Tag Archives: Jimmy Graham

Announcing Their Presence With Authority

In a scene from the classic flick, Bull Durham, a puppy dog-faced Nuke Laloosh protests to grizzly catcher, Crash Davis, that he wants to announce his presence with authority. See the clip here. This clip perfectly captures the essence of youthful exuberance mixed with misguided overconfidence. Though I am not sure overconfidence is ever properly guided.

Young players are always eager to show the world their skills. Here is hoping the Ponder and Rudolph show has a lot of seasons left.

In response to his young pitcher’s stubborn pronouncement, Crash informs the hitter of the fastball that is coming and the hitter promptly parks it over the right field fence.

This scene is also a great example of the struggle that most players go through on their way to the show. This is true for most sports. Many young players have a difficult time initially applying their skills at the highest level. For many, it is their experiences in defeat that motivate them to be better. For Vikings fans, we are  lucky enough to get to watch not one, but two, young players go through this very process.

Last Sunday’s dominating victory over the 49ers of San Francisco, one of the best teams in the NFC, was a coming out party for a young Vikings squad. The lead roles in that victory were played by second year players Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph. Ponder threw two TDs (both to Rudolph) and ran for another.

2011’s manuscript was almost completely devoid of any happy endings. The squad went 3-13 and there was very little that fans could get excited about going into 2012.

During training camp, there were whispers that Ponder had developed a strong bond with Rudolph; they were in the same draft class and were rookies together. And, on the field, the two looked very much in sync. More than ever, a QB’s ability to play pitch and catch with his receivers is critical to a team’s success. Just ask any of the talking heads on the four letter network.

Rudolph has quickly established himself as Ponder’s security blanket. When Harvin is covered, Ponder looks for his 6’6″ tight end. You always get the sense that, if everything goes to hell, Ponder could just sling near Rudolph and he will make a strong play for the ball.

Through 3 games, Rudolph has 18 targets and 13 receptions. Of his 13 snags, Rudolph has three TDs. Considering his imposing frame and monster mitts, he is a match-up nightmare. It is still VERY early, but if Ponder continues to look for Rudolph in clutch situations, Rudolph has the pedigree to join Graham and Gronk as a premiere tight end in the NFL.

It was Uncle Rod who sang that he only had eyes for you. Am I embarrassed that I just made a Rod Stewart reference in this piece? Not one bit…okay….maybe a little.

A great example of Rudolph’s emerging skills were on display on his second TD. On the play, AP was WIDE open in the end zone. Like, not even Tavarius Jackson could have incompleted that pass. But, Ponder only had eyes for Rudolph. He trusted his battery mate enough, throwing the ball behind the defender and Rudolph made a  great catch in the back of the end zone. It is that mixture of trust and athleticism that could separates Rudolph and Ponder from the other QB/TE combos in the league.

Now, just like Nuke Laloosh’s journey in Bull Durham, the growing pains are nowhere near over. There will be Sundays, and maybe even Thursdays or Saturdays, where Rudolph and Ponder will want to announce their presence with authority and the team will struggle. But, just like you got emotionally invested in the Bull Durham characters, Vikings fans have to be excited about the prospects of watching Ponder and Rudolph make the journey. I know I sure am. In fact, would someone pass the popcorn, this is going to be good.

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2012 is The New YOTTO

2012 is The New YOTTO

Somewhere in Chico, CA, Aaron Rodgers is smiling. Jermichael Finley signed a two-year, $14M contract tonight – good for the fourth-most average per year money by a TE. The deal is a compromise between the two sides on two fronts: (1) it essentially splits the difference between the franchise numbers for TE and WR (remember, Team JMike was prepared to argue his franchise number should be a WR based on where he lines up – for the record, JMike lined up as a WR a little less than half the snaps last season (which means he may have had a winning argument because he also lined up in the backfield on occasion too)); and (2) the Packers get to wait a few more seasons to determine if JMike is an essential player to keep around under a long-term deal, and the flip-side, of course, is JMike hits free agency again at age 26 and will look to cash in.

Packers fans out there should be very excited about this new deal. Undoubtedly, JMike is the enigma of the Packers. He’s brash, outspoken, and the only showy-type receiver on the squad. Hell, he has his own personal motto for his TD celebration – YOTTO (Year Of The Take-Over). But, he’s also the Packers most physically gifted receiver, a matchup nightmare, and has all the potential in the world. But therein lies the problem. He has all this talent and potential, but hasn’t exactly put it together in a season yet.

The closest we have come to seeing his utter dominance was in this Tecmo Bowl shootout in 2009

The closest we came to seeing his potential dominance was at the end of his second year, in particular the Arizona Cardinals videogame-like playoff game. Remember this (go to 2:49 mark to see exactly what I’m talking about. I mean, he posterized Bryant McFadden like Vinsanity did to ‘Zo Mourning back in the day!) JMike carried it over to the start of the 2010 season where he had 300+ yards in 4 starts, including a huge performance at Chicago on MNF – 9 catches for 115 yards. JMike was Rodgers’ favorite target and really leading the offense. Then, pop goes the ACL.

Since that time, JMike has not returned to his pre-injury self, as far as the stats go. Last season, JMike put up a 55/767/8 stat line, good for 15th, 12th, and 3rd in the league for TE’s. When you add in the number of drops he had, it was clearly just an OK season by a player that had a mountain of expectation on him. But, I truly believe that his value to the team goes far beyond these stats suggest. The 2011 Packers offense was the best in franchise history and single-handedly led the Packers to the best regular season record by putting up Tecmo Bowl numbers. JMike offered a tremendous amount of flexibility and creativity to the offense. At various times during the season, JMike lined up as an in-line TE, slot WR, split-end WR, and in the backfield as a FB or RB. Such creativity permits the Packers offense to dictate the match-ups they get from the defense. Along those lines, it’s naive to think JMike’s presence didn’t permit Jordy to break out like he did. Now, before you send me hate mail about this last comment, know that I am not saying JMike’s presence is the only reason Jordy established himself as a legitimate no. 2 WR. What I am saying, though, is Jordy benefits greatly from JMike drawing so much attention. Part of the reason everyone was so dumbfounded teams didn’t double-team Jordy, even though he was becoming a breakout, fringe Pro-Bowler, is because teams picked their poison in making sure JMike and Jennings didn’t kill them. Any quote you read from opposing scouts, defensive coordinators, or their water boys will uniformly say that JMike is a player they have to account for when lining up against the Packers.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that the new NFL trend on offense is featuring supremely athletic and impossible-to-cover TE’s (think Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, and Rob “Jersey Shore” Gronkowski). The Packers have that in JMike and would be foolish to have let him walk, right before he enters the prime of his career. And, before you claim the Pack can do just fine without him, evidenced by the 2010 Super Bowl without him, remember Quarles may not play next year after his devastating late-season knee injury and D.J. Williams is not the answer, despite him winning the John Mackey Award at Arkansas (pretty sure Ron Dayne and Rashaan Salaam would be happy to remind you that college awards mean nothing at the next level.)

Tonight is a good night in Packers nation. Despite some negative opinions out there about JMike, he is a hard-worker and should bounce-back after a down 2011 season. I, for one, anticipate 2012 being The New YOTTO.