|JENKINS ON FOOTBALL: Packers' 4-0 start validates conservative GM Thompson|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 02 October 2007 15:27|
Which is fine, because the 4-0 team he has assembled is doing it for him.
Since taking over the Superfund-eligible roster left over from Mike Sherman's stint as Packers' general manager in 2005, Thompson has been treated harshly by fans who consider him a conservative cheapskate, unwilling to spend a salary cap surplus on big-name players.
However, Thompson knows treating the free agent market like a fantasy football draft is no way to build a real team - hello, Washington Redskins - so he quietly ignored the angry advice of Frank on a Car Phone and stuck to his plan: build through the draft and keep key players happy with contract extensions.
Now Thompson and the unknown first-time head coach he hired, Mike McCarthy, have delivered a team that so far has been the most pleasant surprise of the season.
Thompson was a certified tough guy in his former life, outworking more talented players to stick in the league for 10 years as backup linebacker for the Houston Oilers. But he comes off as somewhat shy in public, preferring to work quietly in the background. Never did he seem to feel the need to defend his conservative approach in public.
Packers chairman Bob Harlan says Thompson reads fans' critical letters and emails like anyone else, but never lets it sway him.
``He's got a system, and he's not going to change,'' Harlan said. ``I admire that about him.''
Now that the Packers have a chance to assert control of the NFC North against the struggling Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Sunday night, perhaps it's time to acknowledge that Thompson is better at his job than most fans, and a certain three-time MVP, ever thought.
Brett Favre is back to throwing passes and breaking records these days, but he was throwing fits and going on the record with indirect criticism of Thompson a few months ago when the Packers failed to complete a trade for Randy Moss.
``Our offense struggled last season,'' Favre told the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald in May. ``If it were not for our defense, we would not have won eight games. Right now, it's hard to be optimistic. I'm not getting any younger and I think everyone knows that. I don't have five years to rebuild.''
Favre later would deny an offseason report that he wanted to be traded, but didn't directly deny that his agent might have brought the idea up.
Still, Thompson didn't waver.
``I think Ted would have preferred if Brett hadn't said it,'' Harlan said of Favre's criticism. ``But I just never see Ted get upset.''
Favre might have been right about Moss, who's back to his old self in New England, but as Harlan points out, there's no telling how happy Moss would be in a Green Bay offense that isn't designed to feature one receiver.
The part Favre, along with just about everybody else, really whiffed on was the Packers already had the guys they needed to win.
No, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and rookie James Jones aren't true downfield threats like Moss. That's OK, because the Packers aren't running a deep passing game. Or had you forgotten Favre tends to throw a lot of interceptions when he tries to do that?
The Packers have thrived because Favre was willing to buy into McCarthy's short passing game. They don't take too many chances, mainly because they don't have to. A strong defense stocked with underrated players doesn't allow games to get out of hand.
Instead of spending liberally on other teams' free agents over the past two years, Thompson rewarded key players with contract extensions: Defensive end Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins, middle linebacker Nick Barnett and cornerback Al Harris.
Those players are now the core of a defense that is giving up 16.5 points per game.
That's not to say that the Packers don't need to improve. Their pass defense hasn't been as good as expected, and they'll certainly need to figure out how to run the ball at some point.
Thompson was right to let veteran running back Ahman Green leave for a giant free agent contract in Houston, but he didn't have a viable backup plan in place when projected starter Vernand Morency hurt his knee in the first practice of training camp.
Morency returned to limited duty in the Packers' victory on Sunday, but the team still is averaging only 54.2 yards rushing per game.
You'd have to expect some of the Packers' upcoming opponents to figure out how to stop a completely one-dimensional offense, and even if they don't, the occasionally ugly weather at Lambeau Field in December might.
Just the fact those December games might be meaningful says plenty about Thompson, who asked for ``a little trust'' from fans at the beginning of training camp.
``We'll see after it all washes out,'' Thompson said in July. ``I just think we're a little bit better than some people might think.''