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The Final 53: Why?

by Jerry Gilbert
The Green Bay Packers of 2005 are no longer Mike Shermans team. Gone are Cletidus Hunt and R-Kal Truluck, two defensive linemen for whom then General Manager Sherman paid a great deal. Hunt was paid millions. Truluck cost draft choices. Neither was worth what was given up for them. The same may be said of defensive tackle James Lee, who was a draft day gamble that never worked. Also gone are veteran offensive linemen Brad Bedell and Matt ODwyer.

A few years back, Mike Sherman justified taking only six draft choices because there were so few open spots on the roster. That is the policy no more. Ted Thompson is replacing the veterans with younger more athletic players. Many came by the draft; some are rookie free agents; and the recently acquired linebacker, Robert Thomas, came in a trade for Cornerback Chris Johnson.

I have always praised Mike Sherman for his willingness to look anywhere for talent. Paris Lenon came from NFL Europe. Antonio Chatman had been playing Arena Ball. However, Thompson has given up on several of Shermans projects. Canadian football player Steve Morley was traded, as was the poster boy for injured reserve, Chris Johnson. Torrence Marshall was released before training camp. Hunt, Lee and Truluck are history.

Ted Thompson also will go after talent anywhere it may be. His drafting of Michael Hawkins proves that, and Hawkins appears to have the ability and attitude to make it in the NFL. The fact that the practice squad was not immediately filled suggests to me that the scouting staff is continuing to look for potential contributors. It is a credit to Thompson that several of his cast-offsLeigh Torrence, and Andre Thurman, among others, have been picked up by other squads.

Thomsons emphasis is youth. At least three rookies are likely to start the opener, seventh rounder William Whitticker, free agent Roy Manning, and second rounder Nick Collins. Draftees Mike Hawkins and Marviel Underwood will be important reserves in the defensive backfield. The defensive backfield will feature the rookie Collins and a second year player, probably Joey Thomas. Second year player Ahmad Carroll and Mike Hawkins are the top reserves. Second year performer, Corey Williams and third year tackle Kenny Peterson will be the replacements for Cletidus Hunt. Rookie Mike Montgomery backs up rush end KGB. There is a great deal of youth on defense.

However, a veteran presence remains. Corner Back Al Harris anchors the secondary and Earl Little is ready to play safety if a young player has problems. Little showed in the preseason that he has the speed and hitting ability to contribute if needed. On offense, Grey Ruegamer and Kevin Barry provide veteran experience behind the starters. They are likely to be active on game day rather than rookies Chris White and Junius Coston.

Ted Thompson came into training camp with little commitment of any of the players. When the former golden boy for defensive coordinator Jim Bates, Arturo Freeman, was being outplayed, he was cut. Freeman was a fixture for Bates in Miami, but he could not beat out Mark Roman and Marviel Underwood in Green Bay. Cletidus Hunt and James Lee, who were repeatedly saved by Sherman, were cut by Ted Thompson. A Sherman acquisition, Hannibal Navies, was jettisoned, as were Thompsons veteran additions, Ray Thompson and Matt ODwyer.

To make the final 53, the last seven or eight players had to demonstrate the ability to become much better than they are now. There are no veteran special team specialists on this squad. The bottom group of playersJunius Coston, Mike Hawkins, Brady Poppinga and the rest are young and athletic.

Ted Thompsons final 53 has no reserve left tackle nor veteran cornerback beyond Al Harris. The young linebackers are learning a new system and likely to make mistakes. Brett Favre still has no back up. Thompson is rebuilding the Packers with young players. The question is whether there is enough present talent to contend for the playoffs. We shall see.

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