Packers seek to set quick pace in race to reach Super Bowl
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Coach Mike McCarthy would like the Green Bay Packers to set the pace in the race to reach another Super Bowl.
The short-term goal is to get off to a faster start after three straight seasons beginning 1-2. The high-octane offense is at its best when MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers is dictating tempo.
He just didn't expect to have to start this run without top wideout Jordy Nelson, though the Packers seem to have found at least a familiar replacement.
Veteran James Jones has returned after being cut by the New York Giants, joining Randall Cobb and Davante Adams as options in the passing game. Moving on without Nelson may not be as much of an adjustment after all, especially with the 31-year-old Rodgers healthy and in his prime.
''That's one of the things that I think this system allows us to do is adjust and adapt,'' quarterbacks and receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said last week. ''I don't think there's anybody better in the league at making adjustments than Aaron.''
To keep defenses off-balance, Rodgers can also hand off to one of the best running backs in the league in punishing third-year veteran Eddie Lacy. Backup James Starks provides a presence on the edge when spelling Lacy to form a potent one-two punch in the backfield.
Other things to watch as Green Bay aims to win a fifth straight NFC North title:
CONTINUITY: Few teams had as much as continuity last season on the offensive line as the Packers. They had one of the top front fives in the league in keeping Rodgers upright and opening up holes for Lacy.
But injuries, seemingly minor, have bothered the line in the preseason. Only center Corey Linsley managed to escape training camp unscathed.
The lack of preseason time together doesn't seem a big concern; the first test will come Sunday in the season opener against the longtime-rival Bears at Soldier Field.
''The chemistry's strong but just like anybody, you have to sharpen your sword,'' offensive line coach James Campen said. ''There's no question. There's work to be done.''
CLAY MAKER: Speaking of continuity, the projected first-string defense didn't spend much time together in camp because of various injuries, most notably the sore knee and elbow that slowed linebacker Clay Matthews. This training camp was supposed to help Matthews get more accustomed to inside linebacker, a position he played more of in the second half of 2014 to help shore up the run defense.
Matthews has said he still has much to learn, even though his primary job remains to rush the passer. He figures to spend his time again this year lined up on the inside in early-down situations, and back to a more typical role when the Packers play five or more defensive backs.
CALLING IT: McCarthy is relinquishing play-calling duties to associate head coach Tom Clements, part of a shift for the head coach to spend more time overseeing the defense and special teams.
It's hard to detect much difference in the preseason because teams typically revert to vanilla plays on offenses littered with backups. But with Rodgers behind center, the switch likely shouldn't dramatically change things much for the Packers.
CORNERED: The defense added an infusion of youth and athleticism at cornerback with high-round draft picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. They've had solid camps for rookies, along with LaDarius Gunter, an undrafted rookie out of Miami.
What the Packers don't have this year is the veteran presence of Tramon Williams, who left as a free agent for the Browns. Fourth-year player Casey Hayward, a proven playmaker playing in the slot, figures to get the nod to replace Williams as the starter opposite Sam Shields.
SPECIAL?: Kicker Mason Crosby has had another good training camp. Otherwise, questions linger about special teams, which plagued the Packers in last season's 28-22 loss to Seattle in the NFC championship game.
Ron Zook has taken over as the coordinator after Shawn Slocum was fired. Results in the preseason were mixed.
Younger players such as Rollins and Gunter could add a jolt to coverage teams, while rookie receiver Ty Montgomery might eventually be a factor in the return game.
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