Notebook: Thompson Confident In '09 Team

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Recapping the 6-10 season in 2008 was no laughing matter to Ted Thompson at the annual shareholders' meeting on Thursday at Lambeau Field.

But in expressing his confidence in the team's prospects for 2009, the Packers' general manager emphasized the importance of the fans' enthusiasm and poked a little fun at himself in the process.

"We have exceptional fan support here, obviously," Thompson told the gathering of roughly 7,500. "Where else are you going to get people come out in the rain to hear me talk for a while and not really say anything?

"These are the best fans in sports."

As usual during his football report, Thompson didn't reveal many opinions about players on the current roster, or give any insights as to how the personnel and coaching staffs plan to pare it down to 53 players over the next month in training camp.

But he did describe some of the changes the team is undergoing - particularly the switch to the 3-4 defense - and expressed confidence those changes will help the team's results improve.

"I think you'll find it exciting," Thompson said of the new defensive look. "There's a lack of predictability in what we're going to do."

Thompson got his loudest applause when he mentioned the solid play of Aaron Rodgers in his first year as the starting quarterback. As for the burning question heading into camp of who's going to replace Mark Tauscher at right tackle, Thompson said that Head Coach Mike McCarthy and his staff would like to get that settled sooner rather than later.

"We spend an inordinate amount of time working on our offensive and defensive lines because we feel that's the strength of any team in the National Football League," Thompson said.

"We've put guys in position to compete for some jobs there (on the offensive line), and what Mike is hoping for is to have some established ideas of how we're going to line up pretty soon in training camp so we can set that."

Thompson also noted he feels the team has maintained a good chemistry in the locker room, something that served the team well both in the 13-3 season of 2007 and during the tough stretch last year.

"Sometimes when you watch ESPN or the instant communication we have nowadays, it's almost like it's all fantasy football," Thompson said. "It's not. It's people, and we have good people. We have a good team and we have confidence in this team.

"The 2008 season was a disappointing season. It was not what we wanted. It certainly was not what we expected. We understand the high standards set here. We expect to win, and I think we have the kind of team that has a chance, if we play well, has a chance to win every week."

New field a big hit

After the official shareholders' meeting inside Lambeau, attendees got the opportunity to take a self-guided tour of the Hutson Center and the new Ray Nitschke Field, which will be the primary practice field for training camp beginning Saturday.

The new Nitschke Field is behind the Hutson Center and away from the Oneida Street traffic to the west. It also has bleacher seating for approximately 1,500 fans, who can now sit without a fence between them and the practice field.

"I think it's great," said shareholder Linda Gurath of Fond du Lac, Wis. "The seating is really nice and people don't have to worry about crossing over into Oneida Street. You can see above the fence instead of looking through the fence to take pictures. It's a really nice facility they've got for them this year."

{sportsad300}Gurath and her husband, Mark, recalled coming to the occasional training camp practice at the old Nitschke Field roughly a decade ago. They're also regular attendees of Fan Fest in March.

This was the first shareholders' meeting they were able to attend, and they're glad they didn't miss it.

"I don't know how many years I've been coming here, but this is the first time I got in there," Mark Gurath said, pointing to the Hutson Center. "It's fantastic. You can't beat this."

During the walking tour, fans also got a chance to get autographs from and visit with Thompson and President/CEO Mark Murphy. The franchise's two principal executives spent more than two hours each signing autographs and mingling with shareholders inside the Hutson Center, staying out of the sporadic rain outside.

Possible new deals

Murphy said the Packers are very close to a new marketing/sponsorship deal with the Wisconsin State Lottery, but at this point securing a sponsor for a practice-jersey patch is still up in the air.

"We've had some very good discussions with the state lottery, so I think we'll be able to announce something fairly soon," Murphy said. "In terms of the jersey, we've got a couple of different options there and we are working on it, but I don't think anything is imminent."

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