Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thompson Runs Risks In Backfield

As I looked over the cuts made for the 53-man roster today for the Packers, there weren't too many surprises. Oh, yes, seeing Jarrett Bush and Breno Giacomini making the final roster was a bit of a surprise, but then again, somewhat expected: Ted Thompson always values his draft picks a bit too highly, and I have never understood his approach to the defensive secondary.

But the one that really stood out to me as a concern were the cuts of Vernand Morency and Noah Herron. Not that either one was looking like a starter, but simply the fact that both these experienced backs were released. It concerns me because the Packers appear to be going into the season with just three running backs, all of whom still have a lot to prove coming into the first week of the season.

Yes, we expected Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson, both acquisitions from the 2007 draft, to make the final roster, and many speculated that undrafted rookie Kregg Lumpkin would also slip through, as he had been the workhorse of the preseason and showed a bit of promise. However, like most of the prognosticators predicting the final roster, I thought the Pack would keep four running backs in the stable, and go with just one fullback.

Alas, the Packers went with just three, and kept both Korey Hall and John Kuhn at fullback. The rationale that was mentioned today through the media was that the Packers often go with a two-FB set in short yardage situations, thus needing both fullbacks.

I don't know if I buy that, but the loss of both Herron and Morency concerns me, and I'll tell you why.

The Packers are going into this season with a young quarterback and an offensive line that has struggled to open holes. This places a larger burden on the running game to establish itself both on the ground and in blocking.

Ryan Grant, as I have stated before, is our "best bet" going into the season, but is far from a home run. None of our running backs, including Grant, could get anything going the first half of 2007, which is what sent coach Mike McCarthy into essentially "pass-only" mode over that time. Brett Favre played under control and kept his turnovers down. When opposing defenses realized that they had to keep defenders back, playing honest against the high-octane passing game, Grant was able to step in and suddenly bring the running game into being.

It could be Grant was purely a lucky kid who happened to come in and make good in a situation that, perhaps, any running back could have (Brandon Jackson's late-season performance does tend to back that up...BJ couldn't do much at the beginning of the year, but had a 100-yard game once the defenses played the pass first). It could also be that he really is a solid back who is legit.

But, the contract holdout and somewhat predictable hamstring injury (that always seems to dog holdouts) means that Grant didn't play a down in the preseason, and we know nothing more about whether he was lucky vs. good than we did at the end of last season. We also have to cross our fingers that he's going to stay healthy, as hamstring injuries are known to linger and get re-injured.

Which takes me to my next concern, which is Brandon Jackson. He showed promise, and certainly has gotten a lot of press for his Offseason Regimen and Coming In Stronger Than Last Year.

However, what concerns me is not only his lack of production following the Bengal game, but the fact that he was abysmal in pass protection. Not just bad, not just missing a few assignments here and there. Abysmal.

So bad, that when I think about Jackson having to start due to injury, or even coming in as a change-of-pace back (which is normally done on obvious passing downs as a single-back or in the shotgun), I worry about the health of Aaron Rodgers. The assignment of that running back in a single set is often to pick up that outside blitzer, often on the blind side. Jackson may have shown a lot of weight room improvement, and maybe even some improvement running the ball. But he hasn't improved in his pass protection.

Which then brings me to the release of both Morency and Herron. I knew both were not going to make the final roster, but figured that one of them had to make it. Both are workman-like backs who aren't flashy or even starting material, but both bring a level of experience that neither of the other three backs possess, and both bring a skill unmatched by the other two backups:

Both were excellent and assignment-sure in the backfield.

In the last few seasons, the Packers had a quarterback in Brett Favre whose unheralded skill at evading pass rushers often made his blockers look better than they really were. After all, if you can avoid the rush, move the pocket, and prefer to throw risky passes, you likely won't get many sacks.

Favre didn't get many sacks, and the offensive line and other blockers were often heralded by those who worship at the Altar of Statistics. After all, the only legitimate statistic used to measure pass protection is sacks allowed.

But with Aaron Rodgers behind center this year, a priority is going to have to be keeping him healthy. And the best way to do that is to avoid having him take unnecessary hits. That running back is as important as his left tackle on many plays, and I'm not comfortable with Brandon Jackson being the guy back there continuing to learn his assignments with Ben Leber coming on a blitz.

I figured the best option was Noah Herron, a guy who would play special teams and is reputed for simply going out there and doing whatever he is asked to do solidly. Certainly, he is a guy you want on your side in a fight (or if your house is getting robbed). However, both Herron and Morency spent 2007 on the injury list, and that doesn't help your case a whole lot when it comes to taking up a roster spot.

I like Kregg Lumpkin, but I still see him as a developmental project who is going to take some time to grow into the position. He got a lot of action in the preseason, but that was because he played most of the second half of the games, with Ryan Grant not playing in any of them. Lumpkin also follows Brandon Jackson in spending much of his final college season injured, so his professional injury history is far from established.

Part of this domino effect in keeping two fullbacks stems from the loss of Bubba Franks over the offseason. Franks, a holdover from the Mike Sherman regime, fell from grace with his decline in production and injuries. However, the one thing he remained consistent on is his effective blocking, often coming in motion and lining up out of the backfield (as did starting TE Donald Lee). While Lee established himself as a receiving threat and a decent blocker, the loss of Franks leaves a void at the theoretical "H-Back" position.

The other two tight ends kept, Jermichael Finley and Tory Humphrey, are at best young, raw, and untested. Finley, in particular, appears to be a really tall wide receiver, without the bulk and skill needed to take on the tough blocking duties of a tight end. Humphrey is the #2 tight end, but is an injury risk and still not the ideal body to take on NFL defensive ends in blocking situations.

This is one reason I was disappointed with the selection of Finley in this year's draft. With Lee and five high-octane wide receivers on the roster, we should have been looking for a stronger blocking tight end, such as Martellus Bennett, the TE taken by Dallas just three picks after the Packers selected Brian Brohm. Finley's skill set appears to be rather one-dimensional as a receiver.

Without a strong blocking tight end on the roster, and without an experienced workmanlike back to take on pass blocking duties other than Grant, Ted Thompson is rolling the dice on Aaron Rodgers' health. The poor showing this preseason with both the running game and the ability of the offensive line to open holes for those backs means that, like McCarthy did with Favre, Rodgers may be asked to pass 40-45 times a game until the line "gels" (the wait for which is going on four years).

I know that being an NFL GM means taking "risks". But this risk may end up biting the entire offense in the butt. Given what we've seen from our backup quarterbacks (and what we haven't seen from our starting halfback), our season may really be riding on keeping Aaron Rodgers healthy.

Losing players like Franks, Morency, and Herron and their pass blocking abilities in the backfield doesn't seem like the smartest of risks. Replacing them with poor blockers like Jackson and Finley makes it even more glaring.

But, time will tell, and don't doubt for a second that the Minnesota Vikings won't be making an extensive blitz package part of their game plan next Monday night.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Positives and Concerns Taken From the Titans Game

Reflecting on our last preseason game, and looking ahead to a critical opening night matchup against the Vikings, at home, in front of a national audience, here are some positives and negatives that I gleaned from last night.


* The first play of the game was a flashy 63 yard touchdown strike in which Greg Jennings looked much the playmaker he was last season. I may be critical of Ted Thompson and his drafts, but hands down, Greg Jennings was his Best. Pick. Ever.

I noticed his potential his rookie season when I went to Family Night, and saw him reach, twist, jump, and snag a touchdown pass in the front corner of the end zone right in front of me. I thought to myself, this is the kind of receiver we’ve needed for a long time. I’m glad to see that he is reaching that potential. I think he’s a top 5 WR in the league this year if the quarterback position can be stabilized.

* The pass from Aaron Rodgers was probably as much a testament to the Packers striking ability as it was to very shoddy coverage by the Titans, including a rather stupid attempt by the safety to pick off the pass (what did he think? Favre was still quarterback?). But make no mistake: Aaron Rodgers, when given time in the pocket, has a pretty spiral and great accuracy, and he put that pass on the money. The DB’s were taking chances, and he made them pay for it.

As Rich Gannon noted a week or two ago, he also is developing great placement of the ball. On the play Gannon mentioned it, the receiver was on a slant heading straight for a safety waiting to put a lick on him. Rodgers threw the ball behind the receiver, to slow him down and redirect his momentum instead of throwing it in stride and leading him into a dangerous impact. The pass to Jennings last night was also right on the money and in the place where neither DB could reach it.

* The pass rush was unbelievably effective against the first-string Tennessee offense, putting Vince Young in a lot of pressure situations. They only managed one sack (and that was of backup Kerry Collins), but as I’ve said a million times, I would trade all my sacks for consistent hurries and knockdowns on the quarterback.

It’s possible that the constant shuffling and reshuffling of fresh bodies along the defensive line playing against a Titan offensive line that wasn’t substituting at all might have aided the pass rush, but give them credit where credit is due. All they have to do now is contain the mobile quarterback, as Young did gash them for 57 yards on scrambles.

* Matt Flynn is proving wrong my initial assessment that he was a token extra quarterback picked up to run the scout team from the practice squad. This is not to say that he’s won my undying support, but I would say he’s earned the #2 spot over a much more highly regarded fellow rookie in Brian Brohm.

If anything, I can see Flynn developing into a Ty Detmer type. Probably not good enough to take the reins of a team for a 16-game season, but an awfully valuable guy to have on the sideline and in a pinch once in a while. He has a far better pressure awareness than a rookie should have, and his evasion skills are intriguing. Hate to say it, but if our offensive line doesn’t improve, we’re going to need those skills in a hurry.

* The backup linebackers showed exactly what Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have been wishing all the squads would be doing: having spirited competition and making things happen to earn their spot. Abdul Hodge, Desmond Bishop, Tracy White, and Spencer Havner are likely competing for two spots, and it is going to be hard to make a decision on them. They were throwing their bodies all over the field, wrapping up, and making play after play that kept the Titans in check.

Don’t be surprised if Brandon Chillar’s name comes up on Saturday. He might be a free agent signing, but we know Thompson loves his draft picks.

* Tramon Williams is making feel a lot better about our aging cornerbacks. His play has really come on and appears comfortable in the Packers' man coverage. I still don't think Al Harris has too many more productive seasons left in him, but it looks like Williams may be ready to be the heir apparent when Harris hits the wall.

* Jon Ryan is looking like an all-pro punter. Yesterday’s game really cemented his kicking ability (a 52.2 average), but also showcased his ability to improvise. A bad snap resulted in Ryan taking the ball and running it, gaining a first down after a 34 yard gain (incidentally, establishing himself as the leading rusher for the Packers in the process). The speed and power he had going downfield, directing blockers and evading tackles, makes me think that special teams coach Mike Stock should run a fake punt a couple times early in the season. Making opposing defenses have to guard against a fake makes them play conservatively, and can only be a positive for the Packers.

* And, adding to that, our special teams overall have been fantastic. Our kickoff returners (Pat Lee and Jordy Nelson) were solid, and adding Wil Blackmon to that group means we have a plethora of good returners. Mason Crosby has been solid on his kickoffs and his field goals. We’re still looking for a good punt return, and Brett Swain doesn’t appear to be the guy.


* First and foremost, the depth at quarterback is a major problem. While Flynn has come along, he’s still not ready to start. Brian Brohm has effectively gotten worse as the preseason has gone along, and all those traits that you need playing behind a spotty offensive line are exactly the ones he doesn’t have. He’s thinking too much, hanging on to the ball too long, taking sacks and seems to be unable to handle pressure.

While you might cry out that he was playing against the #1 Titan defense, that’s exactly what he’d be playing against in the regular season. I’d rather see how he performs under duress than against JV squads.

Brohm is effectively our player acquired in trade from Cleveland for Corey Williams (#56 overall). I’m starting to think that it will be Brohm who will be starting the season as the emergency #3 quarterback, and that makes you wonder if the Packers aren’t regretting trading Williams away.

* The running game continues to be a concern. We didn’t get to see any of Ryan Grant or Brandon Jackson last night, and both of those players have to be considered question marks and in high need of some work. Grant didn’t play a down this preseason due to his holdout and predictable hamstring injury when he returned. Jackson had a nice initial game against the Bengals, but has struggled mightily since. The backups competing for time (Lumpkin, Morency, and Herron) all looked rather pedestrian last night, until the final drives when playing against the Titans #3 defenders.

* Along those same lines, the offensive line, while playing without many of the starters, still had trouble much of the night, allowing six more sacks and a lot of pressure on Brohm and Flynn, who had to move around a lot.

Many of those players who were in there are guys who are legitimately still competing for starting spots. With Josh Sitton injured for a month and Scott Wells seeming to look week-to-week at center, guys like Tony Moll, Junius Coston, and Allen Barbre aren’t just trying to make the roster, they are potentially starting against Minnesota.

This entire preseason has been a disappointment for the offensive line, who haven’t opened holes for the rushers at all, and have been quite hit-and-miss with pass protection. Going into the Minnesota game against a team that is going to be entirely motivated to not just beat us, but beat us to the ground, the line is going to have to solidify in a hurry.

* The defensive line continues to allow itself to be gashed for major yards on the ground. Vince Young scrambled for 57 yards, but as a team, the Titans running backs ground out 103 yards on the ground. While they did not rush for a high average (3.0 per carry), they did remain committed to it (34 attempts, compared to 17 for the Packer running backs).

What it did was keep drives alive, as the Titans held the ball for 36:45 compared to the Packers’ 23:15 (and much of that was in the fourth quarter), and they also held a 59-37 advantage in offensive plays called, and a 403-266 advantage in yardage.

Yes, we played against their #1 offense for the entire first half, and that has to be taken into consideration. Aaron Kampman and Nick Barnett probably would have made a difference in many of those numbers. But, even in the series the defensive starters played, the Titans engineered a 10-play, 76-yard drive that took up four and a half minutes and gave up several big plays, resulting in a field goal.

If you want to see the effects of a defense that allows a tons of rushing yards per game, take a look at the 2005 Packers defense. That’s not a model Mike McCarthy wants to follow.

* Talk about underrated. Rob Davis anchored the long-snapping position for season after season before retiring this past year. I remember looking time after time at the final roster cuts and wondering why we wasted a position on a long-snapper. Well, now I know. J.J. Jansen has been inconsistent all training camp, botched two snaps last night (that luckily, the kickers managed to make good plays out of), and then got injured. The Packers will likely be sweeping the final cuts for someone who can long-snap, and I now stand corrected: it’s an important job. Come back, Rob Davis!

* 1-3. The Packers earned more losses in the four-game preseason than in all of last year’s regular season. Counting playoffs and the preseason, the Packers are now 5-6 in their last 11 games, after finishing last season 4-3. You might think I’m twisting some stats, but no more than the folks who put the last four games of 2006 and added then onto the first games of 2007 to prove their own points.

The Packers have been stunned this off-season with some ugly public relations and both the reigning GM of the Year and the Motorola NFL Coach of the Year (all other COY awards went to Bill Bellichek) have to continue to win over fans that have become jaded with the Favre Drama and the continuous, exhausting coverage.

The best way to cure all ills is by winning. Period. You can talk all day about how Aaron Rodgers invites his teammates to his house to play video games, but if he doesn’t execute on the field, it really doesn’t matter. You can talk all day about zone blocking schemes, how much Brandon Jackson has improved over the off-season, and the promise of Josh Sitton, but if we can’t control the ball with the running game, it’s all for naught.

The Vikings are coming in to Lambeau Field with as much excitement as they’ve had in years about their chances this season. They love to embarrass the Packers at home (they are 2-2 at Lambeau in their last four games), and after the tampering charges filed against them by the Packers, are more than motivated to come in and make this a statement game.

The “Wait and See’ period is over, and the Packers need to show that after four years under Thompson’s leadership, that they can win with without Brett Favre.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Front and Center: Interior Lines Cause for Concern

Back in the early 1990’s, there was a catchphrase that seemed to sum up the week-to-week fortunes of the Green Bay Packers. Perhaps you all remember it:

“As Favre goes, so go the Packers…”

Fast-forward around fifteen years, and there is no longer a Brett Favre to pin the fortunes of our team on. But, interestingly enough, it doesn’t seem to be placed on his successor, Aaron Rodgers, either. Rodgers isn’t the kind of quarterback that elevates the level of play around him (as evidenced by the shocking number of dropped passes this offseason) or negates it, either.

After catching up and watching all three preseason games played by the Packers, I’ve developed a new catchphrase that I doubt will catch on, but nevertheless has the ring of truth in it.

“As the interior lines go, so go the Packers…”

The Packers have had a roller coaster preseason thus far, with both offense and defense showing holes, particularly along the line of scrimmage. Injuries have certainly played their part, but so has a lack of development of many of the players drafted by Ted Thompson to shore up those squads.

The interior line is critical to the play on the field, and why I supported Thompson’s rebuilding approach to address the lines first and foremost in his first couple of years. No matter how the game has evolved, the game is still won up front.

The exterior line players are the sexy positions, with high-paid, high-profile athletes. Defensive ends are paid to tear around the line and get quarterback sacks. Offensive tackles are paid to prevent those DE’s from getting them.

But, it is the unsung heroes in the middle of the line, the defensive tackles and offensive guards and centers who really make the team hum. The sack, in my long-standing opinion, is the most overrated statistic in football. I would trade all my defensive sacks for consistent pressure, hurries, and knockdowns on the quarterback. Give me Aaron Kampman's consistency over KGB's once-in-a-while sack any day.

But, most importantly, the establishment of a running game is won or lost in the middle of the line, and right now, the Packers are struggling to not only get their own running game off the ground, but they are struggling to stop the opposing team’s rushers, too.

The hammer comes down on Ted Thompson, who has been building both interior lines almost entirely through the draft, and now is expected to have those investments pay off.

Offensive Line

One of the most overlooked traits Brett Favre brought to an offense was his excellent pressure awareness and evasion. While he certainly couldn’t be considered a “mobile quarterback” (his scrambles often looked painful), he was excellent at making small adjustments to the side or up in the pocket to avoid the rush. Combined with his tendency to get rid of the ball quickly, our offensive line often was praised for its pass protection simply based on the number of sacks allowed (only 19 last year).

Again, the sack is the most overrated statistic in football, and unfortunately, it is the only official statistic available to measure the effectiveness of an offensive line’s pass protection (hurries and such are all unofficial and subjective). So, for the past few years, our line has sometimes gotten credit where it hasn’t been due.

In the game against the 49ers, the problems with the line became more evident, especially with Rodgers and the rookie backups, who don’t have the pressure awareness of their predecessor. Much of the pressure in that game came through the middle, as the guards and centers struggled against the rush.

In the three preseason games, the Packers have allowed ten sacks of their quarterbacks, including six on Rodgers. The Packers allowed just nineteen sacks over the entire sixteen game season in 2007.

Furthermore, starting running back Brandon Jackson, after a nice first game against the Bengals, has rushed for only 29 yards in 11 attempts since, a miserable average that doesn’t bode well for an offense that needs a running game to take the pressure off of young quarterbacks.

Certainly, injuries play a part. Starting center Scott Wells, a holdover from the Mike Sherman era, hasn’t played much at all this preseason. But since Thompson unceremoniously dismissed guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle before the 2005 season started, he has invested a high number of draft picks in the interior guard position, and nary a free agent.

In 2005, he drafted Junius Coston and Wil Whittaker in the 5th and 7th round, respectively. Coston has struggled with injuries and made some lackluster starts, but remains on the roster as a reserve. Whittaker was a young player who started much of the 2005 season and was released the subsequent offseason.

In 2006, he drafted three interior linemen to compensate for the debacle of 2005: Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, and Tony Moll. Colledge has started and been incredibly inconsistent. He is now being moved along the line to find a spot where he can have success. Spitz has shown perhaps the most promise of the three, but has struggled at times playing center for the injured Wells. Moll has started at times, but like Colledge, hasn’t found his stride entering his third season.

In 2007, Thompson drafted Allen Barbre in the fourth round, and while he has shown promise, he has yet to stay healthy enough to crack the starting lineup. He’s been a sub both at guard and at tackle.

In 2008, spent a fourth rounder on Josh Sitton, who amusingly enough, has started every preseason game at guard this August (a bleak reflection on all the other players just mentioned that were expected to develop by this point). Unfortunately, Sitton was injured in the last game against the Broncos, and if this rookie was the most promising guard we had going, it doesn’t bode well if his injury is going to take him out for an extended period of time. Even if he is able to come back, a rookie guard is still going to need as much development time on the field as possible.

Since Thompson took over as GM, he has signed only street free agents to help out along the line, and none of those players (such as Adrien Klemm and Tony Palmer) are still around.

As the Packers look to solidify a line for less pressure-aware quarterbacks, it is evident that some of these draft picks are going to have to develop into more than just bodies in a lineup. Unfortunately, players like Coston, Colledge, Moll, Whittaker, and Barbre are looking more like busts than hits for Thompson , and that doesn’t bode well for a general manager who builds almost exclusively through the draft.

While I don’t throw any darts at Thompson for letting Wahle and Rivera go, he takes full accountability for being unable to suitably replace them. Struggling to find interior linemen in his fourth season as GM, with $24 million in salary cap space is a glaring black mark.

You can’t say he hasn’t tried to address the position. He has invested a lot of draft picks in the interior line. But, bottom line is what counts, and at this point, those picks haven’t become the solid starters, much less impact players, that they need right now.

Defensive Line

The interior defensive line has probably been addressed more adequately by Thompson over his tenure, but thanks to injuries and other factors, it is just as precarious a squad as the OL.

Like the offensive side of the ball, the Packers have some solid (if unspectacular) bookends for the line: Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton man the offensive tackle spots, and Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins man the defensive end spots. But, it is the middle of the line that is struggling right now.

While many are praising the flexibility of players such as Jenkins and Michael Montgomery to move inside and play the tackle position, it is far from an ideal situation. They are forced to play inside to accommodate for the lack of talented bodies to shuffle in the interior line, forcing those two to play extra downs out of position instead of focusing on their own.

Thompson did actually make one of his rare free agent splashes back in 2005 along the defensive line, signing Ryan Pickett from the Rams. However, it is Pickett’s injury that seems to be wreaking the most chaos, as his consistent presence is missing and seems to have taken the anchor out of the entire line.

Also looming large is the loss of tackle Corey Williams, who left the Packers this offseason in a sign-and-trade that looked smart at the time, but now makes us wish we might have kept Williams instead of that second round draft pick we received for him. At the time, it was thought that the Packers had a deep defensive line and could easily absorb the loss.

Two players that the Packers were hoping would develop into full-time starters, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole, have struggled with injuries, personal issues, and their play on the field.

Furthermore, the head-scratching pick of Justin Harrell in the first round of the 2007 draft has been essentially labeled a bust, as the oft-injured player in college as become an oft-injured professional in the NFL. This is huge, because it was assumed that Harrell was going to develop this season, and could start the season on the PUP list.

Why sign or draft another premier defensive lineman when you just invested a first rounder at the position a year ago? Right?

All of this adds up to unknown player names like Muir and Malone manning the middle of the defensive line, when not being substituted for by the defensive ends. Adding to the problems is the injury status of pass-rushing specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilia. The line is far from the deep unit we thought we would have.

And the results are clear. The Packers did not generate a sack against the 49ers or the Bengals. In those two games, they have also allowed 249 yards to the opposing rushing attack. Frank Gore averaged 4.8 yards on the ground, and Selvin Young averaged seven.

What appeared last year at this time as perhaps the strongest unit on the Packers has now become a liability, simply put.

Bottom Line

The Packers were just as lucky as they were good last season, dealing with very few injuries as they went along their way to a 13-3 record. And, what injuries they did have, they were able to adequately deal with.

However, the injury bug has already hit harder this preseason than the entire 2007 regular season, with key injuries on both sides of the ball. Some of that is simply luck. But, it is the ability to adequately deal with those injuries that matters, and that's done by having the right guys ready and able in the wings.

Ted Thompson is entering his fourth year as general manager and is the reigning NFL GM of the Year. He still has $24 million in available salary cap space and really has few players on the roster worth extending. A rash of injuries makes any team look bad, but so can missing in the draft and eschewing free agency when squads are in need of impact players.

The game is won in the trenches, and no matter how many great receivers we have on this team, a lack of a running game and proper pass protection is going to hurt our offense greatly. No matter what a fine group of linebackers and cornerbacks we have, it isn’t going to matter if the defensive line can’t generate pressure on the quarterback or contain the first line of defense against starting running backs.

While all eyes seem to be on Aaron Rodgers this season, they really should be on the interior of both lines, because they will, more than any other variable, dictate the success the Packers will have in 2008.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

TundraVision: On Hiatus

Just want to thank the great viewers of TundraVision this offseason. Don't worry, I'm not leaving, but I am heading out for a two-week vacation that will keep me away from the Internet during that time.

Look for new articles coming out August 24th! Until then, fellow Packer fans....GO PACK GO!!!!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

He's a Fast Healer. Right?

Reggie White was always rumored to have some sort of miraculous self-healing ability that repeatedly took him from "doubtful" to "probable" within a week's time. It is apparent that Brett Favre has somehow also developed this amazing trait.

Mike McCarthy reported that when Favre took his physical and conditioning test on August 4th, he had a lower abdominal strain that would have kept him off the practice field and doing rehab.
(What do you do with him if he is on the roster but not of the right mindset?)
Technically, in his physical, he had a lower abdominal strain. Our plan for practice today was for him to go through rehab, so that was actually his plan for today. But then it went to the business direction, which I like to refer to, because it didn't have to do with practice. That would have been the plan. He would have been day to day for us as far as a practice structure. link
So, day-to-day on August 4th with an abdominal strain. However, four days later, Brett Favre passed his physical and conditioning test with the New York Jets and is able to begin practicing immediately.
The regular guy with the rock-star appeal passed his team physical and conditioning test Friday and will make his practice debut at 1:30 p.m. today at Hofstra. link
Passed the physical? But what of that abdominal strain? What happened to day-to-day? What about rehab and holding Favre out of practice?

According to FootballRescue, even the least severe of abdominal strains should be given two to three weeks of rest before returning to even "normal" activities.


During the occurrence of abdominal strain injury, it is important to immediately place ice pack on the muscle to relieve pain and minimize tissue bleeding. Make sure that ice is wrapped before directly placing on to the skin to avoid burns. Injured individuals should rest in order to avoid further muscle damage. It is advised that first degree patients rest for 3 weeks, second degree patients for 4 to 6 weeks and third degree patients for 3 months or more. link

So, what's up with this? How did Brett Favre go from injured and unable to practice to fully healthy and ready to go in just four days?

We have three possibilities:

1) Brett Favre is a walking miracle.

2) The Jets are overlooking an injury that is potentially serious. Abdominal strains have the potential to become something quite a bit worse if they are aggravated.
The goal of exercises and medicines is to return you back to your sport or activity as soon as possible and as safely as possible. But, if you try to return to your sport or activity too soon, when the injury has not even cured properly you may worsen your injury, and may damage your muscle permanently. Every person has a different recovering rate from an injury. link
So, it is quite possible that the Jets are risking Favre's health by overlooking an abdominal strain in order to get him on the practice field and orient him as quickly as possible into the offense. It's not beyond comprehension, as managers and coaches have run their horses into the ground many times in sports history, but that's a pretty big risk to take when you just let Chad Pennington sign with the Dolphins.

3) There really was no strain of note to begin with. This certainly reeks of conspiracy theory, but given Favre has had no time for rehab between the two physicals, it doesn't seem like there would have been any time for that to heal.

It also does stand to reason that the Packers wanted to keep him off the practice field as long as possible, away from the locker room and away from the players. He was not permitted into the locker room or team facilities until after his conversation with Mike McCarthy, which certainly had to not sit well with a guy on the 80-man roster. In fact, according to reports, a security guard was assigned to Favre upon arrival and ordered to keep Favre out of the locker room.

McCarthy drops a hint when he says
(Given the way he feels, are you better served to move on without him?)
Well, given his mindset, why would I let anybody of a negative mindset in our locker room? I don't want to classify him as a negative mindset; it's very personal. I'm talking about what we're trying to accomplish.
If the physical was falsified, exaggerated, or interpreted in such a way to keep Favre away from the practice field and the locker room as long as possible, it is a pretty shady move on the part of the Packer brass. Certainly, while they wanted to know what they had in Favre before letting him enter the inner sanctum, had Favre chosen to press this by continuing to stay in Green Bay, the NFLPA may have had gotten involved.

So, either Favre is a self-healer, the Jets are fudging their report to hurry him out on the field, or the Packers were fudging their report to keep him off.

Now, while these options are still complete conjecture on my part, here are the facts:

* On August 4th, Brett Favre's physical with the Packers showed an abdominal strain that would have kept him out of practice day-to-day in rehab. The Packers did not want him on the practice field at the time.

* On August 8th, Brett Favre's physical with the Jets showed no injuries that would prevent him from taking the practice field. The Jets wanted him on the practice field.

My three possible explanations are all without evidence and purely based on observation and a little bit of research.

It's up to you to read between the lines.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How Important Was Favre To The Packers?

An interesting discussion/ debate/ argument over the past few weeks of the Summer Melodrama has been how important Favre has been to the Packers. With his trade to the Jets today, we shall soon get a pretty strong idea of what it will be like without his large shadow looming over the team.

There are folks on one side of the issue, most voraciously in defense of Brett Favre, who are insisting that Favre was pretty much single-handedly responsible for the renaissance of the 1990's, that it was he who pulled the organization out from the muck that was the 70's and 80's. They also claim that he was responsible for influencing Reggie White to come to the Packers, and without him, the new Lambeau Field would never have been built.

Interesting points, all of them. But, in reality, each of them are lacking in full objectivity. The real shift began with Bob Harlan's hiring of Ron Wolf, and giving him much more far-reaching authority than his predecessor, Tom Braatz, did. Braatz may not have had much success as a general manager, but it hard to be successful when you're really not the captain of your own ship, and have a lot of back-seat drivers.

Favre was indeed inspirational, though, and brought a level of excitement to the team and the fans, even in his first season. Certainly, as a man who was present at the game when he replaced Don Majkowski and won a last-minute thriller, I can attest to a palpable magic in the air that day.

Yet, Favre was never asked to be a "leader". In his press conference today, he alluded to his leadership being on the field, not a fiery speech-giver or calling team meetings. In those early days, that was the Brett Favre we knew. Reggie White certainly cited Favre as a reason for excitement when he arrived, but he was also sold on the tour of the Packer Hall of Fame, meeting Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf, and the fact that the Packers offered him the biggest contract of all the teams competing for his services.

It's easy get confused. When White retired, he was asked if the Packers would suffer because of his absence. He responded, "The Packers will be fine as long as they have #4 there." One can easily take that fuzzy ten-year-old memory and fuzz it into White having said that when he came, not left.

In fact, at the time, even with his MVP awards, Favre was still not considered a "leader", a position reserved for guys like White, Eugene Robinson, LeRoy Butler, and Sean Jones. The real leaders of the Super Bowl teams were on defense. Favre was the electrifying inspiration on the field, the wild child practical joker off the field.

That year, 1999, marked the sea change for Favre. White's apparent handing-of-the-baton and Ray Rhodes very different treatment of Brett began a slow process of changing him from the wild horse that needed to be reined in into the deity-like master that should never be questioned. In fact, Rhodes publicly thanked Favre for winning the first game of the season for him. Bad move.

Would the Lambeau renovation been built without Favre? It is an interesting question, because it was around the year 2000 that the first trade rumors began to spread about Favre, moving him on before he got old (and showed signs of decline in 1999 under Rhodes influence). If the Packers had traded him off, there may well have been a backlash that might have delayed the referendum approval.

But, let's be serious. This is a fan base that approved a public tax to pay for the stadium, paid personal seat license fees, and bought up a whole new batch of worthless stock in order to be able to wear cheeseheads emblazoned with the word "OWNER". They even bought Tundra Turf and had to have limits as to the number of patches they could buy.

Certainly, Favre's contributions helped out that movement, but it was really Bob Harlan, once again, pushing the public relations through that got that to approval. And really, he didn't have to sell it that hard.

So, are the Favre Bashers correct, then? Is Favre really just a distraction, a huge ego over the past few years that have loomed over everything and stunted the progress of the team? Are any and all of his contributions jaded, especially now?

I think Favre was important to the team, even in the last 4-5 years when it seems that he's been overhyped and bigger than the team. And the reason is that he was overhyped and made out to be bigger than the team.

Let's face it. We all have grown weary of Favre-o-mania, even before this summer's drama. The national media fawned over Favre, and whenever we sat to watch a nationally televised game with the Packers, we started rolling our eyes at "Brett Favre and the Packers" and endless featurettes and fawning over Favre. As people noted then (and much more in the past few weeks), the Packers were becoming the "Green Bay Favres". Every move he made, every quote he said, every training room he ducked in to escape the media hordes became national news.

After years of Mike Sherman not holding Favre responsible, after years of the national media fawning over him, after three summers of be able to hem and haw about his own retirement, after being told he is a living legend over and over again, it is no wonder he behaved the way he did in the past few months. Like it or not, we and the media helped build that monster.

Many Packer fans are looking forward to "Life After Favre", without having the incessant press, the Maddens and Kings and Wojciechowskis fawning over him, having the rest of the team overshadowed by his records and streaks. They are looking forward to having a team of players who can fart and not have ESPN there covering it.

But, and this is where it is important, the Packers don't have a player that has anything near that level of captivation for the national eye. Our most charismatic players are also our oldest. Donald Driver, Charles Woodson, Al Harris...all are considered the new "must-have interviews", and all are getting very close to their own retirement age.

And none of them truly capture public attention. Soon, the Packers are going to have to deal with a level of anonymity. Like it or not, we have an incessant need to associate a team with a face or two. Even recently, when you think of the Patriots, you think of...Tom Brady. When you think of the Colts, you think of....Payton Manning. When you think of the Chargers, you think of....LaDanlian Tomlinson.

Players like that...Brady, Manning, Tomlinson...are worth the price of admission. Or, for many of us fans, worth sitting down and watching a game not involving our team. Even as Favre is still waiting to take his physical with the Jets, already the calls are not for him to matchup with defenses or the other teams in his division, but to matchup with Tom Brady. Oh, and also the Patriots.

Now, let's try this again. When you think of the Chiefs, you think of..... When you think of the Jaguars, you think of...... When you think of the Raiders, you think of..... Hard to come up with a name, isn't it? And teams like the Chiefs, who have had reasonable amounts of success in the past few years ( did you know they made the playoffs in 2006?), still barely make a blip on the national scene. Would you care to watch a Monday Night matchup with the Jags and the Chiefs?

Players like Brady, Manning, Tomlinson, and Favre are always good for an extra nationally televised game or two a season. And, you can expect that the Jets will likely get a bump-up in the latter part of the season for more national coverage, simply because of Favre's presence.

It isn't fair, indeed, but that is the commercial life we live in, and whether we are embittered towards "All Things Favre" the past few seasons, we are now looking at a sharply different environment for the Packers without him.

Aaron Rodgers now has the pressure on him to perform, but few of us objectively expect him to enter the realm of Favre, Manning, or Brady in his career. We expect him to be a good game managing quarterback, and relying somewhat on the talent around him to make him effective. And, if he isn't able to beat the injury bug, he'll have even less of a chance to be the "face of the franchise.

So, failing Rodgers, who can pick up that role in the future, giving the national fans reason to keep Green Bay on their radar? Jennings? Hawk? Kampman? Grant?

There is somewhat of a collective sigh of relief from many, including the Packer brass, that the large looming shadow of Brett Favre is finally gone, and now we can focus on the young talent that we have.

But the other shoe is that we no longer have our long-time identity, and we are going to need to quickly discover what our new one is, and if it is worth the attention of the national media. There's nothing worse than becoming a non-descript, anonymous franchise in the NFL, like the Chiefs or the Jaguars. Even the Rams have seemingly slipped out of the public consciousness, and it wasn't long ago that they had the most visible faces in the league.

Match that up with what may be interpreted as a backlash against the team that sent Favre packing, and it is going to be up to Ted Thompson to put a team on the field that will continue to capture the attention of football fans everywhere, and especially Packer fans.

Favre may have been a lot of things the past few years. He also was not a lot of things that some people like to think he was (see above). But, as the New York Bretts are finding out, he did bring one bit of importance that you can't deny in a business-driven industry that pays attention to the bottom line.

Brett Favre brought an instant identity, credibility, and attraction for the average football fan and the media. He helped fill seats and bring in commercial viewers.

Continued team success will bring a new face to the forefront...another 13-3 season and deep playoff run will create that kind of identity, and we'll want to put a face to it. Maybe it will be Rodgers.

But if this team falls to 9-10 wins or less, and keeps that up for a couple of seasons, the Packers will be the thing they can't afford to be.


Results of "Jordy Role" Poll: Nelson clearly not starting...yet.

Jordy Role: Where do you think Jordy Nelson will be on the depth chart by the end of the 2008 season?

#1 receiver
0 (0%)
#2 receiver
1 (3%)
#3 receiver
11 (39%)
#4 receiver
15 (53%)
#5 receiver
1 (3%)
injured/not on roster
0 (0%)

So, most of us still have Jennings and Driver clearly ahead of Nelson, with Jones looking just about even. While Nelson does bring a great dynamic to the receiving position (he has two things I really like in a WR: height and is a "hands" catcher), experience still rules...this year, at least.

TundraVision Prediction: I think he ends up with more playing time this season than we think. We've gotten very lucky the past few seasons with injuries in the receiving corps (at least, since Ferguson left). I'm a strong believer in karma, and somehow, I have this sneaking feeling that when you load up with five strong wideouts, there was probably an unseen reason for it.

I think there is an injury to one of the top three guys this year, and Nelson gets some significant time at the #3.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Days of Disappointment

I'm disappointed. Absolutely disappointed. Disappointed in the egos of millionaires messing with the game I love. Disappointed in the stubbornness of alleged professionals who appear willing to burn every bridge out of spite. Disappointed in the protracting a messy situation so much longer than it ever needed to be, because communication was too much of a problem.

And I am giving it to both parties involved. Yes, even to "my hero", Brett Favre, who I have spent years defending from his critics. Something is rotten in Denmark, but what Favre has done over the last month was allow his emotions to get the better of him, allowed people to influence him so that his paranoia was borderline irrational, and his trademark candor blown out of control.

I don't know what has happened since the Giants game that has turned Brett Favre so sharply against Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. My guess is, since he gave Mark Murphy some public praise over the weekend, that this has to go back quite a while and came to a peak in the offseason, resulting in his retirement.

But what Favre has done is inexcusable, and showing up for training camp with what appears to be no apparent desire to actually compete is, once again, protracting the entire situation out and damaging both his own reputation and the perception of the administration.

His stubbornness in wishing to be a Viking is understanding from a distant view, but from the view of the Packers, its an impossibility. He is getting desperate to be in a camp, and time is running out on him to have time to get acquainted with any team, including the Packers.

He turned down the "incentive" offered by the Packers to remain retired, who called it a "payoff". Certainly, this is something Favre shouldn't be saying, no matter how true it might be.

On the other hand, it is clear that Thompson and Co. have decided to pin hopes completely on Aaron Rodgers, something that is at best risky, and at worst, highly questionable. It is clear that this is the sticking point for both parties, and it has many people scratching their heads.

Favre pushed the issue with requesting a release, Thompson pushed the issue by refusing and not acting. Favre pushed back by threatening to request reinstatement. Thompson pushed back by only allowing Favre to negotiate with teams he had no interest in joining, then pushed tampering charges against the primary team he was interested in. Favre pushed by requesting reinstatement to a team he didn't feel welcome to. The Packers responded by offering him a huge deal to remain retired. Favre pushed back by reporting and forcing McCarthy to have to deal with him. Thompson/McCarthy responded by telling him clearly how the landscape had changed and that he would have to deal with it. Favre responded by clearly stating he has no desire to practice and deal with a competition that would hurt Rodgers and the organization.

Blah, blah, blah....its the same thing over and over again. The Packers want their cake and to eat it, too. They don't want Favre and his distractions on their team, but they don't want him on essentially any other team that could affect them, either.

We are stuck in a bad spot: questioning what's happened up to this point, figuring out what both parties should have done months ago to avoid this. But, regardless, we're continuing to look at is what is happening minute-by-minute, and seeing the situation being mishandled with a lack of communication, with hurt feelings, and with such stubbornness that we realize this is far from over.

I just saw a scene from Tuesday's practice, where Aaron Rodgers is warming up with the crowd chanting "We Want Brett". It's a sad, sad place for him to be right now, and he deserves all the praise in the world for dealing with it with such class and professionalism. No matter how successful he is as a starting quarterback in the NFL, he will have the pity and respect of fans everywhere.

It never had to come to this, and both Favre and Thompson are to blame. And it is incredibly disappointing.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Goodell the Bad Guy? I Don't Get It.

With Brett Favre's reinstatement on Monday, Packer fans and the national media are calling this a major coup by Favre over the Packer administration, who didn't want him back on the team. But, they are giving the "save" to Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, who is accused of pulling strings to force this controversial move.

I don't get it.

I'm trying to stay pretty balanced here, but I really don't see how Goodell was working against Murphy/Thompson and the rest of the organization. Certainly, from a marketing standpoint, he might have some reason to push the iconic quarterback onto a roster, but somehow, I think he's seen this whole ongoing saga as somewhat of a black eye for the league as well as the Packers.

It seems to me that the folks who wailed loudest about Goodell's potential involvement a few weeks ago were those who felt Thompson and the Packers had the upper hand over Favre, and were happy about it. I think that they thought that Goodell was going to tip the balance of power in Favre's favor, and given today's events, it almost seems that way, as folks like John Clayton are implying:

Goodell sided with Favre in the sense that the commissioner wants Favre in the league as a quarterback instead of a franchise marketer. For now, Favre has won, and Packers management looks embarrassed.... It's sad to see that Goodell wanted Favre back on the field more than his bosses.

I can't wait to see the commentary from the GBPG writers tomorrow. I'm sure it will be much of the same. "Goodell Lets Favre Win."

I don't get it.

And here's why:

Brett Favre had the upper hand from the beginning. We've all slowly come to learn the process for retired players to become reinstated back to their teams or the league, like clues being slowly released on "24" or "Lost". But these processes were on record for the people who needed to know it from the very beginning, including Brett Favre and Ted Thompson.

No one is going to pin any medals on Brett Favre for his lack of decisiveness this offseason, and many have lost a level of respect for him and the position that he has placed the team in. He's been obviously emotional and borderline irrational.

That stated, however, the process is still quite simple and straightforward. If at any time, Brett Favre wished to come out of retirement, the Packers were obligated to put him back on the roster at his contracted salary, or relinquish their rights to him through trade or release. Period.

And, they knew that whomever they traded him to would have to be willing to take on and be able to afford a $12 million cap hit. Period.

And, they knew that Favre had the ability to negate any trade by refusing to report, thus reverting his rights back to the Packers. Period.

This is something that the Packers had to be prepared for, given his indecision in late March. The move to go forward with Rodgers was a logical consequence for Favre's actions. But, this soap opera that escalated was the consequence of the Packers' decision to wish those unretirement processes already set it stone would go away, and they didn't.

You would imagine that this was in the back of Thompson's mind, as he continued to allow a huge amount of salary cap space to remain unspent. While eschewing free agency is usually part of his mantra, this offseason was suprisingly striking to see no major names brought in, despite having over $30 million available with Favre's departure. I'm guessing that Thompson didn't want to overcommit his cap space in the event that Favre waffled again.

But, when all the chips were down, no matter what Thompson and the Packers wished would happen, if Favre wished to come back and play football, it was going to be as a Green Bay Packer for $12 million. The only recourse Thompson had was to cut him or trade him, and this was set in stone long before Favre's retirement announcement.

Goodell didn't reinstate Favre because he wanted to spite Packer management. There's no doubt that Goodell would like to see Favre in the league, but to construe the reinstatement as an intentional undercut of the Packer brass is a twisting of the facts.

Favre is a member of the NFLPA, and has rights just like any other player. If Goodell were to choose not to reinstate Favre upon receipt of his request, he would have to give one heck of a good reason, or face action from the player's union.

Goodell really had no choice but to reinstate Favre. A player who has a contract and wishes to play has the right to seek employment in the league, and having the commissioner block that for no reason but to prove a point against the player for being indecisive isn't going to cut it.

Goodell had to do this eventually. The fact that he took nearly a week to approve a request that should have taken 24 hours is already a statement that he didn't want to force himself into the negotiations, or force a bad situation onto the team without giving them every chance to fix it.

Goodell protracted this reinstatement process to encourage a peaceful resolution for both sides. I'm not sure how you can interpret this in any other way, particularly an interpretation that would have favored Favre over the Packer brass. In fact, I'm surprised that the player's union didn't begin a grievance process for the amount of time that Goodell took. Can you imagine if Goodell decides to protract every decision as it pertains to players and their rights?

This protraction was done for the Packers to exhaust every opportunity they could to work this out before Favre played his own trump card. Had Goodell approved the reinstatement within 24 hours, as would have been expected, we never would have heard about the trade talks with the NFL North teams, or the $25 million dollar "incentive" offered to Favre to just retire and continue to be a part of the Packer family.

However, each side of the argument have priorities that they aren't willing to bend on. Brett Favre apparently isn't coming back for the money, but to play the game and for competition. Ted Thompson and Mark Murphy aren't willing to give Favre a release or get anything less than what they see as fair value for his services.

The result of these two sets of priorities? Favre is coming back to the Packers, whether he wants to or not, and whether the Packers want him or not.

This isn't because of Goodell's bias towards Favre, but because of the rules that are in place as it pertains to player contracts and the two parties' own stubbornness in sticking to what they value.

If you want to blame anyone for the uncomfortable situation they will find themselves in on Monday. blame Favre for his indecisiveness, blame Bus Cook for his Rosenhaus-esque handling of his client, blame Thompson for not having a proper Plan B in place in case this happened, and blame a collective bargaining agreement that tied the hands of the Packers when they wanted to remain steadfast (and stubbornly) in the direction they chose with Aaron Rodgers.

But blaming the commissioner?

I don't get it.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Will Aaron Rodgers Have Our Support?

A thread by Big Dave at PackerChatters asked a pretty good question today: how much can Aaron Rodgers expect from the fan base following this entire Favre debacle? I mean, with all the pressure that was already on him, how can we expect him to do anything right after seeing the Packers essentially take out the mortgage on him, eschewing their only man who has started a game for them for the last decade and a half?

It's a good question, and one that is going to need an answer by the time the season is done.

So, where are we with this kid? If you listen to some folks, he's the trusted guy who is going to lead us to the promised land. If you listen to others, he's a sad victim who we need to treat gingerly to preserve his ego. If you listen to the other crowd, he's a china doll who is doomed not because of who he will be compared to, but because he's Thompson's "pet".

It's times like these when fans polarize that you need to block all that stuff out, and just take what we have at face value. What I see is a kid who is handling this as well as anyone could. He's been calm, cool, and other than his one little outburst to SI, saying the right things.

In fact, you might even say that his "get on board or shut up" comment did a lot for him in terms of how he's handling this storm. He may have learned a lesson just in time.

But, in terms of support as he may go through his struggles this season? Well, he's going to be subject to praise and criticism, idolizers and haters, and have a legion of defenders warding off a legion of gloom and doom. Just like any other lightning rod the Packers have had in recent years.

If you've gotten this far, you're probably interested in what my opinion is. If not, you can stop here, because here it comes.

As a guy who has been labeled a Thompson Critic and a Favre fan, it is usually assumed that I must then be down on Aaron Rodgers. That's a pretty bad presumption. I realize that while I certainly have given Ted Thompson his share of criticism, I also give accolades when he deserves it.

Certainly, while I decried it at the time, the hiring of Mike McCarthy was a great move for the organization, probably the most important and successful decision he has made. McCarthy is not only a solid coach, he brought balance to the GM/coaching role that got so messed up under Mike Sherman's dual handling of the positions.

Heck, I thought my first boss was a complete moron, but he did make one move that showed his deep wisdom and intelligence. He hired me.

And while some like to criticize Thompson for selecting Rodgers, I was celebrating at pick 24 when it was announced. Finally, we got the "quarterback of the future", the successor to groom behind Favre. However, I knew that, even though some fans were calling for Rodgers to get playing time right away as Favre struggled in 2005, he was just fine on the bench.

Rodgers, in my opinion, came in with a chip on his shoulder, and it was clear that in his play he was jumpy and had no pressure awareness. His counterpart in that draft, Alex Smith, despite being a #1 overall pick, has struggled greatly in his time as an immediate starter.

With the ragtag offensive line we had, a shaky Ahman Green in the backfield, and receivers named "Taco", there's no doubt that Rodgers was better off sitting on the bench and letting the game slow down for him. But I never lost hope that he was going to grow into the guy who would be the next QB for the Packers. I alluded to this in an article I wrote back in 2006:
In the summer of 2005, I brought my young son to his first training camp. We sat and watched them go through drills, peering through the chain-link fence on bleachers. We took a break, got an ice cream treat, wandered through the Atrium, and then returned to watch the end of practice.

I pointed the man out and told my son, “See that man? His name is Aaron, and he’s going to be the next quarterback for the Packers. Someday, you’ll see his #12 jersey throwing the ball instead of #4.”
As we went through the new McCarthy regime of 2006, calls were still being made out to get Rodgers on the field. Favre was having a better season than 2005, but some fans seemed panicked, fretting we needed to see what Rodgers could do, so we knew what we had with him.

I alluded to this in November of 2006, when the Packers started turning around their season and Favre was playing better. Some of those rooting for a losing season so that there was reason to get Rodgers more reps were disappointed.
Reality: Favre is passing at a rate that will challenge the all-time record for most attempts in a season, surpassing his gaudy total even in 2005. Luckily, he’s playing under control and minimizing mistakes. But, do you honestly think this would be the game plan with Rodgers in there? Would Rodgers be attempting 40+ passes a game? As I predicted, Favre is getting the lion’s share of focus while the team around him gels, leaving Rodgers ready to step into much more solid footing.
And it was true, although I really believed at the time Favre wouldn't return for 2007. Rodgers was in no position as a young second-year player to step into a situation as a starter in 2006. In his play, you could still see the lack of pressure awareness, his happy feet, and propensity to scramble and open himself up to hits downfield. The game still hadn't slowed down for him, and because the offense around him was still barely gelling, he would have been in a poor situation.

I've said it before...Favre coming back those years probably saved Rodgers' career.

When Favre announced his return for 2007, I again rationalized the benefit for both Rodgers and the Packers based on the lack of a running game the previous season and the lack of development of the offensive line. Greg Jennings had hit a rookie wall and Bubba Franks was more like a liability than an asset.

If I truly believed that Aaron Rodgers was ready, I would be supporting him as a starter. But at this point, I don't think Rodgers has what it takes to be a starter in this environment.

Now, don't take that as some Rodgers-Bashing-Hating statement. I do think he can develop and be a solid game manager, but not without a solid running game (ours finished 23rd in the league in ypg and scoring), not without solid reliable receivers (Packer receivers led the league in dropped passes, and had the second-highest drops per attempt in the league), and not without solid red-zone targets (Bubba Franks finished with a career-low receptions (25) and no touchdowns for the first time in his career). Now, factoring in an offensive line that needed extra blockers in for protection purposes (according to former offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski) and Rodgers' lack of pressure awareness and labored reads would lead me to believe that he would get hurt in his first significant playing time of the season.

Oh, wait. He did.

Of course, Favre coming back was great for the Packers. He had a fantastic year, and in the Dallas game, we got a preview of an Aaron Rodgers that was light years ahead of the jumpy, throw-it-into-the-ground kid he was the previous two seasons. It really set the stage for what I saw as 2008 being Rodgers' coming out party.

You heard it right...he's as ready as he'll ever be this year. While I teared up at Brett's retirement announcement, I also knew that the day had come that I had predicted. Brett was the segue, the lightning rod that kept Thompson's plan from too much criticism and Rodgers from too many hits. It was his choice to be the quarterback through these lean years, and we all knew once Thompson had the team around the quarterback position that he wanted, it would be Favre's time to go.

And, despite the drama of the last month, it appears that it will stay that way. But why is this the right time?

A couple of interesting statistical innuendo jumped out at me. The first one I just discussed in a recent article, in which I looked at the years of experience of the so-called "Icon Followers".

On a historical scale, even though Rodgers is following a "legendary" quarterback, his experience in the league is paramount. I did a quick study of the quarterbacks that followed other legendary quarterbacks (specifically, Marino, Elway, Unitas, Montana, Bradshaw, Namath, Aikman, Starr, Tarkenton, and Young). Of all those who followed the legends, guess the number that had as many or more years of experience than Rodgers ?

Only one: Steve Young for Joe Montana.

The one thing that stands out for me is that it really didn't matter when Rodgers took over at quarterback...had it been 2005 or 2008, he was still going to be following an iconic quarterback and subject to the same pressures of comparison. But, it was clear (to me, at least) that he wasn't ready for that in 2005 or 2006, and probably not even to start the season last year, when the running game was non-existent.

Entering his fourth year, you can see the line that is drawn between Steve Young and the Brian Grieses, Quincy Carters, and Jay Fiedlers in the history of following iconic quarterbacks. And in Aaron Rodgers, you can see the difference in how he handles himself on the field and off.

I just sit back and picture second-year players Griese and Carter, their heads on a swivel, playing a game that hadn't slowed down for them yet, under the intense microscope of the ghosts that preceded them. I'm glad that Rodgers didn't have to go through that.

The other statistical tidbit that I've been well aware of, especially when some of Favre's critics assaulted his age, is the fact that many of the recent great quarterbacks retired at age 38 and still had somewhat productive seasons at that age. Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, and Steve Young all retired at the same age as Favre, and all had at least average seasons to finish out.

It's those quarterbacks who tried to play at age 39 that really ran into a wall, like Johnny Unitas, Ken Stabler, and Rich Gannon, who all wish they could have that year back. Only Warren Moon seemed to have any level of success past age 38, and that's not enough of a measuring stick to think that Favre would, too.

To me, it seemed like fate. At the same time Rodgers appeared to hit the magical years of experience to have success following an icon, the icon himself seemed to hit the end of his productive years.

Let me also add this: I don't think the Packers are going to have as much success as they did last season. I also don't believe that Favre could duplicate his 2007 season, either, which makes this a good season to pass the ball on and allow Rodgers to build his resume' on the field with a solid receiving corp, an okay offensive line, and hopefully, a decent backfield threat in Ryan Grant and/or Brandon Jackson.

In that sense, I think Rodgers is deserving of more than a season to produce at a high level, but in all reality, he should be able to show us the full potential he has this season. I mentioned over the offseason the three things I think he has to do in order to have success as a Green Bay Packer in 2008, which included staying in the pocket, learning to move the pocket around instead of scrambling, and developing a killer play-action move.

He has a a nice spiral and is quite accurate when he has time. The biggest thing for him is to not only have the players around him to give him that time, but for him to learn that habits that give him that extra second that lets his receivers get open. And, of course, to avoid injury.

So, after all that, do I plan to support Aaron Rodgers this season, even if he struggles?

I plan to support him as much as I can support any Packer player. The biggest things is for fans to separate Rodgers from Favre and Thompson. He should not be judged harshly by those fans who have been clamoring for Favre and will see Rodgers as "Thompson's boy". Rodgers deserves the chance to prove himself, and should be given the chance to show improvement in his play with experience.

But likewise, those that have glorified Thompson and reviled Favre can't give him more breaks than he should, either. He's under enough pressure now that Thompson has declared him the starter with no real NFL experience. We can't give him free passes just as we can't embellish every mistake.

I had a laugh at Tom Pelissero in the GBPG blog on the first day of training camp. Pelissero, who has been notably pro-Thompson and anti-Favre over the offseason, had this to say:

Aaron Rodgers threw the first interception of training camp in team drills this morning, although the blame must fall on receiver Bret Swain. Rodgers threw a slant pass intended for Swain, who wasn’t looking for the ball, allowing Al Harris to make a spinning interception.

* If Ruvell Martin was the practice MVP (see: post below), anti-MVP honors for the practice are split between Brett Swain and Tory Humphrey. Each player had a drop; Swain also was responsible for Rodgers' interception and mishandled a Brohm pass, and Humphrey had a false start.

I just tried to imagine myself making the same type of statement a couple years ago, substituting Ferguson for Swain and Favre for Rodgers, and thinking what kind of reaction I would have gotten from those who were bound, set, and determined to make sure every interception was completely Favre's fault and you couldn't blame it on the rest of the team.

And this is where I have to stop myself and realize that just because others have a double standard, I can't allow myself to do that. I can't say "If Favre couldn't use it as an excuse, neither can Rodgers." Favre has been such a polarizing figure over the past five years or so, it is completely unfair for either side to use Rodgers as a debate point over old arguments.

That is our challenge as embittered, polarized fans. All of us have to realize that regardless of our feelings towards Brett or Ted, that Rodgers' success is the Packers' success. The better he does, the better it is for the team.

We also have to realize that, possibly, Rodgers' failure to mature as a player or to stay healthy is also going to affect the success of our team.

And like any other player on this team, I will support and root for Rodgers' success, cut him slack when he deserves it, and criticize his play when he needs it. But, I know that this kid is in the best position he is going to ever be in right now, and he is being paid millions of dollars to rise above the drama and put himself in a position to be successful.

That success, by the way, may translate to tens of millions of dollars for him in a couple of years. Aaron Rodgers has been groomed for this moment for three years and hopefully has a team around him that can facilitate that success.

This is his moment to shine. And I am looking forward to watching it.