Over the past four months, we’ve kept a watchful eye on the teams who appear on the Redskins’ 2013 schedule.
We’ve tracked their free agent signings. We’ve examined their drafts. Now, in our final edition of Enemy Intel, we’re taking a look at three storylines that will dominate each team’s preseason preparation.
Up today …
2012 record: 11-5
Key free agent acquisitions: None
Top draft picks: DE Datone Jones, RB Eddie Lacy, OT David Bakhtiari, OT J.C. Tretter, RB Johnathan Franklin, CB Micah Hyde
Storyline No. 1: Fixing the running game. The Packers may have the top rated passer in the game, but last season their ground game ranked 20th with 1,702 yards – or 1,007 yards behind the league-leading Redskins.
In fact, Alex Green led Green Bay with 464 yards on the ground. Next? Aaron Rodgers, yes, the quarterback, with 259. That, however, is about to change, at least according to Coach Mike McCarthy, who told the team’s website earlier this month, “We’ll be better; I promise you. You can write that down.”
Apparently, McCarthy is supremely confident in rookie running backs Lacy (second round/Alabama) and Franklin (fourth round/UCLA). Lacy, at 230-pounds, is a power runner and Franklin is a change-of-pace back. At the conclusion of minicamp, many observers had them ranked 1-2 on the depth chart.
We’ll find out Sept. 15 at Lambeau Field just how much better the Pack’s ground game has gotten.
Storyline No. 2: The effect of Greg Jennings’ departure. When you think of the Packers, you think of Rodgers slinging deep balls to Jennings, right? At least I do. Well, Rodgers is now the highest paid player in the game but Jennings is a member of the Vikings.
Jennings, 29, was limited to only eight games last season because of a torn lower abdominal muscle, but he had been Rodgers’ favorite target for several seasons before getting hurt, averaging 1,145 yards a season from 2008-2011.
The good news for Green Bay is that Rodgers still has plenty of good options in Randall Cobb (80 receptions, 954 yards), James Jones (NFL leading 14 receiving touchdowns), Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley. That, obviously, is a pretty solid lineup of pass catchers.
I’m thinking Jenkins will only be missed if he torches his former team twice a season, every year for the next few years. And that’s not out of realm of possibility – especially if Jennings is right when he predicts quarterback Christian Ponder will “shock people” this season.
Storyline No. 3: The kicking game. Mason Crosby went 6 for 6 on field goals in the final four games last season, including two postseason contests. But the longtime Packer ranked dead last in percentage (63.6, worst in eight seasons for kickers with at least eight attempts) and will face competition in training camp – in the form of first-year kicker Giorgio Tavecchio – for the first time since winning the job as a rookie in 2007.
Sure, the Pack has other issues. Such as reducing the league-leading number of sacks Rodgers absorbed last season (51) and replacing veteran linebacker Desmond Bishop, who missed the entire 2012 season with a torn hamstring. Bishop was released Monday after the player and team could not agree on a restructured contract.
But having a reliable kicker ranks pretty high on that list, too. For so many years, Crosby was clutch. Now, he’s got to regain the Packers’ trust.