Monday, April 28, 2008

Ten Things That I Think I Think About the Packers’ 2008 Draft

The book has closed on yet another quirky draft by Packer GM Ted Thompson, and now the doors are opened for opinions and commentary on how we think this draft went. As always, it is rather silly to take any comments seriously, because we have no idea how these players will do in the long run. Remember last season, most people had David Clowney pegged as the difference-making WR from the draft, and it ended up being James Jones (something I had predicted, as Jones was far more of a go-up-and-get-it kind of receiver).

So, from Nelson to next year’s sixth rounder, here are Ten Things That I Think I Think About the Packers’ 2008 Draft.

1) I am still torn on the Jordy Nelson pick. On the upside, I think he’s a great prospect, a guy with great athleticism, and from what I hear, great character. I think you give a guy like this a season to learn from Donald Driver, and you are going to have a solid player reminiscent of Ed McCaffrey or Joe Jerivicius in a couple of seasons…a fantastic #2 receiver and possession guy that can occasionally make a break in the open field.

That stated, I don’t get why Thompson took him. I’m sure he was the best player on his board at the time, but why do you draft Driver’s heir apparent when you’ve already drafted his heir apparent each of the last three years? Murphy, Jennings, and Jones were all first day picks, and we have two that already look the part. Certainly, finding a #3 and #4 can’t be nearly as difficult, especially when we already have Koren Robinson on the roster.

“But, Ted Thompson doesn’t draft for need,” you say. And yet, almost every other pick in this draft was picked for need: a quarterback to replace Brett Favre, a cornerback to replace Harris, a tight end to replace Bubba Franks, a couple of tackles to replace Clifton and Tauscher, and another quarterback for Craig Nall. Add in a defensive end (which indirectly replaces Corey Williams and/or KGB) and yet another wide receiver, I question why we didn’t draft an heir apparent at a more critical or urgent position.

Al Harris is showing some signs of losing a step, one he can’t afford to lose. Bubba Franks is gone, leaving a huge void in the run blocking and pass protecting schemes. There were players available at #30 that would have been certainly more serviceable than the position players we got later on: Brandon Flowers, despite not being a physical corner, certainly is more NFL-ready than Patrick Lee, and Jermichael Finley is a finesse pass-receiving tight end, not the H-back of a tight end we might have picked up with Dustin Keller.

We’ve certainly learned that Thompson has some sort of method to his madness in the past, and that he usually hits on his wide receivers. But, there’s a point where holes do need to be addressed, and I do think that while we now have a solid WR prospect in the fold, we missed an opportunity to seal up another needed position for years, instead of bolstering one of the only hole-less squads on the team.

2) Brian Brohm is somewhat on an enigma. For one, his early selection (and the news that Thompson was going to trade up (gasp!) to acquire him) does seem to send a message that there is going to be some competition at the quarterback position, which is certainly a good thing. I was a little surprised they took a quarterback that early, as I really felt it was going to be more of a solid project player later on, with a veteran taking the #2 duties for a season or two.

That stated, this places two solid, young, and talented quarterbacks at the helm for the Packers, one who was raw and unprepared at the beginning of his career, but in his fourth year, appears ready to lead the team. The other brings a load of talent, but is best served by sitting and digesting the speed of the NFL game and possibly taking over if Aaron Rodgers is unable to deliver or ends up leaving in the next season or two.

Both quarterbacks bring a mixed bag of leadership ability, an accurate arm, and high degree of intelligence to the position. They also bring a history of getting banged up, which is going to be a far cry from the ironman quarterback who recently retired. The best situation will be for Brohm to ride the pine and allow Rodgers to finally prove his worth, but chances are that Brohm may have to get some playing time this season. As may Matt Flynn. And Jerry Babb.

3) The pick of Patrick Lee, on the surface, appears to be exactly what Thompson wanted: a corner that played a good brand of physical coverage. It seems like when Antoine Cason went off the board just ahead of the Packers pick at #30, Thompson had Lee as his next corner for that reason, bypassing other corners that may play better in space or have a more accomplished resume.

There’s a point where you draft a player to fit your style or scheme, but you also can’t discount talent. I voiced this concern back in 2006, when the Packers drafted Daryn Colledge, who wasn’t necessarily highly regarded as a guard, but seemed to be “a good fit for the zone blocking scheme”. He’s a tweener with some limitations, but as long as he was in a certain scheme, he would be effective enough.

Two years later, Colledge is still struggling, and if the Packers were to ever give up on the ZBS (as many other teams that experimented with the scheme have), where does that leave a guy like Colledge?

Similarly, if we draft a corner simply because he’s the next guy with physical skills, regardless of everything else, don’t we paint ourselves in a box? Lee is far from a completed product, and with the physical nature of his play comes a penchant for holding. We’ve already gone through this with Ahmad Carroll, proving that just playing physical doesn’t compensate for speed, timing, awareness, and discipline.

Patrick Lee has a lot of ground to make up to be a player in the NFL, and likely, will get his chance as a nickel back. Every write-up I see on Lee says he’s fits best as a Cover 2 corner…which means we need pretty solid safety play in order for him to be successful. Knowing Brandon Flowers, a more accomplished prospect that may not have been as physical as Lee, was available at #30 is going to rub Thompson’s rhubarb if this pick doesn’t pan out.

4) I may be accused of being overly negative so far (I prefer “critical”), but frankly, I was content with our first player picked (perhaps not necessarily when he was picked) and was happy with Brohm. The Lee pick was a good one in the sense that he was the “next-best” bump-and-run corner, but I am sketchy on taking players simply because they have specialized talent instead of overall talent.

However, you may slap the negativity label on me when I discuss Jermichael Finley. Yes, at that point in the draft, he might have been the best player available, or at least the best tight end available, but the more I read on him, the less I feel he is going to be on our roster come September.

Finley is a hard guy to find positives on. First of all, he’s young: a redshirt sophomore who has a body that is going to have to fill out significantly in order to be an NFL tight end.

Secondly, he’s really missing the skills set that this offense is going to need. Without Brett Favre back in the pocket using his ability to move around and make time while under pressure, the offensive line is going to lose its mulligan pretty quickly. Even with Favre, the offensive line has often needed additional blockers to help in pass protection, and one of those key cogs was Bubba Franks, who was an exceptional blocker.

Franks was let go because he was being paid top-flight tight end money for being essentially a one-dimensional player. To replace him, we would hope we could find a tight end that could not only bring similar blocking skills, but add the receiving skills that seemed to disappear from the TE position the past few seasons.

Finley is an athletic young man, as most tight ends are, but I think he is going to be ill-prepared for the transition to the NFL. He came out early because he is expecting his second child and needed the money. Yes, there are those who say had he stayed another year at Texas he would have been a first-rounder.

But right now, I don’t think you’re going to see him on the field. He's a one-dimensional pass-receiving tight end. Donald Lee is going to needed to be on the field more often with his middling blocking skills, to accommodate the protection of Aaron Rodgers. It’s not going to be often we can afford the extra luxury of a pass receiving tight end who is a liability as a blocker.

Once again, this goes back to the trade-down and the loss of Dustin Keller, who isn't necessarily a great blocker either, but had more ability to make that transition to a multi-dimensional tight end than Finley does.

Even more interesting was that the Packers had a chance to take perhaps the tight end with perhaps the best blocking ability of the top tight ends at #60, when they took CB Patrick Lee. Martellus Bennett, taken at #61 by Dallas, brings Antonio Gates-esque receiving potential as well as the size to execute the blocking the Packers need.

In the end, Finley may end up surprising me, and certainly, I hope he does. But I think this was a need pick that didn’t really meet the needs we had, and I'll won't be surprised if he doesn't make the final roster.

5) Following the Finley pick, Thompson did something he had never done before: he traded up in the fourth round to take a good defensive end. Now, mind you, I’m partially biased on the trade-up. I think that trading up has taken a bad rap from Packer fans the past few seasons, mainly because Mike Sherman traded up fairly often and had some poor results. Since Thompson traded back, and Sherman traded up, some of the Packer fans then deduced that trading back is always good, and trading up is always bad.

This is far from the truth. Trading up is a risk, true, but if you have properly scouted and know the guy you want is a solid pick, you trade that quantity of picks for a quality pick that may bring a higher return. Of course, if that player doesn’t pan out, you’ve wasted two picks on him.

Trading back can be just as risky, however. You just don’t see the risk because you don’t know who would have been picked at, say, #30, and be able to compare it. However, trading back to get two lesser players can be a good thing if those players work out. If they are average or worse, then you begin to wonder if there was a higher-quality player available.

Such is going to be the debate with Thompson’s trade-back of #30. We will also debate his trade up to #102 to pick up Jeremy Thompson, a guy who has some durability and motivational questions, but appears to be a guy that can work his way into the defensive line rotation right away. Given the Packers lost starting DT Corey Williams, this makes the addition of Thompson as a need, and a good pick at that.

Thompson has some work to do in terms of increasing his size and technique, and hopefully, he has the wherewithal make that happen. He may not become a star, but appears to be a good, solid player to rotate in. Given that Thompson had his stock rising as the draft approached, and that he was still available despite being pegged by some as a potential second-round pick.

6) Two tackles were taken in the fifth round, including a puzzling pick of a player not even invited to the combine, Josh Sitton. Sitton, despite playing tackle at Central Florida, is projected to move to guard because of his lack of explosiveness and mobility.

Most people were searching their draft sheets for Sitton’s name, to no avail, as he wasn’t even on many of them. Once again, Thompson is drafting one of his patented small-school flyers, thinking that he has noticed something everyone else hasn’t. I’m not sure if Sitton will amount to much more than a utility lineman, but we can hope for the best.

The Packers then took Breno Giacomini, a tackle from Louisville, possibly after he realized he took the wrong tackle in the previous pick. This project has a little more potential, with most scouts saying he needs to bulk up. However, in a zome blocking scheme, he may be ready to contribute sooner than later. Given that Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are both looking older, this was a good project player to bring in and provide some potential down the road. He does have some character issues, but hopefully he's coming into a good environment and those won't come into play as a pro.

By most reports, Giacomini has a good motor and is a tenacious blocker. I have a feeling that Mike McCarthy will find a place for him on the roster.

7) There’s nothing like finding all your backup quarterbacks in the same draft, huh? After taking Brohm in the second round, Thompson raised another eyebrow by taking LSU QB Matt Flynn. Flynn brings a zesty leadership from his time with a winning program to the Packer locker room, despite having nothing more than average skills. This was an interesting contrast to Brohm, who has the knock of being not as effective of a leader as a franchise QB needs to be.

In other words, Brohm has the tools but needs to learn how to do more than just be the BMOC. Flynn may be the one to help him on his way. While Flynn probably will not have the ability to start in the NFL, his smarts and leadership may allow him to become the next Ty Detmer. I would count on Flynn as a practice squad player this season, but keep an eye out for him if we see Rodgers or Brohm struggle with injuries. He might be sending in signals by the end of the season.

8) After taking another WR in the seventh round, then trading another seventh rounder to the Saints for a sixth-rounder in the 2009 draft, Thompson essentially did something most of his Supporters claim he doesn’t do: he drafted primarily for need. It was certainly not a glittery draft like that of the Chiefs, and in fact, seemed a bit methodical. But after he took Nelson in the second, every position seemed to fill a need of a missing player or a player that is again quickly.

It makes you wonder if we’re finally starting to see the real Ted Thompson, now that he has stockpiled his roster with 36 draft picks in the first three drafts. Coming away with his first non-double-digit number of draft choices in his Packer career, as well as his first trade-up ever (even with the Seahawks), makes you wonder if some of the gleanings we’ve taken from his first couple years are looking to be the “Rebuilding Ted” and now we’re seeing the “Maintaining Ted”.

Certainly, this seemed like little more than a “Maintaining” draft. No real playmakers or difference-makers were added, which is difficult to do from the 30th spot in the draft. It’s not a bad draft, for sure, but like many of his other drafts, has a ways to go to see if we’re going to get any real solid starters out of it.

9) Once again, the draft still left some positions open that Thompson seems to have trouble addressing. Despite knowing that Ryan Grant is the only established back on the team (and even his half-season of success may be a fluke of a pass-happy offense), Ted did not even pick up a developmental running back in this draft. There were rumors that Ted was looking for another trade up that might have netted him Texas RB Jamaal Charles (taken by Kansas City in the third round), but he apparently balked at another trade-up in the same draft.

Fullback, another position that could have been aided with the draft, went unaddressed as Thompson appears comfortable with converted linebacker Korey Hall. Instead of taking Brett Swain with a seventh round throwaway pick, he could have taken Peyton Hills, a project fullback that has a lot of versatility and projects well in a West Coast Offense.

Finally, Ted Thompson appears content with the safeties, which has continued to be a sore spot for this defense. Having two Pro Bowl corners has allowed the holes in the deep secondary to not hurt as much is it could, but the Packers currently have three players at safety that are all cut out to be hard-hitting run support players and struggle in coverage. Nick Collins has never repeated the perceived success from his rookie season. Atari Bigby is a street free agent who, despite coming on at the end of the season, hurt the team repeatedly with coverage mistakes and foolish penalties. Aaron Rouse is much in the same mold, a tweener linebacker/safety who projects as another strong safety.

The Packers are in dire need of a ball-hawking free safety who can act as the quarterback of the defense, and has the awareness to help the corners in over coverage. As Al Harris and Charles Woodson age and lose a step, not having a player who can fill that void is going to become more and more of a liability.

10) How the heck do you spend $35 million? For years, the Favre Critics wailed that Favre was handcuffing Ted Thompson with his huge salary cap hit, not allowing him to pick up the free agents at other positions. Well, now Thompson has Favre’s cap space, and the question becomes: where do you spend it? Jason Taylor? Is there a running back or a safety out there that can fill a void and justify a pricey salary?

This is the job that Ted Thompson gets paid to do, and coming off a 13-3 season (and drafting as if we won the Super Bowl and only have to develop depth), the heat is on for Thompson to figure out the difference between losing and winning an NFC championship game, as well as proving that Brett Favre isn’t the difference between 13-3 and 8-8.

The 2008 draft answered some questions, but left an awful lot of the open. But, like any draft, the proof will be on the field this preseason.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

2008 Draft: Day One Reflections

As Ted Thompson's fourth Day One comes to a close, there a three new millionaires in Green and Gold. The draft hasn't been as shocking as the Justin Harrell/Brandon Jackson one-two punch last year, but certainly has room for discussion, good and bad.

First of all, the Packers traded out of the first round, though you can say that it wasn't much of a move. Moving from #30 to #36 garnered the Packers an extra fourth round pick, but some skeptics out there will look hard at the pick, as a couple of players of high interest to the Packers ended up going by the wayside, including top tight end Dustin Keller and prime-time cornerback Brandon Flowers. However, when Antoine Cason moved off the board before the Packers' pick, I expected a trade-down as much as anyone.

The pick at #36 was a typical Thompson head-scratcher at first. I mean, if you were making a list of positions of need, wide receiver would likely have been the only one you would have looked at on the team and felt that we not only didn't need a starter, but really didn't need to develop much depth, either. (The other position would be defensive line, but you can never have enough quality defensive linemen)

We needed depth at quarterback, running back, both offensive guard and tackle, tight end, linebacker, corner, and perhaps even safety. I would even go so far to suggest that we could use players ready to challenge immediately at some of those positions, particularly safety, corner, guard, and tight end.

But, the BPA apparently on Ted Thompson's board was wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a rookie who will now compete with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and James Jones for as many passes that Aaron Rodgers can complete. While I can't find a lot of knocks on the kid or even where he was picked, there is a point where I do shake my head and wonder how we are going to shore up some of these other positions on the team when we don't draft for need, and also don't sign free agents.

Anyway, Jordy Nelson appears to be a big, tall recieving threat that might follow in the footsteps of some other big receivers like Joe Jerivicious, possession guys that can really make life easy for a young quarterback. Sterling Sharpe certainly filled that role for a young Don Majkowski and Brett Favre, and I think we already have the "stretch-the-field" guy on the roster in Greg Jennings.

Thompson, if nothing else, has certainly been successful in his ability to draft wide receivers in the second and third rounds and get them ready to play in their first years. I would expect that Nelson is both a good-bye to Koren Robinson and/or Ruvell Martin. Nelson may also prove to be a genius move in that Donald Driver is up there in age and may soon be on the decline or out of the game. If some misfortune befell Driver this season in the pre-season that knocked him out for extended time, a player like Nelson would be an immediate bonus.

With the Packers second pick in the second round, Thompson took quarterback Brian Brohm. This was an intriguing pick, for many reasons:

* Brohm was considered the second-ranked quarterback in the draft, but fell further than expected, just like the man he will be backing up, Aaron Rodgers.

* Brohm is considered very, very bright, with a 32/45 Wonderlic score. He is also considered a little injury prone. Some compare him to Joe Montana. Some also compare him to Ty Detmer. And, these are both traits that are attributed to Aaron Rodgers.

* Interestingly enough, the one trait he doesn't share with Aaron Rodgers is his mobility. While Aaron Rodgers has happy feet and likes to take off downfield a bit too quickly, Brohm is less mobile and not a threat to scramble. However, he has demonstrated an ability to move around in the pocket...not unlike our recently departed quarterback, Brett Favre, who was also not particularly mobile, but was excellent and sensing pressure and moving the pocket.

I was a little surprised that Thompson went with a quarterback here, but since both Brohm and Henne had free-fallen into the end of the second round, it is difficult to pass them up, especially when there is a need. I had expected Thompson to sign a veteran QB to back up Rodgers and invest a second-day pick in more of a project like Josh Johnson. However, no matter whose board you use, Brohm was a darn good value for a late second round pick.

The amusing thing I keep thinking of, though, is Green Bay Press-Gazette writer Mike Vandermause, who torched Favre a week or so ago for hurting Aaron's Rodgers's psyche by hinting that he was going to miss playing. I wonder if he will have words for Ted Thompson for drafting such direct competition...the second-ranked QB in the draft class....and hurting Aaron Rodgers's psyche even more!

The Packers last pick in the second round was a cornerback, Patrick Lee of Auburn, who along with Brohm seemed to turn the "Thompson doesn't draft for need" chorus on its arse. While many of the draftniks were looking for cornerback names like Jenkins, Talib, or Cason, all three were gone when the Packers got their first crack to pick. Apparently, Lee ranked above Brandon Flowers in Thompson's eyes, and this physcial corner gets a chance to play for the Pack.

Lee is, again, a matter of opinion as to whether he is worth the pick at this point. Depending on who you talk to, many had him going in the third round. While he is a good pick to fit the Packers' bump and run coverage style used by Al Harris and Charles Woodson, such physical style requires not only good athleticism, speed, and instinct, but a bit of experience helps, too.

Lee's knock is one that worries me...he has a tendency to hold. Putting a kid at corner and asking him to play that kind of physical defense brings back memories of Ahmad Carroll. However, Lee has more height and hopefully more discipline than Carroll did, and he has fluid hips, which is a good sign for a defensive back.

So, Thompson did pretty much everything we expected: he didn't take many big risks, grabbed players with a ton of upside but in need of development, and still left us with gaping holes not addressed by the draft. We have an exciting new WR, a solid backup rookie QB, and a CB prospect.

If we are looking at need (and one has to guess that Thompson is, given the QB and CB pickups on the first day), we would expect that our third round and two fourth round picks will possibly include a tight end, a running back, and a tackle.

Or, it will include another wide receiver. But, I won't be surprised if it is.

As Expected, Thompson Does The Unexpected

Well, the first pick has (finally) come and gone in the 2008 Draft, and as I predicted earlier, General Manager Ted Thompson has done the unexpected and, after a trade-down, picked up a player at a position that wasn't considered a high need. Jordy Nelson, the newest Green Bay Packer, is a wide receiver that was taken perhaps just a little early, according to most draft boards except the one that counts....Thompson's.

The Packer would definately appear to be set at WR, not only for quality starters, but for depth. Aging Donald Driver and breakout third-year man Greg Jennings are both Pro Bowl caliber (at least, with Brett Favre throwing to them), and second-year man James Jones, Koren Robinson, and Ruvell Martin would be amonsgst the top WR squads 1-5 in the NFL.

It makes little sense to the traditional Drafting For Need observer, who would certainly be thinking about giving new quarterback Aaron Rodgers more protection and a stronger running game rather than yet another WR weapon. And certainly, while I shake my head at the pick, especially after seeing TE Dustin Keller taken a bit prematurely at the spot Thompson traded out of, none of should be allowed to act surprised.

Let's review my pre-draft Gleanings, and see how I did.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #1: Ted Thompson doesn't pay attention to pre-draft hype. Many of us were hoping for CB Brandon Flowers or Keller to be taken, and even after the trade down, many thought a quarterback such as Henne was in the offing. But, Thompson ignored the prescribed expectations of 12,438 mock drafts and took the guy he felt he wanted.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #2: Ted doesn't trade up. Well, we knew this one. However, I don't know how many players there were that would be worth the price, and certainly, the trade-ups we saw in the first round didn't look like they panned out well for the teams that moved up.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #3: Ted keeps his first rounder. Oops. Well, it has to be said that we had barely a first rounder, and moved only barely out of the first round. I don't think you can fault the trade too much, however, unless you really felt Keller was the man we had to have, and I think a lot of us thought he'd still be there six picks later anyway, which brings us to...

Ted Thompson Gleaning #4: Ted does take risks, just backwards. I do think the Nelson pick is a little odd, especially with guys like Flowers and Nelson available at #30. When those two went quickly, and then the run on WRs began, Thompson may have found himself not only without the player he had hoped that we could have gotten despite trading down, but with the seven-minute window, not found another trading partner to trade down again.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #5: Quantity is better than quality, and competition is better than filling spots. I don't think this one can be argued much. Driver, Jennings, and Jones would be enough to establish a pretty solid WR squad. As we wait for the rest of the Day 1 picks, it will be interesting if some of the other positions perceived as a "need" get attention, or if we end up drafting defensive linemen in Round 2.

In all, I'm not disappointed with the Nelson pick. He appears to be a big body, kind of like Ruvell Martin, that can help out a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers with his size as a possession receiver. He appears to be a high-character guy, and while he is slow, we've seen that speed is often the fool's gold of wide receiver skills. Give me a guy like Greg Jennings that goes up to meet the ball in the air while fighting off defenders, and I don't care how fast he gets to that point.

And, given my gleanings, I certainly have no reason to be surprised. Do I?

Favre Wins PFWA Award (How Couldn't He???)

The Professional Football Writers of America awarded Brett Favre with their annual "Good Guy" award, given to the athlete who, essentially, helps make their job easier.

According to the article:

Favre not only gave detailed, honest answers, but increased his availability to national and out-of-town reporters during his final season with the Green Bay Packers.

Just reflecting on the amusingness of the media and attention that Favre has gotten is kind of ironic that suddenly, people are coming forward and essentially admitting how Brett Favre made their lives a heckuva lot earlier.

A couple of nights ago, Favre appeared on the David Letterman show, and of course, was asked numerous questions about his retirement and if he'd consider coming back. Favre (who looked about as comfortable as a fly at a frog convention) even looked at Letterman at one point and told him, "You're watchin' too much television." But, Letterman, like everyone else, hammered on and eventually got what he wanted...a detailed, honest answer.

No one tended to comment that Favre probably didn't volunteer to be on the show, offered to come out and talk about retirement. If you ask me, his appearance was likely an obligatory one he had to make in order to promote his face on the cover of Madden 09.

I have never believed, as many do, that Favre was some sort of attention-seeking media whore, who seemed to enjoy torturing fans with his glib remarks and "holding the team hostage". But, it has continued to play out, with reporters fishing and fishing for remarks, and when Favre would respond with whatever he was thinking, unfiltered, it made news in such a way that made Paris Hilton and Britney Spears wonder where all their paparazzi had disappeared to.

The award from the Football Writers is, above all, a personal thank-you to Brett Favre for making their lives a lot easier over the past several seasons. The boring, politically-correct athlete like Tom Brady may be a great teammate and a great player, but is awfully boring for the media, who wants to make sure they have news fodder during the long offseason.

And Favre gave it to them. Some say he hogged the spotlight, but I really believe that any spotlight he garnered was placed upon him by the media, a light he really didn't want a part of.

A couple of seasons ago, Favre made some controversy because it was leaked that he occasionally changed in a separate area of the locker room. The Favre Critics rose, chastising him for everything from being a bad teammate, to thinking he was above everyone else...a prima donna who was slowly poisoning the team.

In reality, Favre ducked into the training staff changing area when the reporters were released into the locker room. Why? Because he knew not only would there be a crowd of 40 people around his locker, he would be late for the obligatory post-game press conference that he had to do after every game.

Favre made offseason storylines pretty easy for the press, and its about time they acknowledged it and said thanks for the headlines.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Thompson People": Watch Out For Johnson

With Ted Thompson at the helm, watching the draft is almost no fun. At least, not in the traditional sense.

I mean, the way it is supposed to work, we fans are supposed to get worked up over high-profile players and hope one falls to us, or even more irrationally, hope that we trade up to get that guy we want.

Ted has ruined all that for us. Unless you are a complete draft nerd, poring over every single player available, you are likely to be surprised when Ted sends a card up to Roger Goodell. You see, Ted doesn't approach the draft like Mel Kiper and the rest of us.

Which is possibly a good thing, if Ted Thompson's scouting and draft board is better than Kiper's and ours. While that is certainly still up for debate, I am going to make my bold prediction for the 2008 NFL Draft, just a day away.

I am not, however, going to try and predict who the Packers will take at #30. It is an impossible task.

#1: We have no idea who will still be available when pick #30 comes up.

#2: We have no idea what Thompson's draft board looks like.

#3: It is just as likely that Thompson will trade down as he will actually pick at #30.

#4: While the general consensus has us taking a cornerback like Antoine Cason, Thompson has proven he doesn't draft for need, doesn't draft big names for the sake of drafting big names, and doesn't really have any discernible pattern to his drafting until we look back on it and many of his advocates justify every pick made as the most genius move ever made.

It's possible Thompson could draft Cason or another of the more popular players in any of the 12,849 mock drafts published just yesterday, but I am not going to try and do that. Because, no matter who I try to pick at a position or a spot in the draft, you can't do it with any level of success, even with a predictable GM.

So, the goal is to think like Ted Thompson. As much as I have avoided doing this over the course of the last three years for fear of losing my mind, I think that I have finally gleaned enough information to pick a player that I think Ted Thompson is going to pick at some point in the draft, quite possibly on the first day.

This is a far more rewarding journey for the draft watcher, because Thompson tends to look at his board, and he has shown a propensity for taking a player early if he thinks he is the one he wants. Plus, this way of thinking also leads to his penchant for trading down: get that player you want 10-15 picks later, and another pick to boot.

Agree with it or not, this is the way Ted Thompson has shown he likes to operate. So, given that information, I am offering this name as a player I think that Thompson will take at some point in the draft.

Josh Johnson, quarterback, San Diego.

A lock? Far from it, but he seems to have many of the qualities that Thompson tends to like in many of his picks. For one, he's a sleeper that many have noticed, almost so much that you tend to think he's risen on the charts simply because he's "the" sleeper. But, he still has enough rough edges that make you think he will easily be available for any of the Packers later picks on the first day.

* He's a raw talent that has room to improve over time. Ted Thompson has, other than AJ Hawk, never really looked at the draft to "fill holes" for the present, but as investments for the future. He has taken risks on raw talents in the past, and while some have worked out, others were miserable failures (Corey Rodgers, Mike Hawkins, Ingle Martin). But, the pressure isn't on Johnson to start now, but to develop his frame (which has room to grow), and like Aaron Rodgers, to develop his comprehension of the playbook and slow the game down.

* He's a small-school talent that has excelled at a Division II level. Nick Collins, Greg Jennings, and James Jones are yearly examples of players taken from lesser schools that have gone on to have success, despite initial protest that the players were unknowns. There is the overriding belief that when you take players from a big Division I school, you are more likely to get a player ready for the NFL. Ted Thompson, however, doesn't appear to subscribe to that theory, and lets other team pillage the Florida States and Ohio States year after year.

* He's considered football smart, though perhaps not necessarily a rocket scientist. According to CBS Sportsline, his Wonderlic score was a 15/24, far behind the 28/32 of Matt Ryan and the 32/45 of Brian Brohm. However, drafting smart players has never been a priority of Ted Thompson. Nick Collins is a good example of a good player who isn't necessarily a high-Wonderlic kind of guy, but has a good "football IQ", a term often applied to Johnson.

* Needs development to digest a playbook and work on NFL-level mechanics, and the Packers have Mike McCarthy, who has taken the time to not only develop Aaron Brooks and Aaron Rodgers, but to rein in and bring veteran Brett Favre back to a MVP level in his final year with the team. When you know you have the coaching staff to handle a developmental project, it makes selecting such a player less risky.

* Most of all, he has the tangible and intangible tools you would love to see from a quarterback. He has a live arm, is relatively accurate in his throws, is confident and tough, and has a solid mechanics. If you were to apply those descriptors to a prospect from a Division I school, he'd be a first-round draft choice. Ted Thompson, though, is willing to get those same skills from players from smaller schools.

* Like Aaron Rodgers, Johnson adds the potential of being a mobile quarterback with good speed and the ability to be a threat on the ground. I personally am not a fan of the running quarterback, and would much rather see them manipulate the pocket rather than open themselves up to hits downfield. However, the threat of being able to run can handcuff a linebacker into a spy position, leaving someone else in single coverage or wide open in the pass.

In several publications, Josh Johnson compares favorably to many other mobile quarterbacks in the past, such as Randall Cunningham. As far as that goes, no mobile quarterback other than Steve Young has ever won a Super Bowl, but as a backup, Johnson seems to fit the bill.

So, in conclusion, I am making the bold prediction that Josh Johnson is going to be in green and gold by the end of this weekend. Is he "Packer People"? I don't know about that, but he is definitely "Thompson People", fitting the model of what Thompson tends to look for in his late first-day picks: a small-school raw talent that might end up being taken a round or two early from what the draft "experts" would suggest.

I have sworn I wasn't going to make any mock drafts this year, a process involving usually guessing what talent will still be available in a slot and looking at the biggest needs of the team at that point. Making a mock draft with Ted Thompson as the guy actually pulling the trigger is an adventure in frustration on draft day, who is just as likely to trade the pick as make it.

So, to avoid another Justin Harrell jaw-drop, the goal is to look at what players Ted Thompson is eyeballing, regardless of round or need. My guess is that Josh Johnson, or a player just like him, is going to end up in the fold this weekend.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Vandermause Tells Favre To Zip It

After publishing this article a few days ago, I was actually somewhat surprised when some of the Scout writers decided to jump on the bandwagon with Favre Bashing, but I was even more disappointed when Mike Vandermause of the Press-Gazette decided to do the same thing on Sunday.

In his Sunday op-ed, Vandermause tells us that Brett Favre has to learn to "Zip his Lip". Somehow, his comments in response to a reporter's question about extraordinary circumstances affecting his retirement are detrimental to....what? Who?

Asked by the Biloxi Sun-Herald on Tuesday whether he would consider returning if starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury, Favre replied: "It would be tempting, and I very well could be enticed to do it." Say what?

In the same interview, Favre also said he hasn't changed his mind about retirement. He added he wouldn't return unless he was in shape. Is it any wonder Packers fans were confused by the mixed messages?

First of all, cherry picking the quote in and amongst all of the talking Favre did that day was, once again, a bit disingenuous (but makes for great copy!). Taking one quote out of the context not only of what he was asked, but in his entire thought process in his response is something I'd expect of a blogger, not a professional journalist.

But who is hurt in all of this? Who is Vandermause assuming is damaged by these comments of Favre? Why does he need to zip his lip?

Ah, Aaron Rodgers.

Even the hint Favre might play again will send certain fans and media outlets over the edge. It's not inconceivable that some people will root for Rodgers to get hurt.

Intended or not, Favre's comments added to Rodgers' heavy burden. It's difficult enough following a legend, but it will become harder if there's a perception Favre is waiting in the wings.

Now, let's come off this for a second. Aaron Rodgers has had four years to groom himself for this moment in time. He has learned from Favre, but more importantly, has the faith and trust of both his head coach (who has supported him completely) and his GM (who has yet to even find a suitable backup for Rodgers, much less competition for the starting job).

I'm really not sure which "fans" Vandermause is referring to. In most of the forums and fan chatter I've seen, the only people thinking this is Chicken Little territory are the same people who look to denigrate Favre regardless of what he says, not the ones who are wishing he were back in green and gold.

The only people who are making any measure of a big deal about this are the media, who essentially created this entire non-issue.

And this is what bothers me about Vandermause's little tirade.

Favre could have avoided all of this by emphatically stating he's happy in retirement. He should have politely declined to play a silly game of what-if. Instead, he fueled conjecture about a possible comeback.

How will Favre respond in his next interview when someone hits him with this: "Would you consider playing again if boar hunting gets boring, your golf game goes to pot and your lawn no longer needs mowing due to a drought in Mississippi?"

Against my better journalistic instincts, I would advise Favre to stick a sock in his mouth. Either that, or simply say, "No comment."

Somehow, this is Favre's fault. Somehow, in between his retirement press conference and this past week, he was supposed to finally learn to do what he's never learned to do over his entire career: not speak what is on his mind. Favre Critics have ballyhooed about his free speech rights for years, whenever he spoke out on any topic.

But Favre has never opened up a press conference and started talking. He is always asked questions by the media, because the media knows that if they poke and prod enough, the good ol' Southern boy will say something that will make a great story. This has been the story of Favre's career, particularly the past several years. Reporters drill him with questions, trying to get good quotes out of him, and usually, Favre delivers.

We remember the time he spoke out on Javon Walker, or criticized Wil Whittaker, or even made public comments stating he wanted Randy Moss. Do you really think he initiated these conversations?

No, the paparazzi media knows he'll say something, and they keep at him, relentlessly, trying to get a good quote out of him. And you wonder why he occasionally dressed in a separate area in the locker room when the press was released inside.

What bothers me is how Vandermause completely misses this point, placing 100% of the blame of this on Favre, and absolutely none on the reporter(s) who created some sort of fictional, extraordinary, nearly impossible scenario, presented it to him, and requested a response.

It's kind of like Marry, Date, or Dump. If you had a choice between Reese Witherspoon, Angelina Jolie, and Heidi Klum, which would you marry? Is your response really meaningful and worth reporting if it is never really going to happen in your entire life? Do any of us think those three are really going to be vying for our attention at the same time someday, so we should censor ourselves and not answer the question?

The quarterback situation is most likely not going to be that bad, and even if it was, Ted Thompson is not going to ask Favre to return. Ever.

One thing is for sure: if Brett Favre didn't "no comment" when he was a player and a part of the team, what in the world makes you think that he is going to start censoring himself when he is finally retired and doesn't owe anybody anything?

To me, Vandermause is guilty of one of two things. On one hand, he is either just protecting his fellow journalists, making sure that when Favre says something on his mind, he must have just said it unabated.

Or, worse, he is a part of a system in which one journalist essentially antagonizes quotes out of a player, to be used by other journalists for headlines during the dog days of the off-season.

Again, Favre hasn't hurt anyone with his comments: the Packers are still in existence, Ted Thompson isn't hiding under his desk, Mike McCarthy isn't in tears, and Aaron Rodgers is under the exact same pressure he's going to be under leading a 13-3 team back to the playoffs. Most intelligent Packer fans know that Favre isn't coming back, and Ted Thompson would never ask him to do so.

So, the only people who are apparently affected by these quotes are the media (who need to write something about the Packers) and those who look to place Favre in as bad of a light whenever they can anyway.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thompson: Five Draft-Day Gleanings

I don't claim to be a "draft expert". I don't even claim to be a draft nut. The Internet and blogospheres are loaded with people who have some reasonable credentials to talk about what they think might happen, and even more who don't have any credentials whatsoever besides reading what everyone else says.

So, I am not going to publish the Tundra Vision Mock Draft, or TV Mock Draft 2.0, TV Mock Draft 3.0, or TV Mock Draft Vista. The fact that the Packers don't pick until #30 makes such a prediction rather comical, since GM Ted Thompson does very little to show his hand as to who he wants. Many of us thought he was taking Vernon Davis over AJ Hawk two years ago, and the Justin Harrell pick last year caught almost everyone by surprise.

But, as we approach Ted Thompson's fourth draft, I think there are some things that we can glean from his past efforts that will help us predict what he will do with pick #30. Don't ask me for a position or a player, and frankly, I think anyone who predicts that correctly deserves a beer for having such great luck.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #1: Ted doesn't pay attention to pre-draft hype. In other words, don't look for the biggest names to necessarily be highest on his board. We've seen Thompson pass up sexy names many times, in order to take a more anonymous guy that he likes. In 2006, many of us were hoping for Chad Jackson, considered by most to be a late first-rounder, to fall to us with the 36th pick. Imagine our shock when the Patriots ended up with that pick in trade and took Jackson, while Thompson traded back to take the much less heralded Greg Jennings. Jackson played at high-profile Florida, while Jennings hailed from Western Michigan.

Incidentally, this ends up being one of Thompson's biggest draft coups. Jennings is on the cusp of being a top WR with a breakout season in 2007, while Jackson has caught only 13 passes and spent far more of his career on the injury list than on the field.

The year before, many sexy names hung around in the second round, many hyped by the draftniks and Packer fans (Justin Tuck, Channing Crowder, and Andrew Walter). However, with all those players still on the board, Thompson shocked us by taking two smaller school players in safety Nick Collins and wide receiver Terrance Murphy. How successful that move was is certainly up for debate: Collins is a serviceable starter and Murphy is out of the NFL.

However, the gleaning sticks: just because a name gets a lot of attention from the draftniks and Mel Kiper, Jr., don't count on him being on Thompson's list. In fact, you might even start to think that Thompson likes to avoid the "phat" players who come in with more hype than talent.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #2: Ted doesn't trade up. Now, there's always a first time, but I wouldn't count on it. Thompson views his draft picks as investments for the future, not hole-fillers for the upcoming year. There's no team that has compiled more draft picks over the last three years than the Green Bay Packers. In fact, Thompson has drafted more players in his first three drafts than Ron Wolf did in his first three drafts...and Wolf had 12 rounds in each one!

I do think there's a bit of a fan backlash against trading up from the Mike Sherman days, who used the trade-up fairly often, but had some disastrous results (BJ Sander being the usual Exhibit A). However, this doesn't mean that the trade-up is a bad idea. A trade-up does trade known quantity (a higher number of lesser picks) for the risk of better quality. I've often cited that in 2004, I would have loved to have seen the Packers trade all of their Day 1 picks for the #6 overall pick, and taken DeAngelo Hall. When you look at who they ended up with those untraded picks (Ahmad Carroll, Joey Thomas, BJ Sander, and Donnell Washington), it sure seems like the trade-up was the much better option.

But, that's where your talent evaluation comes in, and Thompson trusts his evaluation so well that he thinks that he will end up with enough talent without having to sacrifice the quantity he has grown to love. This year, picking at #30, he might be tempted to trade up into the third talent tier of players, which usually has its line in the mid-20's.

But, I wouldn't count on it.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #3: Ted keeps his first rounder. For all the legends of Thompson's fur trading on draft day, there's one round he hasn't traded down out of yet, and that is the first. I'm sure he's been tempted, and likely gotten many offers, but I think he tends to look at that first rounder as the one "sure-fire" quality pick he adds to the roster. His first rounders (Rodgers, Hawk, and Harrell) are all expected to start or contribute this season.

At #30, I think it would take a logjam of, say, wide receivers as the BPA that would make Thompson think he might skip down a few spots and into the early second round. But, I wouldn't count on it. I think if any of his players is available at #30, even if it seems like a small reach, he takes him.

Case in point: Justin Harrell. Now, while this has been debated and the Broncos have been cited as saying they would have taken him shortly after the Packers did, you can't deny that many Packer fans were a bit surprised when he was taken at the point he was in last year's draft. Many in the media and fan base (myself included) felt that Harrell could have been available by trading down into the late teens or early twenties. However, Harrell was on Thompson's list, and I don't think Thompson wants to play much with the first-rounder. So, he took him.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #4: Ted does take risks, just backwards. The impatient among the fan base that keeps waiting for Thompson to hit an offseason home run usually lists his methodical, safe approach as Frustration #1.

But, Thompson does take risks, especially as you fall out of round one. In the 2006 draft, with Ahman Green coming off a serious injury, many of the draft experts expected Thompson to take a running back. As it was told later on, Thompson had his eye on Wisconsin running back Brian Calhoun in the third round. The Packers had their own pick, #67, and the Patriots' pick at #75. Thompson took a risk by taking linebacker Abdul Hodge, a player who would likely be a backup for the foreseeable future, at #67 and hoped that Calhoun would still be there at #75. Alas, Calhoun was snapped up by the Lions at pick #74, and reports were out there that Thompson was a bit disappointed.

Now, Calhoun's injury-riddled NFL career aside, Thompson will look at a player on his list, and if he thinks he might be available 5 or 10 picks down the line, look to trade down or wait on him. This shows restraint, especially in a draft that is more often marked by teams trying to trade up to get coveted players. However, it does also show a passive risk-taking streak in Thompson, too.

It is interesting to note, that despite RB being considered a high need in that draft, Thompson came out of it without a single running back out of twelve picks.

At pick #30 this year, there is going to be a mishmash of talented players who all have flaws. If Thompson thinks that one of those players is going to be available at #56 or #60, or could also be available if he trades down into the 40's, don't be that surprised if he does so. I'd be more inclined to think it would happen with those second-round picks than the first-rounder, but if there is a logjam of wide receivers as the BPA when the Pack comes up to pick at #30, it will be interesting to see what Thompson will do.

Ted Thompson Gleaning #5: Quantity is better than quality, and competition is better than filling spots. Depending on your point of view, this is either Thompson's greatest asset or his Achilles' heel. His penchant for trading down, taking smaller-school and more raw talent, and eschewing of veteran free agency often puts the Packers in a position of fielding a lot of young players without any clear-cut starters. In 2006, Thompson gave new coach Mike McCarthy a slough of rookie and street free agent offensive guards to compete for the starting jobs. Two years later, the OG position still seems to be without de facto starters. In 2007, the Packers entered the season without a single running back with a quality career start in the NFL, and for half a season, not one of them emerged as a back that deserved one, as they continued to fruitlessly shuffle them in and out of the lineup.

So, while many of the Internet Draftniks have the Packers taking a QB here, a TE there, and a CB over here, it is not likely that Thompson will be using this draft to fill any holes for 2008. In other words, don't expect that just because we need a backup QB desperately, that Thompson is going to use the draft to get a particularly well-regarded one. The same goes for a CB to be groomed quickly to fill in for aging Al Harris and Charles Woodson.

While there are chances that Thompson will spend pick number 30 to pick up a perceived need-filler like Rodgers-Cromartie or Talib or Cason, it is just as likely he might pick up a late first-day cornerback along with two second-day corners to compete with each other.

In conclusion, it is almost impossible to predict who the Packers will take at #30. Thompson has shown he's less of a needs-based drafter as he is a Best Player, scratch that, Best Player Available On His List drafter. You are wise to start checking players that may be invisible right now on the Big Boards...players from small schools and that may be coming off of injuries, as those factors which affect most scouts (and draftniks) don't appear to have much effect on Thompson. Chances are he will stay at #30, but if the right deal comes along, don't be surprised to see him trade out of the first round altogether--and don't count on a trade-up at any point.

Coming off of a 13-3 season, the Packers have a surprising number of needs: in fact, the only two squads that appear to NOT be a need are defensive line and wide receiver (and, you know that Thompson will likely take a defensive lineman at some point anyway, probably on Day 2). Because of all those needs (depth needed at RB, QB, TE, LB, and S, heir apparents needed at OT and CB), don't be surprised to see any of those positions come up at #30, even players that some draftniks have as second or third round talent.

Ted Thompson, as a drafter, is certainly unconventional. His success as a drafter is still a mixed bag, depending on who you talk to, but this is for certain: we are getting to know his style, and hopefully, this will be the first year we will expect the unexpected.

Scout Writers Take the Bait

I wrote earlier about the silliness of the media all waiting to blow Favre's recent comments out of proportion, and leave it to Harry Sydney and John Lombardi to be the first in line to make a headline out of it.

I don't have a subscription to Scout, nor after reading these headlines do I think I am going to make any investment in it.

Sydney Speaks! Ride off into the sunset!

Packer Report’s Harry Sydney weighs in with his thoughts of Brett Favre’s recent comments regarding a possible comeback to football. Like many, Sydney is as perplexed as most Packers fans over the issue and, as always, tells us how he really feels.

Uh, huh. Now, Harry and I aren't saying much different from one another...I also think it is time for Favre to ride off in the sunset. But, placing all this on Favre is silly? Why do reporters ask him these types of questions? Why do they care?

Easy. So they have a story, and other media types can then overreact to it. No offense to Harry, whom I've grown to have some respect for over the years, but the best way to let Favre ride off in the sunset might be to actually LET him ride off in the sunset without constantly trying to pry a un-retirement scenario out of him.

But, John Lombardi took it a step even further...

By John Lombardi
Date: Apr 10, 2008

Favre not doing Packers any favors with recent comments

What? What did he do? Now, not reading the article itself, I might be missing some salient, observant point that belies the title. But I doubt it.

Favre gets asked, point-blank, if the Packers were in severe trouble and Favre was asked to come back in a short-term situation, would he consider it. Favre says, sure, he'd consider it.

How does this hurt the Packer organization?

He's retired. No matter how bad the Packer situation gets, Ted Thompson is not going to ask Favre to return.

No matter how much the fan base might cry for Favre's return in the event we're starting Jerry Babb by Week 3, Ted Thompson does not allow fan or media wailing to impact his personnel decisions.

But, what the heck. It's April, we're a ways away from the draft, not much else to write about. Hm...what have we filled the empty days of spring with for Packer news the past few offseasons?

Oh, that's right...endless speculation on how Favre's retirement drama is crippling the franchise, sending Ted Thompson under his desk in tears.

I've made this point before, even when Favre was still playing: do you honestly think Ted Thompson, an NFL executive, is sitting in his office fretting about what Favre was going to decide to do? Do you not think he had plans made for either scenario? Do you honestly think, looking at his salary cap approach, he was going to start investing huge amount of money in free agents had Favre retired earlier?

No. Ted is paid to run this team, and he should be given the assumption he knows at least something about how to do it.

Now, Favre is retired, and Ted is under no obligation to cater to his every need, not that he ever was.

So, John Lombardi thinks this "I might think about considering un-retiring if there was a crisis situation in Green Bay and Ted Thompson begs me on hands and knees to play a bit" is now not doing the Packers any favors?

I guess I just shake my head and smile. Please, draft, get here soon, so Scout can find something intelligent to write about.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Like Favre, Media Obsession Grows Old

I have determined, in my own little mind, that the most disappointed people out there when Brett Favre announced his retirement was not his most ardent fans, nor the Packer organization, nor the Packer ticket brokers, nor even John Madden.

The most disappointed parties were the media hoards, who have spent the last five years or so reporting whenever Brett Favre gets a haircut, dangling it out in such a way that Packer fans can interpret that haircut to mean he might be retiring. Or maybe not.

The sports paparazzi knows that Brett Favre is an instant hit with readers...sort of the sport world's version of Britney Spears. Love him or hate him, any story about him is sure to be a winner, even if it is reporting nothing more than a hangnail. And certainly, nothing will get the public going more than the old "holding the franchise hostage" retirement talk.

Except, of course, he's finally retired. The cash cow for the sports paparazzi is gone. No more endless speculation about whether he's going to retire; no more out-of-context quotes suggesting he is demanding Randy Moss as a teammate; no more discussion of his private gold-plated dressing room with a wet bar and personal masseuse.

Or is it?

We see this in the National Enquirer all the time. Endless media speculation whether a celebrity couple is going to get married, are they going to tie the knot (why haven't they tied the knot yet??), until they finally get married. Soon thereafter, the paparazzi shifts gears and begins speculation on how long that marriage is going to last, speculating that someone must be cheating, unhappy, ready to call it quits. They build them up, then tear them down. Doesn't matter to the media, as long as they have their front-page headline.

And so it is with Brett Favre, the instant headline maker. "They just won't let me retire," he said in the last speculative drive declaring he might return, just a week or so ago.

But, relentlessly, the stories press on, and now, it is headline news that Brett would consider returning if the Packers were in dire need.

Headline news. Everywhere.

We really don't have much of an idea of how the question was posed to him. Did the reporter ask him, "Say, Brett, if the Packers really had some injury problems and needed a quarterback in a pinch, would you be available?"

Or, was it, "Brett, if all the Packer quarterbacks and every free agent quarterback in the league happened to be on the same train at the same time, and got into a fiery and fatal accident, so there were literally NO other quarterbacks on the entire planet, and Ted Thompson came to you, begging on hands and knees for your return to the team, would you be gracious enough to help him out a bit?"

Come on. Who wouldn't allow such an idea to shoot past their mind upon retirement? The world is full of folks who have retired from prominent, administrative, or management positions, only to return in a short-term role if their company really needed them.

Why would they be needed? Sometimes, a bridge is needed between the old regime and the new one, and a familiar face can grease the wheels a bit. Or, probably more often, the replacement plan was a tremendous failure, and the retired general is brought back in to smooth things out until the company can get itself upright again.

Either way, neither is a long-term plan. But, the way you read the headlines, you would think that Favre is planning a full-scale un-retirement, sending Aaron Rodgers into the fetal position and, once again, undermining Ted Thompson's master plan at rebuilding the team.

Let's get real.

Number One: The media needs to get itself a life. Go find someone else to make your new Paris Hilton. Favre is gone, has repeatedly said he is gone. Why keep asking him about this loophole, or if this situation came up? Would you still retire then? Huh? Huh? Huh? Would you? How about if you lost everything you own and you desperately needed money to feed your family, would you come back then? Huh? Huh? Would you?

Number Two: If Brett Favre were even remotely interested in returning, he would need to be keeping his body in condition. At his age, you can't take an offseason (or even a month or two) off from conditioning and expect to be at the same level you were. When you're in your 20's, most of us know you can bounce back from a week or two of Domino's and get your muscles back in shape. When you start hitting your 30's, your muscles deteriorate faster, even when you are keeping your conditioning up.

Favre knew this a couple years ago, when he began his offseason core training back in 2005. At age 38, there's little chance that he can get called up in October and start playing like he did last year, especially if the most work he'd been doing is chopping wood on the Favre estate. I've heard nothing to suggest that Favre is keeping himself in playing shape, so my guess is that he's not working with a core trainer once a day anymore. Even freakish physcial specimen Reggie White didn't take long to allow his body to deteriorate after his final retirement.

Number Three: Favre has little to play for, especially as what might be considered an emergency fill-in. There aren't any more records to break, his start streak will likely be done, and I doubt money is a problem. The thing that might bring him back is the thrill of competition and proving he can do it. Favre has never worried much about his legacy, as his 29 interception season in 2005 would attest, but now that he's getting a chance to sit back and look at it, he has a chance to think about how he left the game. Is there a chance he wants to go out like Michael Jordan with the Wizards, more a name than a player?

Number Four: And, this is likely the most important one. Ted Thompson will never allow himself to ask Favre to return. Period. Thompson has had a plan to build this team according to his plan for years, and when Favre retired, it put the ball squarely in his court. It is true that Thompson is doing very little to bolster the quarterback position thus far, and the starting job has been handed to an unproven and possibly injury-prone Rodgers. However, Thompson has shown that even when a position is decimated (offensive line in 2005, running back in 2007), he would rather sign street free agents than proven veterans.

And, there are those who would see it as a sign of weakness on Thompson's part to have to ask for Favre to return. It might be admitting that he did a poor job of preparing for Favre's departure, and he'd rather struggle with lesser talents than admit that.

Bottom line: the imaginary scenario set up by the paparazzi will never likely happen. Favre isn't going to be asked to return, and certainly not begged or pleaded with. And, while Favre knows that he lives for Sunday afternoon, the grind of getting back in shape on Monday through Saturday is the very reason he elected to retire to begin with.

There's few out there who have defended and supported Brett Favre as I have over the years. But the silliness has to end. Favre has ended a great career as a beloved and revered quarterback in the NFL, spent time as its poster boy, and spent his latter years as tabloid fodder.

Let's let the man retire in peace, and look towards the future of the Green Bay Packers.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Three Keys to Rodgers' Success

As the Packers look forward to the draft and training camp, the biggest story will likely be, whether we like it or not, the keys to the Packer offense finally being given to former first-round pick Aaron Rodgers. In his fourth season after being Ted Thompson’s first draft pick as Packer GM, he will get this chance to prove his worth as a competent quarterback for this team.

Of course, we all know the usual pattern for young, inexperienced quarterbacks who follow a legend. We all remember the long and storied careers of Don Horn, Jay Fieldler, Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, Quincy Carter, Brian Griese, and even Jeff Garcia. Even a seasoned veteran like Steve Young suffered for several seasons in the shadow of former legend Joe Montana. It’s not an easy task for anyone to follow a beloved quarterback.

And there will be some fans and many in the media who will look to place that pressure on a young Aaron Rodgers, who will be looking to prove there are a lot of benefits of holding a clipboard for a couple of seasons (instead of being thrown into the fray like his fellow draftmate, Alex Smith). The comparisons are inevitable and it will be ultimately up to Rodgers to quell the most fervent of criticism with his play.

That stated, I think that Rodgers has a great chance to avoid some of the extra pressures that players like Griese and Fiedler went through following the retirements of John Elway and Dan Marino. For one, I think after seeing these young players go through that type of impossible pressure, most Packer fans are smart enough to not try and place that electron microscope on him.

Secondly, most smart Packer fans don’t want another Favre, even if you loved the guy to death. Favre had his own extremely unorthodox approach to the game, with a gunslinger mentality and mechanics you would never teach to a young player. I remember in some of the previous drafts, folks touted players like Rex Grossman and J.P. Losman as “the next Favre”. Nothing made me happier than to see the Packers pass on these players, and their lack of success in the NFL doesn’t shock me. Favre is the very best in NFL history at playing the style that he did, and you don't want a "poor man's Favre" running your offense.

As perhaps one of the biggest Favre Acolytes over his career, I recognize the last thing we want is someone to try and be Brett Favre, and the best thing for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers is for him to be the player he can be. Instead of trying to be someone he's not, he needs to be working to his own strengths and allowing his head coach, Mike McCarthy, to adjust that offense around those strengths.

Perhaps one of McCarthy’s greatest assets has been his ability to take what he’s been given to work with and make any adjustments that he needed in order to achieve success. This was evident in 2006 when the zone blocking scheme wasn’t gelling, so he starting incorporating additional blockers and pulling guards in order to make that line successful. In 2007, he essentially gave up on the running game for the first half of the season, allowing the offense to play to its strengths in the pass. Once defenses were forced to overplay the pass, he reintroduced the running game with Ryan Grant, and the rest is history.

I have faith that McCarthy, despite his recent quotes that he plans to change very little in the playbook with Rodgers instead of Favre, will indeed make the changes and adjustments that are necessary. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Rodgers brings a lot more mobility to the position, and has a completely different type of spiral than what Favre had. Brett threw rockets that didn’t always look pretty. Rodgers has a sweet spiral that seems to glide into the hands of the receiver.

His nice spiral is just one of the many strengths that Rodgers is going to bring to his offense this year. It’s been interesting watching him mature over the years, going from perhaps a cocky young player (with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after falling in the draft) to a more mature, confident player that has been very patient watching Favre’s renaissance. This is to say nothing of the millions of dollars he has lost in the process, as much of his contract had built-in escalator clauses that would have amount to around $8.25 million had he become a starter earlier. As it stands, his contract says he will make around $2.2 million this year in bonus money as a starter.

Last year, Rodgers also showed improvement in his ability to go through his progressions and make a good throw when he knew he was short on time. In his first two seasons, he had a tendency to throw the ball low and into the turf when he got a little jittery. There’s no question that when Rodgers has time, he is very accurate in his throws, and has now shown he can do it with a little bit of pressure, too.

But, there is one thing that I still see being the one thing that can prevent Rodgers from being successful, and ironically, it is the one thing he may have least in common with the legend he replaces: Rodgers has to prove he isn’t injury-prone. No matter how good you are, how accurate you are, what a good teammate you are, it isn’t going to matter if you can’t stay healthy and on the field.

Following his only extended playing time in 2006, Rodgers suffered a broken foot and missed the rest of the season. In 2007, in the game after he almost led the Packers to an unlikely comeback against the Cowboys, he suffered a hamstring injury that required the team to sign retread Craig Nall to back up Favre. These both could have been freak injuries that we're not going to see as any type of pattern. For Rodgers’ sake, we all hope so, because Ted Thompson hasn’t shown any interest in signing any veteran talent to back him up this season.

This is a familiar criticism of Thompson, as he will allow very young and raw talent to play without veteran support. In 2006, the offensive line was allowed to play with mostly rookies and second-year men in the interior, and despite poor play, no veteran help was brought in. Last season, the Packers bypassed any free agents and went into the season with a stable of running backs made up of free agents and draft picks, as well as an unknown guy acquired from the Giants for a sixth-round pick.

It will remain to be seen if the same approach can work at quarterback, a position that it practically didn’t matter who was the #2 or #3 for the last fourteen years or so.

So, what will Rodgers need to do in order to reduce his injuries? Here are what I consider to be the biggest keys to his success.

Stay In The Pocket One of Rodgers’ most intriguing gifts is his mobility, but he is still easily chased out of the pocket and likes to scramble a touch too much. This is always exciting for football fans to see, and many have theorized that having a mobile quarterback adds a whole new dynamic to the offensive attack.

But, scrambling leads to big hits, and Rodgers isn’t the best at sensing where a hit is coming from. Certainly, Steve Young won a Super Bowl in 1994 as a rushing quarterback, scoring seven touchdowns himself that year. But, he also reined in his rushing yards from what he had in the past, only gaining 293 yards compared to the 500+ he had in 1992. Certainly, Young was the exception to the rule that most of the time, a rushing quarterback isn’t going to win you a championship.

Furthermore, as Young will attest, it will usually only serve to get your bell rung more times than what you need. His seven "official" concussions finally drove him out of the game, and this isn’t what Aaron Rodgers needs.

There have been successful quarterbacks who made rushing a key element of their game, like Jeff Garcia, Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, and Dante Culpepper. But, in the playoffs, good defenses know how to shut those players down, contain them, and make them beat you with their arm. It's best that Rodgers do that first and foremost.

Learn To Move The Pocket If there is any lesson to be learned from sitting on the sideline and watching Brett Favre play game after game, it is going to be one of the least flashy, but most important skills he had. Brett Favre always knew instinctively where the rush was coming from, and despite not being mobile, always gave is the impression he was mobile because he was able to take a step this way or that, and run a pass rusher right back into a blocker.

But, from the limited times we’ve seen Aaron Rodgers, especially in his first two season, he has demonstrated the pressure awareness of a rock. Not only did this result in several fumbles in the 2006 Ravens game, it doesn’t bode well for keeping him healthy if this proves to be a chronic condition. While we only got a little bit of game film on him last year at Dallas, it seems like he’s made some progress in knowing where the pressure was coming from.

With what is still seen as an unproven interior offensive line, bookended by two aging tackles, there are no guarantees that Rodgers is going to get the perceived time that Favre got last year. In 2008, we’re going to get a very clear picture of how talented our offensive line is, and how good Rodgers is at making them look better by shifting the pocket around, allowing those linemen extra chops at rushers..

Develop a Killer Play-Action Motion In 2006, the Packer compensated for the lack of pass protection by running the offense in shotgun excessively, even in situations a shotgun would be rarely called for in a traditional West Coast Offense. I don’t think placing Aaron Rodgers in that kind of situation is the best for his development. He is going to be most successful as a pocket passer, and one of the best ways to buy that extra second is to develop an effective play-action pass.

Some of the best play-action quarterbacks in history, not coincidentally, also end up being listed among the best quarterbacks of all time. Sam Wyche, former coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, was once asked to give his opinion of the best play-action quarterbacks he’d ever seen. The ones he listed was Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, and Boomer Esiason, all prolific passers who could create another second by seemingly making that ball disappear.

Favre grew rather talented at the play-action in his later years, another uncelebrated asset he brought to a young team and a young offensive line that needed a little help. Aaron Rodgers is likely going to be asked to attempt over 30 passes a game, and in some cases, over 40. As Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton age, and Tony Moll and Adrian Barbre (or whomever) slowly grow into their roles to replace them, Rodgers is going to need that extra second, that extra moment of hesitation by defensive linemen ready to tee off on the quarterback.

Of course, the most effective way to insure the play-action is effective is to have a legitimate running threat, and that is something all of those legendary play-action quarterbacks had with them, too. Ryan Grant’s dream half-season has to prove to be a consistent threat in order for Rodgers to have his time to shine.

So, there you have it: my three keys for Rodgers’ success as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. He opens a whole new era for the Packers at quarterback, ending an era that seems as long as the Cretaceous Period. With his success, comes success for the Packers as they look to capitalize on their unexpected success of the 2007 season. Here’s hoping the best for Rodgers, who seems to be a good guy and one that you want to see succeed.