ESPN's Tirico Intrigued By '09 Packers

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ESPN's Mike Tirico chats briefly with QB Aaron Rodgers following Tirico's talk to the team on Wednesday afternoon.

With a veteran defense changing schemes and a lot more attention being focused on the quarterback situations with NFC North rivals Minnesota and Chicago, ESPN's Mike Tirico believes the Packers could provide an intriguing, under-the-radar story in the NFL this season.

Tirico was the guest speaker in the Packers' team meeting early Wednesday afternoon before the players were dismissed for their first rest-and-recovery day of training camp. After sharing some thoughts and pointers with the players regarding the media and how best to handle those responsibilities, he spoke briefly with Packers.com to give his early impressions of the 2009 club.

As the play-by-play announcer for ESPN's Monday Night Football, Tirico will call two of the Packers' games this season - at Minnesota in Week 4 and at home vs. Baltimore in Week 13. He said from his perspective, one of the things that makes the Packers an intriguing story, and a potentially successful one, is that the defensive change to the 3-4 scheme under Dom Capers is being done with a slew of veteran players like Aaron Kampman, Al Harris, A.J. Hawk, and several others who are applying their experience and savvy to slightly different job descriptions.

"Can a change in defense get great results right away?" Tirico asked rhetorically. "Almost two-thirds of the league changed coordinators this year. When you have massive change like this, one thing I always look at is, do you have a veteran room? Do you have a lot guys who have a lot of football knowledge, who can soak it up quick? So you're not just teaching people how to play in the NFL and then how to play in the system. You've got guys who know how to exist hour to hour, day to day in the NFL, and now we're just trying to make them work in different-shaped parts.

"I think that's an exciting story to watch, an exciting story to tell, and I think that makes it more likely to be successful than just new system, new place, new coaches."

Tirico's one trip to Green Bay this season with the MNF crew will be in Week 13, when the Packers host the Ravens for the first Monday night game ever at Lambeau in December. As a native Midwesterner from Detroit, he appreciates the history and tradition of a place like Lambeau Field, and he noted it's always a special feeling, sitting in the press box for a bird's eye view of a game here.

"It's the houses in the neighborhood you can see from up there," Tirico said. "I haven't had that since a couple of small-college game settings.

"I think we're here Dec. 7. It won't be warm, it will be full, and I'm more confident about the second one than the first one. It doesn't matter what about the Packers' record, the weather, (as far as) the support here. As a TV broadcaster, you cannot create a false atmosphere to enhance a broadcast. You can't do it. So anytime you go someplace the atmosphere is great, it makes our job so much easier and so much more fun."

Tirico believes that December game at Lambeau could be a significant one as well. After all of the close losses the Packers suffered in '08, Tirico believes this is a team that's closer to the one that played for the NFC Championship 19 months ago than the one that went 6-10 last season.

He also thinks the sub-.500 record from last year and the lack of "distractions" during this year's training camp so far have kept the Packers under the national radar, and that could be a good thing for the team.

{sportsad300}"Especially considering where you were 365 days ago, it's drastically different this year," he said. "There's no soap opera, there's no drama, there's no, 'What's gonna happen?'

"The national radar is dominated by, 'Who's going to be the quarterback in Minnesota? Where's (Michael) Vick going to show up?' All those kinds of storylines. So, yes, off the radar, relative to last year, the last couple of years, absolutely. But I think people who know football know this is a pretty good team and it's probably going to be playing significant football in December."

That's a rather bold statement about a team that lost five in a row down the stretch last season and didn't win a December game until the finale, against winless Detroit. But defining a team within a short-term context can be a futile exercise in the unpredictable NFL, and that's one reason Tirico enjoys being one of the premier television voices of the league.

"My reminder last year of what the NFL is all about was two-fold," he said. "The Detroit Lions won every preseason game, and didn't win any regular-season games. And the Arizona Cardinals were 9-7, and were 35 seconds away from winning the Super Bowl.

"What does that tell you? The results in the next month mean nothing, and if you're playing significant December football, you have a chance to be playing the most significant game."

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