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Safety, LB could be early targets for Packers

  • Article by: GENARO C. ARMAS
  • Associated Press
  • May 5, 2014 - 12:20 PM

MILWAUKEE — The prospect with that impressive 40-yard dash time might look good in green and gold. He may not be the best fit in a certain round for the Green Bay Packers.

In those instances, general manager Ted Thompson has plenty of voices in the room on draft day to remind him of the team's philosophy. If that player happens to fill a hole, all the better for Thompson.

"Even in the draft, during the draft itself, sometimes if we need to pat ourselves on the back, we'll repeat it," Thompson said before offering the phrase "Let's just take the best player."

"I have people remind me and whisper in my ear."

For the most part, things have worked out nicely in Green Bay under Thompson in spite of pleas from some fans to be more aggressive in free agency.

A victory over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl in 2011. Three straight division titles, the last one in 2013 coming after overcoming a slew of injuries. Thompson's first draft pick as general manager — Aaron Rodgers in 2005 — is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

With Rodgers around and coach Mike McCarthy calling the shots, the offense should always be in good hands. The addition of bruising running back Eddie Lacy last year added balance, though Green Bay could bolster tight end and the offensive line in this draft.

It's on defense — again — where the Packers need the most help after an 8-7-1 regular season.

"We need more impact players. We need more players making plays on defense," McCarthy said in January following a 23-20 loss to San Francisco in an NFC wild-card game. "I feel that those guys are here, but do we have more coming in?"

Thompson did add Julius Peppers in free agency for a high-profile complement to Clay Matthews in the pass rush. Matthews is recovering from a thumb injury.

Here are five areas Green Bay could target in this week's draft:

SAFETY: Of the Packers' 11 interceptions last season, none came from a safety. That likely weighed on McCarthy in thinking about adding defensive impact players. Morgan Burnett had 93 tackles in 13 games, but didn't quite live up to the billing that came with his offseason contract extension. Disappointing M.D. Jennings signed with the Bears.

Thompson, as usual, has offered no clues which way he might be leaning with his first-round pick at No. 21. Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor could be good first-round fits if available.

"It certainly gives you, as a defensive coordinator, more flexibility if you have more versatile-type guys," Thompson said. "At the end of the day, you just try to take the best player."

LINEBACKER: The signing of defensive end/linebacker hybrid Peppers and the re-signing of Mike Neal adds certainty on the outside, and the Packers hope Matthews returns at full strength. Inside, A.J Hawk had a team-high 118 tackles and five sacks in perhaps the best season of his eight-year tenure.

But this position, too, could use a playmaker, especially with Hawk in the latter stages of his career. Alabama's C.J. Mosley and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier could be first-round picks, or in-state product Chris Borland from Wisconsin would be a crowd-pleasing selection on Day 2.

TIGHT END: A spinal cord injury knocked Jermichael Finley out for the season in October. He's a free agent, and Finley's readiness remains a question. The Packers re-signed Andrew Quarless, though Thompson could turn to Texas Tech's Jace Amaro and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins early in the draft. It appears that North Carolina's Eric Ebron won't be around by the time Green Bay is up in the first round.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Evan Dietrich-Smith's departure for Tampa Bay means the Packers will have their fourth different starting center in four seasons. McCarthy could slide over guard T.J. Lang or go with 2013 fourth-round pick J.C. Tretter. But with backup tackle Marshall Newhouse also leaving (to Cincinnati), Green Bay could replenish depth to help with the most important task of all in Titletown: keeping Rodgers healthy.

WIDE RECEIVER: Reliable James Jones left as a free agent for Oakland. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are still around, and Jarrett Boykin stepped up nicely when Cobb was injured. Still, it never hurts to give Rodgers more weapons, and the Packers may want to replenish receiver depth on the second or third days of the draft. The contracts of Nelson and Cobb are due to expire in 2015.

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