Monday, September 27, 2010

Will Favre Deny Packer Fans Vindication?

I'm calling it now.  I don't think Brett Favre sets foot in Lambeau Field as a player ever again.

And, in many ways, it disappoints me.  I have tickets for the October 24th matchup, a game I've been looking forward to for quite some time, ever since my father-in-law surprised me with a set of tickets.  I've had "Rodgers Beats Favre" sitting on my Google Calendar, waiting for that moment of vindication, if not final validation.

I was lucky enough to have been called the morning of Favre's first game in 1992 with an offer to attend, not knowing Don Majkowski would be injured and Favre would lead the most memorable comeback in my personal Packer history.  I vowed nearly a decade ago that since I was at his first game, I would try my hardest to be present at his last.  I managed to swing December and January tickets, as well as nearly every home playoff game over that time, up until 2008, when I couldn't find Giants playoff tickets.  I thought that one would never get crossed off my bucket list.

Now, of course, this goal has perverted itself into something completely different...a desire to see Favre's last game at Lambeau, and to lose at the hand of the TEAM he left behind.  As I did last year, when I bamboozled my uncle out of the family set of tickets for the Vikings game, I figured, "I will be at Favre's last game at Lambeau Field."

Except now, I don't think it is going to happen.  No, Brett Favre is not going to be on the field that day, and I would doubt he will even make the trip.

How do I know this?  I really don't, but I would be willing to wager there isn't a blogger out there who has spent more time trying to predict, defend, and profile Brett Favre's psyche over the years than me.  All of the actions he's done the past five years or so may have been unexpected, but to me, they've never been surprising. 

Maybe that start streak is incredibly important to Favre.  It wouldn't surprise me if he just likes coming back to make sure, if nothing else, Payton Manning will have a tough time reaching it.  But that pales in comparison to his desire to be wanted and adored by people.  It's a monster we helped create over the years, when he could throw 30 interceptions in a year and folks would still find excuses as to why it was everyone else's fault.

Favre had no problem entering Lambeau Field last year, with a 6-1 team and already a win over the Packers at home.  All the bullets were in the gun, and he had four games with a 100+ passing efficiency rating.  He had nothing to be ashamed of, and could be confident that his team (and the scoreboard) would silence the crowd. 

Well, I was there, and I can tell you the crowd was never silenced, but there were enough Viking (and Favre fans) there to make things pretty damn comfortable for him, and as Ryan Longwell put an arm around him and walked him to the visitor's tunnel at the end of the game, you had to believe there was a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

But, this isn't the case this year.  As of right now, the Vikings are a shell of the team they were last year, and Favre is playing terribly.  The one win they have at the hands of the lowly Lions looks to be a gimmee game (as usual), as Favre posted a mere 68.4 passer rating.  But, moreover, the Vikings looked terrible in that game.  It was an ugly win against what should have been be a far inferior opponent.  Adrian Peterson's 168 yards rushing was pretty much the difference in that game, not Favre.

The Vikings will be playing two teams with a far better pedigree than that Lions after their bye week next week:  the Jets are 2-1 and are on a roll after a slow start, and the 1-2 Cowboys look to be recovering from their stumble out of the gate, too.  For all their dramatic problems, you can't deny that both of these teams are loaded with talent, and will give a Viking team that appears depleted and without focus a lot of problems.

Let's presume that the Vikings are 1-4 when it is time to make the trip to Lambeau.  Reasonable.   Let's presume the Packers win tonight, and take at least two wins out of the next three games against the Lions, Redskins, and Dolphins.  Very reasonable. The Packers, at home, at 5-1 taking on the Vikings at 1-4?

There's no way that Favre will enter that stadium, he with his 60.4 efficiency rating, he of the six interceptions in three games, he the man who commentators are starting to pity instead of fawn over.  There's no way Favre will play in a game in which he is destined to make a fool of himself.

No, I take that back...he's done that enough times.  But he will not allow himself to play the fool for the Lambeau faithful.  He's already learning a hard enough lesson that Viking fans are not Packer fans.  Viking fans are all bluster and cocksure, and then when the team inevitably implodes, they scream and tantrum like spoiled children who've had their toys taken away.

They're not nearly as forgiving as Packer fans, who tolerated off-year after off-year and still rose to champion him when he made a stumbling pass in the snow, or flipped a receiver over his shoulders after a touchdown throw.

If what appears to be the path holds true, I find it hard to believe that a man who has played by his own set of rules for so long will allow himself to be held accountable in the last stadium he wants to fail in:  Lambeau Field.  It's more than matter of not wanting to face the fans, the players, or his former coach and GM:   it's coming in knowing that there's no way he can match up and be competitive.  He is already embarrassed, but that's nothing compared to what he will face with Mike McCarthy staring at him from across the field. 

Favre played two perfect games against the Packers last year, and we all know that even one interception would have somehow vindicated Packer fans who wanted to see him fail.  But, not only does it appear that Favre will not be able to compete this year, neither can the team around him.

People with huge egos, arrogance, and who like to dictate the rules don't take kindly to accountability, and the October 24th game has every sign of becoming a game of his past coming back to haunt him.  In an embarassing loss, no one will be there to hold him as he has to walk out the tunnel in front of 70,000 jeering fans, not to mention a certain coach and GM.

How will it happen?  Well, he suffered a "stinger" in the second quarter yesterday.  His ankle is still hobbling.  And, of course, the offensive line has been a sieve this year for him.  Somehow or other, I think Favre stays back to rehab his ankle or something.  The start streak will come to an end.  Heck, he may even decide to retire. Again.

Now, mind you, I may be wrong, and Favre may show up to start the game.  But we've seen games, even as a Packer, where he started, had things go wrong, and ended up with an injury that kept him out the rest of the game.  This is also a strong possibility.  No matter what, though, I don't think you'll see him finish, and I don't think he will give the Packers the opportunity to get their full come-uppance.

In a way, that may be Favre's final shot against the Packers...denying them the opportunity to get that vindication they've sought for going on three years now.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Locker Room: The Media Can't Have It Both Ways

I'm one of those guys who sits on the fence of political correctness.  I believe strongly in respecting the rights and needs of others.  But, there are plenty of gray areas where the cries of infringed-upon rights fly in the face of common sense.

The recent hullabaloo coming out of the Jets locker room is a testament to this.  The Mexican edition of Erin Andrews, Ines Sainz is an experienced sports reporter for TV Azteca, the second-largest network in Mexico.  And, last week, she entered the Jets locker room to do a story on Mexican-American quarterback Mark Sanchez.  When she exited the locker room, a spark slowly smoldered into a firestorm.  According to reports, there was borderline sexual harassment, and when Sainz herself initially brushed off the incident, many rallied around her Twitter message expressing discomfort and set out to relive the Lisa Olson flap from 1991.

Naturally, those on both sides have expressed arguments:  that Sainz dresses provocatively and uses her sexuality in her job; that the locker room is a workplace for both players and media, and such behavior would not be tolerated in any other workplace; that coaches threw footballs at her (actually, led receivers towards her) on the practice field.

In the end, the NFL found that the Jets locker room had an air of being "unprofessional", while also finding no instances of sexual harassment took place.  However, the Jets will be paying for "sensitivity training" for all 32 NFL teams to make sure their locker rooms remain a safe and comfortable place for all media members.

This is where I take, not to the training, or even to defend the Jets players who apparently started catcalling when Sainz entered the locker room.  I take exception to changing the climate of the locker room, period.

The locker room environment for football players is its own animal, like it or not.  It's the original sweat lodge, a place of male bonding in its crudest and loudest form.  From adolescence to the NFL and other pro sports, it is a throwback to a less civilized time, where rites of passage are common, a pecking order is established with words, gestures, and sometimes even with physical confrontation.  As the team becomes a collective unit with one goal in mind, grown men strip down to their most basic instincts.

It is a room that harkens back to the gladiators preparing under the Colosseum for battle, or soldiers in their bunkers preparing for engagement.  The locker room is a den of fun, mayhem, and emotion in its rawest form.  In the NFL, players bond as they fight one another for roster spots, then journey on through a season in which every game counts, every play is a battle story, and, in that oddly male ritual, catcalling and insulting one another is a sign of respect.

I remember sitting on the bench as a fifth grade student, watching the far more talented sixth graders tear their way through the Rhinelander basketball league.  We made it to the championship game, where Central beat us in the final seconds.  We did the obligatory line-up and gave the other team hand claps, and then I retired along with the rest of the team to the locker room.  Our sixth-grade team leader, Gary Gilman, walked into the locker room, slammed his fist against a locker, and shouted the F-word in deafening fashion. Being raised in a religious home, it was probably the first time I had actually heard the word used in practical form, but at that moment, we shared our mutual agony as Gary's shouts echoed off the walls.

I remember playing football in high school--okay, I didn't really play, per se (Coach Hoch listed my position in the program as "Left Out"), but I remember being a part of that locker room where practical jokes were played, young men shared stories of coon hunting, and we met daily to suit up to march, en masse, as a team of strong young men onto the field...whether it be a two-a-day practice in August or a game under the lights on a cold October Friday night.  Coach Hoch would sternly praise us, or light into us like we had no reason to breathe the same air he did.  He bonded us together using language not becoming of a teacher, but he wasn't a teacher then, nor were we students at that moment.  He was our general and we were his fanatical stormtroopers.

This is the nature of the locker room. You lose sense of the outside boundaries and constraints.   It is not politically correct, comfortable for outsiders, or professional in any sense of the word.  It is what it is.

And you don't have to like it.  You can dislike it just like you dislike any other situation that might not fit in with your personal set of values.  You can respect that those environments are important, if not greatly valued, by the people who belong to them.  Such it is with the NFL locker room.

So, you might ask, "I guess you're not in support of females in the locker room, right?"  Frankly, I'm not in support of any media in the locker room.  That's not their environment.  It's really not their place.

But, I understand fully why they want to be in there.  In the locker room, the men are free with their emotions, unfettered, and basking fresh from a glorious victory, or bemoaning a disappointing and bitter loss.  Any reporter wants that kind of quote.

What reporter would choose to wait an hour for a showered and dressed Clay Matthews to trudge up to the podium in the press room and give stock answers to questions, when they could catch him fresh off the field, with his eyes still lit up, animatedly recalling the story of how he zigged when the quarterback zagged and wrapped him up for a sack?

That's what the locker room gives the opportunity to look at emotions unchecked, to see the real team and the players, not the "in front of the camera" PC statements.

This doesn't have as much to do with Ines Sainz as it does with any member of the media respecting what they walk into when they enter an NFL locker room, the private sanctuary of players all year...suddenly opened up to microphones at the most emotional times, after going weeks without having their domino games interrupted.

If a media person, man or woman, wants to enter the locker room, they know what they are getting, and it's what they want.  You can't have it both ways:  you can't demand unadulterated emotion and passion while still demanding that players maintain a "professional and respectful environment".  Sorry, media folks:  if you want professional and respectful, you need to wait in the press room for the players to come out one by one and give you professional, respectful answers to your questions.

I'm not making any excuses for any Jet players who may have crossed the line.  Obviously, any type of harassment that you would get reprimanded or arrested for outside of the locker room should be treated the same when you are inside the locker room.  But for any reporter to go into the locker room and feel uncomfortable in what is the natural environment of a locker room needs to wait outside.  Sure, the players get paid a ton of money and have responsibilities to represent the NFL and their team appropriately. But these are athletes who need that place to let those emotions ride high to the sky.

Let's hope that this "sensitivity training" being provided by the Jets to the rest of the league doesn't take away the environment that is so important to the players and the team.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lambeau Belongs to the Packers Again

Welcome back, home field advantage.

Welcome back, Packer fans.  Goodbye, Favre fans.

On a cool September afternoon, two quarterbacks played a few hundred miles from each other, each in their home opener.  Both struggled, but one overcame those struggles and pulled out a win.

No, this is not some post out to compare Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, though it certainly is tempting, as it appears Rodgers is going to put up the better numbers this year.  No, this is a story about a fan base that is coming together after being divided for so long.

The Favre jerseys are disappearing from the stands at Lambeau Field.  Packer Nation stood united as the heir to the throne pulled out a win after some early struggles.  They offered some jeers and cheers when the NFL updates showed a Favre interception during a commercial break. 

But, the worst is over, and I will tell you why.  Favre and the Vikings are no longer a threat.  No longer a threat to the Packers, and no longer a threat to Aaron Rodgers.

You see, competition breeds contempt.  Why do Packers fans hold no enmity for the Detroit Lions, who they play twice each and every season?  Because they are pretty much automatic wins, unless the Lions get a little uppity for Thanksgiving.  Despite being division rivals for the last several dozen years, face it...we really don't care that much about them.  They're not a threat.  Oh, we didn't like them for a while in the late 80's and early 90's, when they beat us regularly and grabbed a couple division titles with Herman Moore and the gang.  But even then, the Packers were so bad, they didn't care about us.  Hard to have a rivalry when one side couldn't care less about the other.

When Favregate went down in the offseason of 2008, much of the Packer fan base polarized and quite passionately turned on one another, as well as the parties involved, which unfortunately included Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, and Aaron Rodgers.  It's tough being a Packer fan when many of the same folks who stand next to you in the stands are actively booing the coach and quarterback, simply because of a decision made months earlier.

It didn't help matters that, while as a Jet in 2008, Favre's mediocre statistics were enough to give the Jets three more wins than Rodgers' Packers. 

And, of course, when Favre became a Viking in 2009 and would face off against the Packers twice, head-to-head, in certainly didn't help that he looked like Favre of 1996 while defeating the Packers in both games, winning the division, and nearly going to the Super Bowl.

I was at the game in Lambeau last year, and can certainly attest to the behavior of the fans.  Regardless of the "side" they were on, the love or hate for Favre ruled everyone's passion that day.

But today, at least according to several folks I've heard from in attendance at the game, Favre may be getting the treatment he so fearfully dreads...he is no longer inspiring the strong emotion and attention he seems to crave.  People are laughing him off....and ignoring him.  Favre, like Michael Jordan, doesn't seem to care if you love him or hate long as you give him passion.  The worst thing is to not have any passion, not to be mentioned, to be forgotten.

You see, Brett Favre played a pretty average team today, an average team that played pretty ugly.  And today, Brett Favre looked like the 2005 version of Favre:  old, slow, alternating between tentative and reckless.  But most of all, he didn't look like anything that was going to threaten the Packers this year, or most likely, ever again.

And, slowly, Lambeau Field is becoming an actual home field again, not a courtroom made up of 70,000 jurors.   Despite the struggles going in at halftime, you didn't hear the boos for the home team in Green Bay like you did in the Metrodome. 

I'm lucky enough to have scored tickets to the Viking game again this year, and I am happy for that.  I was present at Favre's first game as a Packer, and always vowed through the early 2000's that I would be at his last.  It is pretty clear that this is finally the year, but I am having doubts whether or not he will actually be playing by that point. 

As I predicted in the preseason, the Vikings are a team on the verge of implosion.  You saw Favre's receivers starting to draw striking parallels to the receivers for the Packers in 2005.  Harvin, on the sideline, seemingly disgruntled and too injured to play.  Berrian, not even attempting to go for an errant pass that was intercepted.  It's like Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson all over again.

Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers' biggest hurdle appears trying to get the ball to as many of his plentiful weapons as he can.  There are few fans that despise Rodgers anymore, and those that do are too jaded to be considered Packer fans anymore. 

We looked at this year's Viking game, circled it on the calendar, and declared it our vengeance day, our day for Aaron Rodgers to vindicate himself in front of America.  Now, it seems like it is going to be another game on the schedule against a struggling team that can't even beat the Dolphins.  They certainly can't be as threatening as the Bears, who beat the Cowboys today.  Right?

And as Favre disappears from the national spotlight, and the Vikings disappear from playoff contention, the Packers will once again become a place for all Packer Fans to unite and become the true 12th man they once were.  If Favre had any superhuman abilities, one certainly had to be the ability to polarize a fan base, even after he left the team.  Even though he is still "playing", you would be hard pressed to find any true Packer fan that would even consider replacing #12 with #4 anymore, even out of sentiment.

There's something sad about watching an old warrior unable to perform anymore.  We saw it with Marino, we saw it with Starr....the quarterback that stayed one year too long, that defenses no longer fear but anticipate the opportunities, that fans have to avert their eyes from and dream of days gone by.  Favre, however, doesn't even have that sentiment anymore.  He's alienated his Packer fan base, and we all know how sentimental those Vikings fans are.  It will be a lonely, difficult, and tumultuous year for Favre.

But as 70,000 Packer fans jam the seats in Lambeau Field, the time has finally come to cross the Rubicon, get on the train that was supposed to have left the station a few years ago, and unite not behind a quarterback...

...but unite behind a team.

Go Pack Go.

TundraVision QuickHits: The Buffalo Aftermath

The Packers are 2-0, following a convincing 34-7 victory over the hapless Buffalo Bills on Sunday, and the only thing that has to make that smile on Packer fans' faces even bigger is seeing both the Minnesota Favres and the Dallas Cowboys each fall to 0-2 in ugly fashions today.  It is a good day to be a Packer fan.

Today's game looked like a blowout by the end of the game, but it took until the third quarter for the Packers to truly get their feet under them and put the Bills in their place.  Another slow start and strong finish for the Packers, who will host the undefeated Chicago Bears next Monday night for the NFC North lead.

With that, here are the TundraVision QuickHits:

*  Aaron Rodgers had another week of inconsistent play.  No, he didn't throw interceptions like he did last week, but particularly in the first half, he seemed to be "off" again.  On one play where he nearly had the ball intercepted on the goal line, while trying to force the ball into Jermichael Finley, he didn't look anywhere else but at his favorite tight end, allowing a not-all-that-bad secondary to get a jump on the ball and potentially take it back for a long, demoralizing touchdown.

Rodgers' patience returned in the second half, but it is a heck of a lot easier to be patient when you are getting 4-5 seconds in the pocket to look for receivers.  Am I worried about Rodgers?  No.  He's going to be fine.  But it is amusing to look at the incredibly high standard we have set for him after only two seasons as a starter (and really, only one highly successful season).  It is pretty clear that Rodgers has very high standards for himself, too, and he has to make sure he does what he did over the latter part of last seasons:  slow down, go through all his progressions, buy time with his feet, and continue to look or receivers or get rid of the ball and avoid the sack.

*  Jordy Nelson has extinguished all concerns we've had with our kick return game.  Most importantly, he is catching the ball securely.  That would be enough for me right there, but he's moving the ball up the field, and against both the Bills and the Eagles, helping the Packers win the field position battle.  Personally, I find that to simply be gravy, as I would be happy with the ball being field cleanly and brought back to the 20 yard line after the debacles of the preseason.

Nelson doesn't have the range of moves that CJ Spiller or Dez White has, but he's trustworthy....and when you have an offense like the Packers, giving them a 60 yard field is all you need to set the table for at least a field goal.

*  Mason Crosby continues to impress on field goals, including a 44-yarder from the right hashmark that just grazed the right goalpost.   He's kicking 100% on the season and that is a refreshing outcome after all the gloom and doom this season.

The next test is to see how Crosby is going to handle adversity.  He will miss a field goal at some point this year, and that's when the mental overcompensation tempts a kicker to starting changing what he does.

*  Clay Matthews, simply put, is already my vote not only for the Packers MVP this year, but for this year's Defensive Player of the Year.  Yes, it was against Trent Edwards and a pathetic Bills offense, but Matthews wreaked havok, piling up another three sacks and five hits on the quarterback. 

In my mind, Matthews has become as important to this defense as Aaron Rodgers is to the offense.  Let's all rub out lucky green-and-gold rabbits feet that his hamstring stays nice and healthy.  I proposed (first) on Twitter that Matthews may soon earn some legitimate discussion to threaten the Packer and NFL single-season sack records.  John Rehor noted that with the Bears and Lions next on tap, it should be ready to be talked about very soon.

*  Chad Clifton, the newest over-the-hill million dollar man for the Packers this offseason, was benched based on a "coaching decision" and replaced with Bryan Bulaga.  If he wasn't hurt, this decision kind of bothers me.  If you're going to replace an aging player that you just signed to an extension this early with a promising rookie, why did you re-sign him in the first least for that kind of coin?  I have nothing against Clifton, but to give up on him this early in the season seems a bit quick unless there's more to the story than what we are seeing.  Don't get me wrong....the Bulaga Era was going to start on either side of the line before the season was up, but you are now putting a tackle-only player on the bench instead of Bulaga, who had been backing up several positions. 

I don't know....maybe I'm just babbling a bit here, and there's no reason to root against Bulaga.  Just seems that if Clifton was that impaired so quickly in the season, this is something we should have seen in the preseason, or training camp, or even the offseason.

*  Morgan Burnett has take some lumps from critics the past two weeks, and much of it deservedly so.  In particular, an end-around by the Bills ended up going from a no-gain to a big gainer because Burnett fell own on the juke.

So, it was refreshing to see Burnett channel Charles Woodson and make a fantastic pass break-up and interception in the third quarter.  It was really just an excellent strip of the ball, but it showed some pretty veteran awareness of the ball and body control.  Nicely done.

*  While much of the team seemed to get back on track after a rough second quarter, I still find myself concerned with the running game.  No one was happier to see Quinn Johnson make the active roster and start this game than me, and I thought he acquitted himself well.  He caught a nice WCO-style pass out of the backfield for a good gain down the left sideline (punishing a tackler with a wicked stiffarm on the way), was like a bowling ball on special teams, and made some good blocks during the game.

However, the guy we've been ballyhooing as the guy finally getting his chance with Ryan Grant out for the season fizzled in his debut.  Brandon Jackson only 29 yards on 11 carries and only had a long run of 6 yards.  Coach McCarthy didn't seem too settled on Jackson, either, substituting him early and often with both fullback John Kuhn (9/36) and newcomer Dimitri Nance (2/6), both of whom had a better per-rush average than Jackson.

To Jackson's credit, the offensive line did not give him (or any of the backs) much help.  Since I was watching Johnson so closely, I noted on several occasions that, while he (and Kuhn) hit their blocks solidly, there was still no hole for the back to run through.  The Packers didn't break the 100-yard mark rushing in a game against the lowly Bills, and eventually, they are going to need to control the game on the ground. 

Looking at several of their runs, there's almost a sense of confusion on running plays.  The Packers run the ZBS with Grant in the game, who does fit that one-cut-and-go mold that you need in the scheme.  But Jackson isn't that kind of runner, and Johnson isn't that kind of blocker.  From there, you saw elements of the West Coast Offense, the Zone Blocking Scheme, and straight ahead I-formation dives that you seemed to wonder if everyone was on the same page with from play-to-play.

Obviously, any NFL offense is going to vary their formations and plays, but the impact of Grant's injury may be more profound than we think.  This offense may have to adjust the way they play, and that may take a few weeks for everyone to get on the same page.

*  On the season, Greg Jennings is now averaging 4 catches and 59 yards per game.  He's been noticeably absent from early gameplanning the past few weeks, and even today, his three catches seemed forced at the end of the game to keep him involved. 

Jennings shouldn't have to be looking for passes thrown his way late in games against the lowly Bills.  Yes, both the Eagles and Bills have decent secondaries, but Jennings is a pretty special talent that should be involved early and often.  When going against playoff-caliber teams (which the Packers are going to end up doing eventually), you can't afford to have Jennings be an afterthought.

*  One guy who certainly is no afterthought is Jermichael Finley, who had a 100-yard receiving day and caught one of the prettiest balls you'll see for a thirty yard pickup in the second quarter.  Once again, he seemed to disappear in the second half of the game, much as he did last week, but you have to think that McCarthy and Rodgers had a talk about not forcing the ball too much to Mr. TGIF.  As I mentioned earlier, on the one play that Rodgers seemed to stare at Finley throughout the play, it was almost picked off. 

*  Beginning of the game saw the Bills start their third-string running back, Marshawn Lynch, against a linebacker that was in on only one play last week, AJ Hawk.  Anyone thinking that the Hawk-for-Lynch trade talks are not happening right now need not look much further than both teams showcasing their offerings for one another in the game.

In the end, Hawk finished with a tie for the team lead in tackles (9) and had two hits on the quarterback.  He also got pushed around at times and looked like he was running in quicksand on Fred Jackson's touchdown run.  Lynch took 17 carries today and finished with 64 yards....only a 3.8 ypc average, but better than Brandon Jackson's 2.6 ypc. 

In the end, both players appear to have value to their teams, but both teams also have depth at the position those players would come from.  The trade may happen, and it may not, but their play today did nothing to make the other team close up the trading block.

*  Nick Barnett's new celebration is apparently a bowhunter stalking a buffalo, shooting it, and then chasing after it.  It's probably better than the samurai, but not by much.  On the other hand, Rodgers appears to have retired the wrestling championship belt celebration.  As I said earlier, it is a good day to be a Packer fan.

*  The Packers appeared dead-set on getting James Jones involved in the offense today, and he did not fare well overall.  While covered well at times, Jones simply didn't go out and "get the ball" as you might see Greg Jennings do.  He had a fumble and overall, simply looked like he was having a rough day.  He had a late touchdown on what was probably Rodgers' best throw of the day, and he made a nice reception and scamper in the end zone.

While I understand the importance of trying to involve everyone (especially in a relatively easy game), I would rather see Rodgers trying to get the ball to Driver and Jennings more, rather than trying to force it to Jones.  Those are the guys who are going to make the clutch catches, and it doesn't serve to keep targeting Jones and going three-and-out, as happened several times in the second quarter.


Overall, this was a convincing win against a team the Packers are supposed to beat.  The second quarter made many a Packer fan's heart sink, but again, the Packers came out of the locker room and corrected what they needed to to bury the inferior talent they were playing against.

Next week, the Packers will play a nationally televised game against the team that just beat the Dallas Cowboys and always has them circled on the calendar.  Lovie Smith loves to beat the Packers and is going to see this as a defining game for his season with the Bears.  While the Packers should run away with this game, you can never count the Bears out...and remembering the second quarter of the Bills game (and how the Packers struggled to contain Michael Vick), our team has to come in ready to play ball.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Will The Grant Injury Change The Packers Offense?


Ryan Grant's ankle went from "week to week" to "next year" in a few short days, and suddenly, the thin running back situation for the Packers got positively waiflike.

Brandon Jackson, the man who has grown from oft-injured and inconsistent to a reliable third-down option back, suddenly is not only given the starting halfback job, but because the Packers only kept two running backs, he quite literally has no competition...or backup.

Many of us, myself included, are intrigued to see what is going to come out of the Jackson Era, but don't think for a second that the "oft-injured" nervousness isn't going to be haunting Packer fans every time he takes an awkward tackle.  With Kregg Lumpkin in sunny Florida, the options for the Packers would go from worrisome to desperate if Jackson ended up even on the sideline for an extended period of time.

The most important thing is to figure out how having B-Jax in the backfield is going to affect the Packers' offense and how defenses are going to go after him.  Jackson has done pretty well the past season or so as a receiver out of the backfield, and did put up some yards in the game...however, he spent an awful lot of his runs going up the middle for no yards. 

If defenses watch that tape, knowing that Jackson isn't going to pound the ball inside, it give them more flexibility to use their defenders for other purposes:  extra rushers, extra defenders in the secondary, more defenders in the flat to watch for that check-down screen play to Jackson, which you have to think is going to become more of the bread-and-butter.

In some ways, it reminds you of the early running games of the 1990's, when guys like Edgar Bennett caught more screens for yardage than he actually ran on the ground.  It's effective, but having a legitimate threat on the ground is, quite simply, a prerequisite.

So, what's the other options?  John Kuhn?  Certainly has shown some good moves and power, and will definitely be called on to do more in the backfield.  You can't go into a game with just one active running back...and you have to give Jackson a break once in a while.

Suddenly, Quinn Johnson is looking to make the active roster next week...especially given the potential he has to open holes for running backs with his blocking.

Even more intriguing was the pickup of Dimitri Nance from the Falcons practice squad.  No, he wont' be active anytime soon, but his running style may prove to be a tremendous counter to what Jackson offers.  Nance is a wide body, straight line inside rusher than has enough moves to plunge through the line.  Now, you combine that kind of runner with Quinn Johnson, and you make a lot of those "extra defenders" come back to the line of scrimmage.

It's not rocket science to see that Aaron Rodgers is going to pick up the slack through the air...and it's not like the Packers have many problems with that.  But, that running back has to be productive, not flashy.  The Bills game will be a great start for a young back that has a lot of  people backing him.  And praying.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Really Quick QuickHits on the Eagles Game

Sorry for the brevity of this post, but if brevity is the essence of wit, it should be essentially witty!

As I watched this game, I kept reminding myself of first-game overreaction.  After all, the 2006 Packers lost their first game of the season, then went on a four game bender to finish the season at a very respectable 8-8.  The 2008 Packers won their first game of the season, before finishing with one of the most disappointing 6-10 records in team history.  Now, it is 2010, and I forced myself to not get too high ("Super Bowl or Die") if the Packers won, nor resort to self-mutilation if they lost.

What did I get for my rational thoughts?  Perhaps one of the most irrational games in recent memory.  Mason Crosby looked like a Pro Bowl kicker.  Jordy Nelson may be leading the league in kick return average after this week.  And Aaron Rodgers looked, at times, like a rookie again.

As seems typical for a McCarthy-coached football team early in the year, this win still left you with as many questions about where the team is going.  When the Packers were up by 17 points, I started to feel that confidence from the preseason coming back.  When Rodgers threw a silly interception and Michael Vick brought back nightmares of the 2003 playoff game (when he gashed the Packers' defense on the ground), I started to get that icky feeling that I felt so many times in the early part of last year.

In the end, however, it was Clay Matthews capping off a very solid first game by stopping Vick dead in his tracks on fourth down, sealing a win and leaving the Packers licking their wounds on the flight back to Green Bay.  Injuries abounded in this game, and while the Eagles were bit more than the Packers, there are a couple of concerning ones that fans will be keeping a close eye on.

*  Rodgers had one of the most inconsistent games I've seen him have.  At times, he confidently fired the ball downfield like he was shooting lasers.  At others, he was throwing them in the ground, off-target, or inexplicably 15 yards too long and into the hands of defenders.

I have little doubt that Rodgers is going to be fine.  But his inconsistency seemed to echo inconsistency throughout the team today.  As Mike McCarthy likes to say, "We have to clean that up."

*  The injury to Ryan Grant's ankle certainly is concerning, especially when he only rushed eight times and was finally starting to get it going before he had to leave.  Being the Packers kept only two running backs, you have to wonder if Kregg Lumpkin makes the active roster next week from the practice squad.

Brandon Jackson rushed for 63 yards in his stead on 18 carries, but he wasn't impressive at all.  Most of those yards were on a couple of carries, and most of the time he was stopped at or near the line of scrimmage.

*  I predicted last week on Cheesehead Radio that the offensive line might have trouble holding the pocket together, and it came true in the first half as Rodgers was under pressure and took several hard sacks.  Kind of funny after Troy Aikman declared this line the best MM has every started a season with, and in essence, he's right.  But the line is still far from a Super Bowl-caliber unit.  McCarthy compensated for the line's issues like he always has:  Jermichael Finley and Crabtree took turns in the backfield to help with pass blocking.

It's not a problem we can expect to be fixed by next week, since it really hasn't been fixed since 2006.  Rodgers simply has to get rid of the ball by his second or third read, as he did much of the preseason.  On one play, I watched Rodgers take the ball from center and look nowhere else but two receivers going up the right sideline until they got open.  It's too bad, because when Rodgers has time to pick apart a defense by going through his reads, he's right up there with Peyton Manning.

*  Speaking of Finley, in the second half,  the Eagles did a nice job neutralizing the guy allegedly apparently no one can neutralize.  Finley looked pretty gassed by the second quarter, so I don't know if it was as much what the Eagles did or if Finley was simply having an off day.

*  There's a reason I fell in love with Greg Jennings when he was a rookie.  After spending years watching Robert Ferguson falling backwards to avoid catching Brett Favre's errant throws, we finally had a receiver that would go up, get the ball, and make the play anyway.  The good news is Jennings is still doing it.  The bad news is that Rodgers is now throwing up errant throws.

*  Good to see BJ Raji and Cullen Jenkins making something happen on the line.  They were far too invisible last year and throughout most of the preseason.  Both had a sack today, something we didn't see much of in big games last year, and they were a presence in the backfield, forcing Kolb out of the pocket.  Unfortunately, Michael Vick turned that collapsing pocket to his advantage, but we're not going to be facing such a mobile quarterback every week.

*  I daresay that without Clay Matthews, I don't know if we win this game today.  Seriously.  He was an animal all day, and I don't know think Frank Zombo could have caused the disruption that he did.  After sitting out much of the preseason and fearing the "sophomore slump", it's pretty clear CM3 should be the NFL Defensive Player of the Week.  At least, it is to me.

*  On Cheesehead Radio last week, I said that the key to the game was going to be the Packers minimizing their mistakes and not beating themselves:  don't put the ball on the carpet, and keep the penalties down.

The Packers had no fumbles, and only two penalties for 15 yards, a pretty amazing feat for an opening day game as ugly as it was.  True, I didn't even mention interceptions because Rodgers never throws them, so the two he threw were a bit of a black mark.

But, in essence, Mike McCarthy outcoached Andy Reid today...not that it took a lot.  Reid seemed to mishandle things all day, from his time outs to his playcalling.  The Eagles had 10 penalties for 80 yards (far more yards than their running backs had rushing), and essentially, he just put the ball in Vick's hands and told him to win the game for him.

The Packers earned this win today, but the Eagles did give them some help with their shoddy play.

*  I anointed a new term today on Twitter...the SPECCON status, or my level of concern with special teams (think DEFCON from "WarGames", a great movie with Ally Sheedy, who was hot).  Over the course of the game, my SPECCON level went from Five to Two, thanks to, quite literally, some Pro Bowl caliber kicking from Mason Crosby (kicking 2/2 on FG, including a career-long 56-yarder), inspiring some Tweeps to ask "where are all the Crosby Haters now?"  The better question might be, where are the Slocum Haters?

Tramon didn't do much with punt returns besides fair catch, but Jordy Nelson blew open a couple returns for a 31.2 average and a long of 51.  Now, as far as I am concerned, this is more than I expect.  All I really expected from the two is to field the ball cleanly and limp up the field for a bit, but Jordy Nelson looked almost like Forrest Gump running that ball back.


The injuries are concerning, but not nearly as daunting as what the Eagles had.  Cullen Jenkins appeared to bust up his hand pretty good, but returned with a club.  Ryan Grant has a sprained ankle, which doesn't sound serious, other than the fact a running back really needs an ankle to perform effectively.

On a never-saw-it-coming note, Justin Harrell left the game with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.  No disrespect intended, because Harrell has had his biggest cheering section ever this offseason, but this kid just seems to be snakebit. 

So, while this was an ugly win and certainly far from polished, there were far more positives to come out of this game than there were negatives.  The Packers went into a stadium they had not won against since 1960, and in front of members of that 1960's Eagles team, got that monkey off their back. 

Don't miss Cheesehead Radio this Thursday night at 8:00 CST, as we break down the game LIVE and get you ready for Buffalo!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thoughts on the Final 53...

Like everyone else, I was surprised that Spencer Havner was cut today.  The flexible tight end had proven himself a reliable red zone target, and a favorite of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  However, the plethora of tight ends made Spencer's versatility less useful, and after apparently trying to shop him around, he was let go. 

Interestingly enough, I cited Havner more than once last week in an article somewhat bemoaning McCarthy's fixation on interchangeability and players being able to do more than one role.  Perhaps McCarthy is softening on that approach?  Or better, maybe he's reading my articles!  :-)


Interesting discussion with Packer Update on Twitter today...who is obviously not a Brady Poppinga or Frank Zombo fan.  This goes back to my longtime irritation with putting scheme before talent.  While I do like Dom Capers a lot, as I think he works hard to change his scheme to maximize the talent he has, there is (in my opinion) a fundamental flaw in choosing your scheme before you have the talent to match it.  We've seen the problem with the ZBS, and to a degree, we still see it with the 3-4.

In essence, the Packers have gone from 2009 to 2010 with the same linebacking corps, substituting Aaron Kampman with Frank Zombo.  Now, is Zombo an upgrade from Kampman in terms of pure talent?  Of course not.  Kampman was and is a hard-working force to be reckoned with for any offensive lineman.  But the tough question is whether or not Zombo is a better 3-4 OLB than Kampman.  Now, there are folks who can argue that point either way (and likely, quite passionately), but in the end Zombo has the potential to be more effective in that position than Kampman was.

Right or wrong, the Packers have lost one of their most consistent and productive players for an undrafted free agent, and it is all directly related to a scheme change in which the Packers are still searching for the right talent to fill the linebacker roles (Clay Matthews being the exception, obviously).


I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Jason Chery looked like a deer in headlights the entire game.  The game is obviously too fast for him, but he still has a lot of potential, especially now that, with the injury settlement with Will Blackmon, we're looking at very pedestrian (but reliable) returns from Brandon Jackson and Jordy Nelson.

I would try and sign the kid to the practice squad, have him work with the team on returns and slow the game down.  Maybe midseason he could be a potential upgrade at the returner positions when he gets his legs under him and can see the field better.


My pleas for Quinn Johnson to make the club were heeded.  I thought he did a great job against the Chiefs, especially in the fourth quarter when it looked like the team wanted to run the clock out and ran a traditional run game.  On a couple of plays, he clearly gave the running back an additional 3-4 yards with his blocks.  On a great play action play, the entire team followed Johnson to the right while Flynn came around and throw the ball to a receiver wide-open on the left.

Keeping Korey Hall over Kregg Lumpkin was interesting, though not surprising.  I thought Lumpkin actually had a good game Thursday night, while Hall was rather nondescript.  But, Lumpkin has a low ceiling, and he may have already hit it.  Hall is the special teams guy, but I still think other than being able to run the ball, he gives you pretty much the same skill set as John Kuhn.


Speaking of which, the Packers are going with only two running backs and two quarterbacks.  I would venture to guess we are the only team in the NFL with that notoriety.  I thought Harrell had a chance to stay on as a third quarterback, but a lackluster performance on Thursday did not help his chances.  In his defense, it probably wasn't as fair of a chance as it could have been, being they were rotating offensive linemen on seemingly every play, and the scrub wide receivers were dropping many (poorly thrown) passes.

Still, I don't think Harrell will make it past Week 2 without getting signed off the practice squad by some team.  He's just too big of a name to sit there for too long.


So, wait...FOUR tight ends?  Finley, Lee, Quarless, and Crabtree all make the 53-man roster?  I wouldn't be surprised if something changes before kickoff, but it certainly says a lot about what the Packers think of this squad.  If only our defense had this kind of depth.

Curious, would think with four tight ends and three fullbacks our running game should be much improved this year.  Right?


I think it pained Thompson to part ways with Breno Giacomini and Allen Barbre (Breno released under auspices of trade rumors, while Barbre placed on IR pending a possible settlement and release).  In his six drafts, Thompson has brought in twelve offensive linemen, and of the ten drafted before this season, only four remain (Colledge, Spitz, Lang, and Sitton).

Giacomini simply didn't have the ability to take his 6'8" frame that I think the Packers drooled over and combine with with skilled technique.  Sure, in college, you can be massive and take up space and do a good job, but in the NFL, defenders not only are comparable in size, but have speed and technique to go with it.   Breno just ole'ed too many guys that out-speeded him and out-thought him.


Charles Dillon's two drops late in the game against the Chiefs looked pretty bad, may have cost Graham Harrell some consideration, and certainly didn't help his cause.  But in reality, even if he makes both those catches, then snags a one-handed game-winning TD on that drive on top of it, he still would have been cut today.

My heart really goes out to him, because you like to see a kid go out firing.  I get the feeling he's going to be spending a lot of time thinking about those two drops, when in actuality it didn't come down to that.


Talking with Alex over at the Packers Lounge on Twitter today, he re-established his long-standing belief that planning for injuries do not dictate your roster and you don't play to avoid them.   Thus, he proposed that Tramon Williams return kicks/punts this year.

Perhaps in other years, I'd be inclined to side with him on that argument, but I am terrified at the depth in our defensive backfield.  Tramon is a guy who is a spot starter forced into the job with Harris's PUP placement, and the players behind him (Sam Shields, Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, and Jarrett Bush) are not guys you would even want to spot-start if you can help it.

Tramon, who had his own defensive holding issues last year, is out best hope to keep up with team's starting receivers.  I keep him out of harm's way as much as possible, and dip into our positions of depth.

Incidentally, at safety, Morgan Burnett is going to have to grow up very fast as our starting SS, and it is fair to say he's going to have plenty of growing pains.  Behind those two are Derrick Martin and Charlie Peprah.

Our passing offense can take us to the Super Bowl, but our pass defense may stand in the way.


Justin Harrell made the squad, and more power to him.  Pretty much written off by everyone (including me), he looks like he's going to be in the rotation (and given the number of DL we kept, he's going to have to be). 

I will give him this:  if nothing else, this is a good story with the potential to be a great story.  We all remember Jamal Reynolds, who was sent out of town after never making any good on his draft position, and Harrell has been tossed in that pile with Reynolds as a first-round bust.  Not to say he's out of the woods yet, but this has redemption written all over it, not only for himself, but for the man that picked him, Ted Thompson.

When Mike Sherman was run out of two, Reynolds was one of the reasons often cited by fans as to why.  While Thompson is in no such danger, Harrell's pick still stands as one of his few draft-day black eyes.  Better late than never, and all Packer fans should be rooting for Justin to finally make good.


It ain't over til the fat lady sings.  There's still plenty of time as the rosters across the NFL shake out that Thompson may be able to swing a deal, particularly looking for depth at linebacker, cornerback, and returner.  A couple of guys may still be on the block, including one of the fullbacks, a tight end like Donald Lee, or an offensive lineman like Jason Spitz.

The Final 53 is kind of like that last hurdle before we get to enjoy the regular season...ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 Green Bay Packers!

Now, let's get it on!  Next stop, Philadelphia!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Guys With Everything to Prove Tonight

Face it, tonight's game against the Chiefs is about as anticlimactic as NFL games get.  You're excited for the first preseason game, simply because it is the first game since January.  The second game is pretty good, first team gets some work, and of course, the third game is the best game as the starters get to play into the third quarter.

But that last game is a sideline-watching game for the guys whose roster spots are set, leaving the no-names to battle for the last roster spots, guys who will be mostly special teamers or on the inactive list each week.  We sit to watch them stumble through an exhibition game that ends up usually being a yawner.

After spending a spirited hour with Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette last night on Cheesehead Radio, we found a lot of guys for whom this isn't just a boring game...tonight could be the difference between a roster spot and the practice squad, or the difference between the practice squad and being unemployed.

Graham Harrell:  The Packers' third string quarterback has long been presumed to be on the practice squad;  after all, the Packers only need two quarterbacks on the roster.  But, we've seemed to accept the "rule" that you only need two quarterbacks, while most NFL teams continue to stock three.  Matt Flynn's shaky start to the preseason has leveled off, and it seems likely that the Packers feel set with those two again.

But Kareem has mentioned that Harrell has been perhaps one of the most improved players in camp this training camp.  Like most third-stringers, he's gone from desperately managing the team, going to check-down after check-down, to throwing with more confidence in the middle of the field and starting to make some plays.  And, it's not like he's an unknown:  he's a record-setter at Texas Tech and as intriguing a project quarterback as anyone else in the league.

Harrell's going to get some serious playing time tonight.  If he has a so-so performance, it's pretty much a done deal that he will end up on the PS.  But, if he ends up impressing and taking command of the QB position while he is out there, the Packers may be forced to face that Harrell will not last long on the practice squad, especially with the number of scouts that have been at our games.  It will depend on how enamored the Packers are with keeping him, but there are many NFL teams that are going to be unimpressed with the progress of their third quarterback after tomorrow, and if all Harrell is doing is improving, he will be targeted sooner or later.

Kregg Lumpkin:  There's a reason the Packers were trying out John Kuhn at running back the past few weeks, and it wasn't just because of injuries.  McCarthy loves saving a roster spot by having guys multi-task (see:  Spencer Havner) and Lumpkin has hung around for years and simply not shown that much improvement in his game.  I remember when he first got carries in the preseason a few years ago and everyone went ga-ga over him, but those days are a distant memory.

With Porter on the IR, and Starks on the PUP, it seems cut-and-dry the Packers will keep Grant/Jackson/Lumpkin, but Kregg needs to earn it tonight.  In just the opposite scenario as Harrell, if the Packers are not impressed with Lumpkin, the chances increase that they will be scouting the final waiver wires of other teams for a more promising third running back.  Lumpkin may be playing for his roster spot tonight.

Quinn Johnson:  Depending on who you talk to, Johnson is either already a shoo-in or he's trade bait for a team with a more conventional running game.  Johnson has demonstrated his run block ability, but the Packers don't always run a power or I-formation, limiting the number of downs you need a guy like Johnson for pure blocking.  And, his knocks - catching the ball out of the backfield and special teams play - have improved, but enough to justify keeping him on the roster?

The Packers were giving Johnson a lot of reps this week in practice, a good sign that John Kuhn will be sitting down early and Johnson will be given extended time to show that he's not a liability in the passing game.  More importantly, watch Johnson in lateral blocking...when he has to move and seal blocks to the side instead of just plunging into the line and bending a linebacker over backwards.  If he is able to catch the balls thrown at him and continue to open up the running game in a more ZBS-oriented run style, Johnson may seal his roster spot.  If not, he might be on the chopping block (or the trade block).

Jason Chery:  No one on this team has more to gain or lose than this kid tonight.  A week ago, he had no chance of making the roster.  Tonight, he will be given all of the kick and punt returns in order to see if he can repeat the lightning in a bottle he conjured up last week.  Think about it.  The pressure on this kid is going to be intense.  Everyone wants to see if he can run another one back, yet if he drops just one punt of kickoff, he's sealed his doom.  And, even worse, he's now had a chance to be coached by Shawn Slocum for a week, which will only make it worse.

Personally, Chery seems very excitable and nervous.  I think he can make the roster with some decent runbacks and no drops.  The amount of pressure that will be on him on every single return should be enough to prove that he's mentally tough enough to handle the job, if he makes it through without muffing any.

Tom Crabtree:  Poor kid...shows up for training camp and shows blocking skill that most of the other tight ends don't have, and still may end up being a victim of the numbers game.  Like Quinn Johnson, I believe blocking is an often overlooked skill nowadays, and frankly, Crabtree might have a better shot of making the roster if Johnson isn't on it.

But, right now it looks like Crabtree is headed to the practice squad.  There's too many teams without depth at tight end that would snap up Andrew Quarless if he were on the PS, so the Packers need to protect him on the roster.  But with a solid showing tonight, Crabtree could make that decision a lot harder.  Donald Lee has been the subject of trade rumors among many in the Blogosphere, and if the Packers feel comfortable with Finley/Havner/Quarless, Crabtree might make the team is a sort of H-back if they feel he can combine Johnson's blocking with Hall's receiving skills.

But, Crabtree is going to have to play the game of his life to get that kind of consideration.  And it's too bad, because he could be the third tight end on a lot of other NFL teams.  The Packers, quite simply, have too many decent guys at the spot.

Breno Giacomini:  The Packers have been enamored with this guy since he was drafted, and love his height.  But his debacles against the Brown and the Seahawks have all but doomed him.  Yet, you still get the feeling that if he showed just a little spark, the Packers would want to keep him around on potential alone.

A towering 6'8", I have to imagine it is difficult for Breno to gain leverage when the goal of blocking is to be the lowest guy, but his sheer power has to be considered if he shows any improvement in getting his body into the right place quickly enough and has the awareness to make the right blocks.    With Jason Spitz allowing the Packers to entertain trade offers, there may be room on the roster for Giacomini if he demonstrates the love he's gotten from the organization the past few years is worth the wait.

Justin Harrell and Jarius Wynn:  These two guys will likely make the roster based on one factor:  default.  Neither have really done much this preseason to separate themselves from the rest of the camp bodies, but the fact they've been around and the "you can never have too many defensive linemen" means they probably make the final roster.

However, as Kareem said last night, defensive end is likely one of the primary positions the Packers will be looking to sign from the castoffs of other teams, so these two are not just competing against CJ Wilson and Mike Neal, but against other DL's throughout the league.  With such a lack of depth at the position, you might have to guess that another NFL team is going to cut or try to stash away a guy who's shown more than these two.  If they sign one DE, one of these two are going to have to go, and tonight will likely dictate which one that will be.  Harrell has been a great story this training camp and has a ton of people in his corner, but the level of frustration if he can't produce tonight could reach a boiling point for everyone else.

Pat Lee:  Of all the DB's on the roster, Lee may be the guy in the most danger.  There's a lot of shuffling going on at DB...with both Harris and Bigby going on the PUP list, not only are there two more roster spots open, but the Packers may consider keeping another player than they would have simply because of depth and so many of these players, like Lee, have been so inconsistent. 

Brandon Underwood was abused last week, but has shown enough previously to keep a roster spot.  Sam Shields should make the team, and special teams mavens Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush will likely survive another camp, at least until Harris and Bigby return.  Adding in the four starters, Charlie Peprah, and Tramon Williams, that is already 9 DB's.  Lee might benefit if Jason Chery bombs out and Williams is considered primarily as a returner. 

But Lee needs to justify his second-round status in the draft two years ago.  When undrafted free agents like Shields are showing you up, it's time to put up or shut up.

Chris Bryan:  While many of us have given Tim Masthay the job after his nice punt last week and reports of his booming punts in practice, Kareem warned us last night not to assume anything.  Bryan has been very consistent and his unorthodox punting style is intriguing.   

Bryan may consider this is final exhibition to prove himself, but even McCarthy has intoned that he thinks both players are NFL-ready and both may be kicking in the league this year.  Bryan is going to want to go out and make it a good dress rehearsal for both the Packers and anyone else looking for a punter.

As Kareem said, Bryan will have to punt the game of his life tomorrow, but if he does, the Packers will have to review a lot of tape.  And remember, these two have been kicking in Green Bay since March...the Packers know more about these two than a couple of days worth of kicks.