Lombardi: Cautiously optimistic

PackerReport.com's John Lombardi lists reasons why he is cautiously optimistic over the Green Bay Packers' chances of a winning season. Though the Packers have a lot of questions to answer, Brett Favre's return and the team's draft class give Green Bay hope for a speedy recovery.

As the Organized Team Activities (OTA's) wind down, I see signs of hope for Packer fans. The dark days of loss and despair may be short-lived. All of this is dependant on many factors, but the signs are there to make me cautiously optimistic.

1. Brett Favre is back and apparently in good spirits, which means he may play for a couple of more years. This is a good sign for Aaron Rodgers because it allows time for him to develop. It also gives this team a slim chance at getting back into the playoffs and possibly making a run at a last championship. Probably not this year, but maybe the next, assuming Favre sticks it out.

2. The draft looks solid so far. A.J. Hawk has missed many of the workouts because he had to obey NFL rules that do not allow drafted players from attending if their college is still in session, but the other guys seem promising. There is a good chance that the Packers will start two rookies at guard, Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz. That is a good thing and a bad thing. It is nice to see these draft picks make an impact, but it points out how lean the team is at the position. WR Greg Jennings has shown flashes of talent. He has very good hands, and has impressed veteran media types, who have seen them all. Abdul Hodge has also shown that he is a good pick and will only get better once the team goes to pads. The draft is Ted Thompson's baby and it looks like he has found some guys who will contribute immediately. Contact and live game action will definitely alter this outlook, but there is room for optimism.

3. It appears that a new Sheriff is in town. The team released Donnell Washington who battled weight issues and questions about his commitment. The former third round pick never lived up to his draft position and he is officially gone. Coach McCarthy may be trying to send a message to some of the other guys. Obviously Donnell got the message. Hopefully there will be less tolerance for dogging and lazy players going forward. I would be really excited about the new tone if Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson were in camp. There seems to be no explanation as to their absence. Maybe there is, but I have yet to hear it. Same goes for Al Harris. Get to practice, Al, and things will work themselves out.

4. There is competition at numerous positions. That is good. It leads to hard work and increased focus on the part of the involved players. Running back, guard, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive tackle, safety, nickel back, kicker and punter are all up for grabs. Complacency and comfort are not conducive to improved performance. Some players are internally motivated and do not need to be pushed or prodded, others are not. Competition brings out the best in people. A wise man once said:

"It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That's why they are there — to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules — but to win.

"And in truth, I've never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn't appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.

The guy who said that had a good run as coach of the Packers. I am not implying that this team is set up for a run like the Lombardi Era Packers, but things are at least not as desperate as one might have thought back in January. Training camp opens in a little over a month and then the fun really begins.

Last season was very depressing for most folks who followed the Pack. Injuries, questionable calls, a lack of talent and poor play by previously reliable guys lead to one of the worst seasons in a generation. There is a chance that the record for the 2006 season may not be significantly better than 2005, but it looks like the team and atmosphere surrounding it will be improved. Ultimately this improvement is a step towards regaining the team's standing as one of the elite franchises in the league. There are still many questions yet to be answered and games to be played, but heading into the heart of the summer, I for one am optimistic about the days to come.

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

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