and Brady Poppinga (in his third).
Hawk should only get better in his sophomore campaign.
And then there's Colledge. The Packers' starting right guard took his lumps early in 2006, but he and Spitz ultimately became key cogs in a very solid front five. A tackle at Boise State, Colledge made a relatively seamless transition inside, and should be even more comfortable there with a year of experience under his belt.
Aside from the young guns, the Pack will get help from several key vets. Both cornerbacks, Al Harris and Charles Woodson, are coming off fine seasons. DE Aaron Kampman led the NFC in sacks. And WR Donald Driver continues to be one of the most productive ball-catchers in the NFL.
The bottom line: Green Bay has a number of solid young players buoyed by a cadre of capable veterans. Will they be fun to watch? Definitely. Will they be in the playoffs?
The team's decision to stay out of the free agent market left too much responsibility on the young pups and too heavy a burden on Favre's old arm.
The future, unfortunately, seems to be another year away.
Projected finish: 7-9, 2nd NFC North
Keep your eyes on: DE Cullen Jenkins—Known as brother of Panthers' Kris. It should be vice-versa.
Take your eyes off: SS Marquand Manuel—Supports the run like a Wal-Mart bra.
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