During the longest month of the year waiting for training camp to start, it leaves one plenty of time pondering the key elements for the upcoming season. To me, the largest (pun intended) area to keep an eye on will be both the offensive and defensive lines.
Since Ted Thompson's arrival, he has flirted with numerous lineman but hasn't really shown any commitment to those position groups until the last two drafts. I believe you could argue its these two areas holding back the Packers from being a true championship contender.
Last year he drafted Raji and Wynn for defensive line and added T.J. Lang too as a pleasant suprise mid-round pick that provided some quality depth. It also would've been nice to see what Jamon Meredith could do but he slipped through the practice squad cracks. Really though, taking Raji in the first round signaled Thompson is ready to get serious. He's ready to take his relationship with these two position groups to the next level.
Now consider 2010 draft. Bulaga in round 1. Neal in round 2. Then Newhouse and Wilson in rounds 5 & 7. So take the total of the last two drafts and Thompson has invested 8 of 15 picks in the two lines. Compare that with the 2007 & 2008 drafts where Thompson drafted 5 lineman out of 20 picks. 2008 nobody higher than 4th rounder Jeremy Thompson and 2007 added Justin Harrell and Allen Barbre. Lucky for Green Bay Josh Sitton was NFL ready as a 4th rounder in 2008 with only the knee injury holding him back.
Finally, it seems Thompson has begun to understand that you need plenty of quality lineman in order for your team to function. Offensive and defensive. It could make a tremendous impact to the defense if Raji consistently provides the push and quickness that he flashed at times during his rookie campaign. Very little commentary this off-season about Wynn's progress so its difficult to project where he fits in right now. And if you are looking for rookies that may need to contribute, look no further than Neal and Wilson for the defensive line. To revisit the Arizona playoff game, the Packers were forced to rush Matthews and Jones nearly every snap. You are talking about 2 very light rookies trying to basically play defensive end for an entire game due to the lack of depth and pass rushing lineman the Packers had down the stretch.
The Green Bay Packers received plenty of criticism following the draft for not taking that "pass rushing OLB". To those critics, I say go and watch that Arizona playoff game again. Jenkins with his hands on his hips and Raji gassed as our only legitimate passing down defensive linemen. And Jones and Matthews were getting swallowed up by 300+ lb tackles play after play. One only needs to look at the number of sacks Rodgers took and the number of snaps Clifton missed last year in order to understand the Bulaga pick. To say the offensive line didn't need legitimate help would be foolish.
I applaud Thompson for making serious investments in both fronts the last two years. Suddenly, all your other position groups look better if you have quality production from both lines. Offensive line appears to be stronger with Clifton and Tauscher ready to go and quality depth this year. Its the defensive line that will hopefully make huge strides this year and provide that push up front that has been lacking for at least 5 years. The Arizona game Warner never had that push come from the middle and the veteran QB was able to find his receivers all day. Now if you can get a push up the middle with some pass rush from the edge and keep those QBs from getting comfortable, suddenly it matters less who your DBs are and what coverages you are playing. It all starts up front.