Packer Report publisher Bill Huber talked to Packers general manager Ted Thompson on Tuesday morning, two days ahead of Thursday's shareholders meeting and four days before the start of training camp.
Now that you're back from vacation, when do you get back to the grind?
Just kind of relaxing like everybody else. This week, we'll kind of gradually work our way back into it. We have the Shareholders Meeting and our players traveling on Thursday, so I'd imagine Thursday's probably going to be a little more hectic.
Once the college guys get going, is this a seven-day-a-week job?
Yeah, we get pretty busy once we start, it's pretty much full-bore. We're not going 24-7 or anything like that, like some people would try to tell you we do. We stay pretty busy.
Looking back at last season, do you think the whole Brett Favre thing hurt the team's psyche or mojo or however you want to put it?
I'm sure everything factors in, but I think at the end of the day when we look back and evaluate, we felt like we did some things good but there were other things that we didn't do good enough to win. We were 6-10 because we didn't play well enough.
Was last year a fluke, considering all of the close games and the prior year's success, or did it tell you that maybe you weren't quite as good as the record in 2007 would indicate?
I think a lot of things factored into this. There's no really short answers or simple answers. At the end of the day, it reaffirmed that the NFL is a very difficult environment. If you're not on your game and you're not playing well, you're going to have some bad days. We had too many of those. I think we have the capability of having a team this year that week in and week out, if we play to our capability, that we can win the game. I think we had that in 2007 and I think that was kind of the way our team was in 2008, but two completely different results.
Looking at this team, are you happy with what you've assembled?
Yeah, we're cautiously optimistic (laughs) like probably all 32 teams right now. We like the way that we work. We had a good offseason program. We had some very good learning sessions in the spring and summer, and most of our guys are coming back ready to go in terms of the rehab of injuries and things like that. We're looking forward to the challenges of a new season.
Are you satisfied that the pieces are in place to run the new defense?
Yeah, we do. We've always been confident in our personnel. We have some good players. We have some players that specifically fit what we're trying to do now, and we also have players that are versatile enough to do a lot of different things. That's sort of the whole idea of the switch in our base defense was to be able to provide a little more element of surprise to the offenses and create a little bit more havoc on the defensive side of the ball.
Do we in the media make way too much out of the "ideal" size of the players in the 3-4. You know, that a defensive end should be 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds and an inside linebacker should be this and that. Do we make way too much out of it?
Yeah (laughs). Yeah, I think you can ... yeah. At the end of the day, and I've said this a couple of times during the spring, football players are football players, and good ones are going to figure out how to be good no matter what. There's really not that much difference in terms of playing the game the way we did in the 4-3 and what we're planning to do in the 3-4. The sub-packages are going to be on the field 60 percent of the time, anyway. It's still going to be a team sport, so how do we play together and get some more wins?
Just based on watching them in shorts, your rookie group looks ready to compete. Are you excited by that group?
We are. We expect them to come in and help and contribute to the team, be good teammates, stand alongside these guys who we have already and do their part.
You always say that it takes a couple of years to grade a draft. You didn't get much out of last year's rookies other than Jordy Nelson, but several of them, like Jeremy Thompson and Josh Sitton and Pat Lee, look like they're ready to contribute.
Yeah, I think it's a pretty solid group. Some of them haven't played a lot yet but we like what we see. We think they add to our core and add to our depth, and in some cases, some of them are probably going to step forward and play on a full-time basis.
The one draft pick that generates a lot of negative buzz from the fans is Justin Harrell. Are you disappointed in how that's panned out?
We're still optimistic. He's obviously had some bad luck along the way and I'm sure fans are frustrated, but they should know that Justin's frustrated, too, because he wants to do more. He had a good offseason and he just got married about a month ago. We're looking forward to him having a good season.
You have a bunch of players due to be free agents after this season. How do you decide who to sign early, like you did with Greg Jennings back in June?
Well, it's not as easy as 1-2-3. We have discussions amongst our personnel staff and our coaches about what they think about a player. We generally try to identify the core guys. But at the same time, the collective bargaining situation makes things a little bit more complicated. That's probably the most difficult part of our job in terms of planning is trying to figure out how the future looks. We've had a number of players, as you mentioned, that are still under their rookie contracts and will be getting ready to do new contracts. That's something that we work on all the time.
I was just going to mention the CBA. How hard is it to do your job when you don't know what the rules are going to be in regards to when a player is eligible for free agency and the future of the salary cap?
The problem with a person in my position is that we function better when we know exactly what the rules are going to be. The uncertainty of it is probably what causes us the most angst in terms of being able to plan and make decisions.
Do you have time to keep up with the NFC North? It seems those teams have really upgraded themselves.
Sure, we keep up with our division because divisional games are very important. Our divisional games are always difficult and hotly contested and I would agree that it looks like everybody has improved themselves.
How did you get involved with this side of the football business?
I played for the Oilers, as everyone knows, and I had always talked about maybe being a coach. In January of 1992, Ron Wolf was looking for another scout to work on the pro side and Mike Reinfeldt was here as vice president and he recommended Ron give me a tryout. Ron was gracious enough to give me a tryout and so I worked here until 2000, when I went to Seattle.
Was becoming a GM the goal when you started, or was that not on your radar?
Once you kind of get started on the personnel side, you think about that because that becomes the highest job you can get in the personnel business. So, yeah, once you get in the business and you start doing it, then you, ‘I wonder if I can do that.' It's like any job, you know?
I know you can't talk in specifics, but how do rookie negotiations work? Is that all Russ Ball or do you sit down and talk about what you want to spend on each pick?
Russ carries most of the water there. He and I have conversations like we do on a lot of things in terms of big-picture things. I try not to micromanage that. It's complicated enough as it is, so he carries the water on that. He does a great job.
Is it the same thing when you re-sign a veteran like Greg Jennings, or do you target a dollar amount?
We have more conversations on those type of situations than we do on the rookie deals.
Have there been any conversations about Michael Vick?
Some of our guys aren't back yet so we haven't had those conversations.
What's been the toughest decision you've made since you took this job?
We've had a couple or three that were really difficult. I think I'll just leave it there.
Is this the exciting time of the year for a guy like you?
I prefer playing the games. Training camp, probably because I was a player once, training camp is not my absolute favorite time of the year. It's a fun time and exciting when you get to see them all out there all at once in pads. Probably because I was a player, I prefer the games.
My last question is this: Do you ever get away from all of this or does it follow you in whatever you're doing?
It's never really far, just because there's always things that can happen and phone calls and things like that. I had a good summer. I got to visit my family down in Texas. I had some time to spend up here and enjoy this great weather that we've been having.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.