Saturday, July 31, 2010

T.G.I.F.: Finley Was The Better Pick After All

You know, there's a reason I don't get into all of the draft scouting reports and mock drafts that folks seem to obsess about every offseason. Mainly, it has to do with the fact that once the players are actually picked, anything written about them before the draft goes out the window.

Which means, quite honestly, those fans out there, and even those so-called "draft experts" who claim they know everything about a player based on combine statistics and other stuff that gets posted on the internet are pretty much full of crap. And I, who have never even posted a Round One mock draft, am a flea compared to the ants out there who are the "experts".

In the end, the people with the real know are the ones in the scouting department and in the war room, and they aren't going to share what they know with us, particularly before the draft. And, as a result, I am going to offer a mea culpa to two folks I gave a bit of criticism to a few years ago; Ted Thompson and Jermichael Finley.

I first questioned Finley's pick immediately after the 2008 draft
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.
And then, I offered the guy, based on the scouting reports, that I felt Ted Thompson should have taken.
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.

So there...I checked over those scouting reports and pored over all the free draft sites and I found the guy that, according to their recommendations, was what we needed: a complete tight end with an emphasis on opening holes and keeping the quarterback safe as well as being a playmaker.

You have to remember at the time that our running game was rather suspect the previous season (at least through the first half) and that the Zone Blocking Scheme was still a work in progress, with Bubba Franks being pulled in more to block than go out for passes. For all his faults, Franks was still a superior blocker over Donald Lee, which might explain Lee's bump-up in stats those years while Franks' took a dive.

Before starting this article, I wanted to believe, in my own mind, that I hadn't been to hard on Finley, that he was a good guy and Bennett was just a bit better. But going back and reading my post-draft musings, I was pretty hard on Finley.

I am still down on Jermichael Finley, who despite his athleticism, is still striking me as a cocky young kid who is going to be in way over his head very quickly, and worst of all, a liability as a blocker. If our line hasn't improved in its pass blocking, and Rodgers has the lack of pressure awareness that he has shown in the past, Finley isn't going to see the field much at all.

By November of 2008, I was still pretty disappointed in Finley, and following his much-hyped comments about Aaron Rodgers "not knowing how to use him", I was starting to get the feeling I was right, unfortunately.

Tight ends: Donald Lee was a favorite of Brett Favre last season, but his production in 2008 appears to be halved in nearly every category. His yards per catch has fallen from 12 to 7.4, and is on pace for only 320 yards this season after nearly 600 in 2007. The departure of reliable vet Bubba Franks left a void behind Lee that is being filled by Tory Humphrey and rookie Jermichael Finley, with neither equalling Franks' prodcution.

Finley, in particular, appears to be very raw and, given his comments yesterday, quite immature. The tight end position has been perhaps the biggest disappointment this season.

I was seeing an immature Finley not filling a void, while Martellus Bennett had caught a 39 yard catch-and-run against the Packers earlier in the season. Bennett finished 2008 with 20 receptions playing behind Jason Witten, and four touchdowns. It appeared at that point that I may have been right about Thompson's judgement.

But, when the (blue) chips fell, it soon became clear whose judgement was clearer, and it was not Martellus Bennett. Bennett apparently decided he would be cool by creating his own YouTube rap video show, in which he would reveal to his fans whatever came to mind. Apology after apology has been issued from the Bennett camp for what appears to be increasingly foolish attention brought to his team.

In January of 2009, Bennett was fined by the Cowboys and issued a subsequent apology for using profanity and derogatory terms for African-Americans and gays in one of his videos...all while wearing his Cowboy helmet. The apology, issued in another video, was could easily be confused with making excuses.

Then, in July of that same year, he issued another "apology" for producing a video called the "Black Olympics", in which he and his brother participated in events such as eating chicken, drinking Kool-Aid, and eating watermelon. Again, the word "sorry" never actually appears in the apology, but an explanation of how what he thinks is funny may not be what other people think is funny.

Finally, this past month, Bennett followed up a lackluster sophomore season with some more offensive BTV riffs on Osama bin Laden. And then, there was that picture of himself naked in the mirror that went viral on the Internet. He alleges that a former girlfriend released the pictures online, bringing back striking memories of Andre Rison having his house burned down by Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez. He apologized this week to the team and to his fans, both of which are growing weary of the negative publicity Bennett is bringing to the team.

Finally, Bennett decided after enough fun, it was time to pull the plug on his YouTube show.

"I'm not doing that no more," Martellus Bennett confirmed after Thursday's practice. "All I want to do is play football, hang out with my friends and chill on the patio."

He thought a moment.

"And wear cool shoes."

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Role of Packer Bloggers

I've been pondering the role of how we, as Packer bloggers, "fit" into the grand scheme of the Packer Universe.  Of course, what has prompted much of my thought is the activities of the Packer blogger who is often most willing to push the envelope, CheeseheadTV's Aaron Nagler.

It started innocuously enough on Wednesday, when Nagler wrote an article about how the Packers' top players need to "improve from within" as much as our developing young players.  However, Nagler chose to tweet a link to the article directly to Aaron Rodgers, whom he picked apart in his article.  Even more shocking, Rodgers chose to tweet back, almost immediately, to chastise Nagler's nitpickiness.

AN: For @AaronRodgers12 - because I send you the praise, I have to send you the criticism as
AR: interesting basing an entire article on one play however poor that play may have been
AN: Just an example. There are a few others, which I'm sure you are aware. Again, I know its a
nitpick. Just call it as I see it
AR: as do I. I'm my biggest critic n that play n some others def sucked. But I think ur a better
writer than that
AN: Clearly, the Packers don't share your appraisal of my writing prowess. But that means a lot
coming from QB1. Thanks.

Now, just between you and me, I'd be thrilled if Aaron Rodgers responded to me on Twitter, which is why so many of us follow celebrities in such a way...the mere thought of a brush with greatness is exciting, to think that our heroes may glance our direction and give us a passing remark.  The thought of Marcia Brady "I'll never wash that hand again" after having it kissed by Davy Jones comes to mind...

But Rodgers did more than just give a passing remark, he offered critique,  Later on, after Nagler offered to meet up with Rodgers for an "off the record" chat, in part to explain his article, Rodgers laughed it off, saying that is the same line he hears from the media.

Which, I'm sure, put both Nagler in a funny position...are Packer bloggers "the media"?  If anyone has read my blog over the last five years or so, they should know that I am quite critical of the media, so much so that I would regard being called "the media" as some sort of crack. 

Last night, with Nagler as one of our guests on Cheesehead Radio (along with the incomparable Corey Behnke), we spoke with him about it.  When Holly pointed out the number of positive articles Aaron had written about him, he bemoaned Rodgers' voice in his head, "You're a much better writer when you're praising me."  Yet, he still wished for an opportunity to be able to have access with Rodgers, in order to explain where he was coming from.  "(Jason) Wilde was saying 'Yeah, I had a...back and forth thing with [Rodgers] about the pad thing with Dez Bryant and rookie hazing,' and I said, 'Yeah, Jason, but you can go into the locker room on Saturday and talk with him about it, and explain yourself.  I've got no access.'"

So, it begs the question:  are we fans or are we now part of the media, but with a disability?  Do we want to be?  Behnke, who was down on the Shareholder meeting field with a press pass, posited last night on Cheesehead Radio, "as soon as we have access, all of the sudden we're reporters.  It was funny, because instead of being fans about the experience, we were like, 'Oh, we have a responsibility now.'"

Honestly, when I was in high school, I seriously thought about going into journalism because I loved to write.  But, I changed my intended major my senior year, justifying it in believing that I could always write on the side...doing what I would love, when I wanted to.  What turned me away was seeing what a "job" being a reporter or even a columnist could be...deadlines, schedules, assignments that don't appeal to you.

So, fast-forward to 2005, when I started writing my Packer blogs, first over at PackerChatters, and now at TundraVision.  Why?  Because I loved it.  I loved the Packers.  I loved writing.  I loved writing about the Packers.  It's a passion.  I love taking one of the many ideas floating around in my head and turning it into a five-page essay.  No deadlines, no one editing my work, and most of all, doing what I love.

In many ways, I think that is what separates the bloggers from the media (other than the obvious lack of access).  I was stunned when then-Press-Gazette beat writer Tom Pelliserro mentioned on an episode of Cheesehead Nation's blogcast that he was not a Packer fan.  How could you live in Green Bay and not be a fan?  For that matter, how can you write about the Packers everyday and have all that access and not be a fan?

But going around the horn, you see that very few of the Packer beat writers claim any allegiance to the Green and Gold.  Jason Wilde himself said he isn't a fan, and Greg Bedard was a Miami Dolphin beat writer for years before coming to Wisconsin.  And, in truth, that is probably the way it should be for the media:  staying neutral and unbiased is the right way to report the news.  Just present the facts, whether it be good news or bad news, as a third-party observer with no real emotional investment.  In fact, it is the journalists that have shown emotional biases, such as Mike Vandermause,  that end up polarizing the readers.

So, where is the fun in that?  You get to work alongside NFL players, but you remove the passion from the equation?  Win or lose, you have your story to write the next day, and you get your paycheck?  No wonder it is like a "job", and when Corey and Aaron talk about gaining more access while finding the responsibilities disconcerting, you have to wonder if those of us who want to be on the inside should be careful what we wish for.

Last year, Larry Garot of PackerChatters asked me if I would like to interview some Hall of Fame candidates as a part of their tour at the Vikings game.  Being a complete neophyte when it came to being a member of the "media", I went in with some sort of pipe dream of sitting at a table across from Jan Stenerud, my childhood hero, and having a nice one-on-one discussion about life.

What I got was completely different, as you can imagine.  Imagine slop being thrown down for farm animals, and you will get an idea of the mob of humanity and tape recorders that engulfed Stenerud when he stepped onto the stage.  Questions shouted, people taking notes, jostling each other, then after about five minutes, they moved on to swarm Paul Krause.  As Stenerud was being ushered away, I grabbed him, and asked for just a moment to speak with him.  The impatient lackey kept tapping his watch as Stenerud politely answered my question about how he left Green Bay.  But, I realized at that moment, I wasn't looking for a quote or an article or a story.  I spoke with Jan Stenerud.  It was a dream come true.

Most of the sweaty masses shouting questions at Krause weren't caught up in the moment of speaking with a childhood hero, but I was.  As a blogger, I don't collect a paycheck, I don't get paid per line, and I am still waiting for my first $20 check to arrive from Google Ads, which I estimate should arrive around 2026.

The role of Packer bloggers should be that, first and foremost:  we are the writers of passion.  We are fans who write out of love, not out of duty.  Sure, we all look to make a buck here and there, pay some of our server bills and maybe get a McDonald's lunch once a year from a sponsor or two.

Like any job that you love, you shouldn't feel like you're working when you do it.  The role of the Packer blogger, utilizing social media and everything else that will be tweeting up in the future, is going to evolve and develop over the years (and I have no doubt that the boys at CheeseheadTV will be the ones leading the charge).  But, do Packer bloggers have a duty to point out the flaws as well as the positive, or do we have the duty of being the positive leaders of the internet?

Hey, if you want fair-and-balanced, read the paper.  If you want all-positive news, go to  But as bloggers, we have the ability to shape our writing however we wish.  If we choose to be rah-rahs, green-and-gold glasses die-hards, then that is what we will be...because we can.  If we want to be fair and balanced, we can do that, too.  Heck, if we want to be overly critical and Debbie Downers, that's an option.  What is important is that we continue to write to follow our passions about the team.

Bob McGinn has little love for internet bloggers, according to several reports.  And, you can guess why...people are turning to free internet sites for their news instead of buying their local paper.  The more that bloggers try to emulate journalists, the more that feeling will exist.  And some, such as Brian Carriveau, are actually excellent journalists in their own right (I've said that while I can write a lot about very little, Brian can write a little and actually say a lot).

The role of Packer Bloggers will indeed change as technology changes, which is very quickly.  Five years ago, when I started writing, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no BlogTalkRadio.  Five years from now, there will be other technologies available to fans to get their message out to the masses.

But what will allow the fan blogs/tweets/podcasts to distinguish itself from mainstream media is the fact that we're allowed to be fans.  The second we stop being fans and it becomes a job is the second we need to reevaluate our priorities.  If you are a true Packer fan, your blog should only enhance your passion, not diminish it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Does Thompson Have Positional Templates?

With the signing of tight end Andrew Quarrles last week, I've been giving some thought to what Packers General Manager Ted Thompson looks at when making his draft picks.  This fifth-rounder we just signed in Quarrles reminds me rather of a third-round tight end he just picked up two drafts ago, a man by the name of JerMichael Finley.  So much in their draft day writeups look similar:  athletic pass-catcher, blocking-challenged, some issues with perhaps not being ready for the pro game right away, needs to mature.

Now, I don't bring this up to rail on Thompson or to rag on Finley, despite the fact that I was critical of the pick at the time (and have since admitted I was wrong).  But, I am noticing that Thompson seems to have a template for players at certain positions, and likes bringing many of the same kind of guys into camp.

Some of this may be because of Thompson's proclaimed dedication to bringing in "Packer People", but it goes beyond the attitudinal perceptions that such a label leads you to believe:  you can have clean-living, hard-working players that also are good blockers at the tight end position.

So, assuming that Donald Lee is slowly working his way out of Green Bay this preseason, the Packers may be looking at two athletic, pass-catching freaks at tight end this season.  Is that a problem?  Depends on your point of view.

You have to give Thompson the credit he has coming:  he's an NFL GM that didn't get to where he is by guessing.  If he has a prototype player in mind at a position, he certainly is going out there and getting guys to fill that role.  It's clear that Thompson is seeing the TE spot as a weapon in the passing game moreso than having Ed "Toolbox" West doing dirty work in the trenches.  If that is his plan on how the offense is going to look, he's definately getting guys who have the potential to be excellent in that role.

On the other hand, Thompson's prototype isn't necessarily the traditional prototype, where you have tight ends that are adept in both receiving and blocking, with perhaps blocking being the primary function and the receiving being the "bonus" contribution to the team.  Or, your tight end tandem compliments one another:  kind of like Chmura and Jackson back in the day.  Whereas Chmura became the solid blocker and middle of the field possession receiver, Jackson was the touchdown maker.

Finley, to his credit, has developed in his maturity and in his blocking, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking he's a blocker first.  Quarrles looks to be much in the same mold.

Another area that we see Thompson's Templates is at safety, including the guy many of us are hoping develops quickly, third-rounder Morgan Burnett.  I was thrilled to see Thompson take a safety, but was quick to note that Burnett falls under the same safety template he's used since he arrived.   Conventional safety prototypes would, again, utilize complimentary skills:  a strong safety plays close to the line and provides run support, while a free safety plays back and provides over the top instinctive coverage.

But, Thompson has approached his safety template with both positions being interchangeable, and having similar talents in both spots.  Thompson has brought in players who are all in the tough, hard-hitting strong safety mold:  Marquand Manuel, Aaron Rouse, Atari Bigby, Jarrett Bush...even Nick Collins fits that mold while being shoehorned into the free safety spot.  Now, Burnett brings a similar resume to the team:  solid tackler, good athlete, aggressive, but lacks instinct and awareness. 

Last preseason, Thompson released Anthony Smith, a veteran safety who seemed to bring a different element to the defensive backfield.  Many were confused when he was let go, but looking back on it, Smith may not have fit what Thompson wanted back there.  And, despite the concerns of the safety position when injury struck last season (as well as Bigby's "holdout" this offseason), many feel that Burnett may be able to step in and pick up where Bigby left off.  The two may be interchangeable.

And there's that word: "interchangeable".  Nowhere have we heard that term more than when discussing the offensive line as the Packers continue to implement the zone blocking scheme, and continue to bring in linemen that offer flexibility as a primary asset.  Starting in 2006, when Thompson drafted Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, and Tony Moll, the Packers have seen their interior line become a game of musical chairs.  Now, as aging tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton have been signed to lucrative short-term deals while waiting for someone to claim their starting spot, it's hard not to notice that Tauch and Cliffy have never been moved inside:  they are tackles, period.  When they finally hang up their cleats, there will be a glut of linemen that will be looking to "move outside" to play tackle.  However, one of the guys many of us assumed would be the heir apparent is, well, apparently better suited at guard (emphasis mine):

Mike McCarthy said regarding TJ Lang,  "I think T.J.’s long-term, this is just me personally, Joe Philbin, James Campen and Jerry Fontenot, we go round and round about it, I think T.J.’s long-term is at guard. I think he’s a natural left guard, when I look at his body. But he is young. He needs to develops strength to hit that. He is a very young second-year player. There’s a lot of room for development. But you can’t argue with the fact that he’s a more natural tackle because that’s where he has played. He feels more natural at tackle because that’s where he has played. I definitely feel he could play right tackle today if he had to. And I think he’s done a solid job at subbing in there at LT when needed."

Yet, the offensive line is loaded with players like Colledge, Lang, and Spitz...players who just can't seem to settle on a position and excel at it.  And so, lesser-regarded players, such as Josh Sitton and Scott Wells, quietly establish themselves along the starting line because they plug in and do the job in one position and do it well.

Again,  I don't bring these up to criticize Thompson's drafts.  I do believe that he has a vision of what he wants his team to look like and he drafts accordingly.  If it is a priority for Thompson to have interchangeable players, than that is his right as a general manager.  He wants athletic, pass-catching tight ends, hard-hitting safeties, and flexible offensive linemen, and he goes out and gets them.

The other shoe, however, is that if we are in a position where we need solid run or pass blocking, where do we turn?  If the defense is in dire need of a safety that has enough awareness to tighten their own coverage (as well as directing others to do the same), who do we have to do the job?  If we need someone to fill in for an injured Mark Tauscher and keep Rodgers upright, do we have a tackle on the roster than can do the job?

It's not the games against the Lions that will magnify what you lack, it is the games against the Steelers and the Cardinals that bring your blemishes to light. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cheesehead Radio Thursday Night!

Please join Holly Phelps, Jersey Al Bracco, Alex Tallisch, and C.D. Angeli this Thursday evening for another rousing episode of Packer talk on Cheesehead Radio.  The show will be live over your internet connection from 8:00-9:00 CST.

Joining us this week will be Chris Lempesis of Ol' Bag of Donuts, a great Packer blog and, in particular, an author of some great offseason articles.  I encourage you to check them out and then join us on Thursday as we have Chris pull up a chair and talk Packer football.

And, as usual, we will have a call-in session for Packer fans who want to chime in on what's going on this offseason, as we are all chomping at the bit for July 30 to roll around and start the 2010 season.  The phone number to call is (917) 932-8401.

How to you tune into our show? It's simpler than a zone blocking scheme:

1)  In order to listen to our show live, you need to register an account and log in with BlogTalkRadio.  Make it easy on yourself, and head over to BlogTalkRadio's register page and create an account ahead of time.

2)  At 7:59 PM CST on July 15, go to the Cheesehead Radio BTR page, log in, and listen in to our live episode.

Join us as we start the countdown to the new season on Cheesehead Radio!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Season Tickets Turnover Picks Up Pace

In an article today in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, hidden in the middle of a nice homespun story is some of the bleak facts for folks buried on the Packer Season Ticket Waiting List.

In all, 126 names fell off the list this year, which is now reaching epic proportions at 88,831.  The protagonist of the article, Tina Dollar-Hibbard, was placed on the list back in 1970...when she was five years old.

Thanks to stadium expansion in 2003, the wait for Dollar-Hibbard and many others was accelerated, but for those of us who didn't get on the list as infants, the wait still appears to be so long that we hope for tickets for our grandchildren instead of ourselves.

99.6 percent of all the season ticket holders renewed this past year, compared to 99.4 percent in 2009.  Last year, 192 names came off the list.  Before that, the average number of new season tickets since 2003 averaged between 50 and 60.

Certainly, the economy has to have many season ticket holders making some tough choices, and this year's somewhat startling ticket price increase didn't help.  Granted, many of these tickets may also be from fans who own 8-12 tickets, and may just be paring down their number of seats.  But for those folks who are giving up a family heirloom, it's got to be a tough decision, because they aren't going to get those seats back anytime soon.

Now, that backlog of waiters on the season ticket list give Mark Murphy and the Packers a lot of flexibility to take some risks.  After all, it's not like Murphy has to worry about empty stadiums in his lifetime, much less over the next couple of hundred years.  At about #31,000 on the season ticket waiting list, I was looking at well over 500 years before my name came off, at the rate before the recession.  I can now project that, if we continue to lose  a hundred-plus names off the list each year, I can now look forward to getting my tickets in only 291 years.

In other words, Murphy can gently push the prices of the tickets up over the next couple of years, gradually pricing some people out of the stadium, only to be replaced with an endless list of folks willing to take their place.  And, as we know, the Packers still rank less than the middle of the league in ticket prices, so Murphy has little to stop him.

This seems like as good of a time as any to reiterate my plan for the potential 8,000 seats the Packers are considering for the South End Zone expansion.  I do agree with Brian Carriveau that the Packers are unlikely to simply add more seating, but will start creating some year-round attractions such as a beer garden or other fan-friendly fare. 

But, in conjunction with the inevitable 18-game regular season that Murphy is pushing, here's how I propose to clear the list:

*  The Green Package season ticket owners will keep their six home regular season games.
*  The Gold Package season ticket owners will keep their two home regular season games.
*  The Green and Gold Package season ticket owners will no longer have a preseason game, as the preseason would likely be shortened to two games, with only one home preseason game.
*  A new package (called the Gridiron Package) will be introduced, in which they would get the one preseason game and the one extra home game offered by an 18-game regular season.

Now, people on the list can choose to bypass an offer of the Gridiron package and wait for a Green or Gold package to become available, but for many fans sitting in the tens-of-thousands, a Gridiron package will be better than nothing in their lifetime.

This would create 8,000 new Green package tickets (in the South End Zone), 8,000 new Gold Package tickets, and about 80,000 new Gridiron Packages....thus clearing much of the list and getting more fans into the game.  Certainly, many fans with a Gridiron package would resubmit their names to the list in hopes of getting a Green or Gold Package in addition, so the list itself wouldn't shrink by too much, leaving Murphy will still much of a cushion to work with.

Now, this makes complete sense to me, a fan, but probably very little sense to the Packers, who would not be too enthusiastic about completely clearing the waiting list.  It probably wouldn't be very popular among present season ticket holders, who would not have access to the additional game (and lose a preseason game in the process).  But, when you read stories about people who are waiting 40 years for their tickets today, realizing the list is far longer now, it's a potential way to make a lot of people happy.

Packers Rebuilding? Not As Crazy As It Sounds...

In the release of the Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 earlier this week, there are some folks in the Packer Blogosphere who, despite the positive outlook for the Packers this season, take umbridge at Bill Barnwell's hypothesis that the Packers are in a rebuilding mode.

Aaron over at CHTV breaks the news to Packer fans, and naturally, the reaction is rather indignant from most of the Packer fans in the commentary.

…the Packers are hoping that something good —winning — will be able to mask the ugly task they are in the middle of: rebuilding.

It does seem a bit odd to converge predictions of a division championship along with an prognosis of rebuilding....especially when Ted Thompson was so vigorous in denying the term "rebuilding" back in 2005 when we were starting Taco Wallace and Samkon Gado.  Certainly, if that was a "reload", as was the common term used in that horrible 4-12 season, today's playoff team can't be considered anywhere near the days of Wil Whittaker and Adrian Klemm. Right?

I certainly don't think so, but I think if you approach it from the correct perspective, it isn't too hard to see that the Packers are in a sort of rebuilding mode.  It's perpetual rebuilding, Ted Thompson style.

You see, when Thompson came in, he didn't completely clean house, a la Ron Wolf.  Wolf tabbed Sterling Sharpe and LeRoy Butler to hang around, and essentially declared every other player a liability and set out to replace them.  Wolf was a GM in a different era, however, and he made full use of every avenue he could to rebuild that sorry Packer, free agency, and the draft.  In those days, the repercussions of using free agency was something that you wouldn't have to deal with for a long, long time.

Thompson, on the other hand, came in with a different approach.  Oh, you can't deny that he definitely came in and cleaned house of the underachieving, the overpaid, and the about-to-be-overpaid (Sharper, Longwell, Rivera, Wahle), but he kept a core of Sherman holdovers to build the team around (Favre, Driver, Clifton, Tauscher, Barnett, Kampman, Harris). 

However, since that time, he has only invested in a couple of major free agency moves, bringing in Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson back in 2006, and relying mostly on the draft and developing and re-signing from within.  Oh sure, he traded for Ryan Grant and picked up Brandon Chillar, but the team that Ted Thompson is going to live or die by is going to be the one he's created through the draft.

When you eschew free agency as Thompson has done, you're hoping to hit well enough in the draft to keep your team fully stocked.  Now, if you subscribe to my 33-33-33 theory, the stats will tend to shake out that only a third of your draft will live up to their billing each year. At that rate, with seven draft picks per year, you're essentially hoping for five quality starters (or better) every two years. 

This means that you would be able to completely turn over your 22 starters every nine years.  And, as we know, that would be impossible, given the ability for solid players to move on in free agency and the average career lifespan of an NFL football player. 

And, to Thompson's credit, he hasn't relied completely on the draft to fill the holes.  Atari Bigby was an undrafted free agent. Ryan Grant cost him a sixth rounder in trade.  Brandon Chillar was a middle-tier free agent.  But, regardless, every season the Packer have continued to have holes.

A few years ago, we bemoaned our running back situation, as well as our interior offensive line.  Since then, the concern has switched out our outside linebackers, our exterior offensive linemen, and our secondary.  You can bet that two years from now, we will find "holes" in other positions.

So, Ted's eschewing of free agency places the Packers in a perpetual rebuilding mode, constantly plugging holes with draft picks and other street free agents, trying to develop talent from within.

Now, not much has changed in my impression of how Thompson manages this team over the last six years, though I'm sure I placed it in a far more negative light on it in 2005 and 2006.  In those days, I was far from a Thompson fan, and insisted that his "building through the draft" methodology would create a team that would always be a little better than good....never too bad, but also never quite good enough to get over the hump and into a Super Bowl.  Quite frankly, I decried Thompson's conservative approach as being a curse of indefinite mediocrity.

Now, has Thompson changed, or have I?  My honest guess is that I have changed, since I really don't see a dramatic difference in his approach, his massive trade-up for Clay Matthews in the draft notwithstanding.  Have I softened towards Thompson's conservative approach, or have I simply accepted it as a reality that I cannot change?  The answer is probably a little of both, understanding the positives that come with avoiding the high-risk moves, while also realizing that Thompson isn't going anywhere any time soon.

I have respect for Thompson sticking to his guns, staying true to his philosophy even when he comes under fire.  It doesn't mean I always agree with it, or that I am content seeing holes remain on our roster (knowing there are UFAs out there that could fill them), but I do like the fact that TT doesn't make moves to appease the masses.  If he is going to the top of the mountain or over the cliff, it will be on the basis of his consistent approach to building a team.

So, when Barnwell insists that the Packers are in rebuilding mode, the natural reaction from the Packer masses is one of indignation.  I don't know if he is looking at the team in the same way that I am, but I do think there's some truth to what he says:  Thompson is not rushing out to plug holes at cornerback and outside linebacker with free agency.  So, there are holes, and Thompson is continually rebuilding through the draft and trying to develop the Brad Joneses and Pat Lees to fill those spots.

And, the day you stop rebuilding, is the day that you start standing still. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rodgers Passes The 26-27-whatever Test

John P Lopez over at delves into a statistical wonderland, in which he believes that he has found a magical combination that predicts the success of college quarterbacks in the NFL.

It's an interesting concept, and I encourage you to check it out.  He presents the theory that if a college quarterback meets three statistical categories coming out of college, it translates to a good career.  Those that miss on at least one of them will struggle.

The milestones are:

A minimum score of 26 on the Wonderlic
A minimum of 27 college career starts
A minimum of 60% college career passing completion percentage

He presents a list of successful quarterbacks that meet the criteria (Manning, Romo, Brees, Rivers) and a list of ones that failed at least one of the three milestones (Culpepper, Leaf, Couch, Vick).  It's a nice snapshot, though I sure would like to see a more complete list instead of a cherry-picked one.

What makes me say that is Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn't mentioned at all in his article, which I found not only annoying, but curious...why would he be left off, since he certainly has to be considered a top-10 quarterback in the league.

So, I set out to research Rodgers stats, and see how he did.

1)  He scored a 35 on the Wonderlic.  Check

2) He completed 63.8 of his passes at Cal.  Check.

Which brings us to his college starts.  According to the Packers website, Rodgers started 22 games for Cal, which is about five short of the 27 needed for Lopez's formula.  However, if you include the eleven games he started for Butte Junior College as a freshman, he would be up to 33.  Do those count in Lopez's formula?

My guess is, looking at Rodgers' success, they sure do.  Incidentally, the incumbent starter at quarterback for the Vikings failed the formula, scoring only a 22 on his Wonderlic.  Might explain all those playoff interceptions.

Woodson Might Be Right on the Lions

Charles Woodson discussed the NFC North on an interview with 106.7 The Fan in Washington, DC, and while most are focusing on his claim that Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, he also made a strong statement regarding the perpetual doormat of the division:

“There’s so many. I look at one team in our own division that I think is going to surprise a lot of people this year and that’s the Detroit Lions. I think they had a great offseason and the coach they got in there is bringing in a new mentality and they’re building. Minnesota, they’ll be strong again of course. Just our division alone is going to be a dogfight.”

Now, I've had this same inkling of a feeling that Detroit may finally have shaken the Millen Curse they suffered under for so long.  The Lions have never actually been a powerhouse (no Super Bowl trophies in that cabinet, either), but there was a time that you didn't go into those games assuming it was a win.  For a long time, the Vikings, Bears, and Packers were essentially spotted two games at the beginning of the season, which has the tendency to inflate your record a bit.  Not that the Packers weren't the superior team in all of those games, but the Lions were pretty good at beating themselves along the way.

Now, the drafting of Ndamukong Suh this offseason perked up a lot of ears in the NFC North.  It's not often that a rookie defensive lineman helps bring some instant legitimacy to a team, but Suh's potential is considerable.  Jahvid Best is also raising the hopes that go along with an offense that features some top draft picks in Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford.

Now, any team that still has Marquand Manuel on its roster is going to be far from a Super Bowl threat, but it's interesting to see Woodson mention the Lions by name, after Rodgers gave them a diss in his famous interview with ESPN last month that riled the local media:

Rodgers was talking about his interesting (crazy?) suggestion that NBA free agent LeBron James should sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. Yes, the Clippers. Rodgers’ rationale was that a few changes could bolster the franchise.

“New uniforms, new logo,” Rodgers said Monday. “Worked for the Lions, right?”

There you go, Leos. Circle the date: Oct. 3 at Lambeau.

Now, I see the funny part of all this:  the Lions are probably happy to get any attention from anywhere to stroke their competitive juices, as most of the NFL has forgotten they even exist.  But, the time may have come where the Lions are not just thrown on that pile of automatic wins anymore.  If the line doesn't do a better job protecting Rodgers (and Rodgers doesn't learn to get rid of the ball a little quicker), he may be getting an up and close introduction to a Boy Named Suh.