WHEN BRETT FAVREaired his grievances to Fox's Greta Van Susteren in July, he cited threereasons why he'd lost faith in Packers general manager Ted Thompson. In doingso, Favre highlighted the frugality and forward thinking that havecharacterized Thompson's four-year regime—and that will determine Green Bay'sfate in 2008.
Foremost amongFavre's complaints was Thompson's decision in March 2005 not to re-sign ProBowl guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, who'd spent a combined 15 years withGreen Bay. Instead, the first-year G.M. avoided a salary-cap hit and turned tothe draft. That April, Thompson selected Junius Coston in the fifth round, andin '06 he took Daryn Colledge in the second and Jason Spitz in the third. Withthose three combining for 32 starts last year, the line began to click. Duringthe final eight games of '07, Green Bay allowed a league-low six sacks andranked seventh in rushing, with 127.5 yards per game; in the playoffs theyaveraged 131.5. This year the Packers will again use a guard rotation, with2008 fourth-round pick Josh Sitton expected to play a significant role, andpossibly to start, once he's back from a sprained knee.
Thompson facedanother financial dilemma with franchised defensive tackle Corey Williams thisoff-season, and he stuck to his plan. Rather than pay dearly for Williams, hetraded him to the Browns for a second-round pick, which he used to add depth atquarterback (Louisville's Brian Brohm). Thanks to some nifty drafting andwaiver-wire work, Thompson has plenty of young, mostly homegrown bodies toinsert into Williams's spot. Two 2006 acquisitions, Ryan Pickett (UFA) andJohnny Jolly (sixth-round pick), will likely start; and last year's No. 1choice, Justin Harrell, will rotate in. While concerns remain about allthree—in July, Jolly was charged with felony drug possession in Texas and hadan Aug. 27 court date; Pickett and Harrell missed parts of camp withinjuries—depth at defensive end means the Pack could also use Cullen Jenkins orMichael Montgomery on the interior. The latter says he spent the summerstudying how the Giants aligned nominal end Justin Tuck over guard last year."We need to replace Williams's 14 sacks [since '06] somehow," says linecoach Robert Nunn, "and those two bring that speed."
Thompson'sthriftiness extends to the skill positions, which was Favre's second point ofcontention: the team's unwillingness to chase wideout Randy Moss in the springof 2007. Thompson chose to stick with veteran Donald Driver and two of hisdraft picks, Greg Jennings and James Jones. The trio helped Green Bay finishsecond in the league in receiving yards and, as a testament to how they fitinto coach Mike McCarthy's short-passing system, lead the league in yards afterthe catch.
August 31, 2008
The able wideoutcorps will help ease the Pack's transition to fourth-year veteran Aaron Rodgersat quarterback. So too will Rodgers's rapport with backup receiver RuvellMartin and tight end Donald Lee; they became fast friends with Rodgers whileplaying on scout and second-team offenses the past two seasons. "I try tothink of one way in which this [move to Rodgers] will be hard," says Lee,"and that just isn't the way it is. After all our time together, you haveno idea how ready we are for him to be quarterback."
McCarthy is theman charged with making the transition seamless, and therein lies Favre's thirdcomplaint against Thompson. In 2006 he hired McCarthy over Favre's choice,Steve Mariucci. The next year McCarthy led the Packers to the NFC ChampionshipGame—and he did it with the NFL's youngest roster. That's the way his playerslike it. "We're blessed that we have a lot of young guys and a lot ofdepth," says fifth-year defensive tackle Colin Cole. "We have some ofthe best nonstarters in the league, and they know that [Green Bay] is a placewhere you can earn your way up." Just as Thompson planned it.'
PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS
COACH MIKE MCCARTHY (21--11 in NFL), third season with Packers
Josh SITTON (R)-- New ACQUISITION
SACKS 3 1\2
(R) Rookie (College Statistics)
2007 RECORD 13--3NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 21/2/2 DEFENSE 14/12/11
8 MINNESOTA (M)
14 at Detroit
28 at Tampa Bay
12 at Seattle
2 at Tennessee
9 at Minnesota
24 at New Orleans (M)
14 at Jacksonville
22 at Chicago (M)
NFL Rank: 12
Opponents' 2007 winning percentage: .531
Games against playoff teams: 6
SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Packers' units.
Now we'll see if the Packers' confidence is warranted.
Grant fits the offense perfectly; there's depth behind him.
League's best wideouts at running after the catch.
Lee has evolved intoa very good blocker and pass catcher.
Unit has been solid, but concerns linger at guard.
Deep and talented but could miss Corey Williams.
A rare group of big 'backers that can really run.
Corners can play man-to-man; safeties have range.
Good cold-weather kickers, which is essential at Lambeau.
The 11th-year vet had a poor season (37 tackles, ninepasses defended) and hit rock-bottom against the Giants in the NFC title game,when Plaxico Burress had a career-high 11 catches for 151 yards. The continuedoverhaul of the defensive line could create added pressure on the secondary, soit's important that Harris get his game back.
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EXCERPTED FROM SI
December 18, 1961
VINCE LOMBARDI, the brilliant coach of the Packers,has a rather simple but unorthodox philosophy of football. Whether on offenseor defense, he concentrates on whipping the opposing team where it is supposedto be strongest. "If you can beat their best players and start their moralecrumbling, team morale crumbles," Lombardi says.
-- Tex Maule
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