Tackle Not a Priority? Sure ...

Ted Thompson's bluff won't fool anyone: The Packers' need to get a left tackle in this draft is desperate. There's no need to reach to get one, but sitting by passively and hoping a good one falls to the team at No. 23 doesn't make sense, either.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson wasn't about to show his draft cards during his pre-draft news conference on Friday. Thompson said as much before fielding questions from reporters in the Lambeau Field media auditorium.

"Hi. Thanks for coming. Get a lot of answers today."

It was classic Thompson. He wasn't going to say anything. We knew that he wasn't going to say anything. He knew that we knew that he wasn't going to say anything.

The silence won't fool anyone. There's no getting around the fact that the Packers need a left tackle, and Thompson's poker bluff was mostly a lost cause because everyone in the football world knows the Packers need one.

Dating back to his hey-look-what-I-found selection of Aaron Rodgers with his initial first-round pick as the Packers' general manager in 2005, Thompson hasn't used used a single first-rounder on an offensive lineman. He's used only one second-rounder on an offensive lineman, Daryn Colledge, who played left tackle in college but was moved to guard promptly upon his arrival in Green Bay. And Thompson's used only one third-rounder on an offensive lineman, center/guard Jason Spitz.

It's not that Thompson would break into a rash by drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. The 2008 draft class was loaded with top-flight offensive tackle prospects. The Packers, picking at No. 30 after reaching the NFC championship game, had their sights set on Sam Baker, a source told Packer Report a couple of months ago. Instead, the Falcons grabbed Baker at No. 21. When Houston took Duane Brown at No. 26, that meant eight offensive tackles were off the board. Shocked, Thompson traded the pick to the Jets and wound up selecting Jordy Nelson in the second round.

It wasn't life or death back then, not with Chad Clifton starting all 18 games (including playoffs). But Clifton missed one game in 2008 and started and finished only nine games in 2009. He'll turn 34 in June. Time is running out on Clifton's career and the Packers' ability to find his replacement before Rodgers' gets his clock cleaned by some ham-and-egger of a stopgap at the line's most important position.

From Thompson's perspective, however, he's better off not drafting a left tackle than reaching for one.

"We're hoping at the end of it that we feel like we got lucky and we got some players that can help our team," he said. "I honestly and truly believe that if you get caught up trying to reach for need at all, that's when you make your mistakes. And I feel like our core team is strong enough that we don't have to search out like that. I know it's what I always say, but I really mean it."

Pressed on the Packers' need to get a left tackle to develop with Clifton holding down the fort again in 2010, Thompson said: "If it makes sense, sure. I don't think it's a necessary thing."

Most fans and league insiders would scoff at that final sentence. But Thompson said he's going to stick to his no-reach philosophy, which is somewhat understandable. Reaching to fill a need is silly, but a passive approach to the draft isn't always the way to go, either.

With time of the essence, maybe it's time for Thompson to take a page from his 2009 draft playbook. Thompson wanted Clay Matthews III for months. No. 9 was too early, but when Matthews kept falling, falling, falling through the first round, Thompson made his boldest draft move of his tenure by giving up three draft picks to grab Matthews at No. 26. Voila, a Pro Bowler as a rookie.

Like 2008, the 2010 class of offensive tackles is superb. Unless a 2008-style run on left tackles takes place again on Thursday, the Packers likely will have at least one from the group of USC's Charles Brown, Rutgers' Anthony Davis and Maryland's Bruce Campbell available at No. 23. Several teams have first-round grades on Indiana's Rodger Saffold and Hillsdale's Jared Veldheer, too. None of them are sure things, though. The gap between Russell Okung, Trent Williams and Bryan Bulaga to Brown, Davis and Campbell is sizable, and there's another gap to Saffold and Veldheer.

As we told you on Feb. 26, elite offensive tackles almost exclusively are taken in the first round. Sixteen offensive tackles have played in at least one Pro Bowl after being drafted in the last 10 drafts. Take away Jason Peters (undrafted tight end who became a Pro Bowl tackle), and the other 15 Pro Bowl tackles were taken with an average pick of 20.7.

"Offensive linemen, offensive tackles, there are not that many of them," Thompson said. "Sometimes you can get lucky and get them later, but most of the time if you are a quality player that can play right away, you get scooped up pretty fast."

This might be the draft to scoop up one fast.

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, 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.

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