As a follow up to a previous posting regarding five rookie stories to follow in Packers' training camp, it seems only fair to offer up the equivalent for a few veterans that may make for some interesting stories to follow this August leading into the season. So here are five veteran stories that I'll be following.
Matt Flynn: Since day one of the "Rodgers Era", Matt Flynn has taken over the role of the developing young QB. As a 7th round pick who led LSU to the 2007 NCAA Championship and Offensive MVP of said championship, he has shown enough to prevent any serious competition. At least not since the Brian Brohm mistake as a 2nd round pick the same year. In year three Aaron Rodgers seemed to show signs of finally putting it all together in preseason action: arm strength, knowledge of the offense, and execution of the playbook. Rodgers went on to open some eyes in limited action against the Cowboys during the 2007 season when Favre missed time. It would be encouraging for Flynn to show more in the down field passing game beyond his moxie for scrambling and getting first downs with his legs.
Justin Harrell: Where do you start with Justin Harrell? It seems fair to expect this to be the final chance for Harrell to contribute to the franchise. Injuries have sidelined the former 1st round pick for the vast majority of his stay in Green Bay playing in only 13 games since being drafted. If he cannot pull through camp this year, we should be able to put Harrell officially into the bust category (as many probably have already). I don't mean to slight a guy for injury problems, but its just a fact that 13 games in three seasons makes you a bust regardless of circumstances. It happens. There definitely is need for depth on the defensive line and with his future on the line, will Harrell be able to pull through and contribute? At least we'll be able to finally have some closure whether good or bad with the former first round pick.
Al Harris: Harris suffered a brutal knee injury last year and has been committed to a timely return through vigorous rehab in the offseason. Harris' strength has always been in the bump and run technique with a reputation as a physical corner. Will his knee and advancing age allow him to keep up with today's NFL receivers? Or will Tramon Williams take over the corner position opposite Charles Woodson full time? The NFC contenders all appear to be pass heavy teams with quality QBs (Brees, Romo, Favre) not to mention a division foe like Chicago's Jay Cutler paired with Mike Martz's playbook. I can't say I'm a big Al Harris fan. I consider him a bit overrated due to the volume of penalties he commits compared to the lack of interceptions. Over the last three years Williams has 10 interceptions to Harris' four. Harris has averaged just under two interceptions per year over his career. Its often said its all about getting an opportunity in the NFL. Seems Williams' opportunity is here to prove he is a starting corner in the NFL. Pretty good timing for a guy seeking a long-term contract.
Jermichael Finley - Finley looked unstoppable the last time he took the football field. Arizona tried virtually every matchup (safeties, linebackers, corners) against Finley without success during the wildcard playoff shootout. You can be certain that despite the heartbreaking defeat, Finley's production hasn't gone unnoticed by the Packers' offensive staff. Nor their upcoming opponents. One of Mike McCarthy's strengths is creating favorable matchups based on personell groupings. Finley will be the opening day starter this year where he wasn't during the Packers' slow start in 2009. His presence could be a major difference maker for the Packers to get off to a better start than last year.
The Offensive Line - Lastly, speaking of better starts, does any group on the roster need a better start than the offensive line? Last year Allen Barbre proved incredibly inadequate as a starting right tackle. Midseason enter Mark Tauscher and the pleasant surprise of then rookie T.J. Lang filling in as needed. The line stabilized and the Packers took off. The veteran tackle tandem of Tauscher and Clifton will return again. This group should get plenty of reps together with less shuffling than in previous years. The only real competition should be the left guard position between Colledge and Spitz (at least thats the way it sets up right now). All candidates have plenty of starts under their belts so we should expect much better results in 2010. The 2009 Packers stumbled to a 4-4 start on pace to break the NFL record for sacks allowed (still finishing with a startling 51 sacks allowed). The house of cards feel to this position group no longer exists. The 2010 Packers should have a backup at each position where in previous years one injury sometimes meant two other positions were changed.
If the Packers are to be taken seriously as legitimate 2010 Superbowl contenders, they must get off to a better start than last year. The 2009 Packers largely dominated their preseason opponents garnering headlines as a contender only to look a shell of themselves during the first half last year. Will they have learned any lessons from last year? Up and down the roster are players who now have plenty of game experience no matter their age. At some point the perennial "youngest team in the NFL" has to show some veteran know how.