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Team aiming for championship

Mike McCarthy sent his players and coaches off on vacation feeling very good about the work his Green Bay Packers had put in during the nine-week spring offseason program.

Now, the 12th-year head coach hopes it translates to a second Super Bowl title after disappointing NFC Championship Game losses to end two of the past three seasons.

“We have a lot invested here. We got a lot of work done,” McCarthy said. “The workload is significantly higher than last year, just going through all our data and meeting with the medical staff and our strength and conditioning staff. Things are really laid out for a great training camp. We’re looking forward to stepping away here for a few weeks as coaches and the players.”

When they return, they’ll come back to an Aaron Rodgers-led offense with scoreboard short-circuiting potential and new wrinkles thanks to the offseason addition of free-agent tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, and a defense that must improve – sound familiar? – to give them a fighting chance at the franchise’s 14th championship.

“Everyone knows what our goals are here. When we’ve accomplished that goal or when we’ve been close to accomplishing that goal, we’ve played pretty well on defense,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said, referring to the 2010 title team and the 2014 team whose second-half defensive resurgence had the Packers minutes away from a Super Bowl berth.

“Obviously, when you have an offense like we have and a quarterback like we have, they are always going to be up there. I think when you look at your team and your goals and you’re going to try to be the best, you’ve got to work towards that. We set a high standard that way. If you don’t reach that standard, you feel pressure to go ahead and accomplish it. We know what it’s going to take for us to do what we want to do.”

With July 27’s first training-camp practice less than a month away, here’s a position-by-position look at where the Packers stand:

Quarterback

Given the flourish Rodgers finished last season with – he completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 2,384 yards with 21 touchdowns and only one interception (117.9 rating) during the Packers’ eight wins before their season-ending loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Jan. 22 – it’s clear that the two-time NFL MVP remains at the peak of his powers at age 33. But you can sense his frustration with the close-but-no-cigar finishes to the past six Super Bowl-less seasons.

“He was very excited to get back this year and get going,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van pelt said. “I think he also enjoys the part of the process of helping these younger guys by leading by example, showing them things, little tricks. I’ve seen him take more of a coach approach in that regard, which has been awesome. His love for the game will never change, but I think at times when you become an established, elite player, you need to find different ways to motivate yourself, and I think he realizes what he can do when he comes in in the offseason. As good as he is, he gets better.”

Running back

With McCarthy intentionally limiting work on the running game during OTAs and minicamp – believing that more could be accomplished in the pass game during non-padded work – training camp and preseason will decide the pecking order behind starting running back Ty Montgomery, whose metamorphosis from wide receiver to ball-carrier is complete. While Montgomery is entering his third year, the transition made him feel like a rookie last season, and there’ll likely still be growing pains for him – just not as many as there’ll be for the five rookies vying for work behind him. Fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams will get the first shot, but there will be competition.

“You’re always going to, based off how guys are drafted, initially give them the benefit of being featured a lot more than the other guys. But as I tell the other guys, you’re going to get your chances and opportunities,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “Particularly once we get into those early preseason games. Once they start showing certain traits and we’re like, ‘Man, this guy, we’ve got to figure out how to get him more playing time,’ that’s when you’ll start to see certain things even out.”

Wide receiver

Atop of the depth chart, Jordy Nelson will be another year removed from his knee injury, Randall Cobb is healthy after two injury-riddled seasons, and Davante Adams enters a contract year coming off his best season. While Nelson was terrific after his lost 2015 season, and Adams reached the potential that he flashed as a rookie, getting Cobb to approximate his 2014 production (91 receptions, 1,287 yards, 12 TDs) after just 60 catches last season would be a game-changer, as Cobb was in a playoff win over the New York Giants.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a bounce-back year (for Cobb). He played really well for us when he was full go,” wide receivers coach Luke Getsy said. “Shoot, that first playoff game, he wasn’t even healthy for that one and he played his butt off. When you have a guy like him that’s so dynamic with the football in his hands, you’ve got to get him the football.”

Tight end

Expect McCarthy, as usual, to keep things vanilla in preseason, and Rodgers to again have his snaps limited. But once the games start to count, it’ll be fascinating to see just how different the Packers’ offense will be with Bennett and Kendricks in the mix. Also, don’t forget incumbent Richard Rodgers, who caught everything thrown his way during the organized team activity and minicamp practices open to reporters and still has a role in the offense as well.

“I think they both did a good job picking up the system,” tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said of Bennett and Kendricks. “I think it’s (about) the familiarity with Aaron, how he wants things, getting on the same page with the routes, with some of the signals, just the whole mannerisms of how the operation works. I think that’s the biggest thing, and obviously reps help that.”

Offensive line

The offseason departure of Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang to the rival Detroit Lions in free agency left a gaping hole in the line, one the Packers hope soon-to-be 34-year-old ex-Pro Bowler Jahri Evans can fill the void while young successors keep developing. A healthy Corey Linsley (ankle) at center and arguably the best tackle tandem in football (Bryan Bulaga, David Bakhtiari) means that even the loss of two Pro Bowl guards in a 6 1/2-month span won’t be crippling.

“Look, we have very good depth right now. There’s good players. There’s a lot of guys that are going to rise up,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “Let’s see what happens.”

Defensive line

On paper, this might be the deepest line the Packers have had during the Capers era, with a mix of older vets (Letroy Guion, Ricky Jean Francois), a star in his prime (Mike Daniels), a young first-round pick who came on late as a rookie (Kenny Clark) and a couple of youngsters (second-year man Dean Lowry and rookie third-round pick Montravius Adams) looking for spots in the rotation.

“It depends on how these young guys come around,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac replied when asked during minicamp about the depth. “With Dean and Kenny, we’ve got some second-year guys that we’ll be counting on. They’ve done a fabulous job to this point, but we’re running around in underwear right now. We’ll find out when the pads come on for real.”

Linebacker

Contrary to McCarthy’s assertion that the outside linebacker corps are as deep as the Packers have had in awhile, this remains the biggest area of concern on the depth chart. If starters Clay Matthews and Nick Perry – both of whom have battled injury demons during their career – stay healthy all year long, depth won’t be an issue. Even if they are healthy, though, top backups Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott will be counted on to play rotational snaps and be productive.

“They’ve just got to do their best every day. It’s not that hard,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “Come to work. Do what you can do as well as you can do it every single day. Make the most of every opportunity you can. And the rest will take care of itself.”

Inside, despite a trend toward playing safeties as linebackers, the Packers like their options with Joe Thomas, Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez.

“I still think there’s something special with the middle linebacker position in the game of football,” inside linebackers coach Scott McCurley said. “So I think with those guys, they know they can fill a role in this defense.”

Secondary

It may sound odd given the group’s No. 31 ranking against the pass last season, but Joe Whitt doesn’t care. He believes he has a group of cornerbacks that could be, in his words, “special.” Why? Top 2015 draft picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins are healthy after injury-plagued, inconsistent 2016 seasons; veteran Davon House is back in the fold; the team used its top draft pick on tall, rangy Washington cornerback Kevin King; and LaDarius Gunter is coming off a year of exponential growth that saw him serve as the team’s No. 1 corner after veteran Sam Shields’ season-ending concussion.

“I will say this, and I’m not going to get ahead of myself, but if we play to our potential, we have a chance to be as good as any group that we might’ve had here,” Whitt said. “You know, the ’09 and ’10 groups were special groups, so I don’t know if we can reach that type of group. … But I’m excited about what we can be. Now, we need to get there.”

At safety, the buzzword is versatility, as veteran Morgan Burnett and rookie Josh Jones will play hybrid roles alongside Pro Bowler Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who is just scratching the surface of how good he can be.

“He does have some unique ability,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “It’s still early, and I think Ha can be as good as he wants to be. I really do believe that.”

Special teams

With the jettisoning of punter Jake Schum, the Packers will have their third opening-day punter in three years, and kicker Mason Crosby is set to have a new holder and a new long-snapper. Rookie Justin Vogel is the punter for now, although the team will presumably bring in competition; Derek Hart has replaced longtime snapper Brett Goode, who remains unsigned and could still return if Hart struggles. The bigger question is whether special teams coordinator Ron Zook can generate a return game that has an impact. With Montgomery starting at running back, Micah Hyde playing in Buffalo and Cobb’s return role unclear, training camp will feature return auditions on both punts and kickoffs.

“We’ve got to do is give our offense good field position,” Zook said. “The thing we’ve got to do is, those other 10 guys, we’ve got to have them playing at a very high level and the best they can be. Whoever (McCarthy) decides we want back there, we’re going to make it as easy for him as we can.”

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