|Free-agency preview: Packers||
Team overview: The Packers finished fifth in scoring (27.1) and 11th in points allowed (21.0) as their defense showed major improvement, especially against the pass. They struggled to run the ball and stop the run. DuJuan Harris (5-7, 197) made a nice splash toward season’s end (4.6 ypc) before averaging 50 yards in two playoff games. He’s not a workhorse. Green Bay hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher since Brandon Jackson ran for 115 yards in Week 5 of 2010.
The Packers missed middle linebacker Desmond Bishop (ruptured hamstring) and gave up 4.54 yards per carry (26th, NFL). That was before Colin Kaepernick ripped them for 181 rushing yards in the divisional playoffs. Bishop is expected to be cleared before OTAs, and Green Bay could add a defensive lineman in free agency.
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Biggest concern: Running back. The Packers can’t go into the season with Harris, Alex Green and James Starks. Improving the running game (Steven Jackson? Ahmad Bradshaw?) would ease pressure on Rodgers, who took an NFL-high 51 sacks.
What we know about this depth chart: Evan Dietrich-Smith won the center job with his late-season play, and now the question is, Who will play left tackle? Marshall Newhouse played every snap last season, but McCarthy is considering Bryan Bulaga, assuming he comes back strong from his hip injury. Bulaga played left tackle at Iowa. Don Barclay would stay at right tackle after impressing as a rookie. "We will be a better offensive line next year,” McCarthy said. “You can write that down."
Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Hayward and Davon House will compete for starting cornerback jobs. As loaded as the Packers are at corner, they need help at safety opposite Morgan Burnett, plus a pass rusher not named Matthews.
Biggest areas of need: Safety, outside linebacker, running back
Free-agency strategy: The Packers want to extend Rodgers, Matthews and Raji so it’s not like they have a lot of cap room. They could create $8.25 million more by trading or releasing Jermichael Finley. That would mean going with Tom Crabtree as the top tight end. If it helps Green Bay land punishing safety Dashon Goldson, it would be well worth the price. He has 310 tackles and 14 interceptions the last four seasons.
Guys I would target: Goldson, Jackson, Chris Canty
What should happen: With their first-round pick, the Packers can get a pass-rushing outside linebacker. So in free agency they should go after Goldson and/or a running back. If McCarthy’s prediction on the offensive line proves accurate, Green Bay would be a far more complete team in 2013.
-- By Larry Hartstein
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