Thompson defends Packers' choices on the cutdown
It also says something else as the Packers enter a season with heavy Super Bowl expectations: Thompson and Co. better be right about the roster decisions they made.
In the case of each player who was claimed, Thompson decided to keep a player who is green as grass but arguably has more potential.
Even if Thompson dismissed that line of thinking Sunday.
"Potential is overrated," he said. "We want to win. We want to win now. (Potential) doesn't factor in as much as you might think."
It certainly looked like it did in the past under Thompson.
Offensive linemen Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini were trimmed Saturday after three and two years, respectively, of staying on the 53-man roster with not much to show for it. Offensive lineman Tony Moll was traded after a similar career track last year.
Of course, it also works the other way when a player like tight end Jermichael Finley basically redshirts for a season and then blossoms into a potential superstar.
A key to success this season could be Thompson's batting average on the young players he decided to keep — because the odds are they will be needed once injuries inevitably hit.
Three teams put claims in on tight end Spencer Havner: the NFC North-rival Detroit Lions and two teams with former Thompson aides running the personnel departments, the Seattle Seahawks (John Schneider) and Tennessee Titans (Mike Reinfeldt). The Lions, who had the second pick of all released players by virtue of their 2-14 record last season, were awarded Havner.
Instead of Havner, the Packers kept fifth-round pick Andrew Quarless.
"Spencer has played well for us," Thompson said. "I think it is more a reflection of the play of the other four fellas that we have. We think they played very, very well and you have to get down to 53. Not an easy call at all."
After a slow start and maturity issues, Quarless has shown playmaking potential but will have three players in front of him.
"We think he has the potential to be a legitimate player in our league," Thompson said.
Kregg Lumpkin was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which left the Packers with just two running backs (Ryan Grant and injury-prone Brandon Jackson) on the roster. At this time there are no backs on the practice squad, either. Thompson said the prospect of getting rookie James Starks back after Week 6 was not a factor in keeping just two running backs.
Instead of Lumpkin, the Packers retained Quinn Johnson to give them three fullbacks for the second straight season. Johnson has yet to make a mark on special teams and seems relegated to short-yardage blocking — although John Kuhn is a favorite there as well.
"You get in games in November and December and you want to keep the ball or get first downs or whatever, I think he is a very valuable player," Thompson said of Johnson.
Johnson was active for nine games last season but not in December matchups against the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears.
Outside linebacker Cyril Obiozor and center Evan Dietrich-Smith were claimed by the Arizona Cardinals and Seahawks, respectively. In their place, the Packers retained two undrafted free agents, Frank Zombo and Nick McDonald.
Thompson followed coach Mike McCarthy in praising Zombo's toughness, as he didn't miss much practice time in training camp after suffering a "very serious" ankle injury.
Zombo and Brady Poppinga are the only reserve outside linebackers behind two players, Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, who missed extensive camp time for the second straight year because of injuries.
"The reason he made our team is because he showed that he can play at a high level at that position," Thompson said of Zombo. "We're counting on him helping this team this year."
Nose tackle Anthony Toribio was claimed by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers instead went with seventh-round pick C.J. Wilson to be the next man in if Justin Harrell can't stay healthy.
"He's not the ideal body type, but he makes plays," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said last week about Toribio. "That's why he's kind of hung around — because it's hard to get rid of him. You kind of like guys like that, that you can trust and count on, and you know he's going to be physical and he's going to give you effort."
The Packers also decided to promote from within when it comes to their special teams, specifically the return game.
Thompson said Will Blackmon, who will be released after an injury settlement, was not going to be ready for the season opener because of his knee injury.
"We felt like that was kind of holding him back," Thompson said.
He elected not to claim or sign a player that has return ability.
"We have a number of fellas that have done returns and done it pretty well," Thompson said. "I think our special teams has been a focus all off-season. I know there were times during the preseason games where it didn't look like we were performing well, but we think we have got a good 53-man roster and we think that leads to having pretty good special teams, so that is what we believe in.
"We'll use the guys that we have got."
And not just on special teams but on the rest of the team as well.
Despite this being perhaps the only uncapped season the NFL will see going forward, Thompson only signed safety Charlie Peprah in the off-season. Thompson also didn't swing a Ryan Grant- or Derrick Martin-type trade for help on the defensive line, at outside linebacker, at nickel back or at safety.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Packers have 11 players who have yet to play in an NFL game (20.8 percent of the roster). And they'll likely be a contender to retain their title as league's youngest team for a fourth straight year (25.89 average after 25.70 last year), and for least-experienced roster (3.28 years).
"Quite frankly, I hadn't even thought of it," Thompson said. "I haven't even figured out if we're younger or older or what."
In the end, the only thing that will matter is if they're better.
Last updated: 3:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012