Secondary depth trumps inside LB
Ted Thompson surely knew the questions were coming before he ever entered the media auditorium inside Lambeau Field.
After three rounds of the NFL draft, Thompson stuck to the old scouting cliché Friday night. The Green Bay Packers were simply trying to add "football players," he said. And they did that, drafting Miami (Ohio) cornerback Quinten Rollins with the 62nd pick in the second round, and Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery with the 94th pick in the third round.
Yes, Rollins and Montgomery are football players. They're just not inside linebackers.
From outside the Packers' draft room, the lack of inside linebackers through the first three rounds could be seen as problematic for a team that only has one player with any NFL game experience at that position.
"We're going to address that just like we address all other positions and try to make it as strong as we can," Thompson said.
Ideally, addressing inside linebacker "as strong as we can" would've meant taking one within the draft's first three rounds. Analysts were expecting it. Fans were hoping for it.
Thompson had other ideas.
The Packers general manager heavily targeted one of his team's two most glaring needs, stockpiling depth in the secondary during the draft's first two days. His first two picks were spent on players who can play cornerback — Damarious Randall of Arizona State, and Rollins.
It brought back memories of 1999, when the Packers opened the draft taking three straight cornerbacks: Antuan Edwards, Fred Vinson and Mike McKenzie. They also opened the 2004 draft taking two cornerbacks: Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas.
The Packers will add Randall and Rollins to a position that's solid on the starting line of the depth chart with Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and nickel back Micah Hyde, but lacked depth. Randall, the Packers' first-round pick, and Rollins theoretically will replace the departed Tramon Williams and Davon House.
The two rookies are bargains, to be sure. Randall and Rollins will combine to have an estimated 2015 cap hit of $1.95 million, while Williams and House will combine for a $13 million cap hit with their new teams (the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively).
But the Packers' cornerback depth chart will lack experience in 2015. That fact was not lost Friday on cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt. After high school, Randall and Rollins immediately played other sports. Randall was a junior college baseball player. Rollins was a point guard and two-time captain for Miami's basketball team. As cornerbacks, both will have to be groomed.
That responsibility mostly falls to Whitt.
"The main challenge," he said, "is how do we play winning football quickly? That's the main challenge. They'll be able to play and make plays and make splash plays here or there, but can they not make the mistake when you're in a big game? Can they play consistently? How fast can we get them to that point? That is the difficult part of it because all young players make mistakes.
"I don't care if they played the position all the way through from grade school. When you're a rookie, you make mistakes. And some of the mistakes, you just have to see it. You have to make it to learn from it. That's just football. How fast can I expose them to hard situations and get them to feel comfortable out there and be able to play fast?"
For Thompson, the difficult part Saturday will be trying to add depth at inside linebacker.
There is no telling what Thompson thinks of certain prospects, but the consensus opinion from draft analysts was the current crop of inside linebackers was not deep. A class that had only four, maybe five players who could start their first game as rookies.
Four of those inside linebackers were drafted before the Packers ever had a chance Friday. Clemson's Stephone Anthony went to the New Orleans Saints with the 31st overall pick in the first round. Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney, UCLA's Eric Kendricks and Miami's Denzel Perryman were drafted within six picks of each other in the middle of the second round.
With their final pick Friday, the Packers had a chance to draft TCU linebacker Paul Dawson. Thompson could've taken Dawson with the draft's 62nd overall pick, and it would not have been a big surprise. At pick No. 94, Thompson had another chance at him. From outside the Packers' draft room, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.
Thompson had other ideas.
Dawson, who came with maturity concerns off the field, was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals five picks later. The Packers ended Day 2 without taking an inside linebacker.
So the questions came Friday night. How does Thompson feel about the current state of the Packers' inside linebacker position?
"I think it's fine," he said.
Why does he think it's fine?
"Because I'm a football guy," Thompson said. "I don't know, I have confidence in the fellas that we have."
Going forward, does he count edge rusher Clay Matthews among the "fellas" the Packers have at inside linebackers? Is the Packers' best pass rusher stuck playing off the line of scrimmage next season?
"I wouldn't care to tell you whether we're going to address anything in the draft or not," Thompson said. "This thing is a long way from being put to bed."
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