Hope – as in the NFL draft – springs eternal in Green Bay

Best part of offseason closing in for patient Packers’ fans that trust Thompson’s style

GREEN BAY – Christians have Easter, Wisconsinites have spring (allegedly) and Green Bay Packers fans have the NFL draft.
In a world where winter never ends and NFL free agency never begins, Packers’ fans cling to hope wherever they find it.
Experience has taught them where to look.
Once the reality of another free agent signing period bereft of signings settles in, Packers’ fans do what they always do this time of year. They take a deep breath, poise for the plunge and dive into the draft.
Fans trust that GM Ted Thompson and his scouts have done their homework, and that the Packers’ leadership will devise a fine draft strategy. They believe this because it is what history has taught them.
It is why Packers’ fans are so keen on the draft. All that stands between their team and improvement is the five weeks between now and then.
The Packers’ “draft and develop” philosophy has served them well. While other teams spend frivolously if not aimlessly in free agency the Packers merely watch it unfold and await the draft.
Thompson’s approach has built the Packers into one of the NFL’s most successful franchises. However, this approach reaches Super Bowl heights only if the “draft” part of the equation delivers Pro Bowl talent.
Fortunately for Packers’ fans, head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff receives top-notch clay (and not just Matthews) to mold.
While Packers fans speculate who, what, where and when in terms of the draft, here are 10 reasons to feel good about Green Bay before the draft:
** No. 10 – Yes, the Lions signed running back Reggie Bush in free agency. Yes, they have an explosive array of weaponry by adding him to Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew.
But no, the Lions still have a weak, teetering on awful offensive line. And no, the Lions still haven’t fired head coach Jim Schwartz, who demands discipline while displaying none.
Detroit isn’t gearing up to rebound from a 4-12 disaster. It is getting ready to put the final touches on a coaching staff housecleaning.
Six and ten should do it.
** No. 9 – The Chicago Bears’ defense is finally, fatally beginning to die on the vine. Too bad, as it appears the Bears’ offense finally might be dangerous to something other than Jay Cutler’s health.
To say the Brian Urlacher divorce with the Bears is going to be ugly misses the point. It already is ugly.
By the way, isn’t it about time for Pro Bowl pass rusher Julius Peppers to start griping about being underpaid? Or is it aging linebacker Lance Briggs’ turn to demand more (wink, wink) respect?
** No. 8 – Green Bay fans should feel good that no NFC team signed ex-Denver pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, who went to the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Here’s predicting that the Broncos, sans Dumervil, will have a better season than the Ravens. And that the Packers will have a better season than either of them.
** No. 7 – The bad news is that the Vikings have Greg Jennings. The good news is that the Vikings have Christian Ponder. The bonus good news is that ex-Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Cassel is the backup, not because Cassel can’t play, but on the contrary. Because Cassel can play, at least a little, a quarterback controversy is as all but a certainty.
** No. 6 – Tight end Jermichael Finley played well in the second half of last season. That’s important on so many levels.
First, Green Bay’s offense needs Finley to reach his potential, especially with Jennings’ departure and an unproven running game.
Second, Finley’s improved play persuaded the Packers to commit to the 25-year-old tight end. If he hadn’t elevated his game, the Packers would be facing a $3 million question this Wednesday: To pay him the bonus or cut him loose? Thanks to Finley’s strong finish it’s not an issue.
Losing Greg Jennings is significant, but combined with losing Finley would have been disastrous.
** No. 5 – The Packers’ offensive line is going to be bigger, stronger and younger this season. I know that because either Evan Diedrich-Smith or a fairly high draft pick is going to be playing center.
I have to believe Thompson and McCarthy will take great measures to prevent Aaron Rodgers from being sacked a league-high 51 times. That starts will drafting a rugged, talented, tough in-line player. A true center would be fine, but a versatile guard-center would be nice, too.
** No. 4 – Upon further review, the Packers’ coaches and scouts like running back DuJuan Harris even more now than they did in January. Harris’ strong first half (nine for 47 yards) at San Francisco in the NFC playoffs answered one question (Can the kid play?) while raising another (Why didn’t McCarthy call his number more than twice in the second half?)
At any rate, Harris apparently is building on a strong post-season by having a productive offseason. Good for him. Good for the Packers.
** No. 3 – Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, D.J. Smith, Brad Jones, Nick Perry and Rob Francois – for a variety of reasons – all are returning this season. That qualifies as good news for a Packers’ defense in search of run stoppers and playmakers.
** No. 2 – Most coaches believe the “read option” isn’t going to be more than a novelty. That is good because the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick tore up Green Bay’s defense, and this year’s schedule includes several teams that rely on the “read option.”
However, coaches such as Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and others have stated quite clearly what everyone is thinking: QBs don’t like to get hit. Beyond that the NFL and its teams don’t like to get the QB hit.
While the Packers’ defense needs to improve, the collective attitude of respected NFL coaches is that they aren’t going to allow QBs do to their teams what Kaepernick did to the Packers.
One rule that hasn’t changed is this: When a quarterback becomes a ball carrier the defense is allowed to tackle him.
** No. 1 – No matter what happens between now and April 26, the Packers still have the best player at the most important position.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.