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What to know about the 2018 Packers

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GREEN BAY – The Packers’ historic 100th season is upon us, along with the regular-season opener everyone has been waiting for against the rival Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.

The 53-man roster Green Bay takes into the 2018 season consists of 31 returning players, eight free-agent signings, two players acquired in trades, eight rookie draft picks and four undrafted rookies.

If you’ve had your head in the sand for the past eight months, here’s what you need to know about how this year’s team was established and the Packers’ forecast for 2018.

New directions

For the first time since 2005, the Packers have a new general manager with longtime scout Brian Gutekunst being promoted to that post on Jan. 8, 2018, with Ted Thompson moving into the role of senior advisor.

Gutekunst immediately picked up two new targets for Aaron Rodgers with the addition of five-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy re-hired Joe Philbin as the Packers’ offensive coordinator, a job Philbin held from 2007-11, and tabbed former Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator.

Gutekunst made a significant investment into the new defense by signing two-time All-Pro Muhammad Wilkerson, reuniting the defensive lineman with Pettine after the two previously worked together with the New York Jets in 2011-12.

The Packers also renovated their secondary, trading Damarious Randall to the Cleveland Browns and signing former Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams, who played the first nine seasons of his 12-year NFL career with Green Bay.

The face of the franchise

The Packers saved their biggest move for last when they signed two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a contract extension during the final week of training camp.

Signed through his 40th birthday, Rodgers can continue his pursuit of a second Lombardi Trophy and build on a Pro Football Hall of Fame resume that already includes six Pro Bowl selections and the highest passer rating (103.8) in NFL history.

Rodgers missed seven games last season with a broken collarbone he suffered in Week 6 against Minnesota, but looked no worse for wear throughout the summer. On his lone preseason series, Rodgers directed a five-play, 40-yard touchdown drive.

The Packers acquired 2017 second-round pick DeShone Kizer to backup Rodgers in the trade that sent Randall to the Browns. They also sent Brett Hundley to the Seattle Seahawks for a draft pick prior to the preseason finale against Kansas City.

Green Bay held onto undrafted rookie Tim Boyle, marking the fourth time in five years the Packers have kept three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster.

Backfield options

The Packers will open the season with Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery at the top of the depth chart at running back, a position that finished fifth in the NFL last season in rushing yards per play.

Williams, a 2017 fourth-round pick out of BYU, led the Packers in rushing (556 yards) in 16 games with seven starts as a rookie. Montgomery began the season as Green Bay’s starting rusher, racking up 446 total yards and four touchdowns before being placed on injured reserve on Dec. 1.

Second-year running back Aaron Jones also returns after rushing for 448 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries (5.5 yards per attempt) as a rookie, but will miss the first two games of the season due to suspension.

For the first time under McCarthy, the Packers are not carrying a fullback on the 53-man roster after releasing both Aaron Ripkowski and Joe Kerridge during final cuts. Kerridge was re-signed to the practice squad the following day.

Green Bay rounded out its backfield with the signing of Darius Jackson off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad after final cuts.

Receiving reservoir

The Packers made the difficult choice to move on from veteran receiver Jordy Nelson early in the offseason, but still feature a deep and talented array of receiving weapons for Rodgers.

In one of his final moves as GM, Thompson identified Davante Adams as the Packers’ No. 1 receiver of the future when he signed the 2014 second-round pick to an extension on the eve of the season finale in Detroit.

Adams has caught 149 passes for 1,882 yards over the past two seasons and leads the NFL with 22 touchdown receptions during that stretch. Complementing Adams in the starting offense are veterans Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, who had a strong camp in his first summer as Green Bay’s No. 3 receiver.

The Packers enter the season the deepest they’ve been under McCarthy at tight end, with Graham and Lewis joining returning veteran Lance Kendricks and practice-squad holdover Robert Tonyan. Graham wasted no time building a rapport with Rodgers this summer, catching an 8-yard touchdown against the Steelers on Aug. 16 in their lone preseason series together.

The Packers also kept all three rookie receivers they drafted (J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown), while journeyman Jake Kumerow earned a spot on the 53 after finishing fourth in the NFL with 190 receiving yards in the preseason. He was placed on injured reserve the day after cuts and will be eligible to return after Week 8.

Keeping the line

The band is back together on the offensive line with Bryan Bulaga making a miraculous recovery back to the field after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last November against Detroit.

Activated from the physically unable to perform list after the first week of training camp, Bulaga resumed his starting post at right tackle in playing 12 snaps against Kansas City in the preseason finale.

The left side of the offensive line remains intact with two-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and left guard Lane Taylor returning for their third season together. Center Corey Linsley is also back after signing an extension near the end of last season.

Justin McCray is slated to start at right guard after seeing action in 13 games with eight spot starts as a swing tackle last season.

Third-year tackle Jason Spriggs, guard/center Lucas Patrick and veteran Byron Bell are the next up on the offensive line, with the Packers also keeping undrafted rookie Alex Light as a ninth offensive lineman.

Deep in the trenches

The Packers made one of their biggest positional strengths stronger with Wilkerson joining Mike Daniels, emerging playmaker Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry on the defensive line.

Daniels earned his first Pro Bowl appearance after recording 49 tackles and five sacks in 14 starts last season. The sixth-year veteran has had at least four sacks in each of the past five seasons, missing only two regular-season games during that time.

Clark had the strongest finish to a season by a Packers defensive lineman since B.J. Raji in 2010 when the former first-round pick racked up 4½ sacks in the final month of the season, while Lowry earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his sack and fumble recovered for a touchdown against Tampa Bay on Dec. 3.

Former third-round pick Montravius Adams enjoyed a healthy offseason after foot surgery sidelined him for all but two training-camp practices as a rookie.

Linebacker contingent

The Packers open the season with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry anchoring their outside rush, a duo that’s combined for 30½ sacks over the past two seasons.

Both linebackers missed the offseason program due to injuries, but enter the season healthy and available. Matthews participated in all of the Packers’ public practices during training camp, while Perry was activated off PUP in time to play against Kansas City. 

Former undrafted free agent Reggie Gilbert is the next up in the rotation at outside linebacker, earning a roster spot for the first time in three tries after recording 3½ sacks in three preseason games.

Jake Ryan’s season-ending knee injury leaves Blake Martinez as the only returning inside linebacker from last year’s defense. Martinez finished second in the NFL in tackles last season (142) and has his sights set on the league record in 2018.

Veterans Antonio Morrison (acquired in a trade on Aug. 26) and Korey Toomer (signed Monday) were added over the past two weeks after rookie third-round pick Oren Burks suffered a shoulder injury during warmups in Oakland on Aug. 24.

Charles Woodson’s nephew, James Crawford, also made the roster as a reserve linebacker despite joining the team midway through training camp.

New vision in the secondary

The Packers pulled their cornerbacks and safeties together under longtime assistant Joe Whitt and new secondary coach Jason Simmons as part of the defensive overhaul.

In addition to signing Williams, Gutekunst also used the Packers’ first two draft picks on Louisville’s Jaire Alexander and Iowa’s Josh Jackson. Both rookies grabbed interceptions in the preseason, with Jackson returning a pick-six against Pittsburgh.

Second-year cornerback Kevin King missed the first three preseason games with a shoulder injury, but started on the boundary in the Packers’ preseason finale against Kansas City.

Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is eyeing a return to his All-Pro form in Pettine’s defense, while former undrafted free agent Kentrell Brice turned in a promising offseason after replacing veteran Morgan Burnett on the back end of the secondary this summer. 

A pair of second-year safeties, Josh Jones and Jermaine Whitehead, give the secondary some positional flexibility with their ability to play the slot corner and hybrid linebacker positions.

Special feature

Two rookie draft picks, Alabama punter JK Scott and Mississippi State long snapper Hunter Bradley, join 12th-year veteran kicker Mason Crosby as the Packers’ three specialists.

This summer, Scott showcased the impressive leg strength that led to the Packers using a fifth-round pick on the 21-year-old. Scott saved his best for last in the preseason, booming four punts against Kansas City for a gross average of 52.0 and net of 47.5.

Third-year receiver Trevor Davis remains the Packers’ primary option on both kickoffs and punt returns after finishing in the top 10 of both categories in 2017.

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