This draft class gives the Packers a tough look

Running backs join emphasis on defense


GREEN BAY—There's nothing soft about the Packers draft class.

Eddie Lacy took care of that. Nobody uses the word soft to describe anything associated with Lacy.

As if Lacy wasn't enough, General Manager Ted Thompson traded up for another hard-nosed running back, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, a somewhat larger version of former UCLA running back and NFL rushing champion Maurice Jones-Drew. There's nothing soft about Franklin, either. Just ask the defensive end who nearly had his head knocked off by Franklin in a Senior Bowl practice.

Soft is a word that was bitingly being thrown at the Packers ever since that playoff loss in San Francisco, when the 49ers pounded out 579 yards of offense on the Packers. Since then, there's been little the Packers could do or say to defend themselves. They had to wait for the draft.

Well, nothing about a draft class that includes two defensive ends, two pads-down running backs and two offensive tackles within the first seven picks is soft. For the second consecutive year, the Packers focused on drafting big guys and defensive players.

Simply put, the Packers are in a transformation period. They are changing from a team that lives on the passing game to a team intent on improving its defense and its running game.

Hey, I'm not the only one saying it. Jaws said it. Mel said it. All the boys on TV said it. What the Packers did over the past three days hasn't gone unnoticed, not by the media and certainly not by the other coaches in the NFC North.

"We're an athletic football team. We're a tough football team. We're a versatile football team and I think we'll have more flexibility this year," Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in a draft-ending press conference.

McCarthy wanted to make sure he got that word out there: tough. You bet he did. It's about his team's honor and McCarthy never hesitates to defend it.

"The game is evolving, changing. There's a lot of space. At the same time, it's a tough game," General Manager Ted Thompson said.

Football has always been a tough game, and even though it's in the midst of radical changes to soften its violent nature, it's still a tough game for tough guys and nobody wants to be known as soft. This draft class has the kind of toughness to end all references to being soft.

How will the rest of the league view the Packers now? It's a question that went right to the heart of the personality makeover the Packers appear to have executed over the past three days, and it's a question McCarthy tried to dodge, for the obvious reasons.

"The way I view our offense with the addition of the two new running backs is I've not had this kind of diversity and unique running ability. I feel very good about the guys. I'm really looking forward to seeing who grabs the rope and runs with it," he said.

Packers fans are looking forward to seeing Lacy run through a safety, convert a third-and-one, force opposing defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage. Jaws said he was looking forward to seeing how Lacy impacts the Packers' play-action game.

Mostly, Packers fans are looking forward to seeing how the Packers fare against the 49ers, aka the Bay Area Bruisers, when the two teams meet in the season-opener. That's the rematch and that'll be the litmus test.

"The San Francisco game was a disappointing loss, but we really didn't go wholesale change," McCarthy insisted.

He wasn't convincing.

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