There’s Mike McCarthy Way. That’s a street near Lambeau Field.
Then there’s Ted Thompson’s Way. It’s not a street, though if it were, it’d be filled with young drivers fresh out of driver’s ed.
Thompson’s Way is straight. As in straight forward. Departures from that straight-line path are as rare as a Wisconsin highway not filled with orange barrels in the summer.
With his cornerback depth chart devoured by injuries, Thompson could have gone in one of two directions this week. He could have taken the fork in the road, consulted with his scouts and found a veteran capable of playing as soon as Sunday against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the high-flying Atlanta Falcons. Or, Thompson could have kept going straight. As in straight to the practice squad.
Draft and develop — or undrafted and develop — is the essence of the Thompson Way. Not surprisingly, Thompson went straight to the practice squad and promoted Jermaine Whitehead. Whitehead’s a safety, not a cornerback, but, hey, at least he’s a defensive back capable of playing in the slot. Good enough.
Thompson’s Way has worked at times. In the season-opening game of the 2010 season, running back Ryan Grant suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Without Grant, and his back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons, Thompson could have went out and found a running back. Say, Marshawn Lynch. Instead, he went with Brandon Jackson and waited for injured rookie James Starks. Starks helped carry the offense to a Super Bowl championship. In 2012, the Packers promoted running back DuJuan Harris from the practice squad and he became an impact player down the stretch.
Thompson’s Way has included the occasional detour. Notably, he signed Matt Flynn in 2013 and James Jones in 2015. But far more often than not, he’s tried to replace proven veteran talent with unproven rookies. Flynn, in fact, is the team’s only noteworthy in-season addition since Erik Walden and Howard Green were signed during the 2010 season.
“It is what it is,” McCarthy said on Tuesday. “There’s a process that goes on prior to every decision that you make. It’s not just ‘do this’ or ‘do that.’ Obviously, the practice squad players are people you invest in. You obviously believe in them. They’re part of your program. We believe in how we develop players. I think what’s gone on here the last 10-plus years, there’s history. You weigh that versus who’s available. I mean, who are you talking about? What has he done? What’s his video look like? Is he healthy? It’s such a wide-open opinion. You’ve just got to trust your people and trust your personnel department. I was just talking with Eliot Wolf before I walked in here on a couple young prospects. That’s why everybody has a role, you work through it and you gather the information and you make decisions.”
The fate of the Packers’ season might very well come down to Thompson’s faith in Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter, Demetri Goodson and Micah Hyde. It will be those four manning the cornerback and slot positions. To be sure, the free-agent cornerback market is weak. Antonio Cromartie and Brandon Browner are proven commodities. But there’s probably a reason those 32-year-old corners are even available. Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and ancient Cortland Finnegan also are available.
The Thompson Way is well-established. So is the NFL Way. Championship teams are led by championship quarterbacks. Therefore, if you can’t stop the pass, you don’t stand a chance of lasting in January.
Are Rollins (once he’s healthy), Gunter, Goodson and Hyde good enough? We’ll get a gauge on that in the next five games. This week, it’s Ryan. Next week, it’s Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck. That’s followed by a three-game road trip to Tennessee (Marcus Mariota), Washington (Kirk Cousins) and Philadelphia (Carson Wentz).
Whether the Packers sink or swim during this stretch will be determined on whether the Thompson Way this week was the right way.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.