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3 Green Bay PACKERS

Sept. 07, 2009
Sept. 07, 2009

Table of Contents
Sept. 7, 2009

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NFL PREVIEW
Departments

3 Green Bay PACKERS

If the No. 1 back regains his form and the reconfigured defense comes together, the Pack will have a playoff shot

FOR RYAN GRANT,the play that summed up 2008 came in the finale against Detroit, when, with alittle more than four minutes left, he broke into the secondary and dashed 80yards for a score. Grant's longest run of the season catapulted him into thetop five in the NFC in rushing and triggered $2.1 million in bonus money. Hiseuphoria lasted only a moment. After a Lions challenge, the replay officialjudged that Grant was downed by contact after 21 yards. He lost the touchdown,the extra yardage and $1.45 million of the bonus—and spent much of theoff-season contending with questions about what went wrong in '08. "Icouldn't get that play back," Grant said. "I had to move on."

This is an article from the Sept. 7, 2009 issue

Most backs whofit Grant's profile—an undrafted free agent in his second full season—wouldhave been thrilled to finish the year with 1,203 yards. But Grant had raisedexpectations so high the previous season, when he took over as the starter inWeek 9 and then had 201 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff win overSeattle, that he practically couldn't help but fall short. He came late totraining camp in '08 because of a contract dispute, was not in peak conditionand predictably tweaked a hamstring. Though Grant didn't miss any games andrarely complained about the injury, he acknowledges now that it affected hisburst, which helps explain his lack of long runs and his drop-off from 5.1 to3.9 yards per carry. "I probably should have sat out a couple games,"Grant says. "When you're not healthy, you don't have the explosion you needto break that initial tackle."

To win the NFCNorth the Pack will need the Grant of '07. This summer he spent a week and ahalf at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., running hills against resistancefrom parachutes, bungee cords, chains and tires. The drills were designed tosimulate charging up the field with a linebacker wrapped around his waist. Apower runner, Grant believes the key to 2009 is to regain the explosivenessthat allows him to shed tacklers and sprint past them. He's aiming for"definitely more than 1,200 yards. My expectations are higher. We've got todo more."

Much has changedin Green Bay. Heading into last season, all the scrutiny was on Aaron Rodgers,the successor to Brett Favre. The Packers went 6--10, but Rodgers wasn't theproblem—he was fourth in the league in passing yards and touchdowns and sixthin passer rating. Attention this year has shifted to Grant and to AaronKampman. A Pro Bowl defensive end who had 37 sacks over the past three seasons,Kampman is moving to outside linebacker as part of the new 3--4 defense. Ifhe's bothered by the switch, he's too diplomatic to say. "I've playeddefensive end for a quite a while," Kampman says. "This gives me achance to do some new things."

The transitionwill be made easier by the presence of Kevin Greene, who racked up 160 sacks asan outside linebacker mostly in 3--4 schemes and is now coaching the positionin Green Bay. He and Kampman are inseparable on the practice field. Afterdefensive coordinator and 3--4 guru Dom Capers makes a point about the newsystem, Greene, who played for Capers in Pittsburgh and Carolina and knows thescheme about as well as anybody, explains to Kampman exactly what it means forhim. Says Kampman, "It's great to have someone who's been there and donethat."

Assuming Grantregains his form and the defense embraces the 3--4, the Packers should join theVikings and the Bears in a three-way battle for the NFC North. Kampman's sacknumbers may dip a little, but his victory totals are likely to rise. "Thenew defense allows us to be more creative, especially with our blitzes,"backup corner Tramon Williams says. "A lot of guys are going to be comingfrom a lot of places. It's going to be a quarterback's worstnightmare."

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

COACH: MIKEMCCARTHY
27--21 in NFL, fourth season with Packers

OFFENSE

Greg JENNINGS
POS WR
REC 80
YARDS 1,292
TTD 9

Allen BARBRE
POS RT
HT 6'4"
WT 305
G 8

Ryan GRANT
POS RB
ATT 312
YARDS 1,203
AVG 3.9
REC 18
YARDS 116
AVG 6.4
TTD 5

Josh SITTON
POS RG
HT 6'3"
WT 317
G 11

Aaron RODGERS
POS QB
ATT 536
COMP 341
PCT 63.6
YARDS 4,038
TD 28
INT 13
RATING 93.8

Jason SPITZ
POS C
HT 6'3"
WT 302
G 16

Korey HALL
POS FB
REC 7
YARDS 38
TTD 1

Daryn COLLEDGE
POS LG
HT 6'4"
WT 308
G 16

Donald DRIVER
POS WR
REC 74
YARDS 1,012
TTD 5

Chad CLIFTON
POS LT
HT 6'5"
WT 320
G 15

Mason CROSBY
POS K
FG 27--34
POINTS 127

Donald LEE
POS TE
REC 39
YARDS 303
TTD 5

WRs Jordy Nelson(33 rec., 366 yards), James Jones (20 rec., 274 yards) and Ruvell Martin (15rec., 149 yards) round out the NFL's deepest receiving corps.

DEFENSE

Aaron KAMPMAN
POS OLB
TACKLES 62
SACKS 9½
INT 0

CharlesWOODSON
POS CB
TACKLES 63
INT 7

Johnny JOLLY
POS DE
TACKLES 49
SACKS 0

Nick COLLINS
POS FS
TACKLES 69
SACKS 0
INT 7

Ryan PICKETT
POS NT
TACKLES 48
SACKS 1½

A.J. HAWK
POS ILB
TACKLES 86
SACKS 3
INT 0

Cullen JENKINS
POS DE
TACKLES 13
SACKS 2½

Nick BARNETT
POS ILB
TACKLES 49
SACKS 0
INT 0

Brady POPPINGA
POS OLB
TACKLES 68
SACKS 0
INT 0

Atari BIGBY
POS SS
TACKLES 21
SACKS 0
INT 1

Jeremy KAPINOS
POS P
PUNTS 17
AVG 39.2

Al HARRIS
POS CB
TACKLES 25
INT 0

First-round draftpick Clay Matthews of USC and veteran Jeremy Thompson (three starts last year)will push Poppinga for a starting job at OLB.

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TTD: Totaltouchdowns

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2009 SCHEDULE
2008 RECORD 6--10
NFL RANK (Rush > Pass > Total)
OFFENSE 17 > 8 > 8
DEFENSE 26 > 12 > 20

SEPTEMBER
13 CHICAGO
20 CINCINNATI
27 at St. Louis

OCTOBER
5 at Minnesota (M)
11 Bye
18 DETROIT
25 at Cleveland

NOVEMBER
1 MINNESOTA
8 at Tampa Bay
15 DALLAS
22 SAN FRANCISCO
26 at Detroit (T)

DECEMBER
7 BALTIMORE (M)
13 at Chicago
20 at Pittsburgh
27 SEATTLE

JANUARY
3 at Arizona

(M) Monday
(T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL Rank: 30

Opponents' 2008 winning percentage: .428

Games against playoff teams: 5

ANALYSIS

The Packers don't face an offense that ranked in thetop 10 last year until Week 17 at Arizona, so their new 3--4 defense will haveevery chance get settled. Expect plenty of hype and distraction before GreenBay's two meetings with Brett Favre and the Vikings. The Week 13 game againstthe Ravens will mark the first December night game at Lambeau.

SPOTLIGHT
Jermichael Finley, Tight end

As a blue-chip senior at Diboll (Texas) High in thefall of 2004, Finley was set to attend Arizona on a full scholarship to playbasketball and football. But midway through his senior football season he metwith Texas coach Mack Brown, who told the all-state tight end and small forwardhe should pick one sport or he'd surely fail at both. "I liked that he toldme the truth," Finley says. "So on signing day I decommitted fromArizona and went with Texas."

Finley was drafted by the Packers in the third roundin 2008, and as a 21-year-old rookie he performed about as you'd expect,catching six passes for 74 yards and thinking he wasn't getting the ballenough. But during practices the 6'5", 247-pound Finley wowed teammateswith his speed and vertical leap. He calls to mind other basketball playersturned tight ends, namely Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez. "It's thequickness and the footwork," Finley says.

Although he must improve his blocking to overtakeincumbent Donald Lee, it will be hard for the Packers to keep Finley off thefield this season given how difficult it is for linebackers to run with him andfor safeties to muscle him. As he described the approach he is taking thisseason—"full bore, full throttle"—veteran wideout Donald Driverlistened intently from the adjoining locker, as if charting his youngteammate's growth. "That's it," Driver said. "That's what I'mtalking about, kid."

PHOTOJOHN BIEVERSTAR BURST Hamstring healed, Grant worked in the off-season to get his explosiveness back.PHOTOMIKE MCGINNISPHOTO