The Green Bay Packers open training camp on Thursday at Ray Nitschke Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
What does Matt LaFleur need to do to get Aaron Rodgers back to being Aaron Rodgers?
Command his respect. Yes, that might seem backward given that LaFleur is the boss and Rodgers is the employee. But perhaps the only way to get an intellect like Rodgers to buy in is if the quarterback regards his coach as his equal. Both insist that relationship is off to a good start -- from their first face-to-face meeting in late March in Arizona to the work that was wrapped up in the June minicamp, Rodgers said of their bonding exercises: “Two things I think are really important: listen and communicate.” The two also will have to come to an understanding about how to handle audibles at the line of scrimmage. Rodgers had freedom -- and perhaps took too many liberties -- when it came to changing calls under former coach Mike McCarthy. LaFleur’s system, rooted in the Sean McVay-Kyle Shanahan version of the West Coast offense, is more limiting. “Some of that, you just have to figure out ultimately,” Rodgers said. “But the most important thing is trust.”
Who else does Rodgers have other than Davante Adams?
Not Randall Cobb anymore. He departed in free agency. And not Jordy Nelson, who squashed any notion that he might come back to the Packers after the Raiders released him. With two of Rodgers’ favorite targets from the past few years gone, he said he has no trouble relying just as heavily on Adams as last year, when Adams was targeted 169 times -- second most among all receivers last season. Look for second-year pro Marquez Valdes-Scantling to move into the No. 2 position and Geronimo Allison to play more in the slot, where Cobb used to line up. They’re hoping for bigger things from tight end Jimmy Graham, and LaFleur’s offense should give running back Aaron Jones the volume of touches that fans craved last year. But, at this point, this is not a deep group of weapons.
Where can the Packers least afford a major injury?
On the offensive line. Specifically at tackle. More specifically at left tackle. David Bakhtiari’s value to the offense is perhaps behind only Rodgers and Adams. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga and his balky knees need to hold up, too. Yes, the Packers signed veteran Billy Turner in free agency, but they’d rather him play right guard than tackle. While the five starters on the line look strong, there's little reason for confidence in the cast of backups.
How will the defense be better in Year 2 under coordinator Mike Pettine?
Because of some veterans hand-picked to fit his system and a couple of first-round draft picks with impressive athletic ability. GM Brian Gutekunst agreed with Pettine’s assessment of the roster and signed two passers -- Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith -- plus a veteran safety in Adrian Amos and then used his two first-round picks on edge rusher Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage Jr. They’ll bolster an aging unit that needed help for the likes of potential stars Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez.
How much pressure is on team president Mark Murphy?
If Gutekunst and LaFleur don’t pan out, then it’s all on the team president, who injected himself into the football operation like no Packers president has done in decades. He broke from the model that his predecessor, Bob Harlan, used to rebuild the Packers in the early 1990s and sustain the success into the 2000s. Harlan hired football people to run the football operation and kept to the business and PR side. Murphy decided more than a year ago that he would not only hire the GM -- like Harlan did with Ron Wolf, Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson -- but also hire and fire the head coach. If Murphy’s moves don’t work out, the team’s executive committee could move to remove him as president. But because Murphy is not only a part of the committee but also appointed the members, it would take a coup to pull off.