Underrated defense expected to lead Packers in '08 Print
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Thursday, 21 August 2008 12:55
NFL Headline News

 GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -For the Green Bay Packers, it's not about Brett Favre any more. To some extent, it's not even about the offense.
With Favre's unretirement saga just beginning to simmer in late July, Packers coach Mike McCarthy took the stage during the team's annual shareholders meeting and told the crowd that the Packers' planned to win with defense.
Now Favre is gone, traded away to the New York Jets. Aaron Rodgers is his replacement, but the Packers will be leaning more on their defense to win games.
``It's really a philosophy I've had since day one, since coming here,'' McCarthy said. ``Certain parts of your program don't get to the point that you want them to be, probably, all in year one or year two.''
Going into his third season in Green Bay, McCarthy thinks his defense can finish among the top three in the league in points allowed.
``We have more experience on defense than we have on offense, so I really like the makeup of our players as far as their ability that matches the scheme,'' McCarthy said. ``I'm really excited about our defense.''
Coming off an underrated performance in last year's 13-3 season, the Packers' defense appears ready to lead.
Al Harris and Charles Woodson are one of the league's best cornerback tandems - although both are in their 30s, and Harris appeared to show his age against Plaxico Burress in the Packers' home-field loss to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game. Woodson, meanwhile, appeared to be in midseason form the second he stepped on the field for training camp.
Defensive end Aaron Kampman is one of the league's best pass rushers, and should benefit from the Packers' plans to blitz more this season. Linebacker Nick Barnett is an emotional leader who can stuff the run and defend against the pass, and safety Atari Bigby can deliver big hits.
Defensive players are pleased that McCarthy asked them to lead, especially given the coach's offensive background.
``He wants to win,'' Barnett said. ``If you do the history on most of the Super Bowl champions, they have a pretty good defense. And for him to go out and say that, it means that he has a lot of confidence in our defense. We're all excited that he puts that on our shoulders.''
Linebacker A.J. Hawk said defensive players are embracing McCarthy's expectations.
``He got the point across to us pretty early in the offseason that we want to come out and set the tone,'' Hawk said. ``As a defense, we felt like that all the time, and it's good to hear.''
But Hawk has been hurting in recent weeks, sidelined with what has vaguely been described as a chest sprain. And he's not the only starter struggling with injuries - a troubling sign for a team whose health was an underrated factor in its success last season.
Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett has missed most of training camp with a sore hamstring. Running back Ryan Grant finally has a new contract after skipping the first week of camp, but also has been hobbled by a hamstring injury.
And center Scott Wells has struggled with lower back injuries, causing additional difficulties for coaches who still aren't sure who their offensive line starters will be beyond veteran tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.
Beyond that, it's unclear what kind of emotional wounds - if any - Favre's monthlong unretirement saga left on one of the NFL's youngest teams.
McCarthy has repeatedly praised the way his young players handled a major distraction, even after Favre's arrival in Green Bay turned training camp into a circus for several days before he finally was sent packing - though not to the team Favre was believed to want to play for all along: division rival Minnesota.
Rodgers briefly showed signs of letting the Favre situation get to him, struggling in a scrimmage at Lambeau Field as Favre looked down on him from a luxury suite and some fans booed him.
Rodgers, who spent most of three seasons on the bench after the Packers took him in the first round of the 2005 draft, knows the offense. He also knows he's not Favre - and that could be a good thing.
For the most part, the Packers will ask Rodgers to move the chains, put together extended drives and limit turnovers. But with underrated arm strength and good mobility, they also expect him to make big plays whenever possible.
``Obviously, the standards are high,'' Rodgers said. ``I have high expectations for myself. I know my teammates have high expectations for my play and so does the coaching staff and the personnel department. So I know I'm expected to play at a high level, and I expect it as well.''
 

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