GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-5)
OPEN CAMP: July 30, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
LAST YEAR: Won fourth straight NFC North title in spite of calf injury that limited mobility of QB Aaron Rodgers late in MVP campaign. WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb gave opposing secondaries fits, while RB Eddie Lacy balanced attack on ground behind standout offensive line. Run defense improved in second half using pass rusher Clay Matthews more at inside linebacker. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix showed promise in rookie year. Veteran Julius Peppers proved he can still make impact after signing as free agent. Packers have promised they learned lessons from stunning 28-22 OT loss at Seattle in NFC title game, falling apart after taking 16-0 lead at halftime and 19-7 early in fourth quarter.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: All rookies — DBs Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins; WR Ty Montgomery; LB Jake Ryan.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CBs Tramon Williams and Davon House; LB A.J. Hawk; special teams coach Shawn Slocum.
CAMP NEEDS: Stay healthy, especially Casey Hayward. Fourth-year cornerback was limited in offseason by foot injury, and has been bothered in past by hamstring woes. He’ll likely take Williams’ spot as starter. Packers also breaking in Randall and Rollins, team’s top two draft picks, at defensive back. Develop confidence in defensive line depth with potential early-season suspension of Letroy Guion, and Datone Jones already suspended for season opener. Guion and Jones had unrelated off-field issues. Renewed focus on special teams under new coordinator Ron Zook after struggles last season and glaring mistakes in loss to Seahawks.
EXPECTATIONS: With 31-year-old Rodgers in his prime and all key pieces back on offense, Green Bay will again be an NFC favorite. But questions loom on defense — again. How productive will Peppers be at age 35? Matthews in middle may no longer be novelty, while secondary must find replacement for steady Williams. Always looking to keep things fresh, coach Mike McCarthy is giving up play-calling duties to devote more time to overseeing defense and special teams.
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