GM tries to re­pair his de­fen­sive er­rors

Packer Plus - - Commentary - ROB REISCHEL Send email to ro­breis­

In Ted We Trust.

That’s what the overly op­ti­mistic, the ul­tra­pos­i­tive and the ex­tremely cheer­ful souls con­tinue to chant.

For some, Ted Thompson’s way is the only way.

But as Thompson be­gan his 13th draft as the Green Bay Pack­ers’ gen­eral man­ager last week­end, this much was clear: se­lect­ing de­fen­sive play­ers is — and al­ways has been — Thompson’s Achilles heel.

From Justin Har­rell to Jerel Wor­thy, from Jer­ron McMil­lian to Khyri Thorn­ton, Thompson has struck out with de­fen­sive play­ers more than the ob­nox­ious drunk whiffs at bar time.

Still, there was Thompson last Fri­day and Satur­day try­ing to over­haul the ran­cid de­fense he’s as­sem­bled — the one that al­lowed 44 points and nearly 500 to­tal yards when last seen in the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game.

For the sixth straight year, Thompson used his first pick on a de­fen­sive player, this time on Wash­ing­ton cor­ner­back Kevin King. Now, watch­ing King’s ca­reer vs. that of for­mer Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin out­side line­backer T.J. Watt will be fas­ci­nat­ing.

Thompson was on the clock with the 29th pick in the first round Thurs­day, and both Watt and King were avail­able. Thompson traded back to pick No. 33, and Pitts­burgh im­me­di­ately gob­bled Watt up at No. 30.

Much of the state went into full melt­down when the Pack­ers passed on Watt.

“Great player,” Thompson said of Watt.

But it’s be­lieved King was the player Thompson wanted all along, and he was still there for the tak­ing four picks later. Whether Thompson’s eval­u­a­tions of the two play­ers was cor­rect will pro­vide great theater in the com­ing years.

“There’s al­ways a risk when you move back that that player that you have tar­geted is taken by an­other team,” Thompson said. “It’s hap­pened, it’s hap­pened to me, it’s hap­pened to ev­ery­body that’s tried to run a draft be­cause there’s a fi­nite num­ber of play­ers. At cer­tain po­si­tions, it gets even a lit­tle bit more fi­nite.”

Thompson wasn’t done try­ing to fix a sec­ondary that ranked 31st in pass­ing yards al­lowed last sea­son, tak­ing safety Josh Jones in the sec­ond round. Thompson then gave his de­fen­sive line a boost by adding end/tackle Mon­trav­ius Adams in Round 3, then grabbed Wis­con­sin out­side line­backer Vince Biegel in Round 4.

In the­ory, Thompson did the right thing and in­vested his most pre­cious as­sets on a de­fense in dis­ar­ray. The prob­lem for Packer Na­tion is Thompson has done this be­fore, and his fail­ures to draft qual­ity de­fen­sive play­ers is why that unit is a mess to­day.

Green Bay ranked dead last in to­tal de­fense in 2011, so Thompson used his top six picks in the 2012 draft on de­fen­sive play­ers. Fourth-rounder Mike Daniels has been a stand­out. First-rounder Nick Perry had four in­jury-plagued sea­sons, then ex­celled in 2016, which just so hap­pened to be his con­tract year. Sec­on­dround cor­ner­back Casey Hay­ward was out­stand­ing in three of his four years, then Thompson fool­ishly al­lowed him to leave for mod­est money in free agency. The three other play­ers — Wor­thy, McMil­lian and Ter­rell Man­ning — all busted.

Thompson tried fix­ing his sec­ondary in 2015 by tak­ing cor­ner­backs Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall and Quin­ten Rollins in the first and sec­ond round, re­spec­tively. Both play­ers have been tre­men­dous dis­ap­point­ments and are fac­ing make-or­break sum­mers.

Thompson has also had early round misses such as Da­tone Jones in the first round in 2013, Pat Lee in Round 2 in 2008, and safety Aaron Rouse (2007) and Thorn­ton (2014) in Round 3.

Eliot Wolf, Green Bay’s di­rec­tor of foot­ball op­er­a­tions, was asked why the Pack­ers have strug­gled to find qual­ity de­fend­ers.

“I don't know the an­swer to that,” Wolf said. “We con­tinue to just try and add guys that we think can help us. The de­fense ob­vi­ously wasn’t where it needed to be last year and we’re just do­ing our best to try and get it where it needs to be.”

De­fense has al­ways been a prob­lem dur­ing Thompson’s ten­ure.

Green Bay has had a top-10 de­fense just three times dur­ing Thompson’s first 12 sea­sons. And three times since 2011 alone, the Pack­ers have fin­ished 25th, or worse, in to­tal de­fense.

On the flip side, Thompson has con­tin­u­ally as­sem­bled a high-pow­ered of­fense, one that has ranked in the top-10 nine times in the last 12 years.

But Thompson and his peo­ple fully un­der­stand that with­out at least a ser­vice­able de­fense, the Pack­ers have lit­tleto-no chance at great­ness. At­lanta re­minded Green Bay of that once again in Jan­uary. In past post­sea­sons, Ari­zona (2009), the New York Giants (2011), San Fran­cisco (2012) and Seat­tle (2014) all drove that point home, as well.

So there Thompson was again last week­end, tak­ing his swings and hop­ing to re­verse a pat­tern of costly de­fen­sive mis­takes.

When the draft ended, Thompson was asked if he felt the Pack­ers were closer to a Su­per Bowl than they were 48 hours ear­lier.

“I sure hope so. I'd like to get one ... or two,” Thompson said. “I don't know, it's a hard busi­ness. We never make any bones about that.

“When you get to this point in the whole draft process, you un­der­stand the work and the ethic that your peo­ple that are work­ing with you, you're work­ing for, put forth ev­ery day. That's the thing I wanted to say, and I hope these guys hear it, that it's im­por­tant and it's good for the Green Bay Pack­ers that we have good peo­ple work­ing here and do­ing stuff, try­ing to get to that point where you have a chance to win the Su­per Bowl. That's what you're look­ing for.”

That … and a few good men on de­fense.


Pack­ers gen­eral man­ager Ted Thompson used his first four picks on de­fen­sive play­ers in the 2017 NFL draft. Thompson, who has of­ten strug­gled with his higher selections on de­fense, is hop­ing to re­verse some mis­takes.

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