Thompson's Way nearing first litmus test

Ted Thompson hasn't wavered from his plan. Now, after an offseason ripe with second-guessing, it's time to see if Thompson's Way is the right way.

Frank Sinatra and Ted Thompson couldn't be any more different.

Sinatra was the life of the party. He had a way with words. And he was a pretty fair singer. Thompson, at least from what we've seen from him at a podium, could bore the paint off a wall. With that deer-in-the-headlights look his critics like to point at, I'm guessing Thompson didn't get an "A" in public speaking, much less know how to write a No. 1 song.

Can he sing? Who knows.

About all we know is Thompson is building his team his way.

And that way will be put to the test this year.

We are entering Year 3 of the Thompson Way. The first year was a throwaway, as Thompson fixed the salary-cap mess created by Mike Sherman's failed personnel moves. The second year was last year, and the Packers finished with a flourish to raise expectations.

Now, with the 2007 season 90-some days away, the Thompson Way is nearing its first litmus test.

Thompson's Way is as conservative as Rush Limbaugh. Build with the draft, and draft quantity ahead of quality. Delve into free agency only sparingly. Rely on the young guys. Force them to learn quickly. Take some lumps today in hopes of reaping the benefits later.

Sure, there have been some missteps along the way — Marquand Manuel and Cory Rodgers come to mind — but by and large, Thompson's Way has worked. The future is much brighter today than when Thompson was hired on Jan. 14, 2005.

While the flashy moves win praise from the populace and the media horde, Thompson has steadfastly chosen solid over the possibility of spectacular. For the 2006 draft, he spent his first-round pick on linebacker A.J. Hawk instead of tight end Vernon Davis, then spent three picks retooling the offensive line. For the 2007 draft, he spent his first-round pick on a nose tackle instead of a flashy receiver, then traded back in the second round.

Thompson's Way hasn't always been well received by the fans, but he's completely tuned out their pleas for a big splash. It's his way, after all.

Now, though, the patience is wearing a little thin. Not that Thompson ever got a free pass in the past, but it's pretty easy to see that the fans are getting antsy. This is Titletown, after all, and after a decade of consistent winning, a few subpar years simply won't be tolerated.

With the impending retirement of Bob Harlan, there's a new leader of the Pack. There are no signs John Jones lacks the patient, guiding hand of Harlan, but then again, it's only natural for the trigger finger to get itchy should this rebuilding process stall and you sense an upswell of uneasiness from the shareholders.

None of this is to say Thompson's job is in the least bit of trouble. It's not. But Thompson's Way is nearing its first crucible.

Justin Harrell had better be an impact player, because you know at least one of the receivers Thompson passed over is going to blossom. If Harrell winds up on injured reserve and one of those receivers catches 70 passes and scores 10 touchdowns, the critics are going to grow a lot louder.

Somebody had better emerge in the backfield as at least a decent replacement for Ahman Green.

Somebody other than Donald Driver had better be that target (targets, actually) Brett Favre needs. If Randy Moss is a bigger headache for Bill Belichick than opposing defensive coordinators, that would be an added bonus.

Whether it's coaching or improved play at safety, something had better be done to eliminate the parade of big plays that destroyed the Packers' defense for the first three months of last season.

Entering this offseason, the Packers' warts were easy for all to see, and on the surface, Thompson's Way did nothing to cure them. The warts at running back, wide receiver, tight end and safety are still there.

Thompson's Way — specifically, improving from within — had better pay off this season. The schedule is tougher. The division is better. Favre isn't getting any younger. The expectations are higher. The fans are losing a bit of patience.

In "My Way," Sinatra sang:

"Yes there were times, I'm sure you knew

"When I bit off more than I could chew

"But through it all, when there was doubt

"I ate it up and spit it out

"I faced it all and I stood tall

"And did it my way."

So far, Thompson has stood tall. But has he bit off more than he can chew with his conservative approach? Sooner rather than later, we'll learn if Thompson's Way is the right way.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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