NFL

Packers hope additions of Peppers, Clinton-Dix pay off

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Mike Hetherington, TSN.ca
8/28/2014 8:01:42 PM
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The Green Bay Packers enter the 2014 season as a Super Bowl contender thanks to their star-studded offence.

Former NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers enters the season in full health after missing seven games with a broken collarbone last year. When healthy, Rodgers is among the NFL's elite at the position and is helped by play-making wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, who averaged 15.5 and 14 yards per catch last season, respectively. The Packers also feature a dominant ground game with 2013 offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy, as well as James Starks and DuJuan Harris at running back. If their offensive line remains healthy, the Packers offence could be close to unstoppable in 2014.

The question mark for the Packers, however, is their defence, a unit that ranked eighth-worst in yardage allowed last season.

Following the NFL Draft in May, head coach Mike McCarthy vowed that defensive struggles would not be the story of the 2014 Packers.

"We're going to be a better defence this year," McCarthy promised. "You can write that in big letters. We'll be a better defence this year."

The Packers will open the season with outside linebacker Clay Matthews at 100 per cent after he broke his thumb twice in the 2013 campaign. The team will also have cornerback Casey Hayward back at his slot position after a hamstring injury derailed his 2013 season.

The biggest change for the defence, though, will likely come from new the faces on the squad.

In a rare move, general manager Ted Thompson dipped into free agency with the signing of veteran pass rusher Julius Peppers. Peppers spent his last four seasons with the rival Chicago Bears, registering seven sacks last year. Peppers will add a legitimate pass-rushing threat across from Matthews for the first time since USC product was drafted in 2009.

Thompson also addressed defence in May's draft, selecting Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Drafted in the first round (21st overall), Clinton-Dix is expected to make an immediate impact for the Packers, a team that rotated through safeties M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillan, Chris Banjo and Sean Richardson across from Morgan Burnett last year.

On the defensive line, the Packers figure to have a whole new look with 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones, Josh Boyd and Mike Daniels starting up front. Daniels brings the trio's only career start, which came last season.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers also plans to use Peppers and linebacker Mike Neal at an "elephant position" which will see them line up both on the defensive line and at outside linebacker.

Should the Packers boast an improved defence and a healthy offence in 2014, the team will be in prime position to win the NFC North for a fifth straight year.

Notes

Replacing Raji: Boyd is set to open the season at nose tackle after veteran B.J. Raji tore his right bicep in the team's third preseason game. Raji was slated to return to nose tackle after struggling at defensive end last season. Boyd was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Mississippi State.

End of the line: The Packers have three options at tight end this season; Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and Richard Rodgers. Quarless finished last season as the starter, while Bostick impressed in limited snaps. Yet, it's the third-round pick, Rodgers, who opened the Packers first three preseason games with the first-team offence. All three will likely see significant time as the Packers try to fill the hole left by Jermichael Finley.

Centre of Attention: Entering the third week of the preseason, JC Tretter appeared to have won the position battle at centre on the Packers offensive line. However, Tretter suffered a knee injury in Week 3 of the preseason and will miss at least the Packers' first two games. Replacing Tretter will be 2014 fifth-round pick Corey Linsley, who enters the season without taking a single preseason game snap from Rodgers. 2013 starter Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency.

Julius Peppers (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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