This year the Packers finished better than any one could have ever expected with an 8-8 record. Even those that bleed green and gold had to be pleasantly surprised at how the Packers finished up. Not only did they go 8-8, but they were getting stronger as the season came to an end with so many bright spots at many important positions.
Ted and the boys in the front office had to be walking around beating their chest as guys like Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll, Jason Spitz and Scott Wells became a solid force on the offensive line. I know many people want to talk about the youth and how Brett Favre had to play behind a young and inexperienced offensive line, which he did, but all they did was block their butts off. Brett only got sacked 21 times and led the league in attempts, which was incredible. Think about it: Brett threw the ball 613 times and this group of relative babies protected him well. They also opened enough holes for Ahman Green to rush for more than 1,000 yards, which isn't bad at all.
Talk about an organization hitting the target getting young guys to build a franchise around on the offensive side of the ball. Every team wants its players to grow together and as a offensive line coach you want young guys that you can groom and mold just the way you want. These guys never got to learn bad habits in the NFL. They didn't come from another team, and the offensive coaches didn't have to waste time changing skills that weren't going to be used on this team.
Also, we have to look at wide receiver Greg Jennings and how well he started in training camp, and his future. Besides Ted Thompson's draft picks, he has made other moves, like obtaining Carlyle Holiday, a good find. Then the trade to get Vernand Morency as a solid back up to Ahman Green was outstanding, and helped shore up the offensive backfield. I believe because of this move it allows the Packers to change their priority list during the draft and free agency. I know they will probably still look for a running back, but they don't have to take him so early and therefore they can fill more immediate needs like tight end or safety.
Other moves on the offensive side of the ball include getting guys like Brandon Miree, even though I don't think he is that good. I am not coaching him and the guys that are think he is the fullback of the future. They see him every day in every meeting and have a feel of him. I just see him at practice and how he plays in the games, so let's just say I am not a fan.
Then if you consider kickers and punters to be a valuable part of growth you'd have to say that Jon Ryan and Dave Rayner could be handling this position for the next decade. Then there is Aaron Rodgers that could be the heir apparent to Brett Favre, another pick by Ted Thompson, but we really don't know because he hasn't had to be the guy up to this point in his professional career. But if you look at things in the last two years offensively, Ted has a lot of pieces to the puzzle in place, doesn't he? If you noticed, I said he has them in place, which doesn't mean they can't be replaced.
On the other side of the ball Ted has an abundance of youth starting at the linebacker position. The future of this defense is built around A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga, two of the three starting linebackers, with Abdul Hodge waiting in the wings. Then you have the secondary an unknown with unlimited potential in Will Blackmon. Other younger players on the defense include Jarrett Bush, Nick Collins, Tyrone Culver, Jason Hunter, Johnny Jolly, Mike Montgomery and Marviel Underwood. They are all unproven.
This is Ted Thompson's third year and now he has to turn it up for the Packers to get over the hump. With all this youth there are some key veterans sprinkled in there as well on both sides of the ball, but even they need help.
Help must come fast and hard from free agents, if they can find them. They need a real tight end that can stretch the field and make safeties respect him, or at least fear him, which will make average receivers better. Then if they can get another veteran receiver that really knows the game, it would be nice because they sure could use another one. Then on defense they need a safety to replace Manuel and that can help Nick Collins play to the level that we saw the last game of the year. In every draft, the Packers could use a defensive end, but the when and where to get him is another issue. And let's not be surprised if they sign a veteran quarterback as well.
This is the year that Ted Thompson will have to show what he knows as a general manager because this is now his team, his drafts, his free agents, his mistakes. It will be very interesting because their will be NO MORE EXCUSES ALLOWED. The time is now!!!!!!
Harry Sydney is a former fullback and assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.