Thompson Predicts Intense Training Camp Competition

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Having drafted 12 players and acquired several free agents this past offseason, Packers General Manager Ted Thompson can't say with too much certainty how the 2006 roster will look at the completion of training camp.

But in his remarks to Packers shareholders at their annual meeting at Lambeau Field on Wednesday, Thompson was sure of one thing - that training camp will include spirited battles for those roster spots at several positions, one of his goals in preparing to rebound from a 4-12 record in 2005.

"Our whole purpose in the offseason was to try to improve the quality of our depth, to try to get as many impact players as we could, and to try to create competition at every position," Thompson said. "We were able to do that for the most part.

"There will be changes in our roster probably prior to training camp, and there will be changes as we go through training camp. We will have a lot of new faces on our Packer team this year. That's the nature of the NFL."

Many of those new faces will be the dozen draft choices, led by No. 5 overall pick, linebacker A.J. Hawk. Thompson noted that he feels the youth on the roster will add "some athleticism and some energy" to the team, and that a mix of young players and veterans is needed to establish a foundation for long-term success.

But Thompson cautioned that no NFL team can count on a crop of rookies to change a team's fortunes, even though there will be immense pressure on some of them to perform right away.

"The success of the 2006 team will rest largely upon the fate of our veterans," he said. "It will be up to the guys that have played, they're going to be the ones that decide how we do this year.

"These young guys are going to help, they're going to step in and do their part, but they won't be the difference-makers. It will be the veteran guys, the guys that know how to get dressed and prepare for an NFL game. It will be their leadership and play on the field that will decide our success."

Roster Battles And Injury Updates

In a position-by-position breakdown of the current roster, Thompson pointed to tight end and the defensive line as perhaps the team's strongest positions in terms of depth and experience heading into camp, which begins on Friday, July 28.

He also updated the recovery of several injured players and highlighted some of the areas where the competition for roster spots, and starting spots, is expected to be fierce.

One of those areas will be defensive back, just by the sheer number of cornerbacks (nine) and safeties (seven) on the current roster. Among other positions, here's a summary of his remarks:

Wide receiver - Finding another go-to receiver to complement Donald Driver will be the primary task with this position in camp, and one relative newcomer who has a chance to step forward is Rod Gardner, a six-year veteran who was picked up late last year and played the final two games for Green Bay.

"He's an outstanding physically talented player," Thompson said. "He's had some ups and downs in his career, and we're looking to see how he does in the competitive environment it's going to be (in training camp)."

Offensive line - Referring to tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher as the "bell cows," or leaders of the unit, Thompson noted the team's youth will most obviously be on display here.

Heading into camp, rookies Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz are the leading candidates to start at the guard positions, and third-year pro Scott Wells is the starting center.

"We're going to have some youth in this offensive line, and I think that's a good thing," Thompson said, continuing with a remark that elicited several laughs from the crowd. "I'm not playing quarterback, but I think it's a good thing."

Running back - Thompson couldn't say for sure when Ahman Green (quad tendon) and Najeh Davenport (ankle) would return from the season-ending injuries they suffered last year, but the expectation is that both would be back sometime during camp.

"Maybe not at the very start," Thompson said. "We're going to try to be cautious because we want to make sure everything is good to go before we put them back out there."

He added that Samkon Gado (knee) should be ready to go, and with the addition of Noah Herron, the depth at the position could be a benefit, provided everyone gets and stays healthy.

"It was a position of trail-and-error last year," Thompson said. "I think we're a little bit better because we had a lot of young guys who had to get a lot of playing time and I think that helped them in their growth."

Linebacker - The additions of Hawk and Abdul Hodge in the draft and Ben Taylor in free agency have given the linebacker corps a whole new look compared to 2005.

"We felt like this position during the offseason and the draft went from a position of concern to a position of strength," Thompson said. "It has the potential to be a remarkable group of linebackers."

The rehabilitation of Brady Poppinga's knee also appears to be well ahead of schedule and he could return sometime during camp. This is significant news, as Poppinga tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last December, leaving many wondering if he had any chance of being ready for the season opener, let alone anytime before that.

"You know Brady, he's chewing nails," said Thompson to a group of reporters following his stadium address. "We're going to have to hold him back with a leash. (Team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie) says everything is outstanding, way ahead of schedule."

Emotional Conclusion

After Thompson's football report and several other administrative reports, the shareholders meeting ended with a video tribute to the late Reggie White on the stadium jumbotron. White, who died in 2004, will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday and the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 5.

The piece showed photos of White at many different stages of his life and career, as well as several photos of his wife and children and footage of some personable interactions with teammates and coaches. Fans gave a standing ovation at the end of the video.

"I think it was outstanding," Packers Chairman Bob Harlan said. "If you didn't cry when you saw that, I don't think you'll ever cry. I was extremely touched, ...and I think the fans were too."

Other Notes

**Shareholder tours of the locker room and football facilities continued well into Wednesday evening.

A total of 7,401 people took the tour on Tuesday, when the facility was open for 10 hours. Harlan estimated that by the end of the two days, approximately 20,000 to 22,000 people would have taken the tour and/or attended the meeting.

**Harlan noted to a group of reporters after the meeting it has become apparent the Packers couldn't afford to wait to renovate Lambeau Field, and it's a good thing they didn't.

Six years ago when discussions of the project began, the cost of the renovation was estimated at $295 million and a new stadium would have cost $450 million. Now, Harlan said, he has heard estimates that the same renovation of the stadium would cost $450 million and a new stadium would be in the neighborhood of $800 million.

The renovation was completed in 2003.

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