Green Bay Packers General Manager Ted Thompson is interviewed during the Packers' annual draft party Thursday at Curly's Pub inside the Lambeau Field Atrium. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
The 2011 NFL draft began Thursday, but that didn’t stop the Packers front office from being asked about the labor situation.
Coach Mike McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson both addressed a packed Curly’s Pub inside the Lambeau Field Atrium within an hour of the draft's start time. With the lockout lifted at the moment, McCarthy said rookie camp will begin two weeks from Thursday. He did admit that the lockout has affected the franchise.
“It doesn’t help, I think that’s obvious,” McCarthy said. “When you’ve had a program that has clearly benefited from individual improvement of younger players, and I’m talking Year 1 to 2, Year 2 to 3, March and April is a critical time for their development. So, part of that has been lost.
“With that in place now, hopefully we can get our offseason program started. There’s communication going on as we speak with our players. We’re excited to be back in contact with them.”
Thompson stayed true to himself and declined to give any specific insight into the labor situation or the draft. He was asked what effect the former had on the latter?
“We look at the draft as a long-term investment for our organization, trying to add core players,” Thompson said. “Free agency, we look at that a little different."
The Vikings entered the 2010 as one of the Super Bowl favorites and stumbled their way to a 6-10 record and the No. 12 pick in the draft. In an odd year that featured more Brett Favre drama, the collapse of the Metrodome roof and a “home” game in Detroit, the Vikings continued to puzzle observers on Thursday.
The Vikings took Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder with their first pick, the No. 4 quarterback off the board. Many predicted Ponder to go late in the first round or even in the second.
Minnesota, obviously, need a quarterback with Favre retired and the Tarvaris Jackson experiment having failed. But few saw Ponder, whose size (6-foot-2, 229 pounds) and durability has been questioned, being selected so soon.
The Vikings drafted a need and may have reached to fill the position.
"The thing that we went back and forth on," vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said to the Minnesota media, "was this: 'When are you going to get another chance to swing?' If we didn't get a quarterback this year that we liked, then maybe we're looking at a quarterback next year. Who knows what the quarterback class is next year? And I know we're sure as heck not planning on picking at No. 12."
The Lions did not draft a position of need and improved a defensive line that was already one of the best in the NFL. Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley was widely regarded as one of the top two players at his position and at one point considered a possible No. 1 overall pick. The only real concerns about the 6-foot-4, 291-pounder was his work ethic. He was a key component on the BCS National Championship winning team, but he only dominated the college game for a single season.
The Lions already have defensive rookie of the year Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams at defensive tackle along with ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. Suh had 10 sacks as a rookie while Vanden Bosch added four and 8.5 for Avril.
Most thought the Lions would take Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, but Fairley was a no-brainer once he fell from the top 10.
The idea is, we’re drafting to our strength,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz told the Detroit media. “Being good up front is what drives our defense.”
The Bears snatched the Wisconsin prospect that grew up a Packers fan. Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi was selected by Chicago with the No. 29 pick, just three picks before the Packers were on the board.
There wasn’t much surprise considering the Bears needed to protect quarterback Jay Cutler. It was a surprise Carimi was available.
Coincidentally, the Packers selected Bryan Bulaga in the first round in 2010, who grew up a Bears fan.
"I had a great feeling I would end up with the Bears," Carimi said after the draft. "I can't be happier to play for them."