Time for your report card, Ted

Ted Thompson has put together the 2007 Green Bay Packers. That team has some unquestioned strengths but some even bigger question marks, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

Ted Thompson, your work is done.

As general manager, you have built the 2007 Green Bay Packers. Aside from a tweak here and a tweak there, your focus will be almost totally on getting ready for the 2008 draft.

So, how did you do? Come to the teacher's desk, because it's time to pick up your report card.

Quarterbacks — A-minus: Having Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as your top quarterbacks must be the envy of the league. Favre's skills have dropped, but by my estimation, he's the 14th-best quarterback in the NFL. He might move a step or two up that list if a few things break your way.

Rodgers is probably the best backup in the league, and he'd start for a bunch of teams. In a sense, your decision to select Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft was a wasted pick, because that's a first-rounder who has made zero impact on the team. Still, with Rodgers on board, the Packers won't have to take a big step back — or a step back at all — when Favre retires.

Halfbacks — C-minus: Of course, the blocking had something to do with it, but rookie second-round pick Brandon Jackson didn't look like the answer during training camp or the preseason. Maybe Vernand Morency will become a capable starter, but if he's out for a month after getting injured on the first day of camp, how is he going to survive a 16-game regular season?

The season-ending injury to reliable Noah Herron hurts. You sent a sixth-round pick to the Giants to get Ryan Grant to fill the void. Knowing how much you values draft picks, you must know something the rest of us don't, because his resume is lacking.

Fullbacks — F: You got rid of William Henderson for this mess? I know Henderson was a shell of his former self, and he was outplayed by Brandon Miree last season, but there can't be another team with this bad of a situation at fullback.

Maybe rookie Korey Hall will be a fine player, but he was playing linebacker at this time last year and I didn't see him make a crunching block all preseason. But he'll be starting alongside another rookie, Jackson. I hope your coaches get them ready for all the blitzes teams are going to test them with, or you'll be on the market for a quarterback to back up Rodgers, if you get my drift.

Wide receivers — B-minus: James Jones. That's why you get paid the big bucks, Ted. This pick was widely panned after the draft, but Jones sure looked like a player during training camp. He knows how to get open, and while he doesn't have breakaway speed, he sure seems capable of turning 5-yard gains into 10-yard gains, and 10-yard gains into 20-yard gains. I have a hunch he'll be Favre's favorite target on third downs.

As long as Donald Driver is healthy and continues to defy age and Greg Jennings shows some progress after an impressive start to his career, Favre should be content. Big Ruvell Martin makes for a nice No. 4 target. How many teams have a No. 4 corner who can match up with a 6-foot-4 receiver?

Tight ends — C-minus: Your grade is spared a D because Bubba Franks looks like a better player than a year ago. Donald Lee flashed some potential in 2005, but he dropped about as many balls as he caught last year. As much as Mike McCarthy loves two tight-end sets, you really left him in a bind by keeping only two on the opening roster. If one gets hurt, you're taking away a good chuck of his playbook.

Offensive line — B-minus: Depending on the growth of the starters, this grade could easily be an A. Or a D. Together, Scott Wells, Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz are the key to the season. If they play to their potential, the running game will be fine and the offense should flourish. If not, 17 points per game would seem unlikely.

Kudos for putting together a fine bench, though. Junius Coston is perhaps the most-improved player on the roster. You selected Allen Barbre instead of sending that pick to Oakland for Randy Moss, and that could be a shrewd move if Barbre is indeed the left tackle of the future. He certainly is an NFL-ready pass-blocker right now. When Tony Moll overcomes a nagging stinger, that gives you three quality backups on the line and a lot of long-term potential.

Defensive line — A: What team wouldn't want the luxury of making first-round pick Justin Harrell a game-day inactive all season?

You have put together the deepest group of defensive tackles in the league. Corey Williams and Colin Cole were the favorites to start opposite Ryan Pickett. Instead, it looks like that honor will go to Johnny Jolly. Yep, that guy I wanted to cut when he failed his conditioning test before camp. Thanks for not listening.

Kudos, though, for listening to me and keeping Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila as a high-priced, backup defensive end. Like me, I'm sure you're looking forward to seeing if KGB's reduced role will make him a feared pass-rusher again. Judging by the preseason, the insertion of Cullen Jenkins into KGB's spot was indeed the key to last season's defensive turnaround.

Linebackers — B-plus: As long as nobody gets hurt, you've assembled one of the top five starting linebacking corps in the NFL. Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk are tackling machines, and Brady Poppinga is an improving force who does a lot of the dirty work. Now, can they become more active and force some turnovers?

You don't have a legit backup, though. Tracy White is a special-teams standout only, and I'm not sure if Desmond Bishop beat out Abdul Hodge or Hodge just played that poorly.

Defensive backs — A-minus: What a set of cornerbacks. Everyone knows about Al Harris and Charles Woodson, but the depth is incredible. Finding Jarrett Bush on waivers after final cuts last year could be a master stroke. Having Bush, Frank Walker and Will Blackmon will come in handy against Detroit, when the Lions put four receivers on the field and chuck it 50 times a game.

The jury's out on Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, though. Is Collins ready to become the standout most people think he's destined to become? Is Bigby really a starter? He's been cut more times (three) than he's taken regular-season snaps in the defensive backfield (two). I'm sure your fingers are crossed, because you aren't likely to win many games with Aaron Rouse or Charlie Peprah forced into the lineup.

Special teams — B-minus: This could be the most-improved part of the team. Much was made out of the battle at kicker this summer, but what did Dave Rayner do last year to make anyone think he's anything more than OK? Rookie Mason Crosby withstood the crucible of training camp, and that should carry over to the regular season. Punter Jon Ryan, meanwhile, looks more consistent.

The return game was awful last season, but should be much better this season with Blackmon, who has the speed and moves to give the offense a much-needed boost in field position.

I worry about the rest of it, though. Backup linebackers, tight ends and fullbacks generally form the core of the blocking and coverage units, but this is where you have the least depth.

Overall — B-minus: A lot of fans have complained that they can't figure out the method to your madness. Is there any doubt now? You've built a defense-first team made to win in Lambeau Field in November and December (and, hopefully, January). If your young line comes together like you and the coaches believe, this could be a nine- or 10-team win that enters 2008 thinking about the Super Bowl. If not, you could be fighting for your job.

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


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