Amidst high expectations, 2008 was a season to forget for the Green Bay Packers. It was a disappointing season on many accounts, but there were a few positives to look back on.
It landed us two highly reguarded defensive prospects in B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, and forced us to make significant changes on the defense side of the ball, bringing in Dom Capers to take over the defense and install the 3-4.
The NFC North might just be the most interesting division in the NFL this year. The Bears added QB Jay Cutler, it appears that the Vikings will be adding Brett Favre as a QB. The Detroit Lions are also going forward with a new QB in Matt Stafford, and no longer have Matt Millen running things.
I look for the Packers to be right in the mix in the NFC North race, as they have tons of talent across the board and a very favorable early schedule. The offense will be fine and I expect improvement from both the defense and special teams.
Here are 10 reasons why I think Packer fans should be very optimistic about their chances for the upcoming season.
Going into last year, there were some questions of who would play where along the Offensive Line and it didn't get any better during the season.
With guys like Sitton, Tauscher, Clifton, and Wells missing games due to injury, we were forced to dramatically shuffle the Offensive Line and our lack of depth hurt us big time.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but Daryn Colledge played every position besides Center at one point last season. That just doesn't bode well for continuity.
This year, things are a bit more clear and with the additions of TJ Lang, Duke Preston, and Jamon Meredith, I feel like our depth along the offensive line is much improved.
I think we already have our five starters set in stone with Clifton, Colledge, Spitz, Sitton, and Barbre, barring injury or unforseen circumstances.
Having our Offensive Line play together throughout Training Camp and the Preseason is going to drastically improve their performance in my opinion.
It is key that we stick with these five and let them build a chemistry with each other before the season even starts.
It's no secret that the injury bug hit us pretty hard last year and there's no doubt that was a key component in our 6-10 record.
I could go on and on about who went down last year but for the sake of keeping your attention, we'll stick with just the key guys. Key guys like Atari Bigby, Nick Barnett, Cullen Jenkins, James Jones, Charles Woodson and Justin Harrell have had a chance to fully recover and should all play a big role in our success this season.
It's no surprise that our run defense was not very good last season with Bigby, Barnett, Jenkins, and Harrell out of the picture.
With these guys missing games, it had a definite ripple effect on the rest of the roster and forced guys who weren't ready to make an impact, onto the field and in some cases(Moll, Montgomery, Peprah) significant action and the starting lineup.
If everything goes as planned, these guys will be back healthy and ready to roll when Training Camp gets under way later this week.
No matter what certain players may have said over the past year, the whole Brett Favre saga was a HUGE distraction for our team last year.
Numerous players have come out and said it, and I believe it really shook the focus of our team last year with the circus Favre created.
That is all behind us now, the Vikings now have the pleasure of dealing with the Brett Favre circus and we can now fully focus on our team with Aaron Rodgers as our QB and how we can get back to the playoffs..
I truly feel that Grant is going to have a BIG year this season.
With Sitton, Spitz and Barbre replacing Wells and Tauscher, and the newly aquired sledge hammer Quinn Johnson bringing a William Henderson like passion, our line will be a lot tougher and much better at opening up holes for Grant.
Everybody loves Scott Wells, he's a fiery technician who doesn't make many mistake. But he's just too small to move those big bodies in the middle on a consistent basis. Especially when you have the Williams Wall in Minnesota and Tommie Harris in Chicago.
Spitz may make a few more mistakes but I have faith that he will vastly improve our run game and get a better push than Wells is capable of.
As for Sitton, he would have been the starter last year had he not gotten injured towards the tail end of the season. From Day 1 this kid has been a stud. He's big, he moves well, and he should also give us a nice boost in the run game.
Lastly, Allen Barbre, ever since he was drafted we heard about how talented this kid was. But it never really transfered onto the field because he was just so raw. With Tauscher gone and Giacomini injured, it has opened up the door for Barbre and there's no doubt he has taken complete advantage of his oppurtunity.
Let's face it, Grant not only wasn't healthy last season but let the contract dispute get in the way of his play. Both issues are behind him now and I think Ryan Grant is going to have a huge 2009 season, which really bodes well for our already explosive offense.
Rodgers is going to be able to use play action more effectively and if Grant can get going, our offense has a chance to special this season
I think it's safe to say that our defense was a MAJOR weakness last year. Especially late in games, and certainly was the main factor in our disappointing 2008 season.
Here's a good stat, there were only three instances last year in which we were behind with five or less minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
There are several reasons we lost those games but our defense couldn't stop ANYBODY when it counted. Out is Bob Sanders and his staff, in comes the defensive guru Dom Capers, OLB Coach Kevin Greene, Secondary Coach Darren Perry and Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac.
Sanders couldn't gameplan his way out of a paper box and after key guys went down on defense, he had no answers.
The new coaching staff brings experience, passion, and a great resume to boot. There's no doubt this staff will get the most out of our guys, and with the return of Barnett, Jenkins, Bigby, and Harrell, plus the additions of Clay Matthews and BJ Raji, this defense has as much talent as any team in the NFL.
I expect our Defense to GREATLY improve this year and be one of the eight best defenses in the NFL.
Too optimistic? Maybe, but now we have the talent AND the coaching so there should be nothing holding these guys back.
You could say that this is directly related to my No.2 point, seeing how our team had so many injuries that guys who regularly played on Special Teams were forced into significant roles, and essentially rid of their duties on Special Teams.
Our ST unit was ranked 26th last year, which fit right in line with our disappointing 2008 season. In 2007, we had one of the best Special Teams units in the NFL, which played a large part in our deep playoff run.
With the additions of Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, Anthony Smith, and Brandon Underwood, all guys who excelled in this area in college, our Special Teams unit should get a much needed shot in the arm.
If we are going to contend this season, our Special Teams unit needs to return to prominence and have the same type of success they had in 2007.
Going into last season, many Packer fans were very optimistic about the prospects of Aaron Rodgers leading our football team last season. He certainly did not disappoint, he was accurate, efficient, explosive and his mobility gave our Offense an added dimension.
Rodgers had a brilliant debut season, statistically one of the best in NFL history, with a 2.15 TD/INT ratio, a 94 QB Rating and over 4,000 yards passing.
As good as Rodgers was last season, he struggled in late game situations, which is expected of young signal callers. The blame cannot be placed solely on his shoulders though, considering how inconsistent our running game was and how unclutch our defense performed in key situations late in the game.
With a year of experience and the entire Brett Favre distraction out of the way, Aaron Rodgers should be primed and ready to lead this team deep into the playoffs.
I know, I know, it's not right to assume that the games that may look like easy wins but right now, the schedule looks like it shapes up nicely and will allow us to get out to a fast start.
Six of our first 10 games are at home and during that span, we face only one playoff team. If we can get off to a fast start, our guys will be pretty confident heading into the most important stretch of the season.
Confidence is a very underrated part of the game of football, it was evident that our team wasn't very confident for the majority of last season. As the injuries piled up, the less active our guys became.
Getting off to a fast start will be key this year and hopefully a fast start will springboard us right into the Playoffs.
If there is one thing you can expect from a Dom Capers led 3-4 Defense, it's creativity and pressure on the QB. Two major weaknesses last year, with the latter being Bob Sanders biggest weakness.
As a friend of mine pointed out in his greatly detailed write up on teams making the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4, teams that made the switch in one swift offseason, saw a vast improvement on defense.
Aside from Dom Capers, the additions of Kevin Greene and Mike Trgovac will bring a much needed intensity and passion to the defense. They will have guys flying around the field with a fiery passion and playing together, as a unit.
Darren Perry, perhaps the most underrated addition of this offseason, brings a resume that not many coaches in the NFL can match. He played a large part in the development of All-Pro's like Nnamdi Asomugha and Troy Polamalu, and has coached under the great Dick Labeau.
The defensive transition will not be flawless, but barring injury, we should see a vast improvement on defense this year and I predict that will field one of the better defensive units in the NFL this season.
This just may be the most important point yet. The 2008 season is now completely behind us and our guys should be hungrier than ever to prove why last year was a complete fluke and why we can be as successful as we were in 2007.
As bad as last season was for us, it was a big learning experience for our team and I think we will be better in the long run having gone through it.
I look at it as a growing experience for our team, young guys who saw early success during the 2007 season now realize that success is not easily attained, nor guaranteed.
This team has had great attendance all offseason, which shows me that we have put last season completely behind us and are primed and ready to get back to the playoffs in 2009. It's a new season, and I think it's going to be a great ride as long as our guys can stay healthy.