Clock tick­ing on win­dow of op­por­tu­nity

Thomp­son, McCarthy, Rodgers have lim­ited time

Packer Plus - - Commentary - Rob Reischel

Tick, tick, tick. Ted Thomp­son is en­ter­ing his 12th sea­son as Green Bay’s gen­eral man­ager. Tick, tick, tick. Mike McCarthy will be­gin his 11th sea­son as the Pack­ers’ head coach this fall. Amaz­ingly, that makes him the sec­ond-long­est tenured coach in team his­tory, be­hind a fella named Curly Lam­beau. Tick, tick, tick. And quar­ter­back / game-show star Aaron Rodgers turns 33 this sea­son and is com­ing off his worst sea­son since he was a first-time starter in 2008. Tick, tick, tick. To­gether, this tri­umvi­rate will have 35 com­bined sea­sons as Green Bay Pack­ers em­ploy­ees by the end of the 2016 sea­son. That’s a re­mark­able run in a league of­ten called “Not For Long.”

And with­out ques­tion, it’s a jour­ney that’s closer to the fin­ish than the start­ing line.

Windows close. The pay­ing cus­tomers grow im­pa­tient. New man­age­ment and younger play­ers emerge.

We’re not sug­gest­ing that any of Green Bay’s “Big Three” are in trou­ble. Far from.

Green Bay has been a model of con­sis­tency un­der this three­some, with seven straight post­sea­son ap­pear­ances, in­clud­ing two trips to the NFC cham­pi­onship and a Su­per Bowl vic­tory in 2010.

But there’s no ques­tion that the mem­bers of this trio are all on the back nine of their time in Title­town. The ques­tion is what hole? And if they’re go­ing to make a Sun­day charge again, all three must be sub­stan­tially bet­ter than in 2015.

Start with the 63-year-old Thomp­son, who ig­nored free agency a year ago, didn’t make a trade for the sixth straight sea­son, then left the Pack­ers thin at in­side line­backer, of­fen­sive line, tight end and wide re­ceiver.

Thomp­son took a step in the right di­rec­tion last month with the sign­ing of free agent tight end Jared Cook. Aside from that, though, it’s been crick­ets in Green Bay since Jan­uary.

It’s “draft and de­velop” with Thomp­son, mean­ing he needs to be at his ab­so­lute best this week­end. Thomp­son has had two solid drafts in a row, high­lighted by the se­lec­tions of Corey Lins­ley and Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix in 2014 and Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall and Quin­ten Rollins last year.

Thomp­son is sit­ting pretty with six of the top 137 picks, in­clud­ing the 27th se­lec­tion in Round 1. Thomp­son has the fire­power to move up, like he did for Clay Matthews in 2009. Or, in a draft where many don’t see a sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence be­tween picks 15 and 50, Thomp­son could move back like he did in 2008 when he landed Jordy Nel­son.

No mat­ter what hap­pens, Thomp­son can’t af­ford a Justin Har­rell or Derek Sher­rod with his first pick. Who can?

Green Bay ranks among the NFC’s elite and might have passed con­fer­ence cham­pion Carolina last week when the Pan­thers al­lowed cor­ner­back Josh Nor­man to leave in free agency.

But for the Pack­ers to surge to the top of the NFC, Thomp­son must find a nose tackle and in­side line­backer that can both con­trib­ute this sea­son. Depth is also needed on the of­fen­sive line, in the sec­ondary, at tight end and per­haps in the run­ning back group.

“I think it’s a good ros­ter,” Thomp­son said of his team. “I feel pretty good about it go­ing in.”

So should McCarthy, who did less with more than any coach in 2015. Green Bay had more than enough fire­power to win the NFC North and reach a sec­ond straight con­fer­ence ti­tle game.

In­stead, the Pack­ers lost all of their divi­sional home games for the first time since 1968. And McCarthy turned in his worst coach­ing per­for­mance since tak­ing over in 2005.

McCarthy made the ill-fated de­ci­sion to give play-call­ing du­ties to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tom Cle­ments, then took them back late in the year when that plan blew up. McCarthy never ad­justed to the loss of star wide­out Jordy Nel­son.

McCarthy chose to play over­matched wide­out Da­vante Adams in­stead of an emerg­ing Jeff Ja­nis. When left tackle David Bakhtiari was in­jured, McCarthy played Don “Turn­stile” Bar­clay at left tackle in­stead of JC Tret­ter. And McCarthy some­how al­lowed stand­out run­ning back Ed­die Lacy to nearly eat him­self out of the lineup.

In a clas­sic episode of “Se­in­feld” (weren’t they all, though?), Ge­orge Costanza be­lieves his luck will turn if he does the op­po­site of his first in­stinct. Amaz­ingly, that plan of at­tack worked. Last sea­son, McCarthy should have pulled a Costanza him­self.

Fi­nally, there’s Rodgers, who is com­ing off his poor­est sea­son since tak­ing over for Brett Favre in 2008.

His com­ple­tion per­cent­age (60.7%) and quar­ter­back rat­ing (92.7) were the low­est in his eight sea­sons as a starter. Rodgers’ 3,821 pass­ing yards were the fewest he’s thrown for when he’s played at least 15 games. And his 6.7 yards per pass­ing at­tempt was down 18.3% from his ca­reer av­er­age (8.2).

Rodgers seemed lost with­out Nel­son, his No. 1 wide­out. For some rea­son, Rodgers had happy feet like never be­fore, and he left the pocket pre­ma­turely far more than he needed to. His deep-ball ac­cu­racy van­ished. And he sprayed more throws than ever.

For what­ever rea­son, Rodgers wasn’t the same player Packer Na­tion had grown used to see­ing.

“We have goals that we’ll put in place and Mike (McCarthy) will set the vi­sion for the sea­son here pretty soon,” Rodgers said. “But you want to fin­ish on top every year, and only one team does. So every other team, if you’re not the Su­per Bowl champ, you’re fall­ing short.”

If Green Bay’s triad has a bounce back year, there’s no rea­son for the 2016 Pack­ers to fall short.

The ros­ter re­mains elite. The sched­ule is soft. The NFC is wide open.

But can Thomp­son, McCarthy and Rodgers all re­cap­ture great­ness of yes­ter­day?

Tick, tick, tick.

There’s no ques­tion that the mem­bers of this trio are all on the back nine of their time in Title­town.

BENNY SIEU / USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Pack­ers GM Ted Thomp­son talks with wide re­ceiver Jordy Nel­son, who missed last sea­son due to in­jury, dur­ing train­ing camp last sum­mer at Ray Nitschke Field.

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