Tag Archives: Jerel Worthy

In Ted We Trust. But…

Ted's first pick proved to be his best. But, is his draft-and-develop philosophy now holding the Packers back?

Ted’s first pick proved to be his best. But, is his draft-and-develop philosophy now holding the Packers back?

To be clear from the start, I am a Ted Thompson apologist. He inherited a team rife with aging and overpaid veterans, along with a cap figure that left little wiggle room. He tore it down before rebuilding it into one of the best teams in the league on an annual basis. And to top it off, Thompson used his first ever draft pick on Aaron Rodgers – mind you, Favre was still a near-elite QB that wanted more weapons to make one final push for a SB. Instead, Thompson trusted his board and his philosophy, and took the best player available. It proved to be the best selection he ever will make. But, making that selection was gutsy for a new GM. So, yes, I’m an apologist and will always respect and trust Ted.

But, that trust is being pushed.

The Packers are in a precarious position in that there are 2 looming contracts that are about to set new benchmarks. Rodgers will sign the most expensive contract in league history, and he deserves it. Rumors have Rodgers set to make 1/6 of the Packers total cap figure. And the Claymaker may well approach the most expensive defensive contract in league history; he, too, deserves it (Don’t buy into the theory that his nagging hamstring warrants a reduced wage. He’d get a near max deal on the open market if he ever were to hit it. He’s not named the Claymaker without a reason.) The Packers could be having nearly a quarter of their cap devoted to two players in the near future – potentially as soon as the beginning of this coming season. (And this also explains why the likes of SF and Seattle are able to be such players in free agency – $700K salary to Kaepernick and $600K to Wilson. Makes a difference.)

Then, the Packers need to continue to retain its core players, many of whom have expiring contracts in the near future: B.J. Raji, Sam Shields, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, JerMichael Finley, Morgan Burnett, and Desmond Bishop. It’s a daunting task to figure out how to get all or most of these players retained in order to keep the critical core of this team together.

Of course, Thompson planned for this, which explains the nearly $20M in cap room currently available – likely ready to be shipped to Rodgers and/or Clay. This also explains why Thompson has yielded the free agency spotlight to others – again.

So, Thompson cannot be a major player in free agency. But, the Packers are not completely hamstrung by the cap either. They just have to spend their money wisely. And this is where I’m losing faith in Thompson, for two reasons.

First, Thompson does not dabble in free agency, at all. Teams in the Packers’ position – i.e. one of the SB favorites every year – has only a few holes that need to be shored up to solidify its chances at the SB. Filling these holes can be accomplished by adding a veteran – at the right price – via free agency.

For instance, the Packers run game has been nonexistent for years. Combinations of Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson, James Starks, Alex Green, and Cedric Benson have been unable to take advantage of one of the most lethal passing attacks in the league, which should open up plenty of space for the run game. This offseason, Stephen Jackson signed a 3-year, $12M deal with Atlanta. Yes, he’s old. But’s a rare breed of running back that inflicts the punishment rather than taking it. Plus, even if his play is on the decline, it’s still a step-up from what our running game has been. A thunder-lightning combo of S. Jax and DuJuan Harris could have finally ignited the running game. At $4M a year, it was an affordable deal that would have paid huge dividends.

Similarly, the Packers defensive line needs immediate upgrades, especially with Jerel Worthy’s late season injury making his return this season doubtful. The Packers have been unable to find Jenkins’ replacement since his departure. And, predictably, the defense has struggled mightily with the lack of pressure being a major reason why. This offseason, both Chris Canty and Cullen Jenkins signed team-friendly deals. Either would have improved our line play.

Thompson rarely takes this approach. And, I believe, failing to will prove costly come playoffs.

Second, Thompson has developed a nasty propensity to resign his own players at inflated values. A.J. Hawk was inexplicably signed to a huge contract extension following the 2010 Super Bowl run. Hawk proved to be reliable, but reliability doesn’t justify the amount of money Thompson gave him. Eventually, he became the 5th highest paid player on the team. Hawk rewarded the Packers with two consecutive seasons without a turnover and being the definition of an average starter. Thankfully, he took a big pay cut this offseason, but such a contract certainly limited the Packers’ maneuverability.

The starting ILB that was part of the reason why Kaepernick single-handedly defeated the Packers now is the 10th highest paid player on the team.

The starting ILB that was part of the reason why Kaepernick single-handedly defeated the Packers now is the 10th highest paid player on the team.

Unfortunately, Thompson didn’t learn his lesson. Just recently, the Packers resigned Brad Jones – the former special-teams, third-string LB – to a 3-year, $11.25M deal, $3M guaranteed. He is now the 10th highest paid player on the team. To put this deal into perspective, Jones is making just under what S. Jackson will make. Who’d you rather have? A bruising running back that routinely accumulated 1,300 total yards for one of the worst offenses or Brad Jones, a special-teamer and backup LB?

And in case you think this overvaluation is strictly limited to linebackers, John Kuhn is scheduled to make $2.35M next season.

There is simply no excuse for these types of deals. Thompson, always the penny-pincher when evaluating outside talent, needs to be consistent and evaluate his own players in the same fashion. Hawk, Jones, and Kuhn – though valuable players to a 53-man roster – can be replaced without a drop-off in production at a much lower cost, clearing up room that could be better spent to fill in the holes on the roster.

Thompson’s draft-and-develop philosophy allows for sustained success. But, drafting-and-developing – especially when you continually draft in the lower part of each round – rarely yields the type of immediate impact players needed for Super Bowl contenders. Thompson must invoke a better balance of drafting-and-developing combined with dabbling in free agency.

With Rodgers at the helm, the Packers will always be one of the best teams in the conference, routinely challenging for a Super Bowl. But, the window of opportunity continues to shrink with each passing year. Do we trust Ted to put the Packers in the best position possible to succeed in January and February?

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Packers – 2012 Year in Review

Happy New Years Packernation! It’s been a fun year, full of ups-and-downs for our favorite squad. Here’s a breakdown of the good, bad, and ugly that we endured this calendar year.

The Good – The emergence of young and promising stars on both sides of the ball: Randall Cobb and Casey Hayward. Cobb is the definition of a multi-threat talent. He’s a top-end slot receiver, shown to be a threat out of the backfield, can take any punt or kickoff to the house, and smart – see his heads-up play of making a kickoff out-of-bounds in the Tennessee blowout. He led the league in total yards this year, breaking the all-time Packers yardage record in the process. His emergence has basically made Greg Jennings dispensable this offseason, much to the rejoice of his sister. And the best part of his emergence is his humility. Cobb is simply a team player that says “we” instead of “I.”

Trading up to get Hayward is one of TT's best draft-day decisions.

Trading up to get Hayward is one of TT’s best draft-day decisions.

Similarly, Casey “All I Do Is Intercept” Hayward has already established himself as one of the top cover-corners in the league; and he’s only a rookie. He’s shown an awareness on the field that would make even the savviest of veterans blush. He’s yet to get beaten for a TD, not been flagged, and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the pile – unlike Tramon Williams. Because he didn’t start playing full-time until week 6, he’s unlikely to win the ROY – but he should. His emergence has solidified the Packers’ secondary not only for this year, but for the immediate future.

Honorable Mention: TT’s draft. TT has built this team through above-average draft classes nearly every year. This year’s class is shaping up to be one of his best. Devoting the first six selections to a defense that hemorrhaged yards and points last season paid off. Nick Perry didn’t flash, but showed he belonged and should develop into a solid player opposite Claymaker. The same can be said for Worthy. Hayward is the best selection. And McMillian and Daniels  have provided much needed depth to the line and secondary. McMillian could be in a battle with M.D. Jennings for the starting safety spot for the next couple of years.

The Bad – The Packers have suffered a rash of injuries. The following players have been injured at various points this season (and I’m bound to miss a few): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, JerMichael Finley, Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, Cedric Benson, James Starks, Alex Green, Jerel Worthy, B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Frank Zombo, Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith, Sam Shields, Charles Woodson, Sean Richardson, and Davon House.

To put this into different perspective, the Packers have been without their top 3 RB’s, a combination of their top-3 WR’s, the top TE, the starting RT and LG, multiple starting defensive linemen, their starting outside linebackers, their top-2 inside linebackers, a combination of two of the top-4 CB’s, and Woodson. Heck, Jennings and Jordy just played their third game together in week 17.

It’s been a season that’s tested the mettle of this team. But, in a glass half-full approach, it bodes well for the overall depth and talent of the roster going forward.

Ole!

Ole!

Honorable Mention: Tramon Williams’ run “support.” AP ran roughshod over this team to the tune of 409 yards on 55 carries, good enough for a ridiculous 7.4 ypc. Minnesota ran directly at Williams repeatedly in both games, obviously knowing that he’s unwilling to take on a block or attempt to tackle AP. Williams isn’t the sole reason for AP’s dominance. But his decision to play ole with AP makes him a primary culprit.

The Ugly – January 15, 2012. Giants 37, Packers 20. I don’t want to relive this date anymore by rehashing the specifics. But needless to say, it was the definition of ugly.

Our potential playoffs dagger.

Our potential playoffs dagger.

Honorable Mention: Mason Shanksby. As Bob Uecker would say, juuuuuust a bit outside. Shanksby is 21 of 33 on the year. That’s 63.6%, 13% below his now lower career average. And if you had any doubts, he’s dead-last in kicking percentage. Though he’s hit four in a row (nothing says a K is in a slump like celebrating four consecutive makes), Packers fans are queasy anytime Shanksby takes the field.

Rube v. Roob: Playoffs or Bust Edition

Sunday will be the 104th installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 54-48-1. The Packers have won eight of the last ten, including the last five games. But this game is different for two distinct reasons. If the Vikings win, they are in the playoffs. If the Packers win, they lock up the second seed and the all-important 1st-round bye. In the regular season, it does not get any bigger than this. The drama level for this one is at eleven. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we will let the Packer Roob fire the first shot:

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra...that difference between 10 and 11.

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra…that difference between 10 and 11.

Packers Roob:

Thank you for your courtesies. I do not anticipate such courtesy will last long in this debate. I am not sure you need me to explain how I feel about my squad. Just see my latest post. So, with that out of the way, I look at this weekend as really a win-win situation. Either the Packers win and get a bye, or we lose and still get a bye because there is no way the Vikes beat us twice.

Vikings Rube:

Let it be confirmed that I tried to take to the high road. Tried to be courteous. Not surprisingly, the Roob dodges the analysis and goes right for the low blow, cheap shot. How very Woodson-like. Before getting into this weekend, it is that very reaction that makes Packers believers so insufferable. When their squad shows even a flash or two of dominance, all of sudden they are not only the best team in the league, but likely the best team of all-time. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for as long as I can remember. Reaching the peak of insufferability during the Brett Favre MVP years.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett's INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett’s INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

Oddly enough, Packers fans were not chirping like that after they got their early Christmas present from Christian Ponder at Lamblow a few weeks ago. More like running away from the House that Moss repo’d like they stole something. The Vikings dominated the first meeting of the season, and if not for some incredibly bone-headed plays — you are welcome Morgan Burnett — the Vikings take down their bitter rivals and are playing for the 2nd seed this weekend. But that is not the reality of the situation. So let’s get to the reality.

Unlike the Packers roob, I am going to take off the purple-and-gold glasses and look at Sunday’s tilt with an objective eye. This game, like many others in the NFL, is going to come down to who controls the line of scrimmage. The Minnesota Moving Co. has been downright filthy in the last nine games. Even though AP did not rush for 100 yards last week, it took 9 or 10 in the box to slow him down. Plus, he still did enough damage to allow Ponder to shot put footballs to his wide receivers and tight ends. If the Minnesota Moving Co. can keep it going, they will not need the 210 yards AP got a few weeks ago to win this game.

Ball control is what won the day against the Texans last week. The Vikings did not have one 3-and-out and their average drive consumed nearly 3 minutes of game time. That same game plan is what is needed this week. In Lamblow, the Vikings dominated the ball for 2 ½ quarters. They need to bring it for a full 4 quarters and there is no doubt they can win the game. Controlling the line scrimmage, maintaining ball possession, and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field are the ingredients for a Vikings win. Even though the Packers have their precious Claymaker back, they are still susceptible to the run. The Roob will try to point at how well the Packers run defense has been the last few weeks. But AP and Toby are on another level compared to the RBs the Packers have seen in those games. Chris Johnson and Matt Forte are shells of their former selves. Neither is much of a threat. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure are…well… Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. Nothing more to say there.

Packers Roob:

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP's last performance.

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP’s last performance.

This league is all about when you play teams. And when the Vikes and Pack last played, the Pack fielded half a team. Only four defensive linemen were healthy and Clay was out. Insert 3 undrafted FAs at OLB – a critical part to any 3-4 – and not enough big bodies to stay fresh, and you get a 210 effort by AP. Not that it matters when you are facing a beast like AP, but for argument’s sake, the Packers are 10th in total defense, including a respectable 14th against the run. In fact, all season, the Packers have given up more than 100-yards to only 2 rushers – Frank Gore and AP. And this is with a squad that’s had injuries on top of injuries on top of injuries. That is not the case this time around. The following players are back healthy: Claymaker (and the new sack dance: The Clayboy), Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, and, hopefully, C.J. Wilson.

The loss of Claymaker simply cannot be understated. He is close to, if not, the best defensive player in the league. He is elite in all phases: rushing the passer, run defense, and even dropping into coverage. He’s tenacious and gets after the ball wherever it is on the field. In his place, were the likes of Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses. A bit of a drop off in talent, to say the least.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

So, yes, AP rolled up on the Packers last time. But, that is not happening this time around. And even if he does post 100+ yards, it won’t matter because you still have Christian Steele and his noodle arm throwing the ball around to the Gustavus Adolphus WR corps. Don’t let last week’s performance fool you. Ponder is not a NFL QB. He’ll be lucky to be in the league in five years at this rate. And this week he is going up against an elite secondary, one that houses the top 1-3 level of CB’s in the league: Tramon, Shields, and Hayward. He won’t have anyone open to throw the ball to. Remember, last time around – when Shields was hurt – Ponder completed only 3 passes to 2 different WRs for 38 yards. So the game will come down to AP and AP alone. 210 yards was not enough last time around. Assuming he does not put up another monster game, how do you expect to beat the Packers this time around?

Vikings Rube:

210 was not enough?? It was more than enough. Unfortunately, Ponder gift wrapped two INTs for that vaunted Packers secondary and completely ruined the Vikings chances. In the last three games since those idiotic moments of charity, Ponder has only one INT and a QBR that is more than 20 points higher than his season average. Has Christian Ponder been Aaron Rodgers in the last three games? No. I am not foolish enough (read: drunk on the Kool-Aid) to suggest that. That would be like trying to say the Grant/Green combo has been AP-like in their last three games (something I am sure you were going to say later on). So even though the Vikings are 32nd in the league in passing, can Ponder shot put enough completions to get the Vikings a victory on Sunday? Absolutely.

While I admit that the Packers defense is better now than when these teams saw each other a few weeks ago, the same can be said of the Vikings defense. They absolutely throttled the vaunted Texans’ offense, holding them to just a tick more than 200 yards of total offense. And while the Rams actually put up some yards against the Vikes two weeks ago, most of it was in garbage time after the game had been decided. Even though he might not be Casey Hayward, the addition of Chris Cook to the Vikings secondary certainly made the squad better as it meant less Josh Robinson field time. Teams were absolutely destroying Robinson in coverage.

What is nice about having Chris Cook back, is that he does not have to be an elite CB. The one thing the Vikings defense has done consistently well all year, and will need to again on Sunday, is get home with 4 or 5 defensive linemen. This makes Chris Cook that much better because he is not on an island. Now, the potential loss of Brian Robison hurts us here; though, the latest reports are that he is going to give it a go. Robison was having a really good season prior to dinging up his wing a couple of weeks ago. Everson Griffen stepped in nicely for him last week. But the Vikings rotation of linemen, particularly having Griffen rush from the interior, had been the secret to theVikings’ success. Having to move Griffen to the edge hurts our ability to create that push up the middle.

Thankfully, we still have Ten Gallon Allen. The guy who’s poster is on the Clayboy’s bedroom. With 2 more sacks against the Pack in the last match-up, that brings his total to 13.5 in his last 7 games against the green and gold. He just feasts on the Packers and, considering the Packers’ current patch-work line, I would expect more of the same on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

You are partially right. The only way the Vikes win is if its D-line absolutely dominates. Allen is a beast against us, but we held the rest of that line to 0 sacks. And even with Allen’s dominance, the Packers absolutely controlled the game last time around, with the game-winning drive going for 11-minutes. Let me repeat that… behind a “patch-work” line that had EDS at guard (who is terrible there) and Lang at RT (for a half) and Don Barclay replacing him (his first game action of his career), the Packers went on an 11-MINUTE game-clinching drive. Barclay is not perfect, but he has been solid since being inserted at RT. And Lang is an above-average guard. Heck, our line is so good right now that we replaced our Pro Bowl center: Jeff Saturday. The luxuries we have with such a deep talent pool along the line. Clearly, our line will be better this time around.

And because of that improvement, we have discovered a respectable running game. Packers have changed their rushing attack somewhat by doing more zone traps than stretch plays, and there have been more pulling linemen. The result is a rushing attack that’s gone for 100-yards in each of the last five games, including against that alleged dominant D-line the Vikes sport.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

Congrats on holding Bradford and Schaub in check. But, it is another beast to tame Rodgers. The reigning MVP is finally hitting his stride with the passing game. Against a Bears defense that normally controls our passing game, Rodgers shredded them – on the road – to the tune of just under 300 yards and 3 TDs. Mr. Domestic Abuser is not your answer to solving our passing attack. The only way this passing attack does not continue its recent strong play is if Cobb is not healthy enough to play. Unfortunately, reports seem to point to him missing the game. Thankfully, Jordy returns. And a healthy Jordy and Jennings are more than serviceable “replacements” of Cobb.

Vikings Rube:

No doubt that Rodgers will be the difference maker (just like last game). Though as mentioned above, when he is running for his life, his effectiveness is greatly reduced. The Packers’ running game is not a concern. I hope that Grant and Green get 20+ carries a piece. If that happens, the Vikings chances of winning are greatly increased. Anything to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands.

You are absolutely right about our resident Erik Walden, he is not a Pro Bowl caliber CB. He is not the answer. But he is a significant improvement over Josh Robinson. Frankly, that is all we need. If we are going to talk about the Vikings’ secondary, we need to give the appropriate due to rookie Harrison Smith. The Golden Fundamental has exceeded expectations in his rookie season. He is a heady football player who makes all the right plays and a few exceptional ones. For example, his tackles at the goal line and on third down against the Texans last week almost single-handedly changed the outcome of that game. He picked Rodgers in their first meeting and he will looking for the hat trick of INT for TDs this Sunday.

Packers Roob:

What?! Rodgers running for his life results in his effectiveness being greatly reduced?! Have you seen Rodgers outside the pocket? He’s the best QB in the league, due in part to the fact that he is the best outside the pocket. He can run for first downs and make all the throws even while on the run. If the Vikes want to successfully stop him, it’s best to keep him contained in the pocket, forcing him to step up in the pocket.

And trust me, if we run the ball 20+ times, we win the game. I cannot find the actual record, but the Packers own a ridiculous winning percentage during MM’s tenure when they run it more than 20-times. We do not run it when we are trailing. So if we run it that much, we are in cruise control.

— Predictions —

Packers Roob:

I almost feel bad the Vikes won last week to get your hopes up for this week. But this is what Minnesota fandom is all about: major letdowns. The domefield advantage won’t be enough. After all, Rodgers has hung 64 points in his last two trips to the Dome.

Like I said, it is all about when you play teams and you are catching a Packers team at the start of its run. The team is finally getting healthier. And all aspects of the Packers game is trending in the right direction – minus Mason Shanksby. With a 2-seed in the balance, I foresee a motivated team looking to quash those playoffs aspirations.

Pack 28 Vikes 16

Vikings Rube:

This is not going to be an easy game to win. And you are right, this is lining up for the classic end to the Vikings season. Make a miraculous run, win 3 straight, and then lose at home to our most-hated rival. Sounds like I will be earning another horn stamp on my Vikings fan card. Two more and I get a free dome dog. All kidding aside, the Vikings had the first match-up in their grasp and Ponder threw it away. Or failed to throw it away, depending on how you look at it. They will not make the same mistake twice. AP gets his 2,000 yard season, falls short of the record, but the Vikings get the victory. On to Lamblow for Round 3.

Vikes 23 Pack 21

And, if you want to try and watch this Sunday’s game in person, do not forget to visit our friends at Ticket King. They have all the options covered for this HUUUUGE game.

2012 Border Rivals NFL Preview: Rube v. Roob

In the spirit of the Border Rivals rivalry, we decided to jointly preview the 2012 NFL season for both of the Border Rivals’ squads. To capture the essence of that rivalry, and to help out the Vikings fan (because seriously, what is there to preview), we are taking a novel approach to the typical NFL preview. Enjoy the banter and analysis.

Vikings Rube

Professor Williams’ class on cheap shots and headhunting derailed what may have been a purple dynasty these last few years.

Well Vikings fans, the 2012 season is nearly upon us. To call the last two years rough would be an understatement. Following the high that was 2009, Vikings fans have had the displeasure of watching a 6-10 squad that featured amateur photographer Brent Favre (his pen name) and a 3-13 squad that showcased Lifetime Fitness Ultimate Hoops 6th Man of the Year stud, Donovan McNabb (no seriously, I did not make that link up). Who would have thought the low would be so low following the unreal high of taking the Pack’s beloved Favre and marching to the NFC Championship game? If not for G. Williams and his implementation of a real life version of The Hunger Games on that fateful Sunday, we might be talking about whether Favre should come back for his 3rd year with the Vikes and make one more run at another Vikings Super Bowl. Now who is ready for some football? Me either. Can’t we all agree to give that lockout thing a try?

Packers Roob

I feel your pain Rube. Being Favred is not easy. I am just happy you were able to enjoy that experience as well. What has to make that “favre-ing” so much more painful is how much it set your franchise back. The 2009 Vikings were the best football team that season. And in less than two years, it’s one of the worst. To top that off, the Vikes won a meaningless game at Washington costing them the #2 pick and the ensuing RGIII bounty. And if that wasn’t enough, AP goes down in said game, jeopardizing his future to some extent and, more immediately, his success this season. At least you have the Twin… Timberwolv… Wild (oh wait, the lockout). Well, the Lynx are still good! But I digress. With the easy part of the schedule at the beginning of the season, Gerhart and Percy need to step up while AP gets his legs under him.

Vikings Rube

Enough about Brent Favre, he is hustling social studies teachers in Mississippi , let’s get to the previewing already!! The 2012 Vikings feature a stable of young, talented rookies that were drafted as part of the haul the Vikings received in the RG III trade…wait…what…we WON that game…son of a…moving on. This year’s squad features some interesting rookies: Mount Kalil and  Harrison Smith being the obvious new kids on the block. But, it is actually the sophomore seasons of a couple key Vikings players that will likely impact the team’s success on a greater scale. On the offensive side of the ball, Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph are going to be counted on to produce in a big way.

Ponder showed flashes last season of being a legitimate NFL QB, but, he combined those flashes with some less than brilliant play as well. He seems to get happy feet a little too easily. And yes, that might have something to do with the fact that the Vikings gave up 49 sacks last year. I would probably have happy feet too if Julius Peppers was chasing me like a Packers fan after a Miller Light forty and a Polish sausage. Mount Kalil should change that. And, with more time, hopefully the flashes of legitimacy become the norm. It is important to emphasize, part of Ponders’ success is directly related to the growth and development of fellow sophomore, Kyle Rudolph.

Rudolph dominated while at Notre Dame. Vikings fans have only seen glimpses of that dominance while with the Purple.

Rudolph is a freak athlete who graded out with 1st round talent, but, was derailed by injuries. Stop me if you heard this one before, but, he continued to battle health problems once he got to the league. Though, when he played, he too showed real flashes and he seemed to have that knack for making the big play. Because of the garbage bin lids he has for hands, he can flat out go and get nearly anything thrown close to him. His problem is staying on the field. If he can stay healthy, he is exactly the kind of safety valve a young QB like Ponder needs to succeed in this league.

Packers Roob

If Rudolph is this wunderkind you speak of, then why did the Vikes drop so much coin on an even more-often injured John Carlson? Is it because he’s a local kid? In any event, if that’s a key to success, you have a low bar for success. And maybe that’s appropriate because any rube not named PA or Wobschmidt can see that the Vikes are staring at a 6-win season, at best. There are just too many holes at all levels of offense and defense, with my personal favorite being that Swiss-cheese like secondary – because, you know, the NFC North isn’t loaded with stud QB’s and WR’s. Even with the addition of Kalil at LT, the OL is a huge question mark. This has to be a make-or-break season for Loadholt. And the Vikes need another WR option outside of Percy. The defense is carried by Allen. But am I the only one thinking Greenway is a better version of Mr. T-Rex, A.J. Hawk – as in makes some tackles, but little actual impact on the game?

Vikings Rube

Carlson got signed because Musgrave is running the two tight end system. Not sure I am fan, but we have seen it work in New England. Rudolph is a wunderkind. The type who could succeed in a system that showcases his skills. He just needs to put it together. The OL is not nearly as huge a question mark as you make it seem. Sullivan established himself at a top line center last year. Charles Johnson will be playing his more natural position, guard, this year. And, Brandon Fusco has come, literally, out of nowhere (Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania) to earn the other starting guard position. Loadholt is definitely in a make or break season, but he too should improve with the addition of MountKalil and another year under his belt.

Now, for the Purple’s defense. If you thought the offense had question marks, then strap in, this may take a while. The 2012 Vikings offense should be able to move the ball and score some points. Sadly enough, that is the bar that Vikings fans have set for the squad. On defense, coverage, of any kind, would be a huge improvement from last year’s squad. The release, that is right, the release of Chris Cook is a definite benefit. He actually looked the part of a first round talent last year. Though, that solid play would have been difficult to deliver from a HennepinCounty jail. Jared Allen is the man Claymaker wishes he could be. No one knows what veterans Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield have left in the tank, but it better be more than fumes, or this year’s defensive unit is not going to be much better than last year. Harrison Smith displayed a penchant for big plays, sort of a Honey Badger Light. Those big plays were lacking all of last year for the Vikes and they will need them if they are going to stop anyone. But, the NFL is a lot faster than cupcakes Notre Dame played. If Smith can make the adjustment, his playmaking ability will be another critical piece to this unit’s success. If not, expect the 28th ranked pass defense from 2011 to remain right about where it was, the bottom of the league.

Packers Roob

You just compared your starting safety to a drug rehab, former-COLLEGE player. Um, good luck with that. What’s next, Ponder is the next Russell Wilson – wait, that actually might be an upgrade. The best point you made is the question marks surrounding Williams and Winfield. Williams has certainly lost a step and Winfield finally broke down last season. If neither plays to their previous performance, the defense will be simply Jared Allen. Sadly though, this Swiss-cheese defense accurately describes my squad’s defense. There is reason for optimism in the new faces and competition. But, when Jarrett Bush wins the starting RCB spot, God help us. Only Ahmad Carroll has been a bigger sieve covering than Bush. Nick Perry has a great bull rush, but shown little else. And we still don’t know how well he will play in space and covering. One OLB to keep an eye out for is undrafted free agent, Dezman Moses. Yes, I know. I’m resorting to undrafted free agents. But, the way that kid played with heart and desire all pre-season, he deserves some chances to see if he can carry it over to the regular season or is just this year’s Vic So’oto.

Vikings fans cringe when they see No. 52 strap the helmet on.

Jerel Worthy is not worthy of the early praise. He hasn’t shown much more than an early burst that opposing QB’s will surely exploit with hard counts. He needs to develop more hand action in the trenches and not simply rely on his speed/burst. And the safeties in the nickel and dime will be Morgan Burnett – who needs to take that next step – and M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian. The importance of losing Nick Collins cannot be overstated. On the bright side, at least Tramon and the Claymaker look like their old playmaking selves and will raise hell all season. And yes, I forwarded your earlier comment about Julius Peppers to Claymaker, indicating that Vikings fans do not fear him. Thanks for the bulletin-board material.

Vikings Rube

No, but seriously, did someone hack your computer? Are you feeling okay? Have you been spending too much time west of the Mississippi? That kind of negativity is not befitting a Packers roob. Smug superiority and being a Packer fan go hand in hand. Like Jared Allen and sacks or B.J. Rajii and…well…food. That being said, you are correct, the Packers defense is not that good. In fact, it might actually be worse than the Vikings (which is saying something). At the very least, both teams have a lot of unknowns. Despite your knock on Worthy, the talent is there. And, in Dom Caper’s system, he possesses the athleticism to be a force on the inside. Losing Collins certainly hurt, though, the bigger unknown might be Woodson’s official transition to safety. Even though he was basically playing there last season, now that it is official, I wonder if it will impact how he plays coverage. Will he still gamble? He is used to covering a specific receiver and now he will be responsible for an area. Will those gambles that miss result in even bigger plays for opposing offenses? How that transition unfolds is going to be play a big role in the effectiveness of the defense.

Packers Roob

You’re right, I’m not sure what the hell just got into me. All that negativity talk about your squad somehow seeped into my analysis for the 2012 Super Bowl Champs. I’m not as concerned about Woodson’s transition to safety. He’ll be there in the base set, but the Packers play base in less than 1/3 of the time. In the nickel and dime, Woodson will be back in his normal slot position, going pick-six all year long. The saving grace, in my opinion, for the defense is that it doesn’t need to be top-10 in order for the Packers to win the Super Bowl. As I’ve detailed previously, the defense just needs to be average. Remember, last year’s Super Bowl defenses were statistically terrible during the season – though the NYG defense stepped up in the playoffs. And with our offense, an average defense will get the job done.

Using that seemless transition, hey, let’s talk about that offense. It’s the best offense ever. A-Rodg is the best QB ever. We will score when we want and how we want, and A-Rodg may only get hurt this season from throwing down so many Championship Belts.

Vikings Rube

From one extreme, the Packers secondary could not stop a good high school squad, to the other, Rodgers is the best QB ever. The latter statement is utterly preposterous. The best QB ever does not get trounced at home in the first round of the playoffs. Nor does he suffer game losing fumbles to tewible linebackers who may or may not have sold me a double cheeseburger yesterday. Rodgers might not even be the best QB in the league yet. He is certainly in the conversation, but, if Super Bowls is the measure by which everything is judged (as Packer fans love to remind Vikings fans), then Tom Brady is the best QB in the league.

Packers Roob

Maybe not the kid that Brent Favre was, Rodgers is definitely a leader and the Packers will only go as far as he can take them.

Don’t pretend I know what you’re doing right now. Just looking to get a reaction. I am not taking the bait….*Blood pressure rising, face getting flush*….Brady used to be the best QB in the league. But that position has been usurped. There is no debating. A-Rodg is the best player in the league. Heck, even the reliable and indisputable NFL Players rankings had him 1st (because when John Kuhn makes that list, it has to be reliable). Cheering for Randy Moss all of those years must have convinced you that it’s not a team sport. But it is. And the Packers, not A-Rodg, lost that game because of a comedy of errors – a list too long and too painful to go over at this juncture. Ok, blood pressure dropping. On to the offense. To state the obvious, the Packers success hinges on A-Rodg & Co. With the best QB and WR corps in the league, the Pack will not be stopped on offense – often. Some keys for improvement on offense, if that’s even possible, are JMike reverting back to his 2010 self (pre-injury), a running game that is at least respectable, and improved play from Newhouse. JMike is too talented to put up such average numbers. Outside of the first Bears game last season, JMike was more decoy than the stud he should be. With two years removed from his knee injury, I expect this to be a break-out year. And man-crush aside, his YOTTO TD celebration is getting old – fast – when he drops more balls than Troy Williamson. Old Cedric had some giddy-up to him in pre-season, but I’m not counting on him to be the savior many are hoping. He’s a career volume runner. That is not going to magically change. The Pack just need him for short yardage down-and-distance and to potentially ice out games pounding the rock. One thing to watch for is if Benson continues to put the ball on the turf. And for Newhouse, he needs to perform. With no backup on the roster, his development is crucial. Will the offense continue to dominate like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl, most likely not. But I don’t anticipate much of a drop-off. I expect A-Rodg to be a leading candidate for another MVP and if the defense bounces back, we should get one for the thumb!

Vikings Rube

Not be stopped on offense. That is too rich. I bet you thought that same thing rolling into that first round playoff game against Da G-Men last season. That worked out well. Have you heard of hubris? And no, it is not something you eat with a pita chip. Also, Finley too talented to put up average numbers?  And you come after me for jumping…okay…driving, the Rudolph bandwagon? Let’s set the bar a little lower for ole Jermichael, shall we? Say, hope he plays in more than 12 games? That feels about right.

SEASON PREDICTIONS

Classy like that??? Says the guy with a foam piece of cheese on his head.

Packers Roob

JMike will only need 12 games to surpass Rudolph’s production me boy! And how many times are you going to go to the well with the Giants jokes? Did you notice I refrained from bringing up Gary Anderson’s name, the infamous NOOOO, NOOOO game, or your own disaster against the G-Men in the playoffs. I stay classy like that. On to our picks.

I’ve got the Pack going 13-3, losing at Houston, at NYG, and at Chicago. As for the Vikes, I’m predicting 5-11, beating the Jags, Titans, Cardinals, Bucs, and St. Louis.

Vikes Roob

Negative. The Vikes will surprise some people this year, going 7-9 or 8-8, beating the Jags, Colts, Titans, Cardinals, Bucs, Kitties, Rams, and maybe Houston (because it will be Week 16 and it will not matter for the top seeded Texans).

I have the Packers at 12-4 or 11-5. I think they get beat by New Orleans, @Houston, @Detroit, and @Chicago. Throw in a loss to the 49ers or Giants to make it 11-5.

WEEK ONE PICK    

Packers Roob

Packers score late to pull away for the victory. Alex Smith reverts back to the Alex Smith we know and love. As much as A-Rodg doesn’t want to call him a game manager, Alex Smith is this era’s Trent Dilfer, but not as savvy. I don’t buy into the revamped WR core for the Niners. What part of a 35-year-old, out of retirement and dropped by three teams in the last year he played, Randy Moss am I supposed to worry about? And Manningham is the next David Tyree. VD concerns me over the middle, especially when Mr. T-Rex is on the field. But, our defense is good enough to slow this squad and the offense will score enough against the vaunted Niners defense. Pack 27 Niners 17

Vikings Rube

Vikings come out strong at home and beat an equally young Jaguars team. The defense is the key as MJD and Jennings are shut down by Greenway & Co., so Gabbert is forced to the air where he is unable to capitalize on the inexperienced Vikings secondary. Ponder, Harvin, and Rudolph tear up one of the worst secondaries in the league and All Day shows a few bursts in his return. Toby brings his hard hat and lunch pail, eventually grinding out a 27 to 13 Vikings win.

Looks to be a good start to the year for the Border Rivals’ squads. Enjoy week 1 and thank god football is back!

How Good Does the Packers Defense Need to Be?

The 2011 Packers season was one of the more enjoyable regular seasons for fans. The offense was spectacular, taking most of the drama out of the games. And Rodgers turned in a season for the ages. But the dominant offense masked the glaring weakness – check that, the glaring liability – that was the Packers defense. Posting historical numbers for ineptness, the defense yielded big play after big play, rarely got off the field on 3rd downs, and would’ve been hard-pressed to make even Blaine Gabbert uncomfortable in the pocket. Any chance the Packers win a 5th Lombardi Trophy in 2012 is tied directly to the Packers defense improving, markedly so, from last season.

But exactly how much improvement is necessary in order for the Packers to truly contend for the Super Bowl? After all, 38 out of the 46 Super Bowl winners fielded top-10 defenses, with 22 of those winners having top-3 defenses. Still, last year’s two Super Bowl teams boasted the 27th and 31st “best” overall defenses. My belief is the Packers defense needs to be somewhere in the middle in order to get back to the Super Bowl.

Since 2000, 14 of the 24 teams that played in the Super Bowl fielded top-10 defenses. Only six teams fielded defenses ranked 16 or worse, two of which played last season, as noted above. This tends to support the “defense wins championship” mantra. But, consider that in that same time frame, 15 of 24 Super Bowl teams boasted top-10 offenses, with a whopping 5 teams sporting the best offense in the league. Similarly, only 3 teams were ranked 16 or worse. So, “defense wins championships” is not entirely true.

What these statistics show is that fielding a top defense is not essential to be a Super Bowl contender. But, it does lend credence to the fact that the Packers defense needs to improve in order to put them in contending position. Because the Packers will field one of the top-3 offenses, a defense merely respectable or average should be all that’s necessary. To put it another way, the 2012 Packers defense needs to find the happy-middle between the 2010 defense and the 2011 defense.

In order to make the necessary improvements, the Packers will need immediate contribution from a few rookies and second-year players – not to mention a return-to-form season out of Tramon Williams. Thankfully, the early signs from camp are pointing towards such an improvement.

Most noteworthy has been the competitive battle for the starting CB spot opposite Williams. Davon House is the early leader in the clubhouse, having played with a much sharper sense of urgency and making plays on the ball. Second-round pick Casey Hayward has likewise impressed with his ball-hawking skills and quick assimilation in the system. And after a slow start, Sam Shields seems to have turned the corner and making a push not to lose his starting spot. Finally, it’s impossible to count out Jarrett Bush, who simply refuses to be content as just a special teams star. This battle will go on throughout pre-season and the play during the games will determine who starts. Here’s what each player needs to show during pre-season action to earn that spot:

  • House – play aggressive and show he can man-up in coverage;
  • Hayward – demonstrate his ball-hawking skills and demonstrate he’s not just a zone guy;
  • Shields – must show he’s a willing and able tackler, and cannot continue getting caught looking in the backfield; and
  • Bush – show he is not the liability in coverage he has been in past years.

Most important to the defenses success, though, is the Packers’ ability to get after the quarterback. Enter Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, et al. Perry has been relatively quiet in the first few weeks of camp. By all accounts, he is going through the growing pains of learning a new position and dropping into coverage. Unfortunately, little has also been said about his pass-rushing, which is likely due in large part to the fact he continually goes against Bryan Bulaga – who is fast becoming one of the best, young RTs in the game. But, just recently, Perry broke through with a dominant victory against Bulaga in one-on-one pass rushing  drills, leading some observers to question whether this could be the start of something greater.

Not so quietly has been the emergence of Worthy, the star on defense at the Family Night scrimmage. Ever the yapper on the field, Worthy has breathed life into the dormant DL. He has shown tremendous burst and quickness for a man his size, and should see plenty of playing time with Raji in the nickel. Meanwhile, Daniels was playing very well during the first week of camp before going down with a non-serious leg injury. Assuming he returns healthy, he, too, can provide a spark to the pass rush. Finally, we cannot count out contributions from Hargrove and Neal (after serving their suspensions), and maybe even the undrafted free-agent Dezman Moses.

As shown, defenses do not necessarily win championships. But, what is necessary is a defense that is respectable. In order to regain respectability, the Packers 2012 defense must improve across the board. So far, the reports from camp have been positive. But, it is imperative that this progress carries over into the pre-season games. As Kevin Greene said to Clay, “It’s time!” Starting in San Diego, it’s time to see these young guys step up.

2012 NFL Draft: Act Two

Day 2 of the NFL Draft proved just as active Day 1 with trades up and down the two rounds. And, the two local squads flipped their tactics from Day 1 to Day 2. The Packers made two trades to grab two guys they covet, while the Vikes sat back, relaxed, and let a good player fall to them. Let’s take a look at how the two local squads fared.

Green Bay Packers 

Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, the Packers needed players at all levels on defense. With their first three picks, the Packers added a quality player to all three levels on defense. After landing an uber-talented, athletic freak in Nick Perry, the Packers needed to add some DL and secondary help on day two. As we discussed, armed with too many draft picks, it was time for TT to make a move and jump up in the 2nd round to get a player that falls. As if he read the article (and why wouldn’t he have?), TT did exactly that, TWICE, in the second round.

Sitting with the 59th selection, TT moved up to the 51st selection to select the falling Jerel Worth, DT from Sparty. Worthy is a mammoth of an individual, standing at 6’2″ and 308 lbs., who also can run the 40-yard dash in 5.08 seconds. He has tremendous get-off, known for his ability to anticipate the snap and wreak havoc in the backfield. He’s strong, powerful, and quick. Basically, he’s exactly what the Packers need on the defensive line.

Of course, he wouldn’t have been a second-round pick with this background if there weren’t some red flags. Worthy, like many big defensive lineman, had a tendency to take plays off in college. He flashes some dominance and then disappears for stretches at a time. And the downside to his get-off is that he was often flagged for offsides last season. You can be sure opposing offenses will take note and work on Worthy with the hard-count. Despite these few red flags, Worthy was absolutely the right player to trade up and target. He cost only the Packers 4th round selection – which is not a huge loss considering the Packers have two compensatory picks in the 4th round still. TT’s decision to move up was also well-timed as two other defensive linemen followed the Worthy pick, including Devon Still, the other Big Ten DL that was linked to the Packers. Worthy was the best prospect of that group, and a coup for the Packers to get in the middle of round 2.

Not resting on his laurels, TT moved back into round 2 when he dealt the 3rd and 5th rd. picks to The Hoodie for the 62nd overall selection. TT plucked Casey Hayward, CB from Vanderbilt. Hayward is 5’11”, 185 lbs., and runs a 4.57 40-yard dash. Mike Mayock, NFL.com’s draft guru, calls Hayward an instinctive corner, and has the second-best hands in the draft for a corner, behind the no. 6 overall selection, Morris Claiborne, which is backed up by his 7 INT’s last season. One more encouraging stat is that opposing offenses completed only 19.5% of the passes thrown his way, which is even more impressive considering he played in the SEC. Hayward’s downside is that he is limited in his man-to-man coverage skills. His overall speed is only average, which will cause him to struggle keeping up with the speedy, twitchy type WR’s – think Percy Harvin. But, he plays well in zone coverage, reads the Quarterback well, and trusts his instincts. Again, TT anticipated what would happen well, and jumped up to get Hayward before a couple other CB’s were selected, including one by the Vikings.

Realizing the need to grab quality players at critical positions, TT broke away from his M.O. and traded up to get two players that filled major voids. Packers fans should be thrilled with what TT accomplished with these two picks to go along with Nick Perry. The defense should be vastly improved. As a result, don’t be surprised if you see Greg Jennings do this (go to the :18 mark) early in the season because with these three picks, TT may have re-established the Packers defense as a top-end defense that can get them back to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings

Well, if the first round of the 2012 NFL was an overwhelming success for Viking fans, then, the 2nd and 3rd rounds were a disappointing return to the norm. In previous drafts, like many other bewildered/clueless GMs, the Vikings brass have spoon fed the notion that they got the guy they wanted. In the third round of this year’s draft, that meant the selection of UCF cornerback, Josh Robinson.

Robinson is an explosive athlete and, with the right coaching, could be a top end DB. The raw talent is definitely there. Unfortunately, this coaching staff does not have a great track record for coaching up the secondary. Plus, many draft experts have noted that Robinson was a great fit for a secondary that employs a scheme with an emphasis on man-t0-man defenses. This is the kind of guy to put on an island. His skill set (i.e. football smarts) might not transfer well to the Cover 2 that the Vikes try to run. This could be an issue. Instead of trying to trade up, Rick “The Schemin'” Spielman decided to stand pat and take the guy they wanted.

Unfortunately, this meant passing up on two or three guys who might have been  better fits for the Vikes. For instance, both Houston and the Hoodie were willing to trade out of the latter part of the second round. It likely would have only taken one of the fourth round picks that the Vikes had to move up and grab either Casey Hayward (that is right, THAT Casey Hayward), Rueben Randle (a WR with first round talent playing in a run-first system), or Trumaine Johnson (the guy STL took right before the Vikes). Hayward and Johnson were allegedly perfect fits for the Cover 2 scheme. Randle was exactly the kind of game-changing WR that could give a much needed boost to what could best be described as a one-man show. His skills, while unproven, were of the first round variety. And, he was only drafted a few positions before Robinson was taken. Yet, the Vikes laid back. Waiting for the guy they wanted.

Now, if there are talented, potential starters in the 4th round that the Vikings brass are targeting (think another offensive lineman and additional defensive backs), then maybe it was right to relax and wait for Robinson to come to them. However, if Robinson cannot be coached up, one of those guys who could not spell C-A-T if you spotted him the C and the A, or, if there are no hidden gems in the fourth round, then it will be a wasted opportunity to not repeat the successful strategy from round one, where the Vikes leveraged later round picks into higher picks in the current rounds.

In economics, there is a theory of evaluation simply known as the opportunity cost – the balance between scarcity and choice. For the Vikings, opportunity cost means weighing the scarcity of getting a guy like Rueben or Hayward, against the choice of keeping their 4th round picks. Ultimately, the maturation of Josh Robinson is going to determine whether the team made the right choice. Though, the opportunity cost that the Packers paid in the first round by not drafting Hightower or Upshaw might be exactly the same as the opportunity cost that could cost the Vikings a solid stater like Randle or Hayward.

Stay tuned for more on the final rounds on Saturday. That is, when things get really testy.

Players to watch at the NFL Combine

The NFL Offseason officially begins next week in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine – you know, the only interview done in tights and briefs. Despite their 15-1 regular season record, the Packers have plenty of positions they could use upgrades – basically anywhere on defense! While you’re watching highlights, reading updates, or listening to the talking heads (don’t try lying to yourself, we all know we are going to be doing this, even though we’d like to deny this fact), here are a few players Packers fans should keep their eyes on. And these are intended not to be the obvious candidates that would be great picks if they fell to us.

Vinny Curry – Curry is a fringe 1st-rd. pick according to the experts on the ole interweb, and a player not many people have heard of. Curry is a DE/OLB hybrid from Marshall. He’s 6’4″, 260+ lbs., and apparently is a “refined pass-rusher,” according to Mel Kiper’s Hair. He posted 23 sacks the past two seasons. Other reports indicate he has some real speed off the edge and has been compared to Cameron Wake. The Combine will be important to show off his athleticism and whether he has the ability to make the conversion to OLB.

Nick Perry – Perry is a player shooting up many draft boards and the Combine is likely only going to make it occur quicker. He’s a 6’3″, 250 lb. junior DE/OLB hybrid that had 9.5 sacks last season for USC (hmmm… could TT go back to the well?). Like so many of these young hybrid players coming out of college, Perry has very little experience working in space. He, too, has a great speed off the edge, and reports indicate he’s a hard worker that came from a tough upbringing in Detroit. Things to watch – reports indicate he is undersized for his position, and may have shorter arms (recall how much this fact has negatively impacted Bryan Bulaga… oh wait.)

Whitney Mercilus – Again, a DE/OLB hybrid out of Illinois. He led the nation in sacks (16) and forced fumbles (9) last season. Clearly, a player of this ability would be nice opposite the Claymaker. But, Mercilus screams one-hit wonder (think Vernon Gholston). In 2009 to 2010, he recorded 24 tackles and 2 sacks… total. The Combine will be the perfect place for him to display his athleticism, and his value will likely shoot up too high for the Packers selection. And for the record, a report has compared him favorably to Jason Paul-Pierre.

Dont’a Hightower – Hightower was the catalyst for the best defense in college last season (and perhaps the last decade-plus). He is an absolute beast ILB and would be the ideal replacement for A.J. “T-Rex Arms” Hawk. I was very pleased with D.J. Smith’s performance last season, but at this point, let’s get the best players available and sort out where each player will play later. Who knows, if Smith improves and we grabbed Hightower, moving Bishop to OLB might be a possibility. But I digress. Hightower is a thumper. Reports seem to indicate that he may be a tad bit slower than some would like. If this is true – i.e. he doesn’t test out well at the Combine – he could fall into TT’s lap, and would be a coup for the Pack.

In addition to these few specific players to watch for, there are a number of very good DE prospects to look for at the end of the 1st rd.: Fletcher Cox (Miss. St.), Jerel Worthy (Mich. St.), and Devon Still (PSU). In the secondary, look for Mark Barron (S – Alabama), Janoris Jenkins (CB – N. Alabama), and a second-rd. prospect in Trumaine Johnson (DB – Montana). Regarding T. Johnson, allegedly he’s a big and athletic guy that looks the part, but has some mental shortcomings – i.e. he’s a mental midget and may be quite fond of himself. His interview will go a long way in how high he climbs on the draft board.

In order to win one for the thumb, the Packers need to desperately upgrade several positions in its defense. As we know, TT is averse to upgrading the roster through free agency (to put it mildly). Hitting on their first several picks in the upcoming draft is crucial. The NFL Combine is where this process begins.