Planning For Today, Tomorrow

General manager Ted Thompson's forward-thinking draft still could provide a sudden impact in 2010, led by first-rounder Bryan Bulaga. We take a closer look at the team's seven picks from Thompson's play-it-by-the-board draft.

The Green Bay Packers bolstered their depth at several positions and, in the process, put some of their veteran players on notice.

"I think we've got guys that can come in and make an impact," general manager Ted Thompson said.

Green Bay didn't have an overriding need to address with little turnover from its 11-5, playoffs-qualifying team in 2009. So, the emphasis was more on building for the future.

It's conceivable the Packers won't have a rookie in the starting lineup opening day.

Yet, strong preseasons by offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (first round) and safety Morgan Burnett (third) could make things interesting.

Green Bay lucked out when Bulaga tumbled from being a potential top-10 pick to No. 23, giving it a nice insurance policy for aging left tackle Chad Clifton.

Burnett has the playmaking goods to unseat Atari Bigby.

Defensive end Mike Neal (second round) protects the Packers from possibly losing starter Johnny Jolly, who faces a drug-possession trial, to a league suspension.

Tight end Andrew Quarless (fifth round), if he can avoid further off-field trouble, could be a nice complement to Jermichael Finley and make Donald Lee expendable.

Best pick

Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga — A no-brainer of a top pick when the highly regarded left tackle fell to the Packers late in the first round. Bulaga excelled as a three-year starter at Iowa. He is the heir apparent to the aging Chad Clifton at left tackle, perhaps sooner than later.

Could surprise

Safety Morgan Burnett — General manager Ted Thompson made a rare trade up to get the ball-hawking standout from Georgia Tech early in the third round. Burnett had 14 interceptions in three years. Next up could be taking a starting spot away from injury-prone Atari Bigby.

A closer look at the Packers' picks

Round 1/23 — Bryan Bulaga, OT, 6-5, 314, Iowa: The first offensive lineman taken by the Packers in the first round since Iowa's Ross Verba in 1997. Verba started at left tackle as a rookie, but Bulaga might have to play the waiting game behind Chad Clifton for a season.

Round 2/56 — Mike Neal, DE, 6-3, 294, Purdue: Hard-nosed player was primarily a tackle in college. Has ideal size to play end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme, but they also will utilize his pass-rushing skills on the inside in their subpackages.

Round 3/71 — Morgan Burnett, S, 6-1, 209, Georgia Tech: A potential rookie starter with a nose for the football in pass coverage who also likes to get physical in run support. Burnett's durability is as impressive - he never missed a game in his three-year college career.

Round 5/154 — Andrew Quarless, TE, 6-4, 252, Penn State: A risky pick for GM Ted Thompson, given Quarless' character issues in college. He was suspended three times in 2007 and '08 for drinking and alleged marijuana transgressions before getting right again last year.

Round 5/169 — Marshall Newhouse, OT/G, 6-4, 319, Texas Christian: The three-year starter at left tackle is better suited to play guard at the pro level. Newhouse is quick on his feet for a big man, but his pass-blocking skills are hit-and-miss.


James Starks
Michael Conroy/AP Images
Round 6/193 — James Starks, RB, 6-2, 218, Buffalo: The school's all-time leading rusher is a great unknown after he missed the 2009 season with a shoulder injury. Tall for a back but is an elusive, physical north-south runner. Former star quarterback in high school could give Packers offense a "Wildcat" dimension.

Round 7/230 — C.J. Wilson, DE, 6-3, 290, East Carolina: A bigger, athletic pass rusher who started all four seasons in college. Limitations in space don't make him a good candidate to be moved to linebacker in the 3-4.

No reaching

While the typically guarded Ted Thompson shed little light on his approach to the draft six days before it started Thursday night, he did go so far in that news conference as to utter "we're not going to reach on something."

Thompson backed it up, not having to budge an inch from deep in the first round to make one of the more elementary selections out of several picks he's initiated in six years as Packers general manager.

"We felt very fortunate and felt like it was an easy pick for us," Thompson said.

Offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga was supposed to be long gone before Green Bay's turn at No. 23. Instead, the former Iowa standout was there for the taking as the Packers quickly addressed a strong position of need, maybe not as much for the short term as it is for the long term.

"You can't just have five (linemen)," Thompson said. "As you've all seen with our team, you have to have more."

The pick of Bulaga smacks of Thompson's first one as Green Bay's GM, when Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers fell in the Packers' lap at the No. 24 spot in the opening round of the 2005 draft after Rodgers was under consideration to go No. 1 to the San Francisco 49ers.

Rodgers had to sit behind the legendary Brett Favre for three years before finally getting his opportunity to run the offense, to much success the past two seasons.

Bulaga, who figured to go in the top 15 along with the other three supreme tackles who were gobbled up in the first 11 picks Thursday, starts his pro career no better than No. 2 on the depth chart.

Thompson re-signed veteran tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher early in free agency to three- and two-year contracts, respectively, that in total are worth nearly $30 million. They are penciled in at the starting spots they've held since they were rookies in 2000.

Despite the significant, good-faith investments in Clifton and Tauscher this offseason, the Packers were compelled without a second thought when Bulaga was available to take out an insurance policy that also won't come cheap.

"If he is a backup left tackle, he's one snap away from being our starting tackle anyway," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.


Bryan Bulaga
Darron Cummings/AP Images
Sticking Bulaga at left tackle, where he started his sophomore and junior seasons at Iowa before entering the draft a year early, makes the most sense for the Packers. Clifton turns 34 in June, and an array of injuries has kept him from playing a full season three times in the last four years.

Should Clifton succumb to another setback at some point next season, Green Bay won't be caught flat-footed without a capable fill-in in protecting Rodgers' blind side.

"He's made us a better offensive line," Philbin said of Bulaga, the top offensive lineman in the Big Ten Conference last season. "I think our competition is better. I think we improved ourselves, absolutely. How much and how quickly, that remains to be seen."

Although he never played on the right side in college, Bulaga's advanced athleticism and skill set would give him a fair shot to challenge Tauscher, too, though the Packers seem content with having second-year T.J. Lang as the understudy there.

Having turned 21 just last month, the 6-5 1/2, 314-pound Bulaga has room to get stronger. The only big knock against him entering the draft was his short arm length (33 1/4 inches), but Philbin pointed out that Clifton has done all right for himself in a Pro Bowl career at tackle with a similar reach.

"I like his makeup very much," Thompson said of Bulaga. "He's a finisher, he's a tough guy, he's athletic, he's got great size, he loves football, a real gung-ho-type attitude. He's the real deal, I think."

Bulaga isn't taking his NFL appointment lightly. He admittedly was a Chicago Bears fan while growing up in Crystal Lake, Ill., not far from the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

"But, obviously, I think my allegiance has changed, for sure, now," he said.

As the first offensive lineman to be picked by the Packers in the first round since tackle Ross Verba (another Iowa product) in 1997, Bulaga doesn't want to be a rookie cheerleader on the sideline.

"I don't exactly know what my role will be, but I'm definitely going to come in and push myself to win a starting job. That's going to be my expectation," he said.

Draft quick hits

—General manager Ted Thompson is partial to players of good character.

So, the fifth-round selection of Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless to start the Packers' run of picks on the final day of the draft Saturday came as a surprise.

Quarless was suspended from the Nittany Lions football team three times in 2007 and '08 — one for an underage-drinking citation, another for a DUI charge and the third for being linked to marijuana that was seized in a campus apartment he shared with three teammates.

"The kid seemed pretty forthright with everything's that happened, and we feel confident that he's on the right path," Thompson said after making the pick.

Quarless stayed out of trouble as a senior at Penn State and said he hasn't imbibed in alcohol since his DUI arrest in March 2008.

"At the point where I'm at in my life, I feel like I'm already focused," Quarless said. "Those are life lessons I had to learn. I'm happy I learned them early. I just have that tunnel vision right now where nothing can stop me."

—The Packers made seven draft picks this year, the fewest in Thompson's six years as Green Bay's GM.

None of the selections was an outside linebacker, which some pundits felt was a need for the Packers after they lost Aaron Kampman in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I understand everybody is concerned about that position," Thompson said. "We don't think it's quite as dire as everybody else does. But, it is a position we'd like to add a couple more competitors."

Thompson wouldn't elaborate on what those additions might be and whether they could involve the acquisition of a veteran player.

The Packers were satisfied with the production of then-rookie Brad Jones down the stretch of last season, when he started for an injured Kampman on the left side. Jones tied for third on the team with four sacks.

Brady Poppinga, who lost the starting job to rookie sensation Clay Matthews at right outside linebacker early last season, also will be in the mix on the left side.

—As expected, head coach Mike McCarthy confirmed Saturday that top draft pick Bryan Bulaga will be job-shadowing veteran Chad Clifton at left tackle.

"It's very important for him to train and be a left tackle in our system," McCarthy said.

Bulaga, a highly-rated prospect who fell to No. 23 in the first round, was a three-year starter at left tackle for Iowa. He will be given the opportunity to challenge for the starting job Clifton has held since he was a rookie in 2000.

By keeping Bulaga at one spot, at least through the spring workouts and June minicamp, will leave incumbent right tackle Mark Tauscher to battle T.J. Lang.

—Thompson used the second day of the new three-day draft format by adding to his uncommon track record for trading up.

A swap with the Philadelphia Eagles moved the Packers from No. 86 to No. 71 in the third round, where Green Bay selected Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett.

"We had these slot charts in each round, and on my slot chart (in the third), we were way down here and the pick was way up there and I wanted to move up there because I didn't think he would get there," Thompson said. "If I was a better gambler or poker player, maybe I could have waited out, but we felt strongly that he would be a good addition to our team."

Burnett, who had 14 interceptions in only three years of college ball, is expected to challenge incumbent Atari Bigby for the starting job at strong safety.

Besides parting with the No. 86 pick, the Packers gave Philadelphia their fourth-round spot (No. 122).

—The draft class will make its on-field debut in Green Bay on Friday, the start of a three-day rookie orientation camp at the team's indoor Don Hutson Center.


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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