This is late from mini-camp, but packersnews.com had a great mini-camp update last week.
The most notable news is the play of LB Ray Thompson, who has emerged as the likely starting strong or weak side linebacker, depending on where LB Na'il Diggs plays in 2005. I noticed Thompson signed right before the NFL draft last month, but I didn't think much of the signing. It looked like roster filler. I assumed that something must be wrong with Thompson. Apparently Arizona coach Dennis Green didn't like Thompson and Arizona had been hoping to trade Thompson for a draft pick before this April's draft, but when no other team made an offer, Arizona decided to release Thompson instead, according to jsonline.com on April 22nd. Thompson was injured early in 2004, but apparently came back healthy during the season. He tested positive for drugs twice previously in Arizona, but he hasn't had a positive test since 2003 and he appears to have put that behind him. This was a nice bargain signing; Thompson signed for the veteran's minimum according to jsonline.com. Thompson had a nice 2002 season; 104 tackles, 3 pass defenses, 1 forced fumble, and 3 sacks. He took a step back in 2003, only playing in 12 games, I assume because of injury. His 2004 season was unimpressive, but he did get benched for his disagreements with Coach Green. Thompson appears to have good speed, and some pass rushing ability to go along with good run support, but he doesn't appear to be an above average player in pass coverage, and the Packers could really use some improved pass coverage from their linebackers in 2005. At the point in the offseason when Thompson was signed and for the bargain price of the veteran's minimum, Thompson seems like a very quality signing and deserving of a chance at starting. He definetly doesn't lack confidence; jsonline.com quoted Thompson as saying "I was one of their best players on defense" regarding last season in Arizona, despite the fact that he got benched.
Defensive coordinator Jim Bates thinks S Marviel Underwood could start at safety for the Packers in 2005, according to packersnews.com. They also mentioned S Nick Collins, but it seems unlikely that Collins will quickly make the transition to the NFL from small college ball and remains at least another season away. Underwood was the Packers 4th round pick from San Diego State. Because he came from a smaller Division I school and was a second day selection in a weak draft for safeties, I assumed he would be a longshot to make the team. But apparently the Packers like what they saw in mini-camp. It will be interesting to see Underwood play when the preseason starts.
Packersnews.com mentioned that DT Cletidus Hunt's roster spot is in danger, which seems unlikely. Hunt had an uninspiring 2004 season that could have led to his release, but he remained with the team. He isn't a workout warrior or a player that has made any of his preseason workout contract incentives in the past, so he shouldn't look too good in May practices. Packersnews.com reported that DT Donnell Washington and DT Corey Williams could take over, but that is unlikely. It is really good to see Washington is back from a lost rookie 2004 season to provide some depth and serious bulk in the middle of the defense, but Williams appeared better suited at defensive end in 2004.
Packersnews.com reported that new OG Adrian Klemm is the new left guard, but failed to mention that he will remain the starter only until his inevitable injury. Sorry for the sarcasm Adrian, but lets see you make it through a full season first. It is really good to read in the same article that T Kevin Barry looks great and it wouldn't be a surprise to see RT Mark Tauscher move to right guard and Barry take over at right tackle. The only down side of that plan would be in 2006 because Barry is playing on a one year contract. Barry drew surprising little interest in free agency, and a strong 2005 season as the starting right tackle may push Barry out of the Packers salary range.
It is really surprising that QB Craig Nall didn't draw more interest from teams this offseason. Nall signed the Packers low qualifying offer when no other contract offers presented themselves. It is too bad for Nall; he looked great in limited action in 2004 and would be a lot better back up for all the teams keeping QB Quincy Carter, QB Tim Hasselbeck, and QB Jeff Blake around on their rosters. That is probably most playing time Nall will get from now on; he should be the 3rd quarterback behind QB Aaron Rodgers. Nall might get the backup spot if Rodgers holds out or doesn't pick up the offense quick enough, but it seems likely that Rodgers will play in most of training camp and pick up the offense in a short period of time. The real loser in this situation is QB J.T. Sullivan, who resigned with the Packers right before the draft. He was probably thinking he would be number 3, but then Rodgers fell to the Packers and now Sullivan will probably be looking for work come September.
I had ignored the fact that the Packers hadn't bothered to find a punter to challenge the feeble efforts of P B.J. Sander. The Packers appear to be counting on Sander to punt for them in 2005. Sander has the best net punting average in NFL Europe this spring, but he is battling former Packer Travis Dorsch, who the Packers showed little interest in last season. Despite favorable comparisons to Dorsch, hopefully Sander is improving and will be useful in 2005.