BY CHRIS HAVEL
Write it down. Save it for posterity. Take it to the bank.
Years from now, Packers’ fans will reflect on this past week, smile and be reminded that the football operation simply wasn’t in good hands.
It was in Ted Thompson’s hands.
At the conclusion of an epic week in which the Packers’ top two stars were re-signed to record contract extensions, and the GM conducted the draft like a maestro, the NFL’s top story was this: Jets release Tebow!
No problem with that in Green Bay. Here, the GM seeks no praise – which probably explains why he receives so little. That seems fine with him, and it seems OK with Packers’ fans, too.
The longer Thompson runs the Packers – it is nine drafts and counting – the more Green Bay’s fans have come to understand and appreciate their GM’s understated but effective style.
Consider how smooth this offseason has gone despite major shakeups.
Early in the offseason the Packers said good-bye to icons Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson. Those decisions would have created uproars in most NFL cities. The GMs would have been assailed with demands by media and fans wanting to know how those stars would be replaced.
In Green Bay, it was offseason business as usual. The fans and everyone else essentially trust that Thompson will find a way to get it done. Meantime, the Packers tried to keep several of their own free agents and signed a few (linebacker Brad Jones, for example) to new contracts.
Now, think about the past week in the NFL’s tiniest town.
The Packers signed their top two stars at the NFL’s most important offensive and defensive positions to record-breaking extensions.
Neither received an abundance of national attention.
Clay Matthews announced his deal via Twitter. Aaron Rodgers held a hastily called news conference and humbly talked about leading the team to greatness.
What would have been earth-shattering news in most NFL cities was greeted with a Thompson-like understated, matter-of-fact approach.
It is why Green Bay remains one of the NFL’s most enduring and endearing stories. It takes care of its business, and it contends for titles. No drama here.
That goes for the draft, too. In fact, the draft reflects much of what makes the Packers’ football operation among the league’s finest.
Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy provide terrific leadership.
That’s where it starts.
Both allow their scouts and/or assistants to do their jobs. McCarthy’s ability to communicate his football vision, and Thompson’s ability to grasp it and apply it in the draft, is what keeps Green Bay competitive.
The Packers were wise to sit tight with the 26th pick.
Datone Jones, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive end from UCLA, gives Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers athleticism and versatility. Both of those attributes were painfully absent in Green Bay’s 45-31 loss at San Francisco in the NFC Divisional Playoffs in January.
Jones should be on the field in the base 3-4 and most sub-packages.
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, the Packers’ selection at No. 61, is an interesting pick. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound back was seen as a late-first round possibility. However, Lacy fell for a variety of reasons. One report suggested he has a toe fusion, which allegedly could cause injury issues in the future. Another suggested he was out of shape.
The Packers, who are renowned for their due diligence, were comfortable with Lacy’s health and chose accordingly. Instead of taking him at No. 55, they traded back six spots and still got him.
The selection of Lacy, in addition to UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, provides a much-needed infusion of talent to the unit. After Day One, when Thompson left both on the board, fans wondered, “How will the running game improve?”
That question has been answered with a dual response.
Lacy should provide a tough inside-outside threat that may force defenses to bring eight in the box. Franklin, who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, is a legit home run threat that has been long absent in Green Bay.
Thompson sat out the third round, collected picks and attacked in the fourth by taking a pair of offensive tackles. Colorado’s David Bakhtiari (6-4, 300) and Cornell’s J.C. Tretter (6-4, 307) are athletic linemen with basketball/tight end backgrounds who could play guard and/or center.
The Packers’ logic in these selections is sound.
Left tackles frequently are their college team’s best lineman, so it makes sense that they should be the best NFL prospects, regardless of position. Whether Bakhtiari (an early entry) and Tretter (a former tight end) play tackle, guard or center, at day’s end they are tough, athletic, 300-pound plus linemen with solid backgrounds, great work ethics and intelligence.
They should upgrade the competition in the entire offensive line. That can only hasten the running game’s growth while lessening the times Rodgers is sacked.
The Packers added toughness, size and defense in the final six picks.
I will focus on those in next week’s column. Meantime, consider the past week’s place among the most significant in the team’s offseason history, and think about how fortunate Packers’ fans are that GM Ted Thompson is running the show.
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.
Packers’ smooth operation resonates throughout draft
BY CHRIS HAVEL