PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush asks and answers five key questions facing the Packers as they head into the 2011 season
1. Can QB Aaron Rodgers get any better?
Actually, yes he can. It's easy to forget the stretches, particularly early last season, when the offense did not seem to be clicking on all cylinders. I think A-Rod has to strike a better balance between passes to TE Jermichael Finley and WR Greg Jennings, who was not the happiest of campers the first month of the season when he thought he was being underutilized. I think Rodgers also will benefit from what shapes up as a much stronger ground game from the get-go, with Ryan Grant, James Starks, John Kuhn and rookie Alex Green (who could get more touches than you might think) in the backfield.
2. How high on the list is Matt Flynn in terms of NFL backup QBs?
I think Packers WR Jordy Nelson spoke for most of his teammates when he told me he recently that he definitely thought it was only a matter of time before Flynn would be starting for some team. Flynn really raised eyebrows with his gutty starting effort late in the season on a national stage against the Patriots, and he has earned consistently high marks from daily team observers on the practice field, where he has made steady progress. I would not be shocked if more than a few teams inquire about him in a possible trade. He certainly has to rate among the top five bullpen guys entering the season.
3. Do you see James Starks giving Ryan Grant a serious run for his money for the starting RB job?
Yes I do. And I think the more competitive the position is, the better the ground game will be. Grant is entering his contract year and will be very motivated, but I saw enough of Starks last season to project him as a solid every-down back not too far down the road.
4. In training camp, which Packers player do you plan on watching the closest?
It's got to be second-year DE Mike Neal, who is widely considered the front-runner to replace free-agent departee Cullen Jenkins as the starting right defensive end and the team's primary inside pass rusher. Will he develop into a real stud in his second season the same way NT B.J. Raji did? Or will he end up being another player who just can't stay healthy a la former first-round DE Justin Harrell?
5. How much gas do you think WR Donald Driver has left in the tank?
To be honest, not a heckuva lot. I see Nelson replacing Driver as the No. 2 receiver pretty early on. But I still see Driver figuring in the mix in a worthwhile manner for one last season in what has been a very solid career, providing invaluable inspiration and leadership on the road to breaking James Lofton's club record for receiving yards (he's only 42 yards short).