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By CHRIS HAVEL
Perhaps the relationship between Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson could be best-described as this: Highly effective without the drama.
There are no major crises, just problems to be fixed. That’s how the Packers set about tackling last week’s NFL draft.
They took a realistic, big-picture assessment of the team. This is a Super Bowl-caliber team in need of several key weapons. Obviously, the Packers needed to reload in the defensive secondary. They also got major special teams help (McCarthy’s big-picture input), an inside linebacker in the fourth, a quarterback in the fifth and a pass rusher late.
This draft had a special feel to it. Special in that it addressed some very specific needs on a team that is close to being an NFL champion. What culminated in the past several days began several months ago.
McCarthy recognized a need to redefine his own job description and reorganize his staff. Then, he and Thompson set about to re-sign receiver Randall Cobb and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. It sustained the excellence and depth of the receiving corps, and it kept intact and under contract Aaron Rodgers’ offensive line for at least the next two seasons.
Meantime, the Packers lost cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency. Williams hit pay-dirt in Cleveland, while House hit the jackpot in Jacksonville. Good for them. The Packers’ response – both sensible and strategic – came during last weekend’s NFL draft in Chicago.
They selected Arizona State defensive back Damarious Randall with the 30th overall pick. Randall (5-11, 194) will line up at cornerback and contend for a starting job. The Packers doubled down in Round 2 by choosing Miami (Ohio) cornerback Quentin Rollins, who played just one season of Division I football after playing college hoops.
My take: Randall will challenge to replace Williams in the starting lineup. Rollins is similar to House in that he has terrific potential. The difference is that Rollins’ upside at this point is significantly higher. Rollins’ ball-hawking skills are impressive. Generally, when this former point guard gets his hands on the football he catches it. He runs a 4.54 and is a strong and willing tackler. He is raw, but with great upside.
In the grand scheme, some Packers fans may be disappointed because Green Bay didn’t fill a need at inside linebacker. To them I say consider this: The Packers’ greatest asset is its top-ranked offense. Its greatest liability is trying to sustain leads after Rodgers and Co. forge a lead.
A pass rush is critical. The Packers better hope that Julius Peppers does indeed have another strong season left in those 35-year-old legs. They also better pray that Clay Matthews doesn’t have to be miscast as an inside linebacker on early downs. Common sense suggests it has to dilute his pass-rushing ability.
Beyond that, the Packers needed defensive backs to combat opponents trying to rally after they fall behind. Players such as Randall and Rollins possess excellent ball skills. They can locate the football and they can catch it. That’s a great skill set to have for a Packers’ defensive back.
Then, in the third round, the Packers selected Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery. Think of Montgomery as a bigger, much less expensive Randall Cobb. When Cobb signed his off-season contract extension it was time to get him out of the offensive backfield and off special teams.
Those days are over. Montgomery, who is 6-0, 215, clocked a 5.51 40-yard dash. He might’ve gone higher in the draft if not for a poor season last year. He has excellent kick- and punt-return skills, and could be lined up in the backfield to catch bubble screens and run quick pitches. He moves easy for a player his size and has fine elusiveness.
Jake Ryan, an inside linebacker from Michigan, should fill the bill at that position. Ryan, a year removed from ACL surgery, has recovered to the point that he clocked a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash. At 240 pounds, he is big enough to strike a blow at the point of attack.
In the fifth, the Packers selected UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, an exceptional athlete (4.6-second speed in the 40) with a strong arm and huge hands. Hundley is first-rate clay for McCarthy and Co. to develop.
Aaron Ripkowski, a fullback from Oklahoma, and Christian Ringo, a defensive tackle from Louisiana-Lafayette, fill specific needs. Ripkowski could be a long-term replacement for John Kuhn and a short-term solution on special teams. He runs 4.74 in the 40-yard dash, is a willing lead blocker and was the No. 2 fullback on many teams’ boards.
Ringo, at 6-0 ½, 293 pounds, is an inside pass rusher who could be deployed in the Packers’ sub-packages on passing downs. Tight end Kennard Backman, at 6-3, 243 pounds, will contend to be the team’s No. 3 on the depth chart behind Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers. Backman has nice hands and is fast enough to challenge the seam against a defense.
Ultimately, the Packers got something for everyone. They got much-needed special teams help. They got an inside linebacker with acumen. They got a quarterback with talent worth developing. They got a tight end with soft hands and nimble feet. They got a fullback who is a gung-ho Joe on special teams. They got an inside pass rusher with promise.
What they didn’t have was drama. Now it’s time to see them on the field. My guess is it will be a pleasure watching them find a role, just like it was watching McCarthy and Thompson work together during the draft.
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.