Green Bay Packers: Ted Thompson Knows How to Build a Deep Roster
The Green Bay Packers have been down this road before. During the 2010 NFL season, the Packers were forced to put 15 players on injured reserve. Still, even with that, Green Bay made the NFC playoffs as a wild card, won three road games at difficult venues and then won it all in Super Bowl XLV.
Even at that Super Bowl, the Packers lost two of their best players, as both wide receiver Donald Driver and cornerback Charles Woodson were forced out of the game with injuries in the first half. But the Packers utilized the depth on their squad to overcome the loss of Driver and Woodson, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.
The Packers are facing similar obstacles in 2012. Even before the 2012 NFL draft began, the Packers released All-Pro safety Nick Collins due to a neck injury he suffered in the second game of the 2011 season.
Then, in the first preseason game, the Packers lost starting inside linebacker Desmond Bishop for the season with a knee injury. To add to that predicament, Bishop's replacement, D.J. Smith, was also lost for the season with a knee injury vs. the Houston Texans in Week 6.
The Packers also lost running back Brandon Saine for the season with yet another knee injury in that same game.
The loss of Saine meant that the depth chart at running back would be tested, as Cedric Benson had been placed on the injured-reserve/designated-to-return list after the game against the Indianapolis Colts. The designated-to-return option gives teams in the NFL a chance to place one player on that list who can return after eight weeks.
The Packers also saw left outside linebacker Nick Perry go down with a knee injury in the Houston game, but his injury was more of a sprain, and Perry should be able to play at some point in the near future.
Cornerback Sam Shields also suffered a shin injury in that very same game, but should be ready to go soon.
Adding to the injury frustration, the Packers have also seen wide receiver Greg Jennings miss a number of games due to a lingering groin injury.
Finally, after the win against the St. Louis Rams in Week 7, it was learned that Woodson broke his collarbone and would be out about six weeks. It was the same collarbone that Woodson broke in Super Bowl XLV.
Woodson was not placed on injured reserve, and the Packers are hoping that he will be able to come back for the last three games of the regular season.
Meanwhile, it's a next-man-up mentality in Green Bay.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson has the roster to handle situations like this, based on the way he has built the team. For instance, Thompson's very first draft pick in 2005, Aaron Rodgers, was a pick that was based on looking ahead to the future.
When Thompson took over to head the Green Bay front office in 2005, the Packers were coming off three straight NFC North titles and were led by quarterback Brett Favre, who had been named to the Pro Bowl in two of those three years.
Yet Thompson never wavered in selecting Rodgers, and the pick has obviously paid off.
Thompson looks to the future when he selects players, either with the NFL draft, free agency or by trade. Thompson has a system he stays true to as he builds the roster of the Packers.
The draft has turned out to be Thompson's main building block in putting together the Green Bay organization—and Rodgers has been the foundation of that process.
Going into the 2012 season, the team had 30 players on their 53-man roster who were drafted by the Packers. That's almost 60 percent of the roster—almost unheard of in today's NFL.
Thompson has also drafted a number of players who have been either All-Pro or selected to a Pro Bowl team.
This list would include Rodgers, Collins, Jennings, outside linebacker Clay Matthews, nose tackle B.J. Raji and inside linebacker A.J. Hawk.
Every once in a while Thompson will have a hiccup in the draft, like when he selected defensive tackle Justin Harrell in the first round of the 2007 draft, but overall, Thompson has selected 75 players in his seven drafts with the Packers, with 63 of those 75 players making the roster.
In terms of pure free agency, Thompson does not dip his toes into that water too often, but when he does, he has hit gold at least once. That would be the signing of Woodson in 2006, who was signed along with DL Ryan Pickett that year. Both players are still with the team.
This year, Thompson brought in veteran center Jeff Saturday and Benson as free agents.
However, Thompson is better known for signing "street" or rookie free agents. Players like cornerback Tramon Williams, cornerback Sam Shields, quarterback Graham Harrell, tight end Tom Crabtree, linebacker Robert Francois, safety Sean Richardson, offensive lineman Don Barclay and wide receiver Jarrett Boykin fall into this category.
Thompson has always been known as someone who is considered pretty conservative in NFL circles.
But in 2012, starting with the NFL draft, Thompson has become much more of a gambler. Thompson traded up three times in the draft this year, equaling all the times he had traded up in his entire career in Green Bay.
Two of three draft trades have paid off significantly.
The first was when the Packers traded up to select defensive end Jerel Worthy in the second round. Worthy has really come on as of late and plays a key role in the defensive line rotation of the Packers. Worthy also has two sacks so far this season.
The play of the defensive line so far has allowed Matthews to take advantage of matchup issues and have nine sacks already in 2012. In fact, the Packers lead the NFL with 24 sacks as a team.
The second trade also gave the Packers another selection in the second round when they picked cornerback Casey Hayward. Hayward has played very solidly for the Packers, and he already has four interceptions.
Bottom line: The Packers have seen players step up to the challenge when they have been given the opportunity.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson has made the loss of Jennings seem somewhat insignificant with his play, as have the play of James Jones and Randall Cobb at the other wide receiver slots.
Brad Jones was the next man up at right inside linebacker after Bishop and Smith went down, and he has been fairly solid. It helps when the guy playing next to you, left inside linebacker Hawk, is having a stellar season and leads the team in tackles.
Second-year running back Alex Smith has received the bulk of the playing time at running back after Benson was injured, and he has been OK. Green has to improve his rushing average (3.1 yards per carry), but he has not put the ball on the ground yet, which is very important.
Erik Walden was getting a lot of playing time at left outside linebacker, even while Perry was healthy, and has played well so far in 2012. The Packers also use rookie Dezman Moses from time to time.
Now we will find out how the Packers will handle the loss of Woodson. Woodson played strong safety in the base defense of the Packers, and he then played the slot cornerback position in the nickel-and-dime schemes the Packers use.
Hayward will most likely take over at the slot position with either Davon House (who hurt his shoulder in the first preseason game) or Shields opposite left cornerback Williams. Based on Hayward's production so far, I believe he'll be fine in his new role.
Rookie safety Jerron McMillian and second-year safety M.D. Jennings will continue to battle each other for playing time as well, while Woodson is out. Both were getting a good amount of time on the field anyway (in the nickel-and-dime), even while Woodson was on the field.
The goal for the Packers is to get to the bye week with a 6-3 record and then try and get the troops as healthy as possible for the stretch run of the 2012 season. With home games looming against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Arizona Cardinals in the next two weeks, the chances of that happening are pretty good.
The solid depth on the roster certainly doesn't hurt.
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