Since general manager Ted Thompson has built the Packers almost solely through the draft, it is important the young players improve every year.
The Packers saw that happen last year with a pair of 2006 draft picks. Greg Jennings became the Packers' big-play receiver and a go-to threat late in games, and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly had a nice season until a shoulder injury put him on injured reserve. But it's not just getting better on the field. It's getting stronger in the weight room and knowing one's assignments thoroughly.
Jolly and Jennings took a big step forward in 2007. Who might do the same from the 2007 draft class?
"Those five guys have really, really done a great job this offseason," strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson told the Green Bay Press-Gazette this week. "You can see their confidence just is growing. You can see that they feel like they're filling into the veteran role and taking the challenge to improve. A lot of times, that's difficult, because the vets kind of watch out for each other a little bit. But of all the guys, those five guys really stick out as guys you'd have to consider for most improved."
Even first-round pick Justin Harrell, who has been shut down due to minor back surgery, can be a force in 2008.
"You look at him, you think, ‘Wow — what could we mold him into?'" Gullickson said of Harrell, who started three games late last season. "The setback is something that, we'll have to start kind of back at square one. But he's going to be fine, and I know he's itching to get started."
Running back DeShawn Wynn needs to join his Class of 2007 teammates in terms of workouts if he wants to make the team in 2008. Wynn has the talent to be a good back in the NFL, but he needs to do the same things that Jackson, Jones, Rouse, Barbre and Bishop are doing.
Jones will face competition from rookie Jordy Nelson to be the No. 3 receiver. Jones had a nice start to 2007, but hit the rookie wall late last season. Rouse showed enough playmaking ability in his limited playing time that neither Nick Collins nor Atari Bigby should feel comfortable as the starting safeties. Barbre has a chance to unseat Daryn Colledge as the team's starting left guard. Bishop played well on special teams and is the backup to middle linebacker Nick Barnett.
The key to the development of Thompson's draft classes will be quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the development of the 2008 class. Rodgers looked like he understood coach Mike McCarthy's offense in 2007, both in the preseason and in the Dallas game in the regular season. A lot of that success comes from time in the film room. And in the weight room. And understanding the playbook. And just building camaraderie with your teammates.
Rodgers has been holding get-togethers at his house every week to bond with his teammates.
"I've always been open, a guy that wants to be involved not only working together but in the lives of these guys," Rodgers said. "That's why I've been having guys over once a week, just because I want us to be a connected team on and off the field."
That is how a team becomes successful. It's working hard on the field and winning, because of the work done off the field. The real games are from September through, if you're lucky, February. But the work never stops. The progress of that work can be measured in May, June, July and August. But the real measure of that success is how you do on the field. The Packers are coming off a NFC North title, a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC championship game. It looks like a lot of players aren't taking that for granted.
Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com