Thompson Taking Unnecessary Risks

The obvious gamble is at cornerback, where they have to get by without Al Harris and probably Brandon Underwood, but there are several other spots where the general manager is taking chances. Publisher Bill Huber takes Thompson to task.

That five of the Green Bay Packers' castoffs will be collecting paychecks elsewhere in Week 1 speaks volumes to the depth assembled by general manager Ted Thompson.

According to the NFL's official transactions, popular Spencer Havner went to Detroit, locker-room favorite Anthony Toribio landed in Kansas City, Evan Dietrich-Smith signed with Seattle, Kregg Lumpkin joined Tampa Bay and Cyril Obiozor flew to Arizona.

On the other hand, Thompson is making some unnecessary gambles with a team that is considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender by NFL insiders and the oddsmakers in Las Vegas.

No roster is perfect, but the Packers enter the Week 1 game at Philadelphia with only two true halfbacks, just eight linebackers, an undrafted rookie serving as the third cornerback, merely one proven safety and nothing resembling a dynamic return man.

And yet, Thompson admitted on Sunday that he didn't put in a waiver claim on any of the 620-ish players who were released over the weekend by the other 31 teams.

Apparently, there wasn't one player good enough to help the Packers.

No offense to Thompson, because this is a good team, but I find that hard to believe.

Was there nobody who could fortify the outside linebackers? Thompson lauded undrafted rookie Frank Zombo for his toughness, hustle and rapid transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker. While that's all true, after watching him get sucked in on practically every bootleg during the preseason and occasionally get manhandled on running plays, Zombo just isn't ready to contribute as a rookie. Though, with starters Clay Matthews and Brad Jones coming off injuries, Zombo might wind up playing a key role immediately.

"I like a lot of things about them," Thompson said of his overall group of linebackers. "I think they're an athletic group. I think they play hard. I think there's really good depth, guys that we can put in the game and continue to play. Again, the NFL is a hard business and you have attrition from time to time, and guys will miss a game and things like that. I think we can continue to play, and we have the quality of players I think that we can use the different packages that Dom (Capers) likes to do. So, I think it's a pretty good group."

Was there nobody who could help at safety? Pro Bowler Nick Collins is one of the top two safeties in the league, but Morgan Burnett is a rookie who's going to endure some growing pains and backups Derrick Martin and Charlie Peprah don't exactly have lengthy NFL track records to draw upon. Instead, their main role is to improve the team's suspect special teams.

Was there nobody who has kick-returning ability — preferably someone who can play running back or add depth in the secondary? Jordy Nelson was consistently good as the kickoff returner last year but averaged a woeful 5.3 yards on 17 punt returns with two fumbles. Tramon Williams has a history of being an excellent punt returner but he's too valuable as a starting corner.

"Well, we'll use the guys that we have got," Thompson said. "We have a number of guys on the team that have done the returns before."

Losing Lumpkin was a tougher blow than you might imagine. The practice squad is an extension of the roster, and should something happen to Ryan Grant or Brandon Jackson, the Packers could have promoted Lumpkin, who had been in the offense for more than two years. And beyond that, the Packers don't have a halfback to run scout team when preparation for the opener at Philadelphia begins on Monday. So, expect a running back to be signed to the practice squad and for his crash course on the offense to begin immediately.

The gamble where Thompson is certain to come under fire is at cornerback, where undrafted Sam Shields will be the third corner with Al Harris on PUP and Brandon Underwood unlikely to play with a shoulder injury. Considering Andy Reid's track record as a play-caller, expect the Eagles to play most of the game — or, perhaps, all of the game, minus short-yardage situations — with three receivers to test Shields or even four receivers to challenge Pat Lee and/or Jarrett Bush.

Thompson is betting that his team will survive without Underwood in the short term and Harris in the longer term. What's scary is that Underwood, Lee and Shields have a combined 16 games of experience, with no starts and one pass defensed, and Bush's history speaks for itself. While championships can't be won in September or October, they certainly can be lost. Thompson's fondness for "his guys" is putting his team in immediate peril.


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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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