Rodgers and Co. primed for another run

5 things you need keep an eye on

Packer Plus - - Extra Point - TOM PELISSERO Fol­low Tom Pelissero on Twit­ter @TomPelis­sero

Train­ing camps are still in the dis­tance, but here are five things you need to know about the Green Bay Pack­ers...

1. AARON RODGERS IS STILL AARON RODGERS

He proved it as the Pack­ers ran the ta­ble af­ter a 4-6 start in 2016, at one point throw­ing a ca­reer-best 318 con­sec­u­tive passes with­out an in­ter­cep­tion (and 24 touch­downs) on the way to the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game. At age 33, Rodgers keeps him­self in ex­cel­lent shape, re­mains at the height of his pow­ers and gives Green Bay a chance ev­ery time he steps on the field. He has a new toy to play with, too — tight end Martel­lus Ben­nett, who re­places Jared Cook as the big man amidst the tal­ented re­ceiver trio of Jordy Nel­son, Da­vante Adams and Ran­dall Cobb. The Pack­ers also signed former Los An­ge­les Rams tight end Lance Ken­dricks. GM Ted Thomp­son fig­ures to ex­tend Rodgers’ con­tract, which is set to pay him $42 mil­lion over the next two years, sooner rather than later.

2. THE SEC­ONDARY GOT PRI­MARY AT­TEN­TION

In­juries bru­tal­ized the back end of Dom Ca­pers’ de­fense dur­ing last sea­son's rock­i­est stretches and in the NFC ti­tle loss to the At­lanta Fal­cons. It’s no sur­prise Thomp­son used his top two draft picks to up­grade the ta­lent there. Cor­ner­back Kevin King is long and ath­letic and gives them op­tions along­side Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall and Davon House, who’s back af­ter two years in Jack­sonville. Safety Josh Jones ac­tu­ally may play more line­backer, given the pro­lif­er­a­tion of sub­pack­age de­fense. He’s a down­hill, run-and-hit player — a nice com­ple­ment to Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix, who was a top­five safety in 2016.

3. IT’S A BAT­TLE ROYAL IN THE BACK­FIELD

The Pack­ers were short on run­ning backs last sea­son, too. Then they re­leased James Starks, while Ed­die Lacy rum­bled to a free-agent deal in Seat­tle. So Green Bay fol­lowed the Sea­hawks’ lead from a year ago and drafted in vol­ume. Fourth-round pick Ja­maal Wil­liams (BYU) is a work­horse type. Fifth-rounder Aaron Jones (UTEP) fig­ures to get his chance in the pass­ing game. And sev­enth-rounder De­vante Mays (Utah State) could sur­prise peo­ple. With all the seven-man boxes the Pack­ers see be­cause of Rodgers and a solid of­fen­sive line, they can get away with some dif­fer­ent guys run­ning it — in­clud­ing con­verted wide­out Ty Mont­gomery, who showed flashes in his new role at times late in the sea­son. Green Bay does need to re­place vet­eran guard T.J. Lang, who de­parted for his home­town Detroit Lions, but there are op­tions there.

4. THE PASS RUSHERS BET­TER EARN THEIR MONEY

Nick Perry signed a fiveyear, $60 mil­lion con­tract. Clay Matthews is still the high­est­paid — due $11.1 mil­lion with a $15.075 mil­lion cap num­ber this sea­son on the five-year, $66 mil­lion ex­ten­sion he signed in 2013. Those are big num­bers, so there’s lit­tle ques­tion where the re­spon­si­bil­ity of get­ting to quar­ter­backs falls af­ter Julius Pep­pers re­turned to Carolina.

5. THEY’RE THE CLOS­EST THE NFC HAS TO THE PA­TRI­OTS

Yes, New Eng­land has five Su­per Bowl wins in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, com­pared to one for Rodgers and Mike McCarthy. But the fran­chises are tied for the NFL’s longest play­off streak (eight years), and Rodgers has an ex­cel­lent shot to join Brady in the Hall of Fame one day. Win­ning one more ring would prob­a­bly make it an open-and-shut case.

RICK WOOD / MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

The ad­di­tion of tight ends Martel­lus Ben­nett and Lance Ken­dricks gives Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers (above) ad­di­tional weapons.

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