Thompson Sees Improved Team In 2007

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GM Ted Thompson chats with a fan at Wednesday's shareholders meeting.

General Manager Ted Thompson believes the Green Bay Packers will be an improved football team in 2007, and he told the annual gathering of shareholders at Lambeau Field on Wednesday just how.

Thompson has fielded criticism this offseason for adding just one free agent and the usual bevy of draft picks to the roster. But in giving his football report to most of the 11,324 shareholders who visited the stadium Wednesday, he stressed that adding new names isn't the only way to improve a team.

"We've always said the best way to build a team is to build it from within, because you have these players already," Thompson said. "Just to turn guys over, over and over, every year doesn't make sense. So what we've tried to do is improve our guys that we have, and we think that's again going to add to our competition in training camp."

Through extensive work in the offseason strength and conditioning program, mini-camps and organized team activities, the Packers are counting on marked improvement from the dozens of first- and second-year players on the 2006 roster who are now second- and third-year players.

That improvement creates a trickle-down effect. Some of those young players - like receiver Greg Jennings, linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga, safety Nick Collins and offensive linemen Jason Spitz and Daryn Colledge - are starters, so their improvement should have a direct impact on the team's performance.

"All of those guys will be expected to be improved, and a little bit more grounded, because now they have a year under their belt, or in some cases two years under their belt," Thompson said. "And we feel like that gives us a chance to have a strong team."

But the improvement of young backups and other reserves, along with the additions through free agency and the draft, should improve the team's depth as well. And the effects of improved depth are two-fold.

First, it should create stronger competition for roster spots in training camp, competition that's designed to bring the best out of every player. And second, with so many special teams roles on returns and coverages handled by backups, better depth should translate into better special teams play.

"We have not played as well on special teams as we would have liked, any of us, coaching staff and everybody," Thompson said. "So we consciously tried to attack this position and tried to add some more speed, more physicalness, and some attitude to our special teams."

Many of the team's 11 draft picks bring extensive special teams experience with them, so if the rookies earn some of the top backup jobs, they won't be novices when asked to play special teams. Even kicker Dave Rayner and punter Jon Ryan, who performed admirably in their first seasons as full-time NFL players, will face competition in training camp with an eye toward making everyone on special teams improve.

All this will be going on while, barring injury, the team's veteran core remains in tact. Players like quarterback Brett Favre, tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, receiver Donald Driver, defensive linemen Aaron Kampman and Ryan Pickett, linebacker Nick Barnett and cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson, among others, are still expected to lead the team and maintain the level of performance that has made them seasoned, reliable pros.

"Our veteran players were the core of our team," Thompson said. "They were the ones who set the attitude, set the locker room, and kept us going when things were tough.

"We had some tough moments. We especially had some tough moments here at Lambeau Field. I think it's a credit to our veteran players that our team held together."

{sportsad300}Thompson also credited the coaching staff for effectively blending the veterans and the younger players into a cohesive team, and the chemistry developed in 2006 should help the locker room remain strong in 2007.

It's all part of the process of building a team capable of sustaining a certain level of success, not just putting a team together for a given season. It's how Thompson built a perennial playoff contender and eventual Super Bowl participant in Seattle, even though the Seahawks didn't reach the league's title game until the year after he came to Green Bay.

"I've gotten the impression this winter in talking to fans, even after the draft, they can see his system and what he's going to do," Packers Chairman Bob Harlan said. "They can see that the system has worked in the past obviously with Seattle, and I think they're comfortable that it's going to work with the Green Bay Packers.

"So let's move ahead, give him a chance. We've hit the bump we knew we'd hit in the salary cap era, now let's see where we go."

For Thompson, that hopefully means a continued climb from 4-12 in 2005 to 8-8 last year to something better yet in 2007.

"I've been asked this by a couple of our media guys that I look at this as some sort of rebuilding thing, that we want to win three or four years down the road," Thompson told the shareholders. "But let's make this clear, and I want you guys to be clear on this because you're my bosses - we want to win, and we want to win now.

"We like where we are, we are getting better. Through the individual growth of our team and some new additions, and just toughness, I think we're going to be fine. We're going to win some games."

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