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10 questions on the upcoming Packers season

GREEN BAY - There are a few things guaranteed to happen during the upcoming Green Bay Packers season. Quarterback Brett Favre's daily wardrobe - T-shirt, shorts, Nike golf hat, flip-flop sandals - will remain the same, even after the first snowfall. The Packers will lose a game on the road, and the local newspaper will use a cheesy headline - Shredded Cheddar, Grated Cheese, Cheese Whiz, etc. - the next morning. During one of the Packers' three "Monday Night Football'' appearances, announcer John Madden will lose his train of thought. And a shirtless guy with a mullet haircut will have too much to drink at one of the December home games. After that, it's hard to predict what will happen to a team that faces more uncertainty than it has in a decade. But let's give it a shot. 1. When will Javon Walker's holdout end? Not anytime soon. When the Packers informed their star receiver and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, in a letter last week that they will not be renegotiating the final two years of Walker's deal and won't entertain trade offers for him, the team made it clear that it will be playing hardball. Rosenhaus responded by announcing that his client won't participate in Friday's first full-squad practice, even though his other high-profile holdout receiver, Terrell Owens, will report to the Philadelphia Eagles' camp. It's hard to imagine Walker sitting out the entire season - not only would he lose his $515,000 salary, but he'd still have two years left on his contract when he came back - so look for him toward the end of training camp or just before the Sept. 11 opener at Detroit. 2. When will coach Mike Sherman get a contract extension? Not anytime soon. New general manager Ted Thompson, with the security of a five-year contract, has taken a wait-and-see approach with his coach, who's in the final year of his deal. While it's possible that Sherman could get an extension during camp, it's more likely that he'll coach out the final year of his deal. Team president Bob Harlan has given Thompson full authority over hiring and firing the coach, and while Thompson has said that he and Sherman have a good working relationship, no one knows if that's actually the case. Unless Sherman leads the Packers to another NFC North division title and the playoffs, don't be surprised if Iowa's Kirk Ferentz or new defensive coordinator Jim Bates is the coach in 2006. Or - and we're purely guessing here - former coach Mike Holmgren returns if things don't work out in Seattle. 3. How much of a difference will Bates make? The Packers had better hope he makes a huge difference. Green Bay ranked 25th in yardage allowed and tied for 24th in points allowed in the NFL last year, and the defense will be comprised of essentially the same players from last season. Thompson did not sign a single household name on defense - linebacker Raynoch Thompson and safeties Arturo Freeman and Earl Little barely qualify as noteworthy - so Bates is by far the club's biggest offseason acquisition on defense. 4. Is Bubba Franks going to get the long-term deal he wants? Eventually. The three-time Pro Bowl tight end received no outside offers after the Packers placed the transition tag on him in February, and on Friday the deadline passed for Franks to negotiate with other teams. He could play for the one-year, $2.095 million tender and become a free agent again next offseason, but Franks wants the security of a long-term deal. Look for him to get it, but probably not before veterans report to camp Wednesday. 5. How good will the offensive line be without Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle? Not as good as it was with them. Rivera went to three Pro Bowls and Wahle deserved to go to at least one. After four years together, Green Bay had one of the best lines in the league last season, and now it will try to get by with Adrian Klemm at Wahle's left guard spot and either Grey Ruegamer or Matt O'Dwyer in Rivera's place at right guard. Given how much the guards trap and pull in the Packers' offense, Rivera and Wahle's replacements will have to be very good very quickly to avoid a significant drop-off. 6. Who will start at cornerback opposite Al Harris - Ahmad Carroll or Joey Thomas? Thomas - for now. Carroll, last year's first-round pick, did little to ingratiate himself to Bates during the offseason, skipping the team's conditioning and opportunity sessions to train on his own. Thomas, a third-round pick last year, lived in Green Bay full-time and worked with the No. 1 unit more than Carroll did during minicamps. Given Carroll's penchant for holding, Thomas should win the job if he stays healthy. 7. How much will Aaron Rodgers contribute as a rookie? Maybe a little - as the holder for kicker Ryan Longwell. Brett Favre's ironman streak is at 225 straight starts (including playoffs) and counting, and it's a safe bet he'll extend it by 16 more games this year. Even if it does end, it's hard to imagine Rodgers being ready to step in, given how long it took incumbent No. 2 Craig Nall to master the offense. That said, if Nall has trade value and Rodgers proves competent as the holder - a position of legitimate concern at this point - the rookie could be the primary backup. 8. Can Darren Sharper be replaced? Yes and no. Sharper was the only playmaker on a defense that tied with St. Louis for last in the NFL in turnovers forced (a franchise-low 15) last season, but the Packers decided Sharper wasn't worth keeping at his $6 million price tag, so he'll be suiting up for the rival Minnesota Vikings this season. But while Sharper did make plays, he also freelanced more than the coaches liked, and as a result he was often out of position. In Freeman, who is well-versed in Bates' system after five years in Miami, and Little, the Packers have two veterans who may not be as flashy but should be more reliable. 9. What does the future hold for Cletidus Hunt? Likely unemployment. The underachieving defensive tackle was MIA during the June minicamp after he spent the post-draft minicamp watching from an exercise bike because of an alleged hamstring injury. Thompson could have cut him after June 1, but apparently he'd rather put Hunt through the rigors of training camp, see if Bates can turn him into a player, then decide if he's worth keeping. With a host of younger, harder-working options - Cullen Jenkins, Corey Williams, Donnell Washington - the guess here is that Hunt's days in Green Bay are numbered. 10. Will the Packers reach Super Bowl XL in Detroit? Ah, no. During one of his many toothpaste-promoting interviews earlier this month, Favre said he could play "two or three more years" but that "I'm almost 100 percent sure I would walk away" if the Packers won the Super Bowl. He quickly added that "I think I'm jumping the gun way too early to think we could get to the Super Bowl." A 9-7 or 8-8 season appears more likely than a fourth straight division title. But you never know. Check back with us when you see the guy with the mullet take his shirt off.

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