As I look back at the start of the 2006 season, just how many unknowns were staring the Packers in the face? I guess it has to start with the Mike Sherman firing and all the questions regarding who would take his place.
Out of the blue comes this relative unknown offensive coordinator named Mike McCarthy who made a pit stop in Green Bay in 1999 as the quarterbacks coach and now he is named head coach. At that moment the Packer world was saying, ‘Why not Jim Bates?' I was one of those that didn't understand the pick myself, but in one short year he has brought this team from a 4-12 record to a very respectable 8-8 season, one game shy of making the playoffs, so his plan just might be working.
They have brought in a new run-blocking scheme and they went out and signed young players that they believe can fit into their vision for success. At this point, can you really argue with their game plan?
The Packers gave Aaron Kampman a huge contract that I thought was too much for just a hard-working guy, but I'm glad I can say I was wrong because Aaron raised his level of play to almost surpass the immortal Reggie White's sack record, which puts him in a class that I for one never thought he could reach. He didn't get the record, but it wasn't because of a lack of effort, that's for sure. Another great move by the front office.
There were so many things that went into this past year that could have taken this team down many paths. Just like the Brett Favre saga that existed last year could have derailed a young team, but I have to give it to Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson - they didn't let it and it didn't affect the team.
I was glad Favre came back. Many of you have questioned my feelings about Brett Favre because I have questioned some of his decisions in the past, so let me clear some things up. I am a Brett Favre fan. In 1992 when he first stepped onto the field, we were teammates, and I am a fan to this day as I write about him or talk about him on the radio. The difference is that I won't allow my level of standards or expectations and acceptance of his greatness to be lowered because he might not have been surrounded by the greatest talent.
I believe greatness doesn't take a back seat. So when I might have been harsh or unsympathetic, it hasn't been because of disrespect. It is more that I have so much respect for him that I won't allow him, or any other great athlete, to get by with what they used to do and assume that average is good enough anymore.
Brett Favre did a lot of growing this year. His interceptions were down and, for the most part, he played under control. So, you can teach an old dog new tricks.
As I look back over the year there were so many things that happened that affected the direction of this team. One of those was the choice of A.J. Hawk over Vernon Davis as the Packers first draft pick. I believe that A.J. Hawk has had an outstanding year and has made the other linebackers better. He brought a sense of quiet aggressiveness to this team that it has been missing for a long time. I think his play alone elevated Nick Barnett's and Brady Poppinga's play, but unfortunately it might also cause Nick Barnett to think he might just be better than he is and rock the boat with expectations of a bigger payday. But I will get into money issues - who might be here and who might not in upcoming columns.
As I look back I think about the feelings of many fans when Charles Woodson was signed. Most thought it was too much money for a guy that couldn't stay healthy, especially when he missed so many Organized Team Activities practices. All he did was have the best season of his career. Talk about a great move - spending money to get an impact player and having him deliver. Along those same lines they didn't blink an eye when Al Harris made demands and got rid of Javon Walker - a head case in waiting - but rewarded Donald Driver for being nothing but a true professional and having probably the best season of his life. He was rewarded by being elected to the Pro Bowl, a well deserved honor.
So, as we look over last year there were some additions by subtraction as well. For example, the team got better when Ahmad Carroll was told to hit the road because it sent a message and allowed for young guys like Patrick Dendy to have an opportunity. As well as when they put Robert Ferguson on injured reserve, even though he was hurt most of his career, it forced the Packers to take a look at the Greg Jennings, Ruvell Martin, and Chris Francies. Even though Koren Robinson had his issues they got a glimpse of his play making ability. Even though there might have been some communication breakdowns at times, I think these young receivers, especially when you throw in Carlyle Holiday, have done a pretty good job helping this team out. Are they the answer? No, but at least they have helped more than hurt.
When you look at the foundation that this team has built in one year and the things it has accomplished you, I and everyone must say job well done. From Brett coming back and playing to Ahman Green getting back on the field and playing very well. Then starting three rookies on the offensive line and entrusting them to protect the living legend, giving up only 22 sacks.
And let's not forget about a defense that had to wear wristbands just to figure out where to line up early in the season. That in the beginning of the year they couldn't catch a cold, but against the Bears on the last game of the year they pulled in five interceptions. Bob Sanders probably went from looking for a new job to now probably buying a home in Green Bay because the defense will probably finish in the top 10 in defenses this year. So my question to you is HAVEN'T THEY COME A LONG WAY??????
Harry Sydney is a former fullback and assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.