Tag Archives: A.J. Hawk

One Man’s Fake Dead Girlfriend, Is Another Man’s Steal Of The Draft

2013’s strangest story gets weirder each and every day. I mean, who expected Octomom to hop back on the stripper pole?? Okay, sad jokes aside, the story of this very new year has been that of confused/disgraced Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o’s story played out this week like something out of the Theater of the Absurd. He did not know this was a hoax? Hang on, he was not complicit? This kid was supposed to be attending classes at one of the preeminent universities in this country and yet he was duped into a 2 year online relationship with a girl who, let’s face it, was a 7 out of 10 on a good day!? Either he is a hopeless romantic, gay, in on the hoax, or some combination of those three.

But here is the thing: it does not matter. I do not care. Neither should any self-respecting Vikings or Packers fan.

Te'o got embarrassed in a the national championship and now we know why...

Te’o got embarrassed in a the national championship and now we know why…

Manti Te’o is clearly a bit of a hunyuck. But he is also one helluva a football player. Sure, he got lit up like Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation house in the national championship game, but do you think he had other things on his mind? According to approximately 326,789 online reports, Te’o’s life had been falling apart (behind the Golden Dome) for about three weeks. Anytime you are spending a lot of QT with the school athletic director – Jack Swarbrick – your stress level is likely a bit higher than normal. Might even affect your play a little, especially against a squad like Alabama.

So, giving Te’o a mulligan for the Alabama game, what do we know? Te’o averaged 125 tackles, including 61 solo numbers, during the last three years. The guy has been a tackling machine. This year, he has added some play-making ability in the secondary, nabbing 7 INTs.

In terms of off-season hardware, the guy pretty much cleaned house. In fact, Te’o is the most decorated defensive player in college football history. His awards list includes: IMPACT Player of the Year Lott Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Award. Of course, he also took 2nd in the Heisman Trophy race.

Now, did the fact that Te’o’s fake girlfriend supposedly died only 6 hours after his grandma (or was it before – a cloudy timeline is a bit suspecting to say the least) give him a bit more national noteriety? Undoubtedly. Did his star shine a bit brighter? Assuredly. But he still had to perform on Saturdays. And perform he did.

Prior to Te’o’s world falling apart in spectacular fashion, he was ranked as the top linebacker in the country and, according to most draftniks, a guaranteed Top 10 pick. Now? Who knows? And that is where we come in.

Both the Vikings and Packers could use an improvement at middle linebacker. The Vikings have Jasper Brinkley, who had a decent season, but Te’o is the type of talent that could carry a franchise for the next 10 years. Now there could be some concern that Te’o could not adapt to the Vikings’ Cover 2 because in that system, the middle linebacker has to be able to get to the deep seam to help the safeties. And while Te’o has shown flashes of strong ball skills, particularly this season, he does not have break away speed. All of that said, I am not too worried, Te’o would still be a major upgrade for the Vikings and he would represent a superb value at the 23rd overall spot.

Hawk's minutes this year were way too high and Te'o would be a huge upgrade.

Hawk’s minutes this year were way too high and Te’o would be a huge upgrade.

The Packers could use a middle linebacker even more considering the corpse of A.J. Hawk logged serious minutes for the Green and Gold this year. For that reason alone, you know – having a pulse – Te’o would represent a significant upgrade in Dom Capers’s system.

Talent upgrade aside, the Packers might actually be a better fit for Te’o considering that he ran a 3-4 at Notre Dame. That system would not require him to get as deep on his pass drops and he would have the luxury of playing with a near Pro Bowler at nose tackle – B.J. Raji. Linebackers in a 3-4 are only as good as their nose tackle. And having Raji occupy interior linemen would give Te’o space to do what he does best: make tackles. He and Bishop would finally give the Packers top-end talents at ILB.

The Packers also have a veteran squad that could easily address/diffuse any lingering issues with Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend. This is perhaps more important than anything else considering how poorly Te’o played in the national championship game with everything on his mind.

Of course, this is all speculation. Over the next several months, we will learn – hopefully – the truth behind this hoax. And the truth will be the big determining factor into how much this hoax will affect Te’o’s draft stock, if at all. But for now, the imaginary 7 out of 10, Lennay Kakua, could be a very real blessing in disguise for the Vikings or Packers come draft day.

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Packers’ Training Camp Primer

In his pre-training camp presser, Mike McCarthy made it clear that he was displeased with his team’s focus leading up to camp. He even went as far as saying some players were taking it for granted. But, with one swift personnel decision – cutting Charlie Peprah – he made a loud statement that should get everyone’s attention: each player must earn their spot on this roster. Peprah, a starter (albeit by default) for the last two seasons, was cut the day before camp opens, despite the fact there is no clear cut starter opposite Morgan Burnett. The Packers go to camp with an M.D. Jennings – an undrafted free agent a year ago – and Jerron McMillian – a rookie fourth-round selection out of the national powerhouse of Maine.

The battle between M.D. and McMillian (and perhaps Woodson) is just one of several intriguing story lines to watch during training camp. Here’s a look at several other position battles and players development worth watching.

Offense –

Yes. I know. Our offense was about as good as it gets last year. But, there’s still plenty of things to watch over the next 1-month-plus. I think the most important thing to watch for is the continued (hopefully) development of LT Marshall Newhouse. A fifth-round selection two drafts ago has ascended to the starting LT spot after an up-and-down season last year. He has prototypical size and length, and the requisite quickness to man the position. As expected though,  as a first-year starter, he had his fair share of growing pains. He, by far, gave up the most sacks among offensive linemen with 11.5. But the constant refrain from the coaching staff about Newhouse has always been that he is smart and never gets beat by the same move twice. And to that point, Newhouse need only look at fellow tackle, Bryan Bulaga, who similarly suffered through a rough first year starting, only to bounce back with a near-Pro Bowl year last season. They say the biggest jump occurs between the first and second season. It would be a coupe for the Packers to find their LT of the future in Newhouse to pair with Bulaga going forward.

Staying with the player development theme, I can’t wait to see how Randall Cobb progresses in year two. He immediately became a household name in Packers country after the first game when he returned a kickoff 100+ yards, which included an unreal act of balance mid-run, and he also took a quick dump-off to the house for a 30+ yard TD. Unfortunately for him, he set the bar awfully high going forward. As much as the Packers offense has to offer, Cobb has a unique blend of speed and athleticism. He needs to be on the field more. To do so, though, he needs to refine his route-running and become reliable. If he does, he should get more looks than both Jones and Driver.

An under-the-radar player to watch is D.J. Williams. Williams was a highly-regarded fifth-round selection a year ago. A John Mackey award winner. But, he looked far from the nation’s top tight end in his rookie season. He simply did not pass the eye test whenever he saw the field. He is short and not particularly a blazer either. And, to top it off, he lost the trust of the offense when he lined up wrong in the Week 7 matchup against the Vikes. This gaffe necessitated A-Rodg calling a timeout. He rarely saw the playing field after that moment. Still, the Packers need him to take that second-year leap. With Quarles most likely starting the season on the PUP list, the backup TE position is wide open. Both Crabtree and Ryan Taylor are assets to the team in other ways than catching the ball. Given the number of formations employed by McCarthy, which includes two tight end sets, Williams must show he belongs.

Of course, we will all be watching the running back position. Starks is the lead horse right now; but he must prove he can stay healthy for a season. Alex Green is coming off an ACL injury, but is needed to play a prominent role in spelling Starks and becoming a third-down type back. This battle will be written about more extensively in the coming weeks.

Defense –

Every player. Every position. That could very easily sum up what we are all looking forward to the most – a respectable defense. But there are a few players and battles worth our extra attention.

Lost in the excitement of the Packers drafting Worthy and Daniels, and signing Hargrove, Merling, and Muir, is last year’s darling to replace Cullen Jenkins – Mike Neal. A second-round selection in 2010, Neal flashed promise his first season before going down with a season-ending injury. Last season, he was hampered with a nagging injury that some say was a major reason for his limited production. He undoubtedly has talent if he can get past the injury bug. Of course I’m excited to see the fresh faces and what they can offer; but I’m not ready to give up on Neal quite yet. Unfortunately, any strides he makes during training camp will be tempered while he serves a 4-game suspension.

A.J. Hawk demonstrates every fans reaction when he makes a “play.”

My favorite training camp battle is A.J. Hawk vs. D.J. Smith. As much as the coaches sugar-coat Hawk’s play and value to the team, they cannot mask the fact he is an average, at best, middle linebacker. He creates no turnovers, gets swallowed up by linemen in the run-game, and when he does make a tackle, its five-yards down the field. Heck, even at a charity golf event, Hawk can’t wrap-up! Enter D.J. Smith. Undersized and under-appreciated coming out of Appalachian St., Smith has done nothing but make tackles his entire career at all levels – and not simply the five-yards-down-the-field variety either. In the limited action Smith got in place of an injured Hawk, Smith made his presence felt. In three starts, he had 27 tackles and 1 INT. Smith attacks the game, similar to how Bishop attacks it. And this was noticeable from his very first play from scrimmage (the first play of the video) when he subbed in for Hawk agains the Lions. When is the last time you saw Hawk diagnose the play, attack the line, shed a block, and make the tackle… wait for it… BEHIND the line of scrimmage?! But for the enormous contract Hawk somehow signed last offseason, Smith would figure to be the leader for the starting spot. It will be a very interesting battle to watch. And if Smith makes that second-year leap, the coaches will need to make the tough decision and bench (maybe even cut) Hawk.

Obviously, the whole secondary could be highlighted. The safety position is in flux, as mentioned at the outset. Tramon is still injured from the first game of last season. And we still have Jarrett Bush on our squad (although, I have slightly warmed to him after the way he played in Super Bowl XLV). But, two players that could be key for the Packers’ secondary success are Sam Shields and Davon House. Shields was a rockstar his first year after being undrafted out Miami. It can safely be said that, but for Shields’ emergence, the Packers don’t make it to Super Bowl XLV. His ability to line up one-on-one that season allowed Woodson to roam and wreak havoc. That emergence was about as surprising as his rapid decline last season. The loss of an offseason due to the lockout hurt no player more than Sam Shields. (You can also wonder whether his first-year success, culminated by the Super Bowl win and gaudy neck tattoo, got to his head and resulted in less-than-stellar offseason training.) Davon House, meanwhile, was hyped during training camp for his ability to track the ball and make a play on it. He suffered an injury midway through camp, and never returned to form. When he did see the field, he looked lost and not NFL-ready. By all accounts, though, he has taken advantage of the full offseason. With everyone’s eye on Casey Hayward, the second-round pick, as well as the other new faces on defense, House has slid under the radar. If he can return to form, he may be a critical piece to the Packers’ defense.

Check back here in the coming weeks for a further breakdown of what is necessary from our defense in order to get back to the promised land. Clearly, the worst statistical defense won’t get the job done. So, what will? That talker, and more, to come. But for now, we can all rejoice in the fact that football season is finally here!

An Exercise in Futility

TT is averse to free agency, but this could be the year he breaks that trend.

Let’s be honest, talking free agency strategy with Ted Thompson running our squad has been mostly an exercise in futility. The way TT pinches pennies, you’d think he was Mitt Romney’s financial advisor. But, the few times he has dipped his toes in the free agency waters, he’s hit it big by plucking Woodson and Pickett. The Packers have few needs, and free agency might be a good route for TT to fill a need or two.

For starters, the Packers have approximately $6.9 million in cap space presently, which includes an added bonus of $1.6M thanks to Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder. That’s not a lot to wheel and deal, and I expect TT to create more cap space in the coming days. The two obvious candidates are DD and Clifton. Both players have been great players and representative for the Packers throughout their careers. But, it’s a cut-throat business and the Pack have younger and better players that need to see the playing field in their place – Cobb/Gurley and Newhouse. TT has always been one to cut a player one season too soon than too late (see Cullen Jenkins), and I expect this will be no different. Frankly, I’d love to see TT cut Mr. T-Rex arms (Hawk). I have no clue what the cap repercussions may be in doing so (if you can find this information out, please comment and I will update accordingly), but he’s a dud and replaceable. Regardless, if the Packers handle DD and Clifton, they would be sitting with approximately $12M – more than enough ammunition for TT to get to work in free agency.

Even though our defense is in desperate need of some upgrades, the biggest priority in free agency needs to be retaining or replacing Scott Wells. Numerous reports indicate Wells harbors vitriol towards the Packers because they attempted to replace him in years past and refuse to pay him top-5 money for his position. Wells may be in for a rude awakening, though, once he gets to free agency. After all, the same reasons the Packers have continually tried replacing him – short, stocky, and not a road grader – still exist. In fact, his value is probably the greatest with the Packers than any other team because of his familiarity with the system and it being a pass-oriented attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up resigning with the Packers once he sees his market is not nearly as big as he anticipates. This situation reminds me James Jones from last year in that respect.

In the event Wells signs elsewhere, there are a number of available centers in free agency. Chris Myers from Houston is regarded as the best available center. He comes from a zone-blocking scheme and led their top-ranked rushing attack. He’s also over-30, though. An interesting prospect is Samson Satele from Oakland. He’s younger at 27 and anchored the 2nd and 7th ranked rushing offenses the past two seasons. Otherwise, the Pack will have to look to the draft to replace Wells. A pair of Sconnie’s are regarded as two of the best available centers in the draft – Peter Konz (1st round grade) and Kevin Zeitler (guard, but might be better suited for C).

After Wells, then it’s a matter of finding the right fit for the right price on defense. Obviously, the Packers could use upgrades or depth at every position on defense. And, to beat you to the punch, Mario Williams is out of the question. He’s going to demand the biggest contract in NFL history for a defensive player, and the Packers have too many players to resign in future years – Matthews, Rodgers, Jennings, and Raji to name a few. So who, exactly, could the Packers target? Well, who the hell knows, but here’s a few names to keep in mind as the free agency madness gets into full-swing:

Mark Anderson – OLB for the Pats. He resurrected his career with the Pats this past season, recording 10 sacks. At 29, he’s still relatively young and would be an instant upgrade opposite Matthews. He won’t demand top-dollar, either, and would be the savvy, under-the-radar type move that may appeal to TT.

Kamerion Wimbley – OLB for Oakland. He’s under contract with Oakland, but his contract will require the Raiders to cut him soon. He’s 28 and is very athletic and talented at 6′-4″ and 255 lbs. He had 7 sacks this past season, and 9 the year before. In six full seasons, he has 42.5 sacks. Needless to say, he’d be a great compliment to Matthews. Unfortunately, his price tag will probably be too steep for TT.

Adam Carriker – DE for the Skins. He’s a former high draft pick that hasn’t panned out. But, he’s still only 28, and at 6′-6″ and 315 lbs., he could play at NT or DE in the 3-4. Starting in 15 games last season at the nose tackle position for the Skins’ 3-4 defense, he notched 5.5 sacks. Like Anderson, he’s not going to garner much immediate attention and should come on the cheap.

Tracy Porter – CB for the ‘Aints. Tracy Porter happens to be one of my favorite non-Packers player because of this play. Don’t forget, Porter is the player that iced the Super Bowl win with the late pick-six on Manning. He clearly does not shy from the big-moment and, at 26, he’s a player with a lot of potential still in him. Porter’s problem, though, has been staying healthy, having never survived a full season. And because of this, he might come cheaper than a young cornerback with his potential might otherwise.

Reggie Nelson – S for the Bungals. Nelson was another former high-draft pick that never made it with his original squad. He’s a safety the Packers may want to target for insurance in case Mr. Pick-Six cannot return. Nelson had a solid season last year with 85 tackles, 4 picks, and 2 sacks and fumbles apiece.

Do you sense a theme in the players listed above? It was intentional. Outside of Wimbley, they are players under-the-radar and not splashy. That’s how TT operates, and if he decides to dabble in the free agency pool, expect him to target these types of players – good fits at the right price. But, considering his last foray into free agency was the huge signing of Duke Preston, well, I’m tempering my expectations.