About 15,000 Packers shareholders attended the annual meeting today at Lambeau Field.
Admittedly feeling a little more comfortable while speaking in front of thousands of people, general manager Ted Thompson today addressed Packers shareholders at Lambeau Field on the state of the team. While the 2006 Packers will be young at some key positions, Thompson stressed that the success or failure of the team this year is up to the veterans.
Top draft picks such as linebackers A.J. Hawk and Abdul Hodge, offensive linemen Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, and wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cory Rodgers will play key roles. However, Thompson says that the team will be counting on veterans, like Brett Favre, Donald Driver, Al Harris, Charles Woodson, and Aaron Kampman to lead the way.
"We will have a lot of new faces on our team this year," Thompson told shareholders that met for a one-hour meeting inside the stadium. "That is the nature of the NFL. We think some of them will be immediate contributors. Others will help improve our depth and add juice and excitement to our special teams. Out of this group our hope is that we will have several of these players become core players of the Packers for many, many years to come.
"This is an extremely competitive environment in the National Football League, and there is always a need to keep evaluating where maybe you are not as strong as you thought you are and try to keep improving. To have success now and have success in the future, there has to be a good mix of young guys and veteran players. We think we are getting close to where we want to be in that regard. There is going to be a lot of focus on our rookies this year because there are so many. Certainly one of A.J. Hawk's variety is going to get a lot of attention. But I want you to remember that the success of the 2006 team will rest largely upon our veterans. It will be up to the guys who have played here, the veterans that you all know. These young guys are going to help. They're going to step in and do their part, but they won't be the difference-makers. It will be the veterans, the guys that have been here. It will be their leadership in how the team prepares for a game and performs on the field."
Thompson spoke for about 25 minutes near the beginning of the meeting. Last year in his first address to shareholders as general manager, he spoke for a shorter time but also had to deal with a poor sound system inside the Resch Center. This morning, Thompson spoke about the players at each position and gave a brief update on some of the injured players that are expected to return. Thompson said the tight end position with Bubba Franks, Donald Lee and David Martin is the team's "strong position" while the linebacker position is one that needed the most improvement over the off-season. He labeled the running backs position, decimated by injuries last season, as one of "trial and error" in 2006. Regarding the offensive line, Thompson said "we're going to have some youth on this offensive line. I'm not playing quarterback, but I think it's a good thing," drawing some chuckles from the crowd.
Afterward, Thompson told reporters that he feels comfortable with the team at this point, though, he and his staff are constantly trying to upgrade the roster.
"I feel there will be some very good competition at almost every position, and that's what we're shooting for," Thompson said. "You never know how it's going to work out, but I like the fact that some of our veterans that were banged up will be back a little quicker than we thought. I like the fact that we had a good off-season. I think we've added some players. I think our young guys are going to add some juice to the core of our team, but I think it will be up to our veterans to decide what people say about this team in the future. That's the way it is with any NFL team."
Thompson was very upbeat about Ahman Green, who sustained a ruptured quadriceps last October. Though Green will be held out of training camp practices early on, the running back continues to be ahead of schedule with his rehab, according to Thompson.
"Ahman is doing outstanding," Thompson said of Green. "He's a work-a-holic. He is doing really, really good. I think it will be us that will hold him back instead of us trying to push him back out there. He's anxious to go and ready to get going."
Linebacker Brady Poppinga (knee), cornerback Will Blackmon (foot) and running back Najeh Davenport (ankle) are making good progress toward returning, but probably will be held out of practices for the first part of training camp, Thompson said.
Thompson said that he has not spoken recently with Al Harris but he expects the disgruntled cornerback to report to the start of training camp on July 28. Harris skipped the team's voluntary mini-camp and Organized Team Activities practices in May and June because he is unhappy with his current contract, which does not expire until the end of the 2009 season.
"I read what you guys report that somebody said, somebody said, somebody said something," Thompson said. "I'm not concerned about it. I expect all the players to be here."