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Ted Thompson spent the past two days watching the rookies from his 10th draft class as Packers GM.

‘The guy is still on his game’

After looking worn down and feeling under the weather amid the grueling run-up to the NFL Draft, Ted Thompson seemed revitalized Saturday after the Packers’ rookie camp, which is one of his favorite times of the year.

By JASON WILDE

GREEN BAY – John Dorsey’s tone was clear, forceful. And irritated.

“I’ve heard this [expletive] since the combine,” the Kansas City Chiefs general manager said.

He and his wife, Patricia, were in the middle of hosting a baby shower – for a couple from Wisconsin, coincidentally – Saturday evening at their home outside Kansas City, but the conversation was important enough to him to slip away. For the past several months, the former Green Bay Packers player, scout and personnel executive had heard entirely too many rumors and questions about his longtime friend, colleague and boss, Ted Thompson, and whether the 61-year-old Packers general manager might be nearing the end of the line.

The only thing that was going to end, as far as Dorsey was concerned, was that narrative. Right now.

“Ted and I are very close. I love Ted,” Dorsey began. “If I thought it was time …”

Dorsey stopped, paused. By his count, he and Thompson had spoken nearly a dozen times in the days leading up to the NFL Draft, and in every conversation, Thompson’s “tack was sharp,” Dorsey said.

And now, Dorsey’s voice was rising again.

“The guy is still on his game. My god, he’s one of the top 5 general managers in the National Football League,” Dorsey continued. “And that’s the only thing the Packer Nation should be concerned about: Is the ship headed in the right direction? And I say yes. If the rudder was off a little bit, I’d tell you it was off.

“Actually, I wouldn’t tell you. I’d go to Ted and say, ‘Your rudder’s not straight, dude.’ I haven’t done that, because I haven’t had to. If he had intellectually slipped, I would say, “Dude, you’re slipping.’ I can tell him that because he and I talk like that. That’s what our relationship is.

“You guys are making a mountain out of a molehill.”

‘Just getting started’
About the same time, on the West Coast, John Schneider was leaving the Seattle Seahawks’ headquarters and heading home – about a half-hour later than he’d promised his wife, Traci. Like Dorsey, Schneider had been mentored by Thompson – he calls Ron Wolf his NFL scouting “dad” and Thompson his “big brother” – and remains close with him. He, too, had heard folks back home in Wisconsin whispering about Thompson’s future.

“I thought they had an excellent draft, and you can’t have an excellent draft without top-level preparation,” the Seahawks GM said as he pulled out of the parking lot. “Just from a pure preparation standpoint, Ted’s always been on top of it, and he’s set a standard for guys like myself.

“He’s never told me how long he wants to keep doing it or not doing it. But as long as he is doing it, he’s going to be one of the gold standards that all of us guys are going to try to emulate.”

Earlier Saturday, Thompson, speaking at a press conference following the team’s annual post-draft rookie orientation camp, had been asked a series of questions about his future. A little over two weeks after appearing worn down and under the weather at his pre-draft press briefing, Thompson seemed in good spirits, energized by watching 58 young players – a collection of draft picks, undrafted rookie free-agent signees, tryout players and practice-squad holdovers – during two days of practice inside the Don Hutson Center.

“It’s always exciting to see the new guys come in and assimilate,” Thompson had said. “To see them in the Packer uniform and the helmet is kind of cool.”

And when the conversation turned to his future, Thompson didn’t give the impression that he might be hanging ‘em up anytime soon.

He was asked, having just completed his 10th draft as Packers GM, how many more drafts he had in him. “I’m just getting started,” he said with a chuckle. “I feel pretty good.”

He was asked if he could say with certainty that he’d be the GM though the 2016 draft, which is when his contract runs out. “Certainty is a fairly strong word,” he said with a smile. “I’m feeling good and ready to go.”

He was asked what his plan is for the future. “I don’t really have one. I’ve never had one,” he replied. “I wouldn’t anticipate doing anything different.”

And, he was asked why he’d gone out of his way to thank and praise his scouting staff to start two of his press briefings during the draft. “That wasn’t a prelude to me walking out, no,” he said. “It was a genuine [appreciation]. If I haven’t overthanked those guys in the past, that was my fault. Two times in front of you guys is not overdoing it, I don’t think.”

Private person
Thompson’s future has been a topic of conversation this offseason because it wasn’t a normal offseason for him – and because, whatever the cause was, he hasn’t said.

It began with the NFL Scouting Combine in February in Indianapolis, where Thompson seemed to be moving slowly and gingerly. Then, Thompson skipped the University of Wisconsin’s annual pro day workouts – an event he has frequently attended in the past – and didn’t travel to as many on-campus pre-draft workouts as he normally does. Thompson then missed the annual NFL Meetings in Orlando, Fla., in March, for what the team had termed a “personal matter.”

The next time he spoke publicly was the Thursday before the draft, when he took questions for roughly 25 minutes. Afterward, a handful of reporters agreed that Thompson didn’t seem like himself.

After hearing about that pre-draft Q&A  – which began with Thompson spitting out a cough drop, included a question about his health midway through, and ended with a handful of reporters wondering if he was OK – Dorsey had logged on to Packers.com and watched the archived video for himself.

What Dorsey saw was Thompson, still speaking in his “slow, East Texas drawl,” while battling what appeared to be a cold. Schneider, meanwhile, pointed out that Thompson invariably seems to get sick twice a year: In the final days of draft preparations, and at the end of training camp, when it’s time to cut the roster to 53. They are the two most challenging times of the year for him emotionally, and they’re also when he works the longest hours.

As for why Thompson didn’t attend the NFL Meetings, both Dorsey and Schneider, who were at the meetings, acknowledged that they knew the reason for Thompson’s absence. But out of respect for Thompson and his desire for privacy, neither would discuss it on the record. (The guy is 61 years old and played 10 years in the NFL from 1975 through 1984, an era before the medical advancements today’s players have at their disposal. It’s not difficult to compile a short list of orthopedic surgical procedures he may have undergone.)

“Ted is a private person,” Dorsey said. “It’s none of your business. That’s how he looks at it.”

Speaking at the NFL Meetings, team president/CEO Mark Murphy had said Thompson was able to work but unable to travel at the time. At the end of the draft last week, coach Mike McCarthy mentioned that Thompson would be heading to Florida soon for the national meetings that kick off the scouting season for the 2015 NFL Draft, so the travel restriction has evidently been lifted.

Best time of the year
Because of the later draft, Dorsey’s Chiefs won’t have their rookie camp until next weekend. But, he said, he understands why Thompson might have seemed revitalized to those who’d thought he’d seemed off in recent weeks.

“My two favorite parts of the year are [the post-draft] minicamp and the beginning of training camp. Because you’re seeing all your hard work come to fruition,” Dorsey said. “You see that you’re helping your team get better. You’re putting the stamp on it of, 'I did see it right,' or, 'Damn, I missed that.' That’s kind of what personnel guys do."

That’s what Thompson was doing as he observed both days of the camp from field level and liked what he saw, 

“This is always a fun weekend for us in scouting, because it all kind of comes together,” Thompson explained. “Sometimes you try to look away because it doesn’t look quite as good as you thought it was supposed to look, and other times it’s ‘Hey, that’s pretty good.’ I think it’s a cool thing to see these guys in a Packer uniform for the first time and see the enthusiasm.”

Thompson said Saturday that he’d spent most of his time watching the 28 players the team had brought in on a tryout basis, rather than focusing on the nine draft picks and 15 undrafted rookies the team already had under contract. With players from small schools (like running back Chris Rycraw, from Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Ark.) and football factories (like defensive end Luther Robinson from the University of Miami) and everything in between, Thompson had plenty to evaluate.

And it is in that evaluation, that far-and-wide search for players who can help his team win football games, that Thompson continues to find joy in his work.

“I think when you’re in the scouting business, it’s the chase [that drives you],” Thompson explained. “Every once in a while, you find somebody that nobody is really keen [on]. You’re hoping to find that diamond that nobody else has found. And that’s hard to do with the coverage we have in the NFL and the scouting departments that are all around the league. But I think it’s the chase, and coming together.

“And, most importantly, the Sundays or Mondays or Thursdays when you’ve won the game and you’re in a winning locker room. That’s as good as it gets.”

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.

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