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Packers believe they can be better despite no major adjustments

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Dan Pompei
August 22, 2011
— The Packers won it all with the hand they were dealt last year. So when the dealer turned to them in the offseason, they stood pat.

No unrestricted free-agent additions.


No trade acquisitions.


No major pickups other than what they added in the draft.


What's more, 13 players from the Packers' Super Bowl roster are no longer with the team.


Yet cornerback Charles Woodson said the Packers believe their team is not lacking at any position. He also said they don't feel compelled to keep pace with other teams that have made notable additions.


"We feel we have the standard," he said. "We feel like teams have to keep pace with us. . . . The guys we have here, are the right combination to make that push again."


It is good to be king.


It is good to have arguably the premier coaching staff in the NFL.


It is good to have the same offense in place for six years and the same defense in place for three.


It is good to have a quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, whom some believe is the best player in the game.


It is good to have a young team capable of improvement from within. Last year the Packers had the fifth youngest team at the start of the season.


"We like where we are," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I think we're set for success here. I tell our team that all the time."


It's hard to argue. In many ways the Packers are the envy of the NFL.


Rodgers, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, is 27. McCarthy believes he's capable of doing more as he becomes more ingrained in the system and more in sync with all of his receivers.


Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who had 13 sacks last year, is 25. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers believes Matthews can improve because he didn't practice for nearly two months last season with a stress fracture in his shin.


Nose tackle B.J. Raji, who was a force down the stretch last season, is 25. McCarthy said he has noticed great improvement from Raji, and Capers even is thinking about playing Raji at defensive end in specialty fronts.


The Packers also are counting on getting a lift from injured players. They had an NFL-high 15 players on injured reserve in 2010. Among them was dynamic tight end Jermichael Finley, who causes matchup problems for every defense.


"He's a difference-maker," Rodgers said. "You have to account for him in the passing game and figure out who you want to put on him linebacker, safety or corner. He stretches the field and helps give you an idea of what they are trying to do on defense."


Other projected starters returning from IR are running back Ryan Grant, safety Morgan Burnett and defensive end Mike Neal.


"You bring those guys back, you bring guys back who are anxious and hungry to do it again," Woodson said. "If there are guys who are getting complacent, I think those guys coming in raises the bar a bit. Don't get satisfied back, we want to go back. I think it adds a little punch to the team."


A frequent topic of conversation in Packers camp has been the threat of a Super Bowl hangover. To hear the Packers tell it, the threat is minimal. They believe the lockout may have helped their cause.


"You didn't have time during the offseason when guys were around, talking about the Super Bowl," Woodson said. "Coming into training camp, it's still fresh for us."


The Packers, like all defending Super Bowl champions, say the right things. They're not satisfied. They're putting last year behind them. It's about this season, not last.


McCarthy has been hammering home all the salient points.


"I hope they are listening to me," he said. "I told them we're not defending the title. They can never take that away, so there is no need to defend it. We're not trying to repeat. We're a different team. There are people on this team who weren't on last year's team. The circumstances, the challenges, the dates are all going to be different. This is a new journey, a new challenge."


And the Packers are positioned perfectly to embark on it.



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