- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - Julius Peppers didn’t seem very impressed with his first preseason sack with the Packers.

The hope in Green Bay is that it will be the first of many big plays from Peppers once the real games begin.

It’s early, but coach Mike McCarthy’s plan to boost the defense in 2014 looks as if it’s working so far.

Keep this up and Green Bay will be poised for a deep playoff run given the offense is already in good hands with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Peppers, who was signed as a free agent after being a salary cap casualty in NFC North rival Chicago, is far from satisfied with the preseason progress.

“Everything. We need to get better at everything, wrap up better and tackle, we need to rush better,” Peppers said after the 31-21 preseason win over the Oakland Raiders. “There’s always going to be room for improvement.”

The season opener doesn’t get any tougher - at Seattle on Sept. 4 against the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.

Things to watch this season with Green Bay going for a fourth straight division title:

DECADE OF RODGERS: Hard to believe, but the quarterback is entering his 10th season in the league. He looks as good as ever.

The throws are sharp and the up-tempo offense is running well. Rodgers did more yoga as part of his offseason routine, something that the 30-year-old quarterback has said helps with flexibility as he gets older.

The Packers were poised to pull away in the division last season until Rodgers went down with a collarbone injury. With a full year of Rodgers and Offensive Rookie Player of the Year Eddie Lacy in the backfield, the offense could be potent.

“We might be able to be a little bit more balanced, but we’re still going to attack people with our timing in the pass game and be able to do things in the run game that we haven’t done maybe in the last four or five years,” Rodgers said.

“I’ve always felt like our short passing game is extended handoffs, and we’re going to be slightly more pass than run.”

WHAT A RUSH: Peppers pairs with Clay Matthews to give the Packers a high-profile duo of prolific pass rushers. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes the depth at the position, too.

Mike Neal emerged last season with six sacks. Former first-round pick Nick Perry, who was hurt for much of last season, showed a glimpse of his potential after forcing a fumble on a sack of Matt Schaub last week against the Raiders.

Matthews is back from a thumb injury that sidelined him for parts of the 2013 season. Now, Green Bay can be creative with the pass rush with Peppers and Matthews on the field at the same time.

“It’s nice to have Clay back out there healthy. Clay has been able to take all of his reps through the preseason, which has been a real positive,” Capers said.

WHAT A RUSH, PART II: Lacy has received limited work in the preseason, but get ready to see a lot of him in the regular season. He regularly works on pass-catching during practice, and McCarthy wants all his running backs to prepare for three-down work.

James Starks and DuJuan Harris provide the Packers with a deep group in the backfield.

“You can never have enough running backs,” McCarthy said. “We want to line up and keep playing and we don’t want to get into substituting backs based on down and distance.

SEEKING HYDE: Safety was an issue last season after the Packers failed to get an interception from the position group. Veteran Morgan Burnett, who started 2013 with a hamstring injury, is back after getting over a couple of minor injuries this preseason.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was drafted out of Alabama in the first round. But it is converted cornerback Micah Hyde who appears to have taken over as the other starter next to Burnett, though Clinton-Dix figures to see plenty of time in the rotation. McCarthy likes the potential of the personnel, including Sean Richardson.

INJURIES: Few teams last season were as affected by injuries as the Packers, who had Rodgers, Matthews and receiver Randall Cobb on the injury list.

McCarthy instituted some conditioning changes that seem to be directed at reducing ailments such as muscle pulls, and those tweaks appear to be working. It could also help with McCarthy’s desire to push the tempo on offense.

Still, Green Bay must move on from two significant injuries from the Raiders game. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji was lost for the season with a torn right biceps. Center J.C. Tretter is out several weeks with a knee injury.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


Follow Genaro Armas at https://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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