The Good, the Bad and the Raji

We've seen the last of the Packers starters until opening night, and that's a good thing. We've seen enough to give us hope that the Packers will compete for a Super Bowl, but the loss of B.J. Raji tempers the excitement in a big way.

It's become a rite of late summer: who will go down before the season starts to derail optimism? Last year it was Bryan Bulaga. Before Friday night, the Pack had lost top reserve Don Barclay and promising rookie Jared Abbrederis to ACLs, but neither of those losses resonate like the loss of Raji does.

We've heard much about the new leaner, younger look on the defensive line. The centerpiece, of course, was supposed to be Raji, back at the nose where he belongs, recommitted to the game and ready to play for a contract. Now, a torn bicep will cause him to miss the 2014 season and the Packers have a mammoth hole at the nose, one of the most vital spots in Dom Capers' defense.

You'll hear Packer fans scream at Ted to bring back Ryan Pickett or Johnny Jolly, but I don't see it happening. The team wants to be young and athletic at the nose, so look for Josh Boyd to get the first shot, with intriguing undrafted rookie Mike Pennel also getting a look. Former Viking Letroy Guion looked like a long shot to make the roster. Now, expect him to get a closer look from team doctors--to see if he's ready to take the field. Also, remember, the Pack will be in the nickel about half the time, with Datone Jones and Mike Daniels comprising the front.

If you would have asked me to name the three guys most vital to a defensive improvement in 2014, I would have said a healthy Clay Matthews, Hyde/Clinton Dix at safety and Raji at the nose. It's a big loss.

Offensively, I have no worries. Granted, 9-20 for Aaron Rodgers is not a number we're accustomed to seeing. But in 39 plays, Rodgers directed three touchdown drives in 39 plays. The chemistry with the wide receivers was off, but the screen game with Lacy and Harris was impressive. As was the 35 yard seam pass to rookie Richard Rogers on the first drive. Zero concerns about the offense. Zero. Rookie center JC Tretter looks up to the challenge and the unit as a hole is run blocking very well.

As for the defense, outside of the missed tackle meltdown that was the Maurice Jones Drew 40 yard touchdown scamper, it performed as you would hope against the Raiders: five consecutive three and outs, some hard hits and good pressure on the quarterback. Julius Peppers has shown enough to get us a little excited and the Pack's secondary appears to be infinitely deeper than it was a year ago.

The biggest roster question I see is whether the Pack keeps two or three QBs. I'd be surprised if they keep three; I think they'd rather keep an extra linebacker or wide receiver. I'm not sure who gets the call between the two: Flynn makes the most sense, but I have a feeling McCarthy would rather keep Tolzien, if he has to choose.

We do know there will be no panic in Titletown as the braintrust looks to cut down to 75 by Tuesday. They'll roll out the next man up theory and hope and pray that Boyd or Pennell is ready for his close up.

It's late August, which means we're talking about season ending injuries. Again.



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