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Ted Thompson: Green Bay Packers will be competitive for some time to come

By The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 26, 2016 at 12:05 PM
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Green Bay Packers' GM Ted Thompson stands by his team, warts and all.

Though he's not fond of doing stand-up interviews in front of a big crowd of reporters, Thompson didn't flinch at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis when asked to give his first offseason state of the team.

"I think we're a solid team," the longtime general manager said. "I think we've got good players at places that you need good players. I don't think we have a lot of weaknesses, so I think we're going to be a competitive team for some time to come."

Thompson's rosy outlook paled in comparison to head coach Mike McCarthy's coarse assessment the previous week.

McCarthy didn't mince words a month after the Packers' season ended abruptly on the opponent's touchdown in the first series of overtime in the playoffs for the second straight year.

"Offensively, we took a huge step back. There's no question about that," McCarthy said. "Defensively, we did some good things, but we're not a championship defense, and that has to be the next step next year. That will be the focus of our defensive staff and our defensive players.

"Special teams, we made some big strides, particularly in coverage, had some really good individual performances and so forth, but we need to take another big jump there, too. So, we've still got work to do on defense and special teams, and we've got to get back to basics on offense."

The can't-miss presence of McCarthy, Thompson and so many others from the Green Bay front office and coaching staff at the combine reinforces the Packers way of relying mostly, if not entirely, on the draft to reload and stay competitive year after year.

Yet, after the Packers' meltdown the second half of last season after a 6-0 start and failing to garner a fifth straight NFC North title as they finished behind the Minnesota Vikings with a 10-6 record, murmurs have percolated of late that McCarthy purportedly has tired of Thompson's draft-and-develop approach.

Thompson shrugged off the perception that the Packers' window for remaining a Super Bowl contender is closing fast and that a drastic change in direction is needed to address the few weaknesses he sees with the team.

"I don't think we go through life in the NFL saying, 'OK, now, we're going to have this philosophy or a few years from now we're going to have to change to some other philosophy,'" Thompson said. "I think you have a philosophy in how you think is the best way to build a team. It doesn't necessarily mean that those philosophies that people report everything that we do or ascribe to those are not necessarily true.

"We sign free agents. We look at free agency. We've been doing it for the last several months about perspective free agency. (But), no, we're not going to chase ghosts because we think the clock is ticking."

So, as most of his NFL brethren eagerly awaits the start of the new league year March 9 and the accompanying free-for-all to gobble up available players, Thompson just might be willing to stand pat again and wait for the draft in late April.

His priorities the next two weeks are deciding what to do with Green Bay's 17 free agents-to-be, 13 of whom can hit the unrestricted open market. Notables are kicker Mason Crosby, running back James Starks, receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn, nose tackle B.J. Raji and outside linebackers Nick Perry and Mike Neal.

Thompson took care of one pending free agent by re-signing veteran defensive tackle Letroy Guion to a three-year, $11.25 million contract in early February. It's an incentive-laden deal with the only guaranteed money a $500,000 signing bonus.

However, Green Bay's decision to hang onto former first-round draft pick Raji could be predicated by the recent league suspension of young lineman Mike Pennel for the first four games of next season because of a violation of the substance-abuse policy.

Meanwhile, McCarthy has spent considerable time early in the offseason addressing top running back Eddie Lacy's problematic weight issues from last season.

McCarthy on Thursday was quick to refute a report that Lacy played 30 pounds overweight as he rushed for only 758 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season.

However, McCarthy revealed that Lacy connected with P90X founder Tony Horton after last season ended and has started an intensive workout program with Horton.

"Eddie will take care of business," McCarthy said. "I have great confident that he will. I think we'll see definitely a different guy in April and, more importantly, in July" for the start of training camp.

--The Packers' injury-battered offense from the 2015 season already has a healthier outlook going into next season.

McCarthy gave encouraging reports about perhaps the team's top two players when he talked at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday.

When asked about quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who reportedly had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee shortly after last season ended, McCarthy indicated the two-time NFL MVP should be OK to participate in Green Bay's organized team activities in the late spring.

"Hell, the way he's hitting the golf ball, I think he'll be ready to go (then)," said McCarthy, referencing Rodgers' participation in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in Northern California earlier this month.

McCarthy also is optimistic about working No. 1 receiver Jordy Nelson back into OTA drills.

"I don't see him by the time training camp comes around (in late July) having any limitations," McCarthy said.

Nelson missed all of last season because of a torn ACL sustained in a preseason game in August. He subsequently underwent surgery during the season.

"He's way ahead of schedule," McCarthy said.

So much that general manager Ted Thompson made an unusual quip with reporters at the scouting combine about Nelson's impressive rehabilitation.

"That was a hard thing for him to do sitting out the season, but he looks great," Thompson said. "You sometimes wonder if he was really hurt. ... I'm just kidding."

McCarthy said receiver Ty Montgomery, who played only six games as a rookie last season because of a chronic ankle injury, may not be ready until training camp after he underwent surgery late in the season.

--McCarthy complimented the work ethic and locker-room impact of top backup quarterback Scott Tolzien on Thursday.

In turn, however, McCarthy was effusive with his praise of No. 3 quarterback Brett Hundley, likely signaling a changing of the guard behind Rodgers going into the spring.

"I'm excited about Brett," McCarthy said. "I think if you go back and watch him play in the preseason (last year), it speaks volumes. He did a heck of a job. He's really come on fast. He's doing what you're supposed to do."

Although Hundley didn't get on the field once all last season, his first as a pro, McCarthy and Thompson seem ready to anoint him Rodgers' understudy for 2016. That would likely mean a departure for Tolzien, a five-year pro who is set to become an unrestricted free agent after spending the last three seasons in Green Bay.

The Packers no doubt feel compelled to start making good on their fifth-round investment of former UCLA standout Hundley in last year's draft. They gave him the equivalent of a redshirt rookie season by having him dress for every game, including the playoffs, but without the benefit of playing.

"He's taken every note from Aaron and Scott," McCarthy said of Hundley. "He has really dove into the offense. A very bright young man, very athletic. Boy, I'm glad we have him."

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