Thompson Wants Young Players To Grow

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It's clear that Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson has been very selective in his approach to free agency this off-season.

But the reasons go beyond simply being cautious about possibly overpaying for a high-priced player when so many teams have ample salary cap space.

Thompson's approach this year, which has produced several free agent visits but only one new signing (cornerback Frank Walker), is just as much a reflection of the team's overall youth and untapped potential, which needs a chance to develop before any rash judgments on young, unproven players are made.

"I'm not saying we're set, but we need a little freedom on our team amongst our young guys so they have the freedom to grow," Thompson told a group of reporters at the annual owners' meetings in Phoenix on Tuesday. "You don't want to necessarily stifle them by adding three or four guys at a position because you might have some players there.

"I'm not saying we're on a wing and prayer here, but you do have to give those guys a little freedom to grow."

Thompson explained that there's a fine line between adding players to create competition that can spark improvement, and simply adding players for the sake of filling out the training camp roster.

"We want to create as much competition at every position as possible," Thompson said. "But my point is just to add some guys you don't really think are an upgrade, they might just take reps away from young guys. But whoever we find who can come in and play a role and perform some service for the Packers, we're going to try to add him."

Finding a role for new players to assume is just part of the evaluation process in free agency. To determine if a player truly fits, Thompson and the personnel department study several factors, including salary parameters and a player's comfort level with an environment like Green Bay.

"It doesn't matter whether it's salary or character or attitude or whatever, you're always careful about what you're going to add to that locker room," Thompson said. "Because having been a player I think I have a full appreciation for the chemistry that's inside that locker room."

Attitude is certainly never overlooked, whether in evaluating free agents or potential draft picks. Thompson often talks about how he wants to acquire players who love the game of football and for whom the game is important.

"I think the NFL is a difficult thing to do," Thompson said. "It's difficult to play unless you're playing at a high level of intensity, and I think all of our players expect that from one another."

Ignoring rumors

Persistent rumors that have backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers involved in a possible trade for Oakland wide receiver Randy Moss aren't a distraction to Thompson, who reiterated his strong endorsement of Rodgers and noted he has no plans to trade the potential successor to Brett Favre at quarterback.

"Never been discussed," Thompson said.

{sportsad300}Smooth transition

Thompson said the ongoing transition of the franchise leadership from Bob Harlan to John Jones has been smooth, with the three interacting as a group often over the past 12 to 18 months.

Thompson doesn't expect his relationship with Jones, who will take over for Harlan as Chief Executive Officer when Harlan retires at the end of May, to change all that much.

"It's a very comfortable leadership setup that I feel at ease going up there and just popping in to say hello," Thompson said. "We talk, ... sometimes it's about football, sometimes it's about organizational details, and we're both very comfortable."

Switching numbers

Two Packers are changing their uniform numbers for the upcoming season.

Wide receiver Robert Ferguson, who has worn No. 89 for his first six seasons with the Packers, is switching to No. 87.

Meanwhile, linebacker Abdul Hodge, who wore No. 55 last season as a rookie, is changing to No. 52. Hodge wore No. 52 in high school in Florida and in college at Iowa, and it's the number his younger brother, Elijah, wears as a linebacker for the Wisconsin Badgers.

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