Because of injuries, the Packers are short on depth on the offensive and defensive lines. Tight end isn’t a position of strength, either. And perhaps some rookie that Thompson and his scouts were high on will become available.
There will be about 680 players cut loose from the other 31 teams by 3 p.m. (Central) on Saturday. Another couple hundred players probably enter this weekend on their teams’ roster bubbles. Added together, there are probably 1,000 players of interest.
“There are teams that are, personnel-wise, you’ve studied them and you know the players that they’re going to keep and you try to figure out who the bubble players are on those teams and who would make a good fit here,” Thompson said on Wednesday. “It’s an interesting time to be a scout. It’s a lot of fun because it’s a lot of projection and you’re kind of guessing as to what other teams are thinking and why they aren’t playing this guy or why they’re playing this guy so much at this position, that sort of thing.”
Thompson’s draft-centric focus of building the roster carries over to his examination of the waiver wire. A player the Packers liked coming out of college will jump to the team’s forefront.
“We treat our college reports and evaluations very dearly,” Thompson said. “The first thing we do when someone gets cut around the league — (Tuesday), there were ton of them — but we go back and we say, ‘What did we give this guy in college?’ That’s the first grade that we look at in terms of evaluating them going forward. Obviously, if they’ve been playing professional football, that grade has changed into a pro grade, but the college grade always stays with them.”
Chances are, any waiver-wire transactions will be of the minor variety. Thompson isn’t one to grab a big name after the final cutdown. Under “notable waiver wire transactions” in the Packers Media Guide, the only key players signed by Thompson on Cutdown Weekend are cornerback Jarrett Bush (2006) and fullback John Kuhn (2007). Quarterback Seneca Wallace was added to the roster during last year’s final cuts.
Thus, the Packers didn’t make any moves to replace injured center J.C. Tretter or nose tackle B.J. Raji and might not make any after the dust clears this weekend. The team drafted center Corey Linsley in the fifth round and undrafted rookie Mike Pennel and veteran Letroy Guion might be good enough at nose tackle — which isn’t a premium position in Green Bay’s defensive scheme.
“We put our work into building our roster,” Thompson said. “Like I’ve always said, I’m more of a gatherer than getting other guys. I’d rather keep them. We put our work into them and our coaches are really good at getting our guys ready to play. If a young man can help us win, then why not give him a chance? It doesn’t mean a veteran can’t play. We’ve had veterans on our team. We have veterans on our team.”
So, Thursday night will be up to the young guys. The Packers have a bunch of hotly contested roster battles. Among them are backup quarterback, No. 5 wide receiver and linebacker. A big night against the Chiefs could make all the difference.
“This last game is important, and the young men know that,” Thompson said. “This will be interesting stuff. Several years ago, I think it was in 1996 — in fact I know it was — Desmond Howard wasn’t going to make our team,” Thompson recalled. “He hadn’t had very good games. I think he’d been hurt in a couple preseason games and didn’t play very well at receiver in the other one. Mike (Holmgren) and Ron (Wolf) decided, ‘Well, we’ll just put him out there on return the whole game and see how he does.’”
Thompson’s memory wasn’t quite right but it was close enough to make his point. Howard, who had dogged by a hip injury early in training camp, returned a punt for a touchdown in the second preseason game. It was that play that earned Howard a roster spot. He wound up returning three punts for touchdowns and leading the league with a 15.1-yard average in the regular season, returning a punt for a touchdown in the playoff win against San Francisco and earning Super Bowl MVP honors with a kickoff-return touchdown in Super Bowl XXXI.
Howard “wound up having, especially there at at the end of the season, that run that’s maybe the finest piece of football returning that I’ve ever seen,” Thompson said. “So, you never know. Yeah, it’s important. Somebody shows up, they can change the rating. But you obviously have to be cognizant of the fact that this is a long-term decision. You have to think this through.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.