INDIANAPOLIS – With Donald Driver retired, Charles Woodson having been released and center Jeff Saturday having been let go so he can retire with the Indianapolis Colts, the Green Bay Packers have lost a combined 43 years of NFL experience off their roster so far this offseason.
Losing the 38-year-old Driver, the 36-year-old Woodson and 37-year-old Saturday also means the Packers have only two players on their roster who’ve celebrated their 30th birthday: Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (33) and fullback John Kuhn (30). Running backs Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant are also 30 years old but are also both unrestricted free agents. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’ll turn 30 in December, is now the longest-tenured Packer, having been drafted in 2005. (No one else remains from general manager Ted Thompson’s first draft class.)
“That is a lot of veteran leadership that won’t be with us, so you’re always a little bit concerned about that,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson acknowledged at the annual NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “We have a strong locker room, strong leadership foundation. In the NFL, the wheel keeps turning and that’s what we’re about, trying to get ready for the next game. we feel confident in the leadership in our locker room.”
Although coach Mike McCarthy also admitted that that’s a lot of experience to lose in one fell swoop, he also said he believes there are enough younger, up-and-coming leaders in the locker room to fill the void. In addition, Driver played only on a very limited basis, Woodson missed nine games with a broken collarbone and
“You don’t replace Charles Woodson; you don’t just go out and replace Donald Driver,” McCarthy said. “Locker room culture is something that I wouldn’t say is a moving target, but it’s something that’s either growing or not growing. … Leadership’s not always designated by how many years you’ve been in the league or how good a player you are; there’s leadership opportunities for every man in that locker room.
“It’s important for our leadership to grow, for our culture. We have a very healthy culture in our locker room it’s something we pay close attention to. It’s part of the process here in Indianapolis –gather as much information as you can about the people you’re going to bring in to that locker room. Charles and Donald are special people, special players, so it’s not (a matter of) trying to replace them. It’s really putting the energy, the effort, the focus, the education, on the individuals now there for that locker room to grow.”
McCarthy suggested that beyond Rodgers, whom he called “the face of the franchise,” players primed for greater leadership roles include T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Morgan Burnett, Josh Sitton, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, whom McCarthy said “really took a big step in a leadership role as a young player” last year. Thompson, meanwhile, insisted that the Packers aren’t in danger of being “too young,” as they were among the youngest in terms of average age even last year, with Driver, Saturday and Woodson on the roster.
“We have a good core and it’s made up of veteran players. But the game continues to evolve. Your team continues to evolve. You have to be prepared for it – and I think we have been,” Thompson said. “No, I don’t think we’re going to be too young.”
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