Will Aaron Rodgers look more like ... well, Aaron Rodgers this season? There were moments of brilliance from the Packers’ superstar QB, like that Hail Mary against Detroit and that other Hail Mary against Arizona in the playoffs, but the two-time MVP hardly looked like his usual self during a disappointing 2015.
The trouble started during the preseason, when No. 1 receiver Jordy Nelson went down with an ACL injury. Without his most reliable—and many would argue most talented, ahead of Randall Cobb—wide receiver, Rodgers completed just 60.7% of his passes, his lowest mark as a starter. His 6.7 yards per attempt ranked 30th among all qualifying QBs last season, between Peyton Manning (6.8) and Matt Hasselbeck (6.6). So, Nelson’s progress in the early going is of the utmost importance for his quarterback and offense. His presence (plus some better play-calling) could help Rodgers get back on track. Here’s everything else you need to know as the Packers open camp, from a rookie on the rise to position battle predictions to tips for tolerating the preseason.
The Rookie: Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez was underdrafted at pick No. 131, and he already is threatening to pull a Wally Pipp on Sam Barrington’s starting gig—Barrington sat out OTAs as he rehabbed a foot injury. The Packers are desperate for improvement at the inside linebacker spots because they want Clay Matthews back outside permanently. Martinez was a three-down defender at Stanford and has all the makings of being productive early. He could be this season’s Chris Borland.
Position Battle Spoilers: Nelson will be Rodgers’s top option, provided he is healthy, with Randall Cobb again playing a critical role alongside him. But who’s No. 3? For now, expect it to be Davante Adams, the thus-far disappointing 2014 second-rounder—the Packers would prefer not to give up on him yet. Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery are the other lead candidates.
The Stat: 25%, the percentage of run plays the 2015 Green Bay defense “stuffed” at or behind the line, per Football Outsiders, third-best in the league. The Packers gave up more than 1,900 yards rushing last season (21st in the NFL), which calls back to the need for better play at the second level.
Preseason Watchability Guide: The Packers have, depending on your feelings about the preseason, the privilege or the burden of participating in the Hall of Fame Game, meaning they will play five exhibitions. The extra outing does provide extra reps for Green Bay to figure out how to slot in its rookies.