Monday, April 30, 2007

We Do The Work So You Don't Have To

Various local stories about the various Packer draftees (only the good ones, folks):

James Jones, WR from do you know the way to San Jose State.
See here, and here.

Justin Harrell, DT from Rocky Top, Tennessee.
See here.

Aaron Rouse, S from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
See here and here.

Allen Barbre, OL from Somewhere in Missouri.
See here.

Semi-Sweet Aftermath

Like with most things in life, this past weekend leaves a typical Badger and Packer fan with some satisfaction and some hope for the future, but also with a lingering cloud of regret

To me, the most disappointing development of this weekend was the fact that one only Badger was drafted, Joe Thomas, the third overall pick. Roderick Rogers and Mark Zalewski, two of UW's defensive stalwarts over the past three seasons, were not drafted. Thankfully, they both appear to have signed free agent contracts-- with the Broncos and the Jets, respectively. Oftentimes, being an undrafted free agent is preferable to being a late round draft pick because the player gets to choose between interested teams. Therefore, the player can select the team where he has the best chance of success.
I wish Rod and Mark well. They were fine players at UW, leaders on great teams, and I believe both of them, if given the opportunity, can have successful NFL careers. My only advice to them is to make sure to finish their schoolwork at Madison and get their degrees, if they haven't already. Promising NFL careers can end very suddenly.

John Stocco remains unsigned, unfortunately. This is an odd development. In my opinion, Stocco has just as much pro potential as Sorgi or Bollinger, both of whom have been on NFL rosters for years. It looks to have been a tough year for quarterbacks. Only 11 were taken overall. Chris Leak wasn't drafted. Tyler Palko, the reputed signal-caller from Pitt, wasn't either. Neither was Zac Taylor, who ran the Nebraska offense the past two seasons, nor Jared Zabransky, the Boise State product, who has won more games than any other quarterback the last four seasons. It may be a difficult journey, but I hope John gets the chance to prove himself in the pros. He was a fine leader at Wisconsin.

So that's the bitter. I'm pretty sweet on the Packers' draft. To recap, here's what I said I wanted a few days ago:

1st Reggie Nelson, S, Florida
2nd Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC or Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina
3rd Michael Bush, RB, L'ville or Garret Wolfe, RB, N. Ill.
4th Offensive Tackle prospect
5th Corner prospect
6th Defensive Line/Situational Pass Rusher prospect
7th (3 picks) Whoever has potential, mixed in with a UW guy

That's a safety, wide receiver help, a legitimate running back, an offensive tackle prospect, a corner, and an addition to the defensive line.

And here's what we got:

1st Best Defensive Tackle in the Draft (according to Thompson)
2nd Running Back that staff preferred over Wolfe or Bush or Antonio Pittman or Tony Hunt
3rd Wide Receiver with decent potential
3rd Enormous, fast Safety prospect who gives awesome quotes (more about this later)
4th Freakish offensive tackle prospect
5th Exceedingly fast wide receiver prospect (our Bernard Berrian?)
6th All Pac-10 linebacker to back up linebacker spots, play special teams
6th WAC Defensive player of the year to convert to fullback, play special teams
6th Best Kicker in the Draft (according to Thompson)
7th Starting Running Back for Florida
7th Decent Tight End who may be long-term replacement for Rob Davis at long snapper

If Justin Harrell turns into Marcus Stroud or John Henderson, which the scouting staff obviously thinks he will, the draft will be, at the very least, a moderate success. Anyhow, added to the defensive line, check. Brandon Jackson, while maybe not a gamebreaker, looks like an improvement over every back on our roster with the exception, potentially of Morency. Deshawn Wynn may be crazy, but started at Florida this past season, and, at the least, looks like a good short distance back. Added a solid running back, check. James Jones has potential, and hopefully plays faster than his 40 time, while David Clowney may use his track speed to turn into something. Wide receiver help, check. Allen Barbre, while he might be a bit slow in the head, is fleet of foot-- the speediest, and potentially most athletic, offensive lineman in the draft. Offensive tackle prospect, check. Aaron Rouse is a huge, fast athlete at safety. Picked up a talented safety, check. Basically, we got the pieces that I asked for, with the exception of a cornerback (a situation that is still worrying--Blackmon better get healthy). And the Packers did so without having to abandon their "most talented player available" theory. At least as far as I know. So I'd call that a general success.

If I could be said to have a problem with all of this, it's my nagging doubts about the potential of some of our offensive draftees. Most of them look like they could develop into solid starters, the type of guys who could be good number two receivers (Jones, Clowney), or decent everydown backs. (Jackson) But I don't see any potential superstars. Now, I'm certainly not a professional scout, and maybe I'm just moping because they didn't draft bigger names. But it certainly seems like we could have taken a risk or two on a guy with a little more upside (like Michael Bush). Hopefully, an offensive player we took this year or last year (Jennings) will develop into something really special. Thompson was talking about Jones' leaping ability, and Clowney has blazing speed (although not much production). We'll see.

As far as next seasons goes, most of this year's class, if they make the roster, should contribute on special teams. With his speed, Clowney could be a kickoff returner. Jackson could challenge Morency (or Chris Brown or Corey Dillion) for the starting running back job, and at the least give the rotation some better depth. Jones and Clowney will hopefully both earn time at receiver. Rouse or Underwood might supplant Marquand Manual as the starting strong safety, and Harrell, if he can stay healthy, will likely become a big part of the defensive line rotation.

Still, I don't see any of this year's draftees making a big impact next season. And that's understandable. You can't expect to get an immediate impact player when your highest pick is in the middle of the first round. Instead, you get players that have potential, who you think can develop into good players, or maybe, into stars. What that means is that if the Packers are going to improve next season, some second and third year players (like Nick Collins and Greg Jennings, and the young linemen) must develop and step forward. The draft sows seeds for the future. Our current players are the ones who need to start blossoming.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Rich Get Richer . . . And More Desperate

Well, Randy Moss was traded. To New England, for a fourth round draft pick. That stinks. Apparently he didn't want to come to Green Bay, knowing that Brett was going to retire in a year. And from a player's perspective, if you're already absurdly rich, you don't have much time left, and you just want to win, I can totally see it. But I'm still irritated. The Packers really needed a potentially dominant offensive player and none of the guys we've drafted look like they'll blossom into anything but solid pros. And it's not like New England hadn't already upgraded their receiving corps this offseason--signing Stallworth, Welker, and Washington. I guess success attracts talent. This is like Gary Payton signing with the Lakers after their third straight Shaq and Kobe title. Well, enjoy it while it lasts, New England. When Brady retires, you guys are going slip back to mediocrity with the rest of us, and no one's going to want you.

An aside--doesn't it seem like New England's getting more desperate? Is Belichick going to retire soon or something? First, they draft some Miami punk who's televised stomping on opposing players. Then they trade for Moss--potentially the laziest big talent in the league. Don't these guys seem like anti-Belichicks? Why would he even put up with this stuff if he wasn't getting desperate to win another Super Bowl?

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Well, I sort of got my wish, I guess. The Packers drafted defense first, taking defensive lineman Justin Harrell from the University of Tennessee with their first pick, passing on Meachem, Reggie Nelson, and the two first round-ranked Michigan defenders (Hall and Branch).

Harrell seems like a good player. While some of the numskulls on the Worldwide Leader, specifically Steve Young and Keyshawn Johnson (how is this guy on the air?), started moaning about the choice not to take a wide receiver, Thompson repeatedly explained that at the pick, the consensus among him and his staff was that Harrell was best available player. In fact, Thompson thought he was so talented that he was afraid of trading down and potentially missing out on him. You want your GM taking that guy, even if it's a position that you don't view as a "need"

The other guys look interesting. I remember watching our second pick, Brandon Jackson, play against USC and Texas. He looked pretty impressive--fluid, heady, strong runner, with good hands. I don't know if he'll be better than Morency, but it looks like he's more talented than the rest of the backs on our roster. Plus, he comes from Nebraska, where former Raiders coach and Wisconsin assistant Bill Callahan has been running a "West Coast" offense. Hopefully, the transition to the professional ranks will be easier for him than most.

I can't say I know much about James Jones, a wideout from San Jose State (not the author of "From Here to Eternity"). His highlight reels look decent, particularly this end around he reverses for a touchdown. (Click on the little camera icon by his name at Yahoo's draft page.) He was voted his team's MVP, and that can't be a bad thing. I also can't recall watching the safety from Va. Tech, Aaron Rouse, play. He is enormous though, and his 40 time is pretty sick for a guy that big. The synopses I've read seem to paint him as someone who's a great athlete, and good playing downhill, but not good turning and running with backs or receivers. A linebacker conversion project? He has some impressive hits on Yahoo's highlights (at the link above).

All in all, not a bad day. The team generally seems to be taking the players it likes the best at the individual positions. That's what you want them to do. And, we've generally been addressing our problem areas--the offensive skill positions and safety. That's encouraging. It might have been nice had we been able to move up for Jarrett or Sydney Rice in the second round, guys who I think may have a bit more potential than Jones, but I guess they couldn't find a deal they were willing to make. So they traded down.

I also must admit that I'm disappointed over the lack of a Moss deal. I was hoping that when we traded down in the second and picked up an extra 3rd rounder, we'd use it to pry Moss away from the Raiders. Reports had the best offer to the Raiders as only a fourth round draft pick. My hopes picked up further when I heard the Lions dumped Mike Williams and Josh McCown on the Raiders for a draft pick. Maybe a deal will be coming tomorrow, but I'm no longer holding my breath. Ah, well.

What's also interesting is that the Packers seem to be actively misleading the media. It doesn't seem like anyone who was talking to the team's personnel people had any idea that they were considering Harrell. In fact, one Fox Sports reporter openly complained about it, saying he had asked the Packers about their potential interest in Harrell, and they told him that "he wasn't their guy." Huh. Then the JS blog started talking about how the Packers had "targeted" Antonio Pittman. But not only do we pass on him once, in the 2nd round, we pass on him twice in the third. (In fact, Pittman may have been drastically overrated by analysts because no team has drafted him as of yet.) Funny stuff. I guess they're pretty paranoid about confidential information getting to other teams. If they've actually done what it looks like--that is, they purposely told the media false info off the record--the Thompson "administration" is positively Machiavellian. I admire their wiles, but I think the press, especially the local guys, will probably hold it against them. Lets hope it works out on the field.

The other development I've been following is not a positive one--our divisional rivals seem to all have upgraded their offenses. The Lions added the best player in the draft, Calvin Johnson. A Roy Williams/Calvin Johnson tandem is serious trouble, even with Jack Kitna hurling the ball off his back foot. The friggin' Queens got one of the wideouts on my wish list, Sidney Rice, and took the draft's best running back, the breathtaking manchild Adrian Peterson. We'll have to hope their QB stays terrible. The Bears' additions were more modest. I'm personally bearish on the tight end Greg Olsen, as his production on the field has yet to equal his combine numbers, but the Bears also just picked up Garrett Wolfe, the diminutive but insanely fast Northern Illinois running back. A rotation between him and Cedric Benson could be very effective. Not good.

Joe Thomas went fishing on "The Foxy Lady" with his dad and Joe Panos, and got drafted by the Browns. They took him with the third overall pick, making him the third highest Badger ever drafted. Cleveland's a bit grim, (we went to the UW/Bowling Green game there last fall), but the stadium's pretty nice, and I understand some of the suburbs are as well. I honestly hope he and Brady Quinn can turn around the Browns. Give the history of the reborn Browns, their lack of a first round draft pick next year (one that will probably be in the first half of the round), and the fact that they suck on both sides of the ball, it doesn't look good. I have confidence that Joe will at least keep Quinn upright.

Joe has actually been protecting Quinn's blindside already, although Quinn didn't realize it at the time. Specifically, one of Joe's rationales for not going to the draft was that, if the worst case scenario happens, and you start falling, that's the last place you want to be. Imagine, you've busted your ass for free since you were thirteen, you think your big payday is about to come, you get all duded up, and as your dream slowly turns nightmarish you're corralled in a camera-laden "green room" trying to keep your cool on national television as millions of dollars slip through your hands. Quinn might have thought about that, considered Leinart and Rodgers' experiences, and talked to some less biased talent evaluators before making his decision to come to New York. Finally, did anyone notice that when Quinn was finally drafted he was chewing gum the entire time? Am I the only one to find that a little inappropriate? Maybe at that point, he was just like, "Screw it. I want some Dentyne."

This Morning's Advance Word

First, the Randy Moss deal. Whoa. Would this be crazy, or what? A fourth round draft pick sounds like a good deal. Especially if Moss is running the insanely fast times mentioned here. What a wild day it could be.

Second, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Bob McGinn, who is constantly talking to scouts around the league, seems to believe Meachem, the Tennessee wideout, is a likely pick over Lynch at 16. He also mentioned the strong possibility of Lynch being the pick of the Bills at 12. McGinn also hears that the Packers have targeted Ohio A&M runner Antonio Pittman as a likely second round selection if he's available. (If you have a Packer Insider subscription, go here.) Although I still am rooting for some defensive picks early, Meachem is my favorite of the potentially available wideouts-- big, fast, very productive last season, and talented.

Looks to be a fun day. I determined a year or two ago that the best way to watch the draft is by occasionally looking at the TV while at the gym, because it's just not interesting enough to sit at home and watch. So I'm going to head to the weight room to get swoll right around 11. You stay classy.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Here's What I Want

As I said before, I want the Packers to draft Reggie Nelson at 16, and I want to see him patrolling the middle of the defensive backfield with Nick Collins for the next eight seasons. If some other team (like the Panthers) takes Nelson, or we pass on him, I'd still be relatively happy with taking some other sort of (potential) impact player on defense. If Jamaal Anderson, the defensive end from Arkansas falls to us, I wouldn't be upset. Anderson projects well, put on an impressive performance in the Capital One Bowl against the Badgers (our offense looked terrible in the second half) and pass rushing defensive ends who also can play the run decently are very valuable commodities. Or if Darrelle Revis, the explosive cornerback from Pitt, were our pick, I also would feel ok. Revis could take the nickel back slot from the semi-adequate Patrick Dendy, and could operate as a punt/kick returner, so he would see the field a fair amount. Also, if he pans out, he'd ease everyone's worries about the simultaneous ossification of Woodson and Al Harris.

For those of you who think I'm crazy for wanting to spend a first round pick on the defense, as I explained before, I have a multifaceted rationale--I believe the defense is an elite player away from being a dominant unit, a dominant defense could keep us decent even after Brett retires and the offense goes through a serious "transition period", drafting offense right now is predictable, and at the sixteenth pick we're only going to be picking among second tier offensive talents--having missed out on the super-studs like Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson--but could get a top of the line defender like Revis or Nelson. (I think Nelson may be better than LaRon Landry because he makes more big plays, and Revis has got to be better than Leon Hall; I mean, did you watch Ohio State/Michigan or the Rose Bowl?).

And here's how I'd like things to breakdown otherwise. First, I'd like us to spend at least one, if not both, of our remaining first day draft picks taking risks on offensive skill position guys. Take a flier on Michael Bush, who is being downgraded because of his slow recovery from a broken leg. He led the NCAA in touchdowns at Louisville the season before last, and the Packers red zone offense has been terrible. I think Michael Bush could easily be a Jerome Bettis-like short-distance/goal-line runner. He may need to time to recover further, but I bet he gets back to form or close enough to it. Or take a flier on a big wide receiver with a knack for scoring. Like Dwayne Jarrett, if he's there. (We'll see how much his slow-ish 40-yard dash time affects his status.) Or Sidney Rice, South Carolina's main offensive threat the past few seasons. We need red zone help, and these guys could bring it. They may not develop into all around superstars, but they have repeatedly made plays against other top-level talent, and have each shown a knack for scoring. I also think, besides Robert Meacham, who I think has a lot of potential, they'd have almost as much chance of developing into top-notch offensive players as anyone else we'd be picking from at 16.

Second, if we just use one of our second and third round picks on an offensive skill position guy, use the remaining one to grab a safety or a corner, whichever position we didn't pick in the first round. Those positions are either dangerously thin or already understaffed.

Third, on the second day I hope we pick up a developmental offensive tackle, a situational pass rusher (though I'm hoping Jason Hunter turns into a legitimate one this season), and maybe a quarterback with a bit more potential than our current third-stringer.

Also, I'd love to see us pick up a Wisconsin guy or two, for semi-emotional, semi-legitimate reasons. For example, I think Roderick Rodgers is getting overlooked. (ESPN's Todd McShay did a 7 round mock draft and didn't even have him getting picked.) I think he's a pretty talented athlete and a good player, certainly with as much potential as Marviel Underwood. But I'd be psyched to see us pick up him or Zalewski. Maybe they'd just be special teamers, but it'd be fun to have some Wisconsin guys on the team besides Tauscher.

To review, here's what I'd like to see:

1st Reggie Nelson, S, Florida
2nd Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC or Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina
3rd Michael Bush, RB, L'ville or Garret Wolfe, RB, N. Ill.
4th Offensive Tackle prospect
5th Corner prospect
6th Defensive Line/Situational Pass Rusher prospect
7th (3 picks) Whoever has potential, mixed in with a UW guy

That would be a great draft from my perspective. Remove the glaring weakness from our defense and replace it with a super-talented rookie and proven winner. Give Favre some offensive help with big name guys who've produced at high levels and have fallen for one reason or another. Invest in the long run in important positional replacements (OT, CB, DE). Give the in-state homers, like me, someone to root for. All-round, that would rule.

Of course, not being a GM or a talent evaluator, what the hell do I really know? I hope Thompson takes the guy he thinks and all of his scouts agree has the most talent and potential at each pick. If that means we move up to snare a big star, like Adrian Peterson, great. If we stay where we are, I hope that equates to spending our highest pick on defense for all the reasons I've stated but if not, well, I have my favorite potentially-available offensive player picked out already--Robert Meacham, WR, Tennesse.

Anyhow, what do you think the Packers should do with their first round pick? How about a choice between Meacham, Lynch, Nelson, Revis and Ted Ginn, Jr? What say ye? And why do you say what you do when you say it?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Deeper Conversations via Text Message

See this. Specifically, see Tom Crean, sleazy coach of the Marquette Gold men's basketball team, make the totally inane comment that text messaging recruits is a way to "get past the standard recruiting lines and into deeper conversations." What?! How in the eff do you have "deeper conversations" via text message? They take forever to type, and are limited to a certain number of characters. Is "how r U?" a deeper conversation in Tom Crean-land? Is this why Marquette players don't improve and can't play organized offense? Because their coach is too busy text messaging their replacements?

Anyhow, here's what I imagine Crean's "deep conversations" look like:
Ur gr8 @ bball!
come 2 MU!
free beer! Lots!
No football here!
Bball only!
D-Wade played 4 MU!
U like D-Wade? D-wade calls me!
Evree week!

What a jackass.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

No Offense in the First Round

I'm terrified that the Packers are going to use their first round draft pick on some offensive player who's just going to turn out to be fine, but not great, or, alternatively, just be a complete bust. And I find the idea that we'd use all of our first day draft picks on offensive players (as some mock drafts have us doing) totally horrifying. I'm quite certain that Thompson will not do that (some prognosticators are morons), but the idea is still frightening. Anyhow, I do not want the Packers to pick an offensive player in the first round. Here are my rationales.

First, at 16, were not going to get the top player at any offensive skill position, except maybe tight end. Other teams will have skimmed the obvious cream, like Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson. (These guys look like game-changers, players who could quickly add several wins to your total. Let us hope the Vikings don't draft one of them.)

Second, the Packers don't need more "good" offensive players. Greg Jennings looks like a good player. Driver is a good to very good player. When healthy, Morency has shown the potential to be a good player. Green was a good runner last year. On the downslide of his HOF career, Favre is now a pretty good quarterback. But even with several of these "good" players, our offense was poor last season. We couldn't run the ball in key situations, and couldn't get things done in the red zone. I believe that in order to get back to being a good offense, we need a player who will worry opposing defensive coordinators, who will force other teams into making strategic sacrifices that we can take advantage of. Favre used to be that player. But no longer. And so, we need a new dominant player, or at least someone who is dominant in a particular area of the game, like a great red zone receiver or a fantastic inside runner.

Third, I feel like the odds of us getting a dominant offensive player at 16 are about as good as getting a dominant offensive player at 40 or at 80. That is, not very good. As explained in my first point, the skill position players who clearly have the potential to be great will be off the board by then. What will remain are players with talent but obvious problems, players with potential that haven't yet developed, or players with lower ceilings.

So, fourth, if we spend the pick on offense, I believe we would likely end up drafting a project, like Ted Ginn, Jr., or someone who will be merely good, like Lynch. A project wouldn't improve the offense next season or help maximize Favre's remaining ability. In fact, he probably wouldn't wouldn't bear dividends for several seasons, if at all (wasn't Robert Ferguson a project?). A merely good player might help a bit in the short term, but won't dramatically upgrade the team, and wouldn't do much to compensate for the serious drop the offense will experience after Favre retires. To be blunt, a merely good back or wideout is not going to stop the offense from sucking, especially after Favre leaves.

Also, fifth, if we draft an offensive skill position player at 16, everyone's going to look at him as some sort of savior for the team's offense. This guy will be shouldering heavy expectations from day one, which likely won't help his development or his relationship with the fans when he almost certainly disappoints them. Ick.

And, sixth, since great offensive skill players are so valuable and so rare, I believe that most picks spent on those positions do not yield dominant players, even first round picks. In fact, I believe the rate of return is depressingly low. To test this out, lets consider wide receivers and running backs taken in the first round, starting, I don't know, in this millennium, excepting last year because it's a bit early to judge players after their rookie season.
Wide Receivers taken in the first round--
4th Peter Warrick (bust)
8th Plaxico Burress (pretty good, but not great)
10th Travis Taylor (uhh)
21th Sylvester Morris (who?)
29th R. Jay Soward (seriously, who is this?)

8th David Terrell (another Michigan bust)
9th Koren Robinson (we all know where he is--on electronic monitoring)
15th Rod Gardner (one good season)
16th Santana Moss (a very good player)
25th Freddie Mitchell (still in the league?)
30th Reggie Wayne (a good player)

13th Donte' Stallworth (best FA option was a one-year deal?)
19th Ashley Lelie (never produced consistently)
20th Javon Walker (crazy, but a great player)

2nd Charles Rogers (total bust--partly due to injuries)
3rd Andre Johnson (a very good player)
17th Bryant Johnson (team's third wide receiver)

3rd Larry Fitzgerald (a great player when healthy)
7th Roy Williams (a great player)
9th Reggie Williams (disappointing so far)
13th Lee Evans (a very good player, maybe on the verge)
15th Michael Clayton (a good player)
29th Michael Jenkins (fine, but not all that)
31th Rashaun Woods (still in the league?)

3rd Braylon Edwards (very good when healthy)
7th Troy Williamson (not good)
10th Mike Williams (terrible)
21st Matt Jones (pretty good when healthy, maybe still developing)
22nd Mark Clayton (good)

Of those 29 guys, I see three guys that are legitimately "great" players-- Javon Walker, Larry Fitzgerald, and Roy Williams. I think Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Braylon Edwards and Lee Evans are very good and have the potential to be great. I think the rest of the players are somewhere in the range of good, average, or total bust. (I may be being harsh by calling Reggie Wayne a merely "good" player, but I think he benefits tremendously from playing with Manning and Harrison.) So based on recent history, there's a 25 to 30% chance of a team not getting a serious impact from a first round draft pick on a wideout. And there's only about a 10% chance of getting a really "great" player. And consider where the top guys were drafted. Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Johnson and Edwards were all top ten picks. Only Walker and Santana Moss were drafted at 16 or lower. That's 2 guys out of 29 picks. And these two both had obvious warts. Moss was picked that low because he's small. Walker was picked that low because he only played one year at FSU, was older because he'd played minor league baseball, and nearly flunked the Wonderlic. Anyhow, recent history seems to prove my point--the chances of getting a great wide receiver at 16 or lower are not good. But how about with running backs?

Running Backs Taken in the First Round--
5th Jamal Lewis (was dominant, now pretty average)
7th Thomas Jones (good)
11th Ron Dayne (alas, poor Ronnie)
19th Shaun Alexander (was very good, but falling off a bit)
31st Trung Canidate (I remember this guy... at least his name)

5th LaDainian Tomlinson (dominant)
23rd Deuce McAllister (very good)
27th Michael Bennett (a few great years, but now a backup)

16th William Green (still in the league?)
18th T.J. Duckett (eh)

23rd Willis McGahee (a great player on a bad offensive team)
27th Larry Johnson (awesome)

24th Steven Jackson (very good, but not dominant)
26th Chris Perry (decent)
30th Kevin Jones (good when healthy, but oft-injured)

2nd Ronnie Brown (pretty good)
4th Cedric Benson (pretty good, but hard to tell)
5th Carnell Williams (good when healthy)

That's sixteen backs. I'd say three, right now, are legitimately great players--LT, Willis McGahee, and Larry Johnson. I think Shaun Alexander, Deuce McAllister, and Steven Jackson are very good players, but not great. I think Jamal Lewis was great for a few seasons, and that Michael Bennett was very good for a short time. The rest of these backs haven't shown enough (Brown, Benson), have had recurring injury problems (Kevin Jones, Cadillac), or are anywhere from merely good (Thomas Jones) to outright busts (William Green). So out of 16, three great players, and one that was great for a couple seasons. That's only a 25% rate, and half of the great players (LT & Lewis) were drafted in the top five, and three out of four were the first running backs taken. (There's no way the Pack gets Peterson on Saturday.) Now maybe we should have a glimmer of hope here since some of the very good or great backs were taken later in the first round. But still, in raw numbers, the chances of drafting a "great" running back are not good, especially when the number one back is already gone.

Now, when I advocate against picking offense, I'm not saying that defensive players aren't busts. I just believe that our offense is in such a state that adding one good player won't do much. We need a serious talent boost to change anything, and something like that is usually not available at 16. So I say let's excise the glaring weakness of our defense, the safety position, and try to make that side of the ball an elite unit. The offense may be hard to watch, but if our defense is as good as I think it can be, we'll at least be competitive, even after Favre leaves.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spring Game Observations

So I finished my journey to and from Madison for the annual University of Wisconsin Spring Game. First off, we showed up late because there was nowhere to park. It seems like the various local entrepreneurs who sell out their yards and driveways for most home games were MIA today. Thus, there were far fewer convenient parking spaces available, and we ended up parking on the street over by Edgewood, and only after stalking some grandparents and child who were walking back to the their car from the zoo. So we showed up a bit late and missed the first big play of the game--a bomb from Donovan to Hubbard on the offense's first possession.

So the game:

- It was basically back-ups vs. starters the entire game, but as it progressed, they started subbing out the starters, and moving the back-ups from the "scrub" side to the starter side. I guess they had two jerseys (a red and a white) for most everybody. The starters were in red.

- I'd put the crowd at around 20,000. They only opened the stands on the lower West side of the stadium, so it felt pretty packed in. Oddly, people seemed somewhat oblivious to the specifics of the game. They reacted more to the jumbotron and the intensely loud piped in tunes than to events on the field. Maybe they were just enjoying the weather. That said, there were a lot of couples with little kids.

- Evridge looks like a good player. He's certainly more talented than some of UW's previous quarterbacks, like Schabert or Sorgi. He's pretty mobile, has a strong arm, and showed a good touch on deep balls, throwing a nice bomb to Swan on the team's second possession, and hitting an open Maurice Moore in the hands on another long pass. His most impressive throw came on a ten-yard touchdown to Hubbard. On the play, Evridge got good protection and waited and waited, and Hubbard finally got open crossing the middle of the end zone. Evridge then bulleted a rope between three defenders; the pass hit Hubbard in the hands, and was thrown with such velocity the defenders couldn't close on him in time. However, Evridge did fumble, then recover, one snap, and it looked like a d-lineman (I think Brandon Kelly) forced another fumble off him, although Evridge was wearing a non-contact jersey, and they called it an incomplete pass. What was a bit worrying was Evridge's accuracy while on the run. On two red zone plays, a receiver came open on his side of the field while he was scrambling. He saw them and tried to throw in their directions, but ended up skying well over each player's head (the receivers were tight end Mickey Turner and Hubbard). Being able to make something happen on broken plays is a tremendous skill to have as a quarterback. In some cases (like Favre's), that skill has turned a good player into a great player. Speaking of Brett, the elder fool noted that Evridge selected the number four as his jersey number. The elder fool found interpreted this to mean that Evridge was pretty confident, considering the only other high-level qb in Wisconsin to wear number four in recent memory is Favre.
Donovan looked decent too, although I missed his biggest play. He also threw a nice post touchdown pass to Swan early in the game. He had a pick on a bad throw, but otherwise played decently. Donovan actually made the tackle after his interception, slamming the second string d-back to the ground. I guess the green, no-contact jersey only applies when you have the ball.

- Lance Smith (Rance Smith!) ran pretty well, busting a nice touchdown run in the first quarter. Bielema criticized him a bit after the game, questioning his semi-frequent decisions to give up on the diagrammed run, and bounce the play outside. After a few reporters relayed Bielema's comments to Smith, he apparently said that he took plays outside when he "needed to." I have to side with the coach on this one. Smith's decisions to jump outside usually resulted in him running about 20 yards to the left or right, and getting tackled for a two yard gain. Not so good. On the bright side, Bielema did say he believed Smith could be an "exceptional" running back. Also, Smith did look quite fast, and showed some solid elusiveness, seriously juking a defensive back on his long touchdown run. He also caught the ball in stride on several pass plays.

- The battle for the left tackle spot rages on, but I think a leader has emerged. Bscherer and Carimi switched back and forth by quarter, with whoever wasn't playing with the starters switching jerseys and working the LT spot for the back-ups. I have to say, Bscherer seemed to play a more solid game, although I wasn't paying much attention to their performances in the run game. Carimi gave up two sacks, both to senior reserve defensive lineman Brandon Kelly, I think. On another play, he blocked his guy, but allowed him to jump into the passing lane and swat down a Donovan pass. Bscherer got beat by Jamal Cooper early on--Coop was on the back up team the entire game, for some reason. Otherwise, Bscherer was pretty solid in pass protection, even against Shaugnessy, Cooper, and Kurt Ware. After this game, I'd have to say he has the edge.

- By the way, Jamal Cooper had an outstanding game on the back-up team. He had a sack, and looked like an additional weakside linebacker out there--chasing down the back on several running plays, even when the play was run away from him. He's just that fast. He made a bunch of tackles, especially in the first half. Bielema seemed upset at a play in the second half where Cooper jumped offsides, and apparently didn't try to get back on, but overall, I thought he looked great. If Cooper and Shaugnessey are our two starting ends this fall, it may set some sort of modern day school record for lightest DE combo.

- As far as the defensive backfield goes, it was neat to see how there's been a general upgrade in athleticism. The whole group just looks faster than in years' previous. As for individual play, Shane Carter nicely intercepted an errant pass, and had a good return where he got close to taking it all the way back. He got cornered and shoved out of bounds. Jay Valai (#15) made a nifty pick on the last play of the game, reaching up and bringing the ball down with one hand, and then motoring forward on the return. Unfortunately, he then fumbled the ball at the end of the return. Bielema immediately ran onto the field to talk to him. Otherwise, Valai made a solid hits, but didn't play with the starters until the end. Royston and Pleasant (who let an easy interception go through his hands) both seemed to play more than Valai. Royston had a pretty quiet day. Josh Nettles (#8) started at corner for Allen Langford, who apparently is still banged up. (Neither Langford or Ben Strickland played.) Nettles made a nice pick and looked very good throughout. In fact, the first-string defense impressed across the board. The scrubs couldn't do a thing against them. That is, until the second half, when they pulled Casillas, Levy, and Jackie I.

- Swan and Hubbard were impressive. I know this was the second team d-backs, but those two looked very fluid. They are both far, far better players than they were last season. Unfortunately, Maurice Moore, at this point the leading 3rd receiver candidate, did not play particularly well. He dropped several passes, one on a well thrown deep ball from Evridge, where Moore had separated past his man defender. At least two of the passes he dropped hit him right in the hands. He also muffed the first punt he fielded. Thankfully, he caught two passes later in the game and didn't drop any more punts. He seemed to get open routinely, which is a very good sign, but it wasn't a successful performance. Moore has taken Lee Evans' old number, #3. Garrett Graham (#89), a redshirt freshman tight end, had a good game. He caught several passes, and at one point made a nice move in the red zone, driving forward through several tacklers for extra yards. He looks like a good player. Beckum had a quiet game, and they pulled him after the first 20 minutes. He clearly doesn't need to show anyone anything at this point. He's just the man.

- Overall, it was a lovely day and a relatively entertaining game, although the format (starters against second and third stringers) wasn't designed to make the "result" very exciting. Maybe it was help us, the fans, feel better going into the season. It certainly did that. Both sides of the ball looked very impressive, and no one seemed grievously injured afterwards. Next season looks promising, although the two straight weeks of Ohio A&M and Michigan are already freaking me out. Well, it's not time to worry about that just yet. First, lets hope that important contributors like Langford, Pressley, Randall-El, and P.J. come all the way back from their injuries. Second, lets see what the incoming freshman look like in fall camp. I'm especially intrigued to see if Johnnie Clay and Aaron Henry will be able to make contributions. That's also when the position battles will have to be decided once and for all. I predict Evridge and Bscherer. Then, the season opener against Wazoo beckons. Yee haw.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wooo Hooo!

It appears that Oden the All-Father and Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook are all entering the NBA draft. Oden is gone forever and Conley will stay in if he's picked in the lottery (which is likely), but Daequan is dabbling and could come back. Regardless, this rules. Now I know that I've complained about Ohio A&M's recruiting class for next year, but the possibility of hitting on two guys as good as Conley and Oden two years in a row are slim. Their chances of repeating as Big Ten champs are now middling (especially if Cook leaves), and they are no longer a serious national championship or Final Four threat. This development should make the Big Ten far more interesting next basketball season.
Consider: Ohio A&M will be returning only one starter-- the guard, Jamar Butler-- because Ron Lewis and Ivan Harris have used up their eligibility. Right now, their starters would be Butler, David Lighty, Matt Terwilliger, Othello Hunter, and some other guy no one's heard of. That's a serious drop-off. North Carolina is going to pummel them in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, especially if Brandan Wright doesn't leave.

Several Things

First, Mickey Turner, a sophomore tight end for the Badgers who hails from Missouri knows what the word "aesthetics" means. This means our team is smarter than your team. Suck it, Trebek.

Second, Joe Thomas recently gave this ridiculous interview to this ridiculous interviewer. In it, further proof of his non-idiocy emerges. Specifically, he states that he's going to take his signing bonus and put it "right into the bank" because he's not "into material things or other depreciating assets." Dude, our All-American left tackle is so not going to appear on some sports-based version of "Behind the Music" moaning about his third bankruptcy. (An aside--how awesome would some sort of celebrity bankruptcy program like that be? Maybe for athletes, actors and musicians? As of like a year ago, wasn't Screech from Saved By The Bell living in Port Washington, WI and tottering on the verge of bankruptcy? There's your first profile. (I'm not touching the porn video.) With the ridiculous amount of credit card debt that Americans are living with these days, I believe society is crying out for this type of a show. Sort of an inverse "Cribs", if you will.) Also, Thomas can properly use the term "depreciating" in a coversation. Once again, our team is smarter than your team.

Third, am I the only one who thinks UW's ACC/Big Ten Challenge match-up stinks? We play at Duke next fall. Hmmm . . . why in the hell did we play mediocre Florida State at home last season when everyone knew that we were going to be a very strong team? How many college basketball fans even know that FSU is in the ACC? If we couldn't play Duke or UNC, why didn't we at least play Georgia Tech or Maryland? And now that we've lost more than half of our scoring, and perhaps the best player in school history, we get to go play AT Duke? I know Duke lost its large white guy, McRoberts (aka, McChin-nuts), but they have a bunch of very talented young guys that should be much better next season. Here I'm talking about John Scheyer (Illinois' Mr. Basketball from a year ago) and the nose-breaker, Gerald Henderson, who looks like a non-moronic Corey Maggette. Plus, Duke has another top ten recruiting class coming in. Now, I think the Badgers will be under-rated next season, and I can see the team jelling as the season progresses and making some serious noise by the end. But at Duke early in the season? That is not a game we can win. The chances of it simply being competitive aren't all that good. Who decides on these match-ups? Are they trying to get us embarrassed on national television? This is under protest.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

JT Keepin' It Real!

According to this column, Joe Thomas is the only one of the potential seven or eighth "special" draft picks this year (including guys like JaMarcus Russell, Gaines Adams, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and LaRon Landry) who will not be attending the draft in New York City come a week from Saturday. Instead, he'll be fishing on Lake Michigan with his father.

That rules in several ways.
First, he's avoiding off the field publicity. Well done, Joe. If you want a happy life, I advise you and your very tall fiance to not become regular features in US Weekly. Look what it's done to Brittney.
Second, he's got enough sense to realize that actually going to the draft is stupid. That is because (a) draftees are apparently required to dress like NBA players (that is, like a cross between a clown and the pimp from "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka"), (b) so many cameras are around ESPN's coverage becomes like a more tightly edited version of Big Brother, (c) the team hats they make you wear once you've been drafted are always ugly, and (d) regardless of what happens, you're going to get booed by Jet fans.
Third, there's about an 80% chance JT will get drafted by the Cardinals, Browns, Lions or Raiders-- three teams that have no modern tradition of even being competitive, and one team that's totally disfunctional. Think about what you'd do. When that moment comes, and you find out that you're really going to spend your entire professional career with one of these organizations, wouldn't it be better to be away from cameras and microphones? You know, so they can't record all the expletives. Seriously, if you were a highly touted draft pick and the Cardinals or Browns drafted you, would you be able to hide your unhappy Kermit-Face?
Fourth, declining to go to NYC and appear on national television in order to go catch salmon with your dad on Lake Michigan is just plain cool.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Spring Time Sneak Peak

Like most red-blooded American males, I'm going through some football withdrawal. Maybe it's because I can't bring myself to care much about the NBA; although I'm hoping the Bucks screw the Celtics and get the right to draft Oden or Durant, and I hope the Knicks finish below the Blazers, Bobcats, Sonics, and Kings, and thus enable the Bulls to get the best draft pick possible. (I'm leaning this way because I'd like the NBA teams to which I'm exposed be entertaining.)
Or because I don't have a strong leaning toward any MLB team. (I'll elaborate on my lack of Brewer fandom at some future point). Or because the basketball Badgers ended their season in such a disappointing fashion, thus giving me no sunny feelings off which to coast. Anyhow, I miss football.

Therefore, I'm seriously looking forward to next Saturday afternoon, for the annual University of Wisconsin Spring Game at Camp Randall. I know this will probably be a messy game, and the defense will probably dominate, there's a decent possibility someone will get injured, and things will look sloppy and I'll leave feeling depressed about the state of the team. (That's what happened two years ago.) But still. At this point in the year, any small bit of football involving a team that I care about is something to be treasured. So I plan on being in the stands at Camp Randall next Saturday with the pops.

Now, to the casual observer, intra-squad scrimmages can be deathly boring. But to the dedicated, there should be several interesting things to look for, such as:

- Replacing the Departed. A big part of spring football is grooming the replacements for the standouts who graduated or left the team. Here, Wisconsin is in an interesting situation--they return most of their starters, but have lost team leaders at key positions on both sides of the ball--Roderick Rogers, Joe Stellemacher and Mark Zalewski on defense, and Joe Thomas and John Stocco on offfense.
According to reports on Spring practice, Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant have taken over the safety spots. Carter is a far-younger half-brother of Chris Carter, the guy who tortured Packer fans for years on the field, and now tortures all football fans on Inside the NFL. Pleasant is a recreational power lifter who was the only freshman on the team, two years ago, to play on every form of special teams. Both of them were injured for nearly all of last season with the same injury--a torn shoulder labrum. (Sal, what the hell does that mean?) Pleasant, unfortunately, has had shoulder surgery two years in a row, so the back-ups, particularly Jay Valai and Kim Royston, should be ready. Carter has shown a penchant for big plays in practice, and the coaches sound pretty excited about his potential. Both seem quite athletic. The question will be, can they replace the combination of smarts, skill and toughness that Rod and Stellemacher had? Stellemacher, in particular, seemed to be the captain/coach of the defense, running around before the snap, pointing out the offenses' moves, getting people in the right place. Losing his know-how is worrying.
Taking Zew's place is Elijah Hodge, the little brother of the former Hawkeye and current Packer. Though I thought Zalewski was a good player and I loved both his intensity and his haircuts. If he can stay healthy, I believe that he can have a solid career in the pros. Still, this is the spot I'm the least worried about. By all indications, Hodge is a hell of a player, fast and instinctive. There shouldn't be much, if any, drop off in our linebacking corps this season.
The battle to replace the best tackle in school history has come down to two well-heralded, Wisconsin-bred underclassmen, Gabe Carimi, a former Parade All-American from Monona Grove, and Jake Bscherer, a Sturgeon Bay native and the state's top recruit from last year, according to Rivals. Bscherer played in a bunch of games last fall, working as a blocking tight end, while Carimi redshirted. Carimi's a little taller (a towering 6'8") while Bscherer's a bit bigger. My understanding is that Carimi's slightly more athletic, but Bscherer's not far behind. Apparently they're both good run blockers, but are having some difficulties with pass blocking. Hopefully, that's just due to trying to block Shaughnessy every practice. Anyhow, the "loser" of the competition may end up at the other tackle spot, which, depending on who wins the quarterback competition, could be just as important a position on the line.
I say that because the battle to replace Stocco is between a right-handed QB, Tyler Donovan, and a left-handed QB, Allan Evridge. A right-hander's blind side is on his left, making pass protection on the left side crucial, which is why a left tackle is typically your most talented offensive lineman. But a left-handed quarterback's blindside is to the right, making pass protection on that side just as important. Besides being a southpaw, Evridge appears to be a bit taller, and have a somewhat stronger arm. Arm strength is my worry with Donovan, who is very mobile, and gave heady performances during the Iowa and Buffalo games. The biggest play of his career to date (the bomb to Swan during the Iowa game) was a well under-thrown pass where the receiver made a great comeback play. Since Evridge is also quite mobile, he seems to win out on overall talent. It'll be interesting to see how things shake out. Personally, since I continue to hold a grudge against Hartland Arrowhead (Donovan's alma mater), and since we may benefit most in the long term from a two-year starter (Evridge will be a junior in the fall, while Donovan will be a senior), I'm pulling for the transfer from Kansas State.

- The Temporary Replacement. With P.J. Hill recovering from a torn rotator cuff (ugh), Dywon Rowan's eligibility having expired, and John Clay not arriving on campus until sometime this summer, second semester freshman Lance Smith has been getting the vast majority of the reps at tailback. Apparently, he's done pretty well--improving on his inconsistent performance from last fall, even while practicing with a slight ding. According to Rivals, he re-tweaked his ankle today, but I'm hoping to see him play on Saturday.

- The Second Chance Guys. Here I'm talking about guys like Chris Pressley, the powerful fullback who looked set to take the mantle of Matt Bernstein before breaking his ankle in pre-season practice last year. And Jamal Cooper, the speedy weakside defensive end, who's probably on his third or fourth chance, when you combine injuries with academic issues. It'll be interesting to see what these guys are capable of. They must be motivated.

- The Backups. When the first team guys get pulled, it's time to take a look at the backups and see if there's anyone to have some hope for. Three guys I'll have my eye on are all redshirt freshmen: Lance Kendricks, Maurice Moore and Jay Valai. Kendricks and Moore are both very athletic guys that have switched positions-- from wide receiver to tight end and quarterback to wideout, respectively. Moore's been making some noise at receiver and punt returner in practices--he's a fast, shifty guy--where Kendricks was a highly touted recruit that could project as a Beckum/Owen Daniels type-threat at tight end. Valai is a little safety from Texas that likes to hit so much that he's repeatedly refused to play corner. If Pleasant or Carter goes down, this guy likely steps in.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to it. I hope people make plays and no one gets injured. A report back will be forthcoming. If you want professional views on the game, particularly some commentary on its use as a recruiting tool, check out this and this.

Evridge's Lady Love

The well-informed Badger fan knows who Allan Evridge is--the Kansas State transfer quarterback who started a bunch of games for the Wildcats as a redshirt freshman, broke several school freshman passing records, then, after Bill Snyder retired, looked around for a school to transfer to, remembered Bielema, and decided to come to UW. In fact, Allan was so psyched to come to Madison that he played his own tuition last semester because the Badgers didn't have an available scholarship. Anyone who likes UW that much pretty much rules, as far as I'm concerned.
While Evridge is currently locked in a quarterback competition with Tyler Donovan to be next year's starter, according to the Madison paper, he's also managed to get himself engaged to this quite cute and quite tall Kansas State volleyball player.

Ah, the spandex shorts of yesteryear . . . . As the pops iterated upon seeing Ms. Speigelberg's profile: "[t]here were no female volleyball players in the world in the 1960's, and that is a subject of considerable regret among my male peers."

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's Been Decided

I know what the Packers should do with the sixteenth (sigh) pick of the draft. Here it is: draft Reggie Nelson, safety, of the University of Florida.

This may provoke some whines about how we need to give Brett some more toys to play with since it may be his last season, or some reiterated complaints about how we have no impact players on offense. And I agree with most of those complaints. We don't have any true standouts on offense. Our tight ends are either coming off dreadful seasons (Bubba) or unproven (Alcorn, Humphrey). Our running backs are either green and injury prone (Morency) or relatively untalented (Herron). Double-D is only getting older, Jennings dropped off significantly with his ankle injury, and there are no other wideouts worth worrying about. With this lackluster talent level at the skill positions, if I were Ted Thompson, I would feel bad about not giving Favre a hot offensive talent to play with. Plus, drafting defense with our first round pick will certainly piss Brett off. But we should do it anyway for several reasons.

First, I'm not sold on any of the offensive picks that folks think will be available at 16. Greg Olsen, the TE from Miami? Don't we already have a Miami TE? Plus, isn't he the workout warrior type, whose pre-draft workouts were more impressive than his production on the field? Lame. And he may not even be available at 16. Also, I never like the "only [name your position] that gets a first round grade" guys. It always makes me think that he's just in there because the draftniks feel they have to have a player at every position (except guard and center).
Marshawn Lynch? His various highlight reels look pretty good, I admit. I especially like his pass catching ability. But Ahman already satisfied my personal quotient for running backs with domestic violence issues. And I don't see all that much burst in the highlights, those moments where you look for someone to put on the gas and speed away from defenders. If you're not showing that in college, chances are you're not going to show it in the NFL, and for a first round running back, I want someone who can go the distance. Plus, for running backs generally, I'd rather take a gamble on an injured guy who could blossom like McGahee and Gore have. Filling that role, I have my eye on Louisville's Michael Bush, who I'd like to see us take in the second or third round.
The wideouts who may be available at 16 all seem decent. Ted Ginn, the straight line speedster from Ohio A&M is a great college returner, but seems to lack some wide receiver skills. Plus, he's way smaller than I thought he was. I like the Meachem kid from Tennessee, but I believe he's only had one healthy year. Basically, it doesn't look like either of them will be Calvin Johnson, who looks like Javon Walker on steroids. Although there is some good history of receivers taken 16th (Jerry Rice and, to a far lesser extent, Santana Moss are standouts) not that that means anything.

Second, I don't like drafting out of desperation. Drafting Lynch, as the vast majority of the mock drafts have us doing, reeks of desperation. Eeek, a newly created hole on team--must fill hole. Drafting Ginn, or Meachem or Bowe from LSU, seems equally desperate, as our wideouts, beside DD, were iffy to poor last year, and we haven't had a decent returner since Rossum left. The same problem applies at TE in re Olsen. I understand and acknowledge that we are quite thin at RB and TE, and old and not particularly talented at WR, and that we haven't added any offense in free agency. But drafting an offensive skill player seems so predictable, and worst of all, predictably desperate. It'd be like the 'Queens drafting Troy Williamson with the pick they got for trading Moss: an obvious attempt to fill a gaping hole. When people make reaches for that kind of stuff, things go wrong.

Third, based on the last four or five games of last season, we are capable of having a pretty damn fine defense. (I know I'm being semi-irrational, since in the games before that we got annihilated by the Jets and the Pats, and the last four teams we played were not good, but just roll with me here.) Since moving Cullen Jenkins to RE on running downs, and cutting down on the occasional colossally blown pass play, the D was very tough. People seemed to be getting Bob Sanders system, Kurt Schottenheimer's inability to coach the secondary seemed to be waning, and, as optimistically predicted, Al "Personal Foul" Harris's tight man to man coverage forced lots of bad passes into the arms of Woodson. Hawk and Poppinga seemed to be developing. Corey Williams and Jenkins were giving decent push up the middle, while Kampman continued his Pro Bowl season. Though our corners are getting old and we need to think seriously about their replacements, I think we have it in us to be a top D this season and beyond, especially if Nick Collins continues to step up. So I support adding potential impact players to a strength in effort to create a dominant side of the ball. As the Bears, the Ravens, and others have shown, a dominant D can keep you respectable, even with a middling offense, which we're bound to have once Brett retires. Think of it this way--wouldn't it be better to have a kick ass defense and a relatively poor offense than a pretty good defense and a mediocre offense? I say yes.

Now, fourth, why draft a safety? Hello, where was the gaping personnel hole in our defense last season? That's correct, right between the numbers of the tragically slow Marquand Manuel, who seems like a nice guy and has a neat personal story, but was just not very impressive on the field. There were certainly blown pass coverages that weren't his fault, but there were definitely some that were. Plus, he looked achingly slow out there. Poppinga and Manuel were our weakest links in pass coverage, and Poppinga at least has the speed and the inexperience where you hope he'd improve. So what we need, in my mind is a freakishly fast, nasty, savvy, and athletic safety, who can cover linebackers and has the range to play center field on passing downs, and can also come up and deliver the solid hit on run plays.
Plus, safety is the type of position that gets overlooked in the draft, unless someone is a huge athletic freak, like Sean Taylor. Defensive linemen and cornerbacks are more traditional priorities, because they're generally thought of as more valuable positions. But in a day and age where tight ends are more involved than ever (safeties often end up shadowing TEs), people are motioning backs out into the slot with regularity, and teams play nickel nearly half the game, safeties are growing in importance. A versatile safety, like Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu or Brian Dawkins, can be an impact player on defense. To put it bluntly, I believe that in traditional drafting theory, safeties are undervalued, and they tend to slip more than they should. So, based on where we're drafting, I could see some top safeties (and hopefully Nelson) slipping as teams make runs on defensive ends and tackles, meaning a safety at 16 could be a good value, and may be a better value than the third rated DE, or the second rated RB. Consider-- Polamalu drafted 16th in '03, Reed drafted 24th in '02. Those guys are probably two of the top 20 defensive players in the league. They were both impact players on great college teams (Polamalu on an 11-2 USC team that dismantled Brad Banks' Iowa squad in the Orange Bowl and Reed on Miami's national champs that pounded Nebraska), and I think they both suffered in the draft because teams undervalued the safety position.

But then fifth, why Nelson? I'm probably getting over-excited, but when I look at Nelson, I see Polamalu and Reed. I see an insanely fast and athletic guy (4.35 or 4.37 forty and a bigger vertical than Alando Tucker), who loves to hit, has a nose for turnovers, and makes big plays (Nelson blocked seven kicks during his collegiate career). I see a guy who led his team to greatness, just like Reed and Polamalu. Who was the defensive star of perhaps the most talented team in football. Plus, he's got dreadlocks, so he'd fit right in with Al. I think he's going to be an impact safety like Brian Dawkins (who actually compares him to) or Reed or Polamalu. And by drafting him, the Packers could replace a defensive weak spot with a potential star. This could be a pick that pushes the defense from just good to outstanding. And given how young our defense generally is, could keep it there for years to come. Accordingly, I vote for Reggie Nelson, if he's there, for our first round draft pick.

(Of course, being a non-expert, I encourage TT to draft the player he thinks most likely to become a star. I just hope that it's Nelson.)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Upgrades in Competition

So the Big Ten men's college basketball coaching landscape has evolved. Iowa hired Butler's coach, Todd Lickliter, who just won the Coach of the Year award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Lickliter (Can this really be his name? Hilarious!) led Butler to a 131-61 record in six seasons, including a 29-7 record this year, in a season where Butler beat Gonzaga, Maryland, Indiana, Notre Dame, and Purdue. Alas, Butler did lose to Indiana State, thus blowing their chance at an undisputed Indiana state collegiate championship, although they still would have needed to beat Evansville, IUPUI, and IUPUFW. (With their victory over Valpo, Butler was 4-1 against other intra-Indiana division I basketball programs.) Butler also lost to Loyola of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), Wright State (twice), and Southern Illinois, going down by four in one of ESPN's "Bracket Buster" games. The losses to Wright State deprived Butler of both a regular season conference championship and a Horizon League tournament crown, not unlike with Bucky and the Ohio A&M. Butler proceeded to get an outrageously high seed (a #5) in contrast to Wright State (a #14), but Coach Lickliter's team largely lived up to it, knocking off the Terps and Old Dominion before giving Florida one of their most competitive games of the tournament.

Over in the dirty whore of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan reeled in West Virginia's coach, John Beilein, who posted a 104-60 record in five seasons at West Virginia, playing in the more competitive Big East. Beilein's Mountaineers have also gone on decent runs in the post-season, winning the semi-dubious NIT this season, and making it to the Elite Eight two years back, only to get shot down by Rick Pitino's Louisville team. You may remember--that team was led by the wonderfully named Kevin Pittsnoggle. As the winner of this year's NIT, West Virginia won the distinction of "Best Team Not Given An At-Large Bid" also known as the "Why the Hell Did You Choose Stanford Over Us?" Award. In order to acquire Beilein's services, Michigan paid $2.5 million to buy out his contract with WVU. Personally, I'd eagerly shell out $2.5 million not to live in Morgantown, so getting someone else to pay that sum to reel you out of that bizarre hellhole is an impressive feat.

The question is, how does this bode for the rest of the Big Ten, and in particular, the Badgers? Personally, I think it's an improvement for both teams, but I'm not freaking out. Both coaches are decently successful, have steered their teams to big wins against other good teams, one doing so in a big conference. However, neither have shown a knack for reeling in, discovering, or developing high level talent, unless A.J. Graves counts. (And he might.) Perhaps I'm getting spoiled or complacent, and perhaps the results of this year's tournament indicates that I should be more skeptical, but I feel like if Bo has equal talent, he can and will beat you most days. I think Beilein may have trouble keeping the best kids in-state, or away from Sparty, and I don't believe Iowa, with it's population of 3 million, produces enough talented kids who don't want to go to Kansas (like Kirk Hinrich). So I expect them to be pretty good coaches, but not challenging for the top of the Big Ten good, unless they bust out with some very talented recruits, or turn what's on hand (Iowa's freshman forward, Tyler Smith, perhaps?) into something far better than it has been. If I were picking one to worry about, it might be the unfortunately named Coach Lickliter at Iowa. He didn't start anyone over 6'8" and came within a few missed three-pointers of taking out Flordia. He should be able to do something good with the current Iowa team.

In other news, the Packers hired the first female Vice-President in team history. When I read this, I had several reactions. First, the thought "Why is ESPN coverning intra-team mid-to-upper level promotions? Must be a slow news day." Second, closely follwing the first thought, was the question "why the hell didn't this happen twenty years ago?" Then, upon reading the news release, I came to the realization that the Pack's new VP of Finance was named, and I'm being completely serious here-- Vicki Vannieuwenhoven. Yes, that's a fifteen-letter last name. Hells, yeah. Keeping it real! If anyone has any inkling about how to pronounce Vannieuwenhoven (don't worry I'm not a spelling savant, I just pasted that again), or what that name might mean, please let me know. Anyhow, congratulations to Ms. Vannieuwenhoven!