The Green Bay Packers organization conducted its annual Stockholders' Meeting in front of an audience of 3,187 at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Tuesday.
Headlining the event was the 53-minute state of the team address delivered by Mike Sherman, who is approaching his fourth season as head coach and third as general manager.
Among the topics in his address, Sherman discussed the Packers' offseason game plan, including free agency and the draft, highlighted some key developmental players and outlined some of the team's goals for the coming season. Packers.com is pleased to offer complete audio of Sherman's press conference in addition to Andrew Brandt's salary cap report, John Underwood's treasurer's report, Carl Kuehne's Packers Foundation report and John Jones' Lambeau Field report.
Some of the highlights of Sherman's address appear below.
Sherman opened his report by discussing the team's offseason approach to free agency. Among his chief goals offensively, Sherman wanted to improve depth along the offensive line and at the running back and fullback positions. He also wanted to increase competition among backup quarterbacks and to find a punt returner.
To address the offensive line, the Packers signed free agents such as center/guards Grey Ruegamer and David Brandt and tackle Reggie Coleman. Sherman expressed confidence in his starting unit, but said the 2002 injuries to Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher were perfect examples of the need for talented backups.
In the offensive backfield, the Packers added fullback Nick Luchey and running back Lamar Smith.
Sherman especially likes the versatility of Luchey, who also has played tight end and tailback as a pro with Cincinnati. He also likes Luchey's 235-pound frame, which he hopes will help the Packers convert on short-yardage situations.
"I'm very disappointed with our third-down-and-short production last season," Sherman said. "We have to be better on third down and hopefully a big back like Luchey can help us there."
At quarterback, the Packers have three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre returning for his 13th NFL season. Coming back behind him are 11th-year veteran Doug Pederson and second-year player Craig Nall. Added to the mix this offseason have been Akili Smith and Eric Crouch.
Sherman expressed confidence in Pederson, who proved his ability as a backup in 2002, and noted that Nall is improved from a stint in NFL Europe. Smith and Crouch provide additional young talent to keep competition high for those positions.
In the return game, Sherman believes the Packers will improve with better blocking, but expressed the need for an explosive return man who can field punts cleanly and then make the opposition miss.
Said Sherman of the Packers' struggles in 2002, "I've received all the letters about the return game: I understand. I know you people don't think I know that when the ball's on the ground, when they punt it and we don't catch it, that's bad. I think it's bad, too ...
"The return game was pathetic, our starting position for the offense was pathetic and it's demoralizing at times. It has to improve."
Sherman believes former Arena League player Antonio Chatman could be the answer. At 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, Chatman is a darter who can disappear behind his blockers.
Robert Ferguson, Karsten Bailey and Crouch, among others, will get looks during training camp, but Sherman said that Chatman could be their best return man since Allen Rossum two seasons ago.
"He's the closest thing I've seen to Rossum," Sherman said. "He doesn't have the speed that Rossum has, but he has great quickness."
Defensively Sherman noted the key offseason re-signings of linebacker Na'il Diggs, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt.
Sherman labeled Hunt as a player that might be ready to turn the corner into stardom.
"(Hunt) should be a dominant player in this league," he said. "I felt like at times last year he was great. I thought at times he was average. He needs to be great every single play. I'm hoping that that will happen this year."
Sherman called Gbaja-Biamila one of the game's "elite."
"He is an unblockable player," Sherman said. "He has now risen into another echelon."
New veteran acquisitions include cornerback Al Harris, who came to the Packers from Philadelphia for a second-round draft pick. Sherman said he was confident in giving up the second-round choice because he didn't think the Packers would be able to draft a corner who could step in and play immediately.
Harris replaces the departed Tyrone Williams, who played in every game but one over his seven-year Packers career.
At linebacker, Hannibal Navies joins the team to play the strong-side position. At defensive end, Chukie Nwokorie will provide depth behind Joe Johnson, who is returning from a torn triceps.
Going into the offseason, Sherman tagged a large part of his roster as 'developmental players,' those that needed to take significant steps of improvement in the offseason.
It's the development of those players, Sherman said, that will determine whether the Packers can fulfill their championship goals.
"It's not the Brett Favres and the (Darren) Sharpers, it's the players from 30 to 53 (on the roster) that make the difference as a team," he said.
Among those Sherman put on the developmental list was tight end David Martin, who showed promise as a rookie in 2001, but didn't meet expectations in 2002.
"I thought he had a disappointing season last year," Sherman said. "He was a no-show for the most part. Then I benched him and didn't play him for the rest of the year."
If mini-camps are any indication, Martin seems to be back on track.
Said Sherman: "He's had an outstanding -- I'm not saying good -- outstanding mini-camp, so I'm excited about him."
Sherman said he is also encouraged by the development of third-year receiver Robert Ferguson and second-year receiver Javon Walker, who came to mini-camps stronger and faster.
After battling injuries most of his career, 2001 first-round draft choice Jamal Reynolds also impressed Sherman this offseason.
Sherman said he learned from former GM Ron Wolf that in the NFL Draft it is important to "be aggressive and flexible."
The Packers made nine selections in 2003, and Sherman thinks the Packers are improved in several key areas, including depth at linebacker and along the defensive line.
He also believes the Packers have added more team speed in the draft, starting with first-round pick Nick Barnett, who impressed Sherman with his hustle in college.
"He played every play like it was the last play of his life," Sherman said. "He's a fun player to watch. He brings a sense of urgency to a defense and that catches on to a team."
The Packers have three new faces on their coaching staff this season in special teams coach John Bonamego, linebackers coach Mark Duffner and offensive line assistant Joe Philbin.
Chief among Bonamego's challenges is to redirect the return game, which was among Sherman's greatest disappointments last season.
To make sure that the team has enough time to prepare, Sherman said he would change his philosophy in preseason games as far as using first-string players in special teams situations.
"We're going to keep our starting special teams players in the game a little bit longer to make sure that we don't get caught in the regular season without having had enough reps," Sherman said.
Sherman outlined several goals for the 2003 season.
Among his more specific goals, Sherman hopes the Packers can improve upon third-and-short situations on offense, and in turn reduce the number of three-and-outs.
More generally, he noted the importance of winning at home and building team chemistry.
Sherman said that he wants the team to demonstrate a toughness, like it displayed in last season's win over New England, when and undermanned Packers team shut down the Patriots 28-10 on the road.
Said Sherman, "I think the most proud of the team I was (in 2002) was when we went to New England and people had written us off not to win that football game. We had multiple injuries and we just gutted that one out and I'm very proud of that win."
Sherman closed with the following statement:
"I want you to understand something, and this is very important to me," he said. "We've been a good football team, and I don't want you ever to think as shareholders or as fans that good is good enough. It's not good enough.
"We want to be a great football team and I will never ever rest until we become that. I thought we had a chance at that this past year during one part of our season, we kind of lost that. We certainly have not played a great season.
"Good teams win games, great teams win championships and we're on a mission to become a great football team."
Additional notes: In the treasurer's address, John Underwood outlined the organization's performance over the past fiscal year. For a related story, click here ... The Packers thanked the stockholders by allowing them rare access to the team's indoor practice facility, the Don Hutson Center.