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by Jerry Gilbert
In an earlier column, I was fairly complimentary about the draft choices and rookie free agents assembled for the 2005 season by Green Bay Packer General manager Ted Thompson. However, there is more to the story. Along with rookies, a general manager should make trades and sign veteran free agents in an effort to improve his team.

In 2005, there was one notable trade; cornerback Chris Johnson was traded to St Louis for linebacker Robert Thomas. On one level, Thomas has played pretty well and looks to be a good addition. On the other hand, the knock on that former first round draft choice is that he has not been able to stay healthy. That pattern continued in Green Bay. Thomas has been out for several weeks leaving Paris Lenon and rookies to play the position.

Turning to veteran free agents, there have been many and the results have not been very favorable. On defense, a primary need going into the season was improvement at safety. Three veterans were brought in, Arturo Freeman, Earl Little, and Todd Franz. Freeman had played well last season for new Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates. Both Freeman and Franz had been a special team standouts and the Packers needed help in that area. Little was a veteran near the end of his career who could be expected to provide consistency at key times.

Freeman and Franz were cut in the pre-season and Little was first put on injured reserve and then waived. Because none of them were able to make an impact, Jim Bates must plan a defense knowing that raw rookie Marviel Underwood is his third safety. The special teams have also broken down at key times, which suggests that another veteran or two might help that unit as well. Safety play has not been terrible, but fans everywhere say a prayer when Nick Collins limps off for a play or two.

Having devoted a number of draft choices to cornerback in the last few years, it was not surprising that the Packers elected to go With Ahmad Carroll, Joey Thomas and Mike Hawkins over less physically talented veterans. However, with the release of Thomas and with injuries to Hawkins, the nickel and dime package has featured Jason Horton and Patrick Dendy. One would hope that there is someone with experience who could be a better fit; however, since the beginning of the season, no serious effort has been made to add a veteran in the secondary.

Much has been written about the free agent failures on the offensive line. During the off-season, the Packers lost two excellent guards, Marco River and Mike Wahle. There was no chance at the time to keep either of them; however, the veterans who were signed to replace them have not done the job. Grey Ruegamer, who had been released, was the first candidate. Matt O'Dwyer and Adrian Klemm were the front-runners. Half way through the season, Klemm was replaced by second year center Scott Wells. O'Dwyer was cut before the season began. Kept in his place were two rookies, Chris White and Junius Coston, who have never been active and were kept only for their potential. As rookie William Whittiker and the combination of Klemm and Wells have struggled at guard, only Ruegamer remains in the picture to come to the rescue. No other veteran was in camp nor has been signed during the season.

The situation at wide receiver is even worse. We watch each week as Andrae Thurman proves to be ill equipped to contribute at this level. Yet no serious money was offered to the veteran wideouts who have become available during the season. A gimpy Robert Ferguson is not enough help for Donald Driver in the passing attack, and teams seem to have figured out how to neutralize Antonio Chatman. Offers were made to veteran receivers; however, Thompson did no offer enough.

Running Back is another area of co ncern. Samkon Gado does his best, but an experienced runner who can be counted on not to fumble should not be so difficult to find. Fumble prone Rashard Lee will most likely be cut from the team, but that creates a void at funning back and in the return game. It is now ironic that Chris Johnson, who never returned kicks for Green Bay was quite successful in that role for St Louis.

At the offensive skill positions, the Packers have attempted to fill openings with minimum wage inexperienced players. The strategy is not working. With the talent now assembled, the Packers are a team that, week by week, plays just well enough to keep it close before they lose. The general manager appears to have plan; it did not include replacing injured stars in order to make a run this season.


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