Thompson's plan taking shape

General manager's moves in free agency, draft have given Packers hope

Somewhere Ted Thompson is smiling. Through a 5-16 start to his regime, it was hard to hunt for positives. As Javon Walker, Najeh Davenport, and company complained on their way out the door, deciphering the direction Thompson was taking his team became very confusing.

A slew of draft day trades gave the GM 23 players in his first two drafts. Yet for some reason, he took a last ditch stab at an over-priced veteran, Charles Woodson, as free agency winded down into its annual "Ty Law Phase."

Quickly, however, he has boldly wiped out castoff mistakes from the Mike Sherman era. Ahmad Carroll, Donnell Washington, and B.J. Sander were given no more excuses. Although it initially appeared as a potentially huge blow to Green Bay's passing game, Thompson dealt Walker to Denver, maintaining the class of the organization.

Releasing Billy Cundiff, Marc Boerigter, and Rod Gardner proved that Thompson isn't afraid to admit failure. If a player isn't performing, whether it is training camp, preseason, or the regular season, their job is in jeopardy. This quick trigger has instilled urgency in Mike McCarthy's team on a week-to-week basis.

It's a simple concept that keeps teams like Detroit and Buffalo in the NFL's basement. It took the Lions 55 games to figure out Joey Harrington isn't the answer. The Bills are following suit with the erratic J.P. Losman just as they did with Rob Johnson, who started a generous 26 games for Buffalo and only three through seven seasons with Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, and Oakland.

Johnson's horrific four years as a Bill proved Buffalo ignorantly waited for equal value in that trade that netted the Jaguars Fred Taylor with the 10th pick in the 1998 draft. The franchise suffered, as Buffalo hasn't won a playoff game since 1995. Somehow history is repeating itself as the jittery Losman eats up a multi-million dollar deal.

For Thompson, such a mistake won't happen. Success is success, even if a seventh round pick winds up playing ahead of first round investments.

The ultimate sign of hope for Green Bay is that the Packers' coaching staff reverberates this philosophy. During the preseason, the guard position turned into a revolving door with Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, and Tony Moll auditioning as starters. Such a short leash on Colledge after the San Diego game and Moll after the preseason made the coaches seem indecisive.

As it turns out, though, getting looks at various combinations of linemen in August instead of October has speeded up the zone blocking scheme's time table beyond expectations. While it seemed ludicrous to disregard offensive guards in free agency, Thompson, McCarthy, and coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski knew exactly what they were doing.

"You can do it with lesser talent," Jagodzinski said. "In Atlanta, I had three seventh-round picks, the left tackle, center and right guard, and at one time last year I had a fifth-round at left guard. And Barry Stokes was a free agent. So three sevens, a five and a free agent."

Currently Atlanta, Denver, and Green Bay - three teams that exclusively run the simple, yet fundamentally intricate scheme - rank 1st, 3rd, and 11th in the NFL's rushing leaders.

As Thompson dodged high draft picks last spring, bypassing celebrated players such as Vernon Davis, Chad Jackson, LenDale White, and Jimmy Williams his credibility was further put in doubt. As it turns out Thompson doesn't salivate over Mel Kiper Jr. and take the Sporting News Draft Guide for gospel as many fans do. His agenda held true throughout the seven rounds, as he stayed on the edge of his seat to accumulate picks. So far, it's safe to say Thompson's decisions have been wise ones.

The lopsided player comparisons at the midway point would make Kiper's sleeked black hair ruffle with dandruff.

A.J. Hawk leads all rookies with 52 tackles, adding 2.5 sacks and four deflected passes. Davis, who admitted he'd rather play in a bigger city before the draft, is anything but the San Francisco Treat with only 37 yards on five catches so far.

In Thompson's second round shimmy down he opted for Colledge and Greg Jennings over the aforementioned trio. Despite a bum ankle, Jennings has still been the team's most pleasant surprise with 378 yards and three scores. And Colledge has been instrumental to the team's rushing revolution.

White is buried behind incumbent Travis Henry in Tennessee, averaging 21 yards rushing a game. Jackson has caught three Tom Brady touchdowns, but has yet to eclipse 100 yards receiving on the year. The athletic Williams, known as an underachiever at Virginia Tech, has been anything but a second round steal with only four tackles and zero picks this fall.

Sure, maybe there's been an overload of optimism over Green Bay's first two-game winning streak in 21 games. After all, Detroit, Miami, and Arizona are a combined 3-19. But unlike last season, dysfunction is not present.

Nobody expected gunslingin' Brett Favre to mesh with a conservative ground attack, but at 37 years old Favre is perfect for such a caretaker role. Nightmares of a 29-interception season have vanished for cheeseheads. The offense has order. The defense has potential. A foundation exists. It's groundwork that Thompson began cementing last season and is finally starting to show promise.

And heck, maybe the tundra will freeze enough for a playoff push. One veteran is a believer. "We're still in the hunt," said top receiver Donal Driver. "I think a lot of people kind of ruled us out. But the Pack is back."

When LeRoy Butler invented the Lambeau Leap in a 28-0 win against the L.A. Raiders in 1993, it signaled an end to Green Bay's 11-year playoff drought.

Don't expect similar dormancy under Thompson's watch.

Editor's note: Tyler Dunne is a student studying journalism in the Buffalo, N.Y. area. E-mail him at

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