Kickoff'11: A 'challenge' for Packers offense

This summer, I was struck by the first words Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers used in discussing the return of tight end Jermichael Finley.

FinleyFinley"It will be a challenge," Rodgers said. "You add another talented guy back to the mix like that and it's tough to get the ball around to all of our skill guys. You've got to find a way to get everyone else involved, realizing that you might be bringing back the most talented guy to the offense. ... It's going to be important for us to find ways to get him the ball but also to keep the other guys involved who played big roles for us last year."

And so goes the reality of what would seem like an obvious cause for unmitigated excitement. Finley makes the Packers a "different team," Rodgers said. But he is also returning to an offense that dramatically changed its focus after his season-ending knee injury in 2010. His reintegration must be scripted and balanced if the Packers want to avoid hard feelings.

The chart illustrates how the Packers shifted from Finley to receiver Greg Jennings as the focal point of their passing offense last season. It's natural to be excited about the mismatches Finley will create going forward, but it's also fair to wonder whether Jennings once again will be subordinated or if Finley's impact will be limited or if some other consequence will surface based on the old basketball conundrum.

As in: There's one ball and five shooters. Someone, you would think, will be disappointed.

The Packers will open their season Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints with a proverbial embarrassment of offensive riches. The Packers have five wide receivers and five tight ends who can all make plays in the passing game, and between Ryan Grant and James Starks, they have their best depth at running back since coach Mike McCarthy arrived in 2006.

It beats the alternative, but as Jennings himself said, it adds a layer of complexity for Rodgers. I realize no one will shed a tear for Rodgers in this situation, but it's absolutely a fair issue for discussion.

"Aaron has a tough job," Jennings told Wisconsin reporters this week. "A very, very tough job. You look out there and you see all these options, and it's like, 'Yes, I have so many options.' On the other end of that, you look out there and see all of these eyes and hands wanting the ball. Now it's like, 'Oh, I need to make sure I get everybody into the play and into the game and things like that [and] give everybody some opportunities."

Finley was on pace last season for a 67-catch, 963-yard season in 2010 before suffering his injury. I guess anything is possible, but is it reasonable to think he can have a 1,000-yard season if Jennings repeats his 2010 production? And can Jennings have another 76-catch season if Finley is on a 1,000-yard pace?

Ultimately, Jennings said, the Packers must keep "the team first." It's a cliché, but in this case it's true. Presuming the health of all major players, the 2011 Packers offense will be a case study in the challenge of sharing for the sake of team prosperity.

"Obviously there is a little bit of selfishness that comes into play when you're a competitor," Jennings said. "But you can't let that overtake what the biggest goal is. And that's the team goal. The individual goals will obviously be accomplished if the team does well, but you have to keep that in mind definitely in the forefront, top of mind. What the team wants to achieve, that has to be first and foremost.

"We have to take advantage of [the] opportunity when our number is called and congratulate the next man when he makes the play. Because we're definitely all going to make some plays."

How many they each make largely will be up to Rodgers. It's a fun problem to have, but don't mistake "fun" for "easy." Indeed, it will be a challenge.

<!--INLINE MUG--><div class="mod-inline headshot floatright"><div><img class="floatright" width="65" height="90" alt="Finley" src="https://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=/i/headshots/nfl/players/full/11325.png&w=65&h=90&scale=crop&background=0xcccccc&transparent=false"/></div><span>Finley</span></div><!--END INLINE MUG-->