All is quiet on Thompson front

General manager's critics have been silenced; plan is taking shape

It wasn't long ago when there was a lot of clamoring by some fans of the Green Bay Packers to oust General Manager Ted Thompson. There were lots of reasons according to these fans. Here are some examples:

-- Thompson won't spend the money to improve the team in free agency.

-- Thompson allowed the Packers' best players (Rivera, Wahle, Sharper) to leave via free agency.

-- Mike Sherman had no chance to succeed because of Thompson's moves or lack of moves.

-- Thompson is trying to force Brett Favre to retire.

-- Thompson hired the wrong head coach in Mike McCarthy instead of Jim Bates.

These are just some of the things that some fans were saying. When the team started out 1-4 for the second consecutive year in 2006, the noise got even louder. But since the team has won three of four games and is playing pretty well, the anti-Thompson talk has simmered down quite a bit. In fact, these same fans are starting to realize that Ted may have a plan after all.

Mike Sherman had a nice run in Green Bay with three divisional titles before last year's 4-12 season. His ultimate downfall was caused by his decisions on draft day as a General Manager. The same can not be said of Thompson, at least at this stage. Thompson has had two drafts in his time in Green Bay. His first in 2005 was pretty good. His second in 2006 was simply outstanding.

In 2005, Thompson made some waves by selecting Aaron Rodgers with his first overall pick. The jury is still out on Rodgers as Brett Favre continues to stay on the field and play well. But Rodgers has been a great teammate and the coaching staff has been very pleased with his progress and work ethic this year. Also selected in the 2005 draft were two defensive starters, S Nick Collins and OLB Brady Poppinga. Both have been a little up and down, but the upside for both is very good. Collins had a very solid rookie year and has been more inconsistent this year, but still flashes nice ability. Poppinga had some coverage issues earlier this year, but has really come on the last few games as a pretty complete strong-side linebacker.

Thompson also drafted safety Marviel Underwood in 2005 and he looked to be a major contributor this year before a knee injury in the preseason. Defensive end Mike Montgomery is part of the defensive line rotation which has been very effective in 2006. Offensive lineman Junius Coston has been a little slow to develop but still is making progress. Finally, wide receiver Terrence Murphy looked to have a very bright future before a neck injury ended his career before it really started.

If the 2005 draft was good, than the 2006 draft has been excellent. A.J. Hawk is starting to play at a Pro Bowl level. Hawk is all over the field and causing havoc to the opposition. Hawk can do it all. He plays the run well, is good in coverage and can also rush the passer. Thompson hit a grand slam home run with that pick as Hawk will be flying to Hawaii quite often every February.

Add to Hawk the offensive linemen that Thompson drafted. Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll have all come in and done an incredible job considering their youth. All will start this week against the Patriots. Favre has been getting great protection from his young line mates and the running game is starting to gain real traction in the zone blocking scheme the Packers utilize. All three lineman are versatile as well. Colledge can play guard or tackle. So can Moll. Spitz can play either guard position or center. The future looks very bright with these young brawlers.

How about Greg Jennings? Has a rookie receiver ever picked up the West Coast offense quicker than him? Jennings looked like a five-year vet at his very first practice. If not for a nagging ankle injury, Jennings would really be off the charts. Like his mentor Donald Driver, Jennings has the ability to take a short pass all the way to the house.

The 2006 draft also produced players like linebacker Abdul Hodge and cornerback Will Blackmon, who both look to have very bright futures. The jury is still out on quarterback Ingle Martin, defensive tackle Johnny Jolly and safety Ty Culver, but all were good enough to make the squad. Bottom line: The 2006 draft has produced five rookie starters that are playing well. Some exceptionally well.

Thompson also caught a lot of grief for allowing kicker Ryan Longwell to leave. Free agent pick up Dave Rayner has done a very good job replacing Longwell. Rayner has been much better than Longwell on kickoffs and he has been very consistent on field goals and extra points. Rayner also has a very strong leg as evidenced by his 54-yard field goal earlier this year. Besides Rayner, Thompson also added P Jon Ryan from the Canadian Football League. Ryan also has a very strong leg and has had a very solid year. Ryan has also done a great job as a holder for Rayner.

Thompson's free agency moves backfired a bit in 2005 as the acquisitions of offensive linemen Matt O'Dwyer and Adrian Klemm never worked out. Thompson's 2006 draft class reflects that. But the 2006 free agents have faired much better. Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett has had a very nice 2006 campaign and is well worth the investment the Packers made in him. Cornerback Charles Woodson has been nicked up but has played very solidly overall and has been solid as a punt returner. Safety Marquand Manuel has been somewhat of a disappointment, but still has made some big plays for the Packers this season. The main thing Woodson and Manuel can do with their defensive back teammates is communicate better.

All in all, Thompson has done a remarkable job setting up the future for the Packers. Mike McCarthy looks to be a great hire as head coach. His players believe in him and his staff and McCarthy has proven to be a great teacher to both rookies and veterans alike. McCarthy has the youngest team in the NFL, but the team is playing older than it's years. Thompson has drafted and acquired players that fit McCarthy's system. It's meshing pretty well right now

Yes, a 4-5 record is not from the outside all that good. But considering the fact the Packers could and probably should be at least 6-3 this year, the future looks bright as this young squad matures. A huge test will Sunday against the Patriots. The Packers feel they can pass that test. And that's a testament to the players and coaches that Thompson has brought in. Yes, the noise about getting rid of Thompson has died down. It will be nothing like the noise that will be heard at Lambeau Field this Sunday if the Packers beat New England.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com.


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