Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wazzou Preview

Finally, finally, finally-- real football is here again. Woo hoo!

And this year, unlike many previous ones, the University of Wisconsin Badgers are opening their season against a pretty legitimate opponent-- the Washington State Cougars. Washington State, aka Wazzou, had an up and down season last year that ended in disappointment.

The Cougars were 6-6 last season, going 4-5 in the Pac-10. With three games left, they were 6-3, coming off two impressive victories over Oregon and at UCLA, but they got slapped by Arizona at home, were blown out in Tempe by ASU, and lost a wild shootout to arch-rival Washington in the last game of the season that killed their bowl hopes. You'd think an intensely disappointing loss like that would do one of two things-- motivate the returning players to really kick ass, or make you depressed all offseason. So who knows where they're at now?

As you've probably already read, Washington State's quarterback, Alex Brink, is pretty good. He's a senior, has 28 starts already, and was second team all-conference last season, behind USC's starter. (Whose name, I believe, is "Booty," but I digress.) Their running back (who has the wonderful last name of Tardy) produced decently last year and should be improved , and they have some talent at wideout, namely Michael Bumpus (another great name) and Brandon Gibson, who had a 91 yard touchdown catch last season against Arizona. Gibson looks to be their go to guy-- he got better as the year progressed, scoring a touchdown or going over 100 yards receiving in four of his team's last six games. During training camp, he's been a little gimpy with a knee problem, but has been practicing lately. Wazzou apparently runs a spread offense, and throws the ball slightly more than they run it (430 pass attempts and 392 rushing attempts last season; compare this to Wisconsin's stats-- 292 pass attempts and 508 rushing attempts). The word on their offensive line is not good, which may be why they run the spread. That is, as a way to avoid having to rely on their offensive weakness.

You'd expect Wazzou to run a lot of dink and dunk passes to try to loosen up and confuse the defense (especially UW's two new safeties and true freshman nickel-back). Then, when the Badgers are expecting pass or have one to the nickel, they'll try to run out of the spread. The keys for the defense, with this kind of attack, is for the linemen to get in the passing lanes and throw off the the quarterback's timing, and for everyone to make sure, immediate tackles when passes are completed. Spread offenses live off of yards after the catch. Given the iffiness of their line and their running game, if the Badgers can limit their YAC (doesn't everyone want to limit their YAC?), and thus keep them in third and long or third and medium, they'll be alright. Also, if Gibson isn't comfortable on his injured knee, that will be a major loss for them. I feel odd making predictions, but I think the Badgers will have some problems at first. Wazzou should definitely score some first quarter points. Even though guys like Casillas and Levy are made to play against spreads, the defense doesn't usually see a spread team in practice, and Wazzou's QB is better than either Donovan or Evridge. Hopefully, with good coaching and increased familiarity, players will get comfortable and the defense will clamp down as the game progresses. That's my hope.

The offense will be interesting to watch. As much as people like to describe UW as a running team, I think that oversimplifies things-- under Chryst, UW does whatever works best, with running the ball as the first option. If a team can't stop the run (like Northwestern last year), then they'll pound it on the ground. If they can't run decently, they'll throw the ball. It's that simple-- find something that's effective and keep doing it. (Remember the Brandon Williams' sweeps against Auburn in the bowl game?) And as much as people expect out of the line and the running game, the Badgers could have trouble moving the ball on the ground this game. Thomas was a great player that made other people around him better. The rest of the line was not particularly good last year-- against good defenses, the Badgers gave up a fair number of sacks and had trouble running the ball, a la the bowl game against Arkansas. You'd hope the linemen will be improved, with more practice and more experience together. But enough to make up for the loss of Thomas? Maybe as the season rolls along, but probably not now. And the strength of the Wazzou defense is their line-- they have four enormous linemen, including three guys who are 6"7' or taller. This line led Wazzou to pretty decent numbers against the run last season. So UW may have to go around rather than through. I bet they try to run up the middle at the start, and if they don't have success, head to the outside or to the air. Maybe sweeps with Rance and rollouts with Donovan to loosen things up?

The passing game should be interesting. The Cougars were atrocious in pass defense last season, and their last two opponents destroyed them through the air. But, there's been a lot of turnover. Wazzou has only two starters returning among their rear seven, and several of the new starters may be junior college transfers or true freshmen. With experienced, talented, and heady guys like Beckum, Swan, Crooks and Hubbard, even if Wazzou's pass defense is improved, you'd expect there to be some mismatches. The question is, will Donovan be able to take advantage of them? Does he have the arm strength to make sharp throws to the sidelines? Is he tall enough to avoid batted balls, especially against a d-line this big? Can he air out deep balls to Hubbard? Will he look past his first progression before trying to run? He looked decent passing in the Spring Game, so I hope so. But I just don't know what we'll get with Donovan. My memory of the Iowa and Buffalo games is fuzzy. I seem to recall a lot of undemanding short passes to Beckum. As far as offensive predictions, who knows? I hope they deliver an Indiana-like pounding. They did only lose two starters.

Special teams, blah blah. If it comes down to this, the Badgers are in trouble. We should all hope to see better kick returns. The lack of excitement last season was plainly embarrassing. And hopefully true freshman David Gilreath, a small, shifty, speedster will eventually take over the punt return duties from Luke Swan, who's more of a designated fair catcher. DeBauche and Taylor are both old pros, for amateurs that is. They should deliver when needed.

Anyhow, get psyched. Time for some action.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cooper's Gone for Good

At least according to Bielema. He said that"indefinitely" really meant "will not be back with the team." That's a serious bummer. And apparently it wasn't academic problems, but rather some "incident" that happened in practice. I'm not sure what you could do in practice that would get you thrown off the team completely. Talking back to coaches? Fighting? Cooper was probably on pretty thin ice to begin with. I guess the Badgers got through last season without him. Hopefully, UW can get through this season as well.

Sadly, fifth year senior and special teams standout James Komoku also will be out for the rest of his career. One of the few Hawaiians on the team, James tore his Achilles tendon. His injury is a substantial loss for our special teams, particularly the coverage units. Enjoy the rest of your time at Wisconsin and good luck, James.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ah Hell

There's always something isn't there? Jamal Cooper was again suspended from the University of Wisconsin football team, for reasons that remain unknown. The previous two times it was academics related, so it may very well be that, again. Excellent timing. It's not like nearly all of the team's defensive ends are either coming off injuries (Kirk DeCremer, Kurt Ware) or are almost totally unproven (Brandon Kelly). Sigh. Jamal is an undersized defensive end. I remember seeing him walk past me, along with the rest of the team, on the way to the locker room at the start of halftime, seeing his number, and thinking "he's a defensive lineman?" But as occasional performances have shown, like the game at North Carolina two years ago (before he tore his ACL), and his play at Purdue three years ago in replacement of Erasmus, he is extremely quick, and that speed gives him the potential to be a legitimately great pass rusher. Without him on the field on passing downs, opposing teams may likely be able to focus their pass protection schemes on Matt Shaughnessy, chipping him with a back or moving a tight end to his side. In short, his absence makes the defense weaker, and his suspension is a blow to the team. I hope he's able to come back at some point and contribute, if he gets his act together. Come on, Jamal. Key-rist.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Nice Badger Recruit Stories

I have a terrible record with Badger recruits. The two guys I've gone to see in person while they were both prep athletes (Mickey Perry and Dion Foster) were both at the bottom of the depth charts, redshirted, and then transferred. Plus they didn't play particularly well in the games I went to see. So I've now committed to staying away from prep games that involve Badger recruits. But I do feel comfortable passing stories about Badger recruits along. Today we've got two about two Badger recruits from the lovely southwest Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook. (Makes you think of Henry the Fourth, Part I, huh? Or does no one get that reference?) Here's a very moving one about a kid from Decatur (not a nice town anymore) who has basically been basically adopted by his Big Brother. And another about Bolingbrook High's starting running back, Erik Smith.
One more week until Wisco's opener. Yee haw.

The Kids Better Be Alright . . .

. . . because otherwise the Packers are screwed.
I managed to watch about half of last night's Packers' 21-13 loss to the Jaguars -- just enough to see Donald Driver get carted off the field after hurting his foot/ankle area. That was clearly the biggest story of the game. My reaction was probably quite similar to yours, if you're a Packer fan. It went something like "Oh expletive-ing expletive!" and a grim muttering of "there goes the season." Not at all good. Hopefully, fingers crossed, it's not too serious.

The Packers' offense was already riding on the improvement/contribution of several young players-- guys like Brandon Jackson, Greg Jennings, Vernand Morency, Darryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, and James Jones. Now, with DD potentially missing some significant time, the team's offense will depend on these young players to an even greater extent.

The Jaguars have one of the league's best defenses, with at least three Pro Bowl caliber defenders (Henderson, Stroud, and CB Rashean Mathis), so last night's game provided the best test yet of these young players' abilities. The results were, at best, pretty mixed.

First, the Packers running game couldn't get the job done. The team tried running the ball straight at Henderson and Stroud but couldn't ever manage more than a few yards at best. Spitz and Colledge might be better than last season (as evidenced by the several pass plays where there was decent protection and no tight end kept in as a blocker), but the O-Line is not a great unit. At least not great enough to run on a really good rush defense like the Jaguars.

Second, though he didn't have much space to run, Brandon Jackson didn't look great. Not particularly fast, powerful, or quick. He was decisive though, and made a nice hard cut on a screen pass that almost led to a touchdown. But he's not bursting with talent by any means. Also, he did cough up the ball for the first time this preseason-- thankfully Corey Hall jumped on it. Again, I really wish we could see Morency in there so we'd have a better basis for comparison. Hopefully Vernand will be able to play next weekend.

Third, James Jones looked solid, except on a couple plays when Brett was in-- the too easily stripped fumble (see picture below), and the play where he stopped running and Brett threw the ball to where he should have been. Jones is not a burner, but he does seem to be able to do enough to get open. And man, he can get balls in traffic. Rodgers threw him a high sideline pass (when he was guarded by Mathis, the Pro Bowl corner) that was begging to be picked, but Jones skyed up and snatched it, then turned around and ran for more yards.

Fourth, we finally saw a little bit of Greg Jennings, though he and Brett miscommunicated at least once. He still looks quick, and has great hands, shown on a fifteen yard catch he made during the first string's one scoring drive. You could really see him pluck the ball out the air with both hands.

It's funny, but it looks like Rodgers actually has more of a rapport with the younger receivers than Brett does. He never looks frustrated with their routes, and actually, as shown by his high pass to Jones, seems to have more confidence in them. Maybe its because the coaches are worried about wearing Favre out, so Rodgers gets more reps? Given Favre's demonstrated lack of chemistry with the younger guys, it looks like we could have an ongoing generational struggle within the offense as the season progresses-- especially if Donald can't come back quickly.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Yesterday afternoon, Coach Bielema and the rest of the Badger staff named Hartland Arrowhead alumnus Tyler Donovan as the team's starting quarterback. This is understandable, but a little disappointing.

I don't say that just because I dislike Hartland Arrowhead for my own personal reasons. But rather because Allan Evridge is a little more talented. He's almost as mobile, stands at least two inches taller, has started more games than Donovan and has a stronger arm. What he lacks, however, is experience with this team. Donovan's spent five years in the program, three under Coach Chryst and his unique offensive system. Allan first arrived on campus last fall. It sounds like Chryst's scheme is a bit complicated to learn, and reports have made it very clear that the coaching staff didn't use their time last season to help Evridge get acquainted with the system. Thus, he's only had about five months to learn the plays, from spring football to now. That just wasn't enough time to surpass Donovan.

I'm also disappointed because I don't have a ton of faith in Donovan. Despite his solid performance at Iowa and his good work against Buffalo, I don't think he has great arm strength. I keep thinking back to the long touchdown pass to Swan in the Iowa game. Swan had his man beat, but Donovan significantly underthrew him. Then Swan made a great play to come back under the defender and retrieve the ball, totally saving Donovan's duck of a pass.
Also, based on the camp reports I've read, it sounds like Donovan has been throwing a lot of interceptions in practice, more than Evridge. Hopefully this is due to our defense being both awesome and very familiar with our offense, and Donovan getting a few more snaps than the other QBs. Unfortunately, some of these interceptions have occurred after tipped passes, which may be due to something Donovan can't control-- his height. He's listed at 6'1" but I think he's shorter. Now TD is a great runner. He showed that in the Iowa game. He doesn't have exceptional speed, but he's shifty and is very comfortable running the ball. Allegedly, the coaches have designed more options, rollouts and bootlegs, all designed to play to TD's strengths. These plays have the added plus of negating the issues with Donovan's height.

I honestly hope I'm wrong about Donovan. I hope he's Stocco combined with Bollinger-- a heady, accurate thrower with great running ability. But I'm skeptical. Also, with the announcement coming this late (a mere ten days before the team's first game), the competition was quite close. Considering the talent and experience the Badgers have at tight end and wide receiver (I think Hubbard and Beckum could both be first day draft picks next spring), if the passing game struggles, it's quite likely that Donovan could get bumped for Evridge at some point during the season. So stay ready, Allan, and keep your chin up. (Remember, you have all next season as well.) But I do wish Donovan luck. He's a Wisconsin kid who turned down other good programs to go to Madison, and he's put in his time. Besides some reports about his pretty-boy tendencies, I haven't heard a bad word about him. Also, as the picture below shows, he'll be taking us all to the Gun Show all season:
Aww, yeah. If the Badgers win the Big Ten with Donovan at the helm, I'm buying him this t-shirt. And no, I'm not a booster, so relax.

In other news, the Packers play their third preseason game tonight against the Yacksonville Yaguars. And it'll actually be broadcast live on national television-- on Fox affiliates across the country. Here in the Chiccy-G, that is, Central Time, it comes on at 7 pm. I'm heading to the gym to watch while Jazzercising.

The third game is typically when starters play the longest, usually about a whole half. I still think the team will play it carefully with some important starters like Woodson and Al. I bet they don't play more than a quarter. So the back-up corners could be in against the Jacksonville starters. All of these guys, probably with the exception of Blackmon who has definitely made the team, have a lot to lose with a poor performance tonight. Keep an eye on Jarrett Bush, #24, who played very well against the Ospreys, and Tramon Williams #38, Frank Walker #41 (the team's lone free agent signing), and Dendy #43. Whoever looks the worst may be gone by the weekend.

Former Iowa standout Abdul Hodge, #52, is also playing for his professional career. Besides a decent training camp last season and a gift-wrapped interception in Seattle last November, he hasn't done much as a Packer. Rookies Desmond Bishop, #55, and Juwan Simpson, #54, could very well make the team ahead of him.

Other things to look for include our offensive line's performance tonight. Jacksonville has two of the best defensive tackles in the league in John Henderson and Marcus Stroud (who we passed on to draft, sigh, Jamal Reynolds). If the Packers consistently get decent gains on the ground in the first half, that's a very good sign.
Unfortunately, there's still no interesting running back competition, since Morency and DeShawn Wynn remain injured. This is getting annoying. Jackson has looked fine, but I am very curious to see what these other guys can do. It's a shame, because barring a miracle Wynn is not going to make the team, and he's never gotten a chance to show what he could do. In his brief moments of health, he looked really good, according to reports, so I hope he clears waivers and gets signed to the practice squad.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Dreams of Yesteryear

One of the poignant parts of this time of the sporting year is the inevitable separation that occurs in pre-season football training camps. Coaches pick starters. Long suffering back-ups have their hopes dashed again. GMs decide which of their draft picks to release. Freshman face "the talk," where they're told they should redshirt. And, saddest of all, promising players are cut down by injury.

Thankfully, there haven't been many devastating injuries so far this August (knock on wood), but some old ones have come back to haunt some Packers and Badgers. Freshman cornerback Otis Merill and freshman offensive tackle Josh Ogelsby are both redshirting due to lingering injuries. Otis hurt his shoulder in a high school all-star game and just opted for surgery. Josh tore his ACL last fall and is still shaking the rust off. Freshmen Quincy Landingham, and promising wideout Daven Jones both got hurt in training camp and are redshirting. Quincy was a highly rated recruit, and seems like a very bright guy. Daven has worked like hell to get to UW, going to prep school last fall and taking the ACT and SAT three times each. All four players might have redshirted anyway, and none of their injuries sound terribly devastating, so they should all be able to make full recoveries. Best wishes to all of them during their careers at UW.

The Packers have also made a few injury related cuts. Robert Ferguson, the man Mike Sherman forced Ron Wolf to draft over Chris Chambers and the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, was finally released. Fergie had some nice moments, but underperformed at times, and couldn't stay healthy. His latest injury was to the dreaded Lisfranc ligament, which apparently connects all of your foot bones to each other. That ended his season last fall, and he didn't show enough in camp this year to justify a roster spot, particularly at his generous salary. (Uh oh. I've just received word that Fergie signed with the Viqueens.)

Marviel Underwood's Packers career is another sad story. After looking confused as a rookie (Thompson picked him in the fourth round in 2005), he came on strong in training camp last year. But then just as he was making a push to claim a starting safety spot, he seriously damaged his knee in a preseason game. Underwood tore both his MCL and ACL; that is, 50% of the ligaments that keep a person's upper leg attached to his lower leg. Not a good injury, particularly for someone who has to change direction at high speeds. From reports I read, Underwood busted his ass in rehab trying to get all the way back in time for this season. Unfortunately, he came up short, as the Packers indicated yesterday they're going to release him. I wish he had never been hurt-- he'd have been happier, I'm sure, and he could have spared us some of the Marquand Manuel moments of last season. Marviel, I hope you heal up fully, and make it back into the league. Good luck to you.

All these injuries remind me of a friend's recent comments about professional athletes. He said something like "I don't think that the guys who make it are necessarily the best athletes or the most talented-- they're the guys who are freakishly resistant to injuries." I thought about it, and I tend to agree, especially for football. Players take a beating every practice, and games are even worse, with the opposing team actually trying to injure you. Hell, the last time I seriously played tackle football (several years back on a snowy field in Madison over the holidays), I couldn't move properly for a week. And no one really got tackled hard, and we had five inches of snow as padding. In short, there's a reason my mother forbid us from playing football. The guys you see on the field every week, especially guys with long careers, must be genetic freaks. They have some Wolverine-like ability to heal quickly, and some freakish toughness that enables them to not be hurt by blows that would cripple a normal person.
I think my friend might have oversimplified things though. As I heard a politician say once, "it's not always an 'either or' situation. Sometimes it's 'both and.'" The guys in the NFL aren't just injury resistant. They're freakishly athletic and insanely durable. And lucky.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Don't Ever Go to Morgantown

A few years back, I, the Pops, the elder fool and his compatriot Court all went to see UW's season opener at West Virginia, in the bizarre "city" known as Morgantown. The game was contentious, but UW won, and we got to enjoy Lee Evan's reemergence after sitting out the previous season with a knee injury. But before the game, we got pelted with eggs and ice by drunken students, and when we struck up a conversation with a few less threatening folks, some WVU booster dropped the "N" word when referring to his own quarterback. Yeeck. Again, how these guys get recruits to come to their schools is beyond me.

And then you find things like this article-- "Two would-be West Virginia starters charged in theft." On the face of it, this is totally normal. Football players are not always the brightest bulbs, and usually aren't admitted to universities based on their character. But the article contained this bizarre tidbit: James "Thomas [one of the arrestees] is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman linebacker whose father played linebacker for the Mountainers from 1994-95."
Ok. It's now 2007. According to the article, Thomas is 18. His dad played at WVU 12 years ago. So when his dad was playing at WVU, Thomas was 6 already? When did Thomas' dad get his mother pregnant? When he was twelve? This is soooo West Virginia.

Poll Position

So for the first time this year, I just took a close look at the AP and the Coaches' Polls. If anyone doesn't know, Wisconsin is 7th in both, the team's highest ranking since 2000, when UW was coming off back to back Rose Bowl wins. Lets hope the Badgers live up to their rankings. I'm not too worried about the defense, but the offense could be questionable, given the loss of Stocco and Joe Thomas, both three year starters. Whoever wins the quarterback job needs to be competent, and the rest of the offensive line needs to step up their games.

The only Big Ten school ahead of UW is Michigan who's 5th in both polls. And Michigan does have a bunch of returning talent on offense, including Henne, Hart, Manningham, and likely top ten draft pick, LT Jake Long. I measure Hart as a very good, but not gamebreaking player, and I don't really fear Henne. But Long is a sublime talent, and Manningham is a legitimately great wideout, when healthy. So I don't begrudge their slot.
The Ohio A&M College is 10th and 11th, after losing all of their starters at the offensive skill positions, including a Heisman trophy winner and two first round draft picks in Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez. UW got lucky by not playing them last year.

Then, confusingly, Penn State is ranked in the top twenty. PSU usually has a stout defense, but their offense seems to consistently underperform. And their biggest offensive cog from last season, running back Tony Hunt, has moved on. He accounted for 36% of their yards from scrimmage last season. And it doesn't look like some other running back was breathing down his throat-- no other back on the team ran for over 200 yards. Unless they think their quarterback play is going to improve markedly (quarterback Anthony Morelli was mediocre last season), I'm not sure how they plan on scoring points. If I was an uber-talented wideout like Derrick Williams, I'd be pissed. I think I'd put them a bit lower.

The development that should be the most hilarious for all Big Ten fans is Notre Dame's status. Or lack of status, as it were. The Bellicose Gaels are unranked in both polls. They are "receiving votes" however, to the tune of 30th in the Coaches, and 39th(!) in the AP. Ouch. Illustrious programs like Rutgers, Hawaii, and Boise State (who also lost its superstar quarterback) are ranked ahead of the Irish.
Now, if you're a Notre Dame fan, you shouldn't be too down. ND's recruiting classes since Weis has been there have been excellent, especially on offense. (Why this is so continues to confuses me, since (A) it is an expellable breach of school policy to have premarital sex (not joking, I know a former Notre Dame RA), (B) South Bend may have the lousiest Steak & Shake franchise in the country, and (C) the world headquarters of the Klu Klux Klan are located just outside of town (do the African-American recruits know this?).) Eventually, the incoming talent should develop, and ND, if current recruiting trends hold up, should again become a fixture in the polls. But other Midwest football fans, all of whom uniformly dislike Notre Dame, should get their jollies when they can. Like right now.

The Notre Dame phenomenon-- that is, traditional power going unranked-- is actually a bit commonplace right now. Other unranked teams include Alabama, Miami (of Florida), and Iowa, who isn't even receiving votes in the AP poll. Ouch again. New coaches are the rationale at Miami and 'Bama, but what's going on in Iowa City? There's no way Iowa isn't one of the best 40 teams in the country.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Gotta Say It Was A Good Day

It's been a fine weekend, and Saturday, in particular, was an excellent day. Not for me personally, since I spent my morning impersonating Will Farrell's character in Old School-- "we're going to the Home Depot, maybe a little Bed Bath & Beyond"-- but for fans of Wisconsin and Packer football.

First, and perhaps most importantly, John Clay finally enrolled at UW and became a full on member of the football team. Clay's status had been in serious doubt. The Journal-Sentinel reported in early July that he would be academically ineligible, but apparently he did well in a few summer school classes and was able to raise his GPA just enough. Well done, John! Now don't even get close to academic ineligibility ever again.

There's some commentary needed about the Journal-Sentinel's rush to judgment on this matter. I'm not sure who their sources were for that story, but they were apparently right on the initial facts-- that purely based on his normal high school record, Clay wasn't going to be eligible. But you would have hoped that they could have looked into whether it was possible to do anything to salvage his eligibility. That sort of thing -- players just making the academic cut at the last minute-- happens all the time. (For an interesting description of the process, read The Blind Side, about all-SEC tackle Michael Oher's efforts to become eligible.) I guess UW doesn't have a history of enrolling players who are right on the edge of eligibility, like, oh I don't know, every school in the SEC. So maybe it didn't cross their minds to check if Clay had any additional way to get eligible. That's a serious failure on their part.

In retrospect, what's most surprising about the article is how definitive it was, claiming that Clay "won't be allowed to play this season" and that UW fans eager to see Clay would "have to wait until the 2008 season." As we know now, that was just plain wrong, and even at the time, it dramatically overstated the facts. A careful journalist would have qualified things, stating, for example, "it appears Clay won't be eligible" or "based on his current academic record, Clay will be ineligible." And you'd have thought that dealing with an eighteen year-old high school kid would make you especially cautious. The story must have been tremendously embarrassing for Clay and his family. I wonder why Jeff Potrykus, a writer I respect and enjoy reading, felt compelled to state the facts that strongly, and as time revealed, that incorrectly. It would be interesting to hear him explain himself. I think it would be great if the Journal-Sentinel encouraged him to do so. If Potrykus has any more internet chats this fall, I'm definitely going to ask him about it.

Anyhow, away from journalistic ethics and back to football. To some eyes, Clay is the best high school running back the state of Wisconsin has ever produced, ahead of guys like Calhoun, Michael Bennett, Aaron Stecker and Brent Moss. No one knows what he'll become at UW, but it's great that he's finally here, and both he and fans of UW get to avoid the depressing consequences of his potential ineligibility. At the least, he'll bolster the team's depth at running back, which had looked frighteningly thin at the start of training camp. Now there's PJ, "Rance" Smith (subject to his legal problems), Zach Brown, Quincy Landingham (a highly rated two-way recruit who enrolled early and played safety during spring practice), and Clay. In addition to congratulating John on getting here, the coaching staff also talked about how he looked in shape and how they were trying to get him up to speed quickly. My favorite comment came from running backs coach John Settle. According to the State Journal, Settle compared Clay trying to catch up after missing two weeks of practice "to a first-round draft pick who arrives in camp late after a holdout." I hope that statement is indicative of Clay's talent and potential.

Other good news on Saturday included the Packers' absolute pounding of the Sea-Ospreys. Cullen Jenkins again looked ferociously quick at the line, getting a sack and a tackle for loss in the quarter or so he played. Blackmon busted a huge kickoff return, and definitively established himself as the leader for the returner positions. The first string offense played ok, typically cleaving decent holes for Jackson-- four yard gains were there pretty regularly. I'm getting a little worried about Driver (he had at least one drop), again Jennings was invisible, and Brett didn't seem that accurate, but at least they moved the ball.

On defense though, the team was absolutely dominant. Most of Seattle's "first string" yardage came on a broken play where Nick Collins had former Viqueen Nate Burleson wrapped up, and Barnett ran over and tackled Collins off of Burleson, who then ran for another 40 yards. But the D made up for it-- Atari "Sega" Bigby had two sacks on safety blitzes, and the team returned two Seneca Wallace fumbles for touchdowns. Jarrett Bush, who looks like a good bet to be make the team, had two interceptions, and should have had a third.

But I have to dampen the enthusiasm a little. Neither Hasselbeck nor left tackle Walter Jones played. Jones is probably Seattle's most talented player, although he's getting old. Hasselbeck is a far better QB than Wallace. And the team's right tackle sat out as well. So Jenkins, Kampman and KGB were lining up on second string tackles and chasing down a second string quarterback. With that happening, you'd expect the Packers to win the first quarter, and you'd expect the D to be getting to the quarterback quite often. So don't get too excited. But anyhow, they looked good. The only significant injury was back up end Michael Montgomery, and he should only be out a couple of weeks. Besides Rodger's fumbles, and the back-up linebacker play, Packer fans should feel good about the team today.

So in sum, it's been a good weekend-- excellent news on both the UW football and Packer fronts. I'm now off to see Superbad, which I'm hoping will be a dirtier and funnier version of Can't Hardly Wait. Then, I'm going to try to convince the woman to make eggplant parmigiana. The hits just keep on coming.

Friday, August 17, 2007

SI Wisconsin "Postcard"

Fort Atkinson's own Luke Winn offers this postcard from UW's training camp.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


So, because the first game was kind of lame and depressing, I'm trying to express a reduced level of excitement about the airing of the Packers next preseason game. Here's the info: Saturday's preseason Packer game against the Seattle Sea-Ospreys is scheduled to be rebroadcast on NFL Network at 11 pm this Saturday night. So for those of you not fortunate enough to live in Seattle or Wisconsin, set your Tivos and DVRs.

It sounds like the first string will actually play a decent amount, into the second quarter, so you could actually watch players that will actually be on the field during the actual season . . . actually.

Since the Pack will have to rely on defense this year, I'm going to focus on the unit's apparent weak link -- the safeties. I was hoping Aaron Rouse or Underwood would be making a move up the depth charts, and start putting some pressure on Manuel. Instead, NFL Europe and practice squad fixture Atari Bigby is getting first team reps. He looks faster than Manual, but I don't know if he'll be much of an improvement, given the way he tackled against the Steelers. That bounce off on former Illinois wideout Walter Young was embarrassing. Underwood isn't all they way back from his torn MCL/ACL surgery (ouch), and Rouse seems like he's getting ignored, although when asked, the coaching staff makes nice remarks about him. In the limited time Rouse got in the first game, I saw him make a nice explosive tackle. Keep an eye out for the big guy-- #37, Tyrone Williams' old jersey. I'm also going to follow Harrell to see if he can keep beating up other teams' third strings, and tally how many passes our tight ends drop.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Yeah, so I may have overreacted to watching the Packers on TV. That is, the game was pretty underwhelming, and except for Justin Harrell, virtually no one the Packers put on the field for the last quarter will make the team.

However, there were some things to be taken from the game--

(1) Our passing game is in trouble.
It turns out that acquiring Randy Moss might have been a good idea. The first ten minutes of the game were Favre and the first-string offense, and Brett only completed two passes, both dinks. The Steelers' first team corners were draped all over our guys, including Driver, who is due to lose a step any day now. James "From Here to Eternity" Jones looks like he has good hands, but he doesn't seem particularly fast. Jennings didn't catch a pass. Donald Lee is a league average tight end at best. Bubba looks fitter but dropped the only pass that came his way, even though it hit him right in the hands. It just doesn't look like there's much talent there. I hope I'm wrong, but I think the Packers are going to have difficulty throwing the ball this year, unless Jones turns into more of a player, and Jennings develops. I predict another mediocre statistical year from Brett, as he gets frustrated with the younger guys.

(2) The running game looks better but still isn't good.
The line was holding its own on the run against the Steelers, who have several Pro Bowlers in their front seven. It wasn't cleaving big holes, but three and four yard gains were there pretty consistently. Right now, Jackson appears to be adequate. Reasonable speed, pretty good cut back ability, solid vision. But he doesn't look that powerful. That combination of blazing speed and power is hard to find, and having that combo was the big reason the old Ahman was so unique. I bet Herron takes over as a short-yardage back, being a bigger guy, unless Wynn makes the team. I also want to see Morency out there. Heal up, Vernand.

(3) The defense should be solid.
Lets consider what the D has going for it: (A) another year in Bob Sanders' system and another year with almost exactly the same coaches and personnel, meaning more comfort, quicker reactions, less confusion; (B) many hardworking, talented players who are young or in their primes-- Barnett, Pickett, Kampman, Hawk, Poppinga, Collins, Jenkins; (C) Cullen Jenkins potentially emerging as a problematic match-up for other teams-- someone who other teams need to focus on, and who opens up opportunities for other players; and (D) excellent depth where it makes the biggest difference: along the D-line; this includes includes Harrell, who looked impressive against the Steelers second and third strings, and Corey Williams, who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and is playing for his financial future.

(4) Our back-up cornerbacks aren't bad.
I don't know if anyone noticed, but Al and Woodson didn't play. I don't think Nick Collins did either. And still, besides two broken plays by our back up safeties, Pittsburgh couldn't move the ball via the pass. And their first string didn't do any damage through the air. I know it's early, but Roethels-cheddar burger is a pretty good QB. I also specifically recall seeing Jarrett Bush make a nice tackle, and Blackmon making a good play to break up a pass. Blackmon, if he can stay healthy, looks like he could be a good player.

(5) Get ready for more low-scoring games.
Since the Packers can't really pass, can sort of run the ball, but look to have a solid defense, the final score of Saturday's warm-up (13-9) could end up being pretty typical. Ah, well. Just win, baby. This might mean I have to stop making fun of Bears fans for having a boring team.

(6) The Packers definitely look like a deeper team than in previous years.
See the comments about the D-line and Al and Woodson not starting above. Also, our back-up O-Line was usually beating their back up D-Line. That won't mean much in the end, but it does indicate our depth. So does Pittsburgh's inability to score in the second half.

(7) Rodgers looked alright.
Aaron will never be Favre. He'll never throw as hard, he'll never be as inspiring, and he certainly will never look as manly or cool. In fact, I think he's goofy looking, and the idea of him being the Packers' quarterback and seeing him play every week is just bizarre. But he moved and threw very well on Saturday. There were a few errors-- an early pass that was close to being intercepted, overthrowing Ferguson on a scramble, and chucking it to a closely guarded Jones in the corner when he should have thrown it away. But he avoided sacks well, a totally underrated skill, and often made something positive happen during broken plays and scrambles. For example, he fired a nice first down pass to Jones along the sidelines after one scramble, and completed a TD pass to Ruvell Martin after another. (The latter was overruled when the refs determined Martin had stepped out of bounds first. To me, it looked like the defender shoved him out.) His TD pass was a nice little fade, taking advantage of a corner who didn't have time to turn and look for the ball. This all resulted in a QB rating of 95.7. Reverse a Bubba drop of an on-target third down pass, and the Martin TD decision, and Rodgers would have been well over 100. It's a good feeling to see your back-up QB perform well, even against another side's second string D. Lets hope he keeps it up.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Woo Hoo! Packers on National TV!

Semi-meaningful football has returned! Yes! Ok, so what in the hell, am I talking about? Well, the Packers play their first pre-season game of the season on Saturday night in Pittsburgh. So there--semi-meaningful football. But wait, you say, it won't air anywhere except in Wisconsin and Western Pennsylvania, so everyone else is shit out of luck. Because that's how it always is with pre-season games. Only a few are aired nationally, and those are ones between high profile teams that people expect to be good -- a group that does not include the Packers this season. Normally, that'd be true, and expatriate Packer fans like myself would be reduced to reading about the game after that fact, but cable channel over-expansion has finally brought us something:

the NFL Network is going to replay tomorrow's Packers v. Steelers pre-season game on Sunday afternoon, at 4 pm Central.

So set your Tivos and DVRs, gentlefolks. Come Sunday afternoon, you can finally see, in person via satellite or cable, whether roommates James "Montgomery Cliff" Jones and Brandon Jackson are any good. Or whether Rodgers has turned into a legitimate NFL quarterback. Or whether the team's O-line looks any less porous. And since it's a preseason game, no one should care whether they won or lost, so no one should be all that bothered by the time delay. For the first time since publicly depantsing the half-hearted Bears on New Year's, the Packers will be back on TV! Rock!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

So much going on...

Ah, August. I used to spend August lolling about Northeast Wisconsin with my parents and my brothers. This was a treat for many reasons, but the journalistic reward was daily access to the Milwaukee Journal's and the Green Bay Press Gazette's sports sections. Every day, these papers would have some significant tidbits on the Packers' training camp-- who was battling for positions, who was looking good, who was underperforming and so on. Also, the preseason games would be on local television, and since the papers' detailed reporting made you very aware of the bottom third of the roster, you could actually enjoy watching all of those games, not just the first quarter with the starters. Now that I'm an "adult," need an "income," are developing a "career," and thus can no longer idle away my August days in the Door peninsula, I have resigned myself to not seeing any Packer preseason games. (Come on, Will's Northwoods Inn!) But, thanks to Al Gore and the miracle of the internet, the newspaper coverage is still largely available. And since both the Packers and the Badgers are in the midst of training camp, there are a plethora of Packer and Badger football articles out there.

You could, of course, discover these on your own through the various links to the right hand side of the page. Or I could just make it easier for you. Here are some good ones:
- State Journal Columnist's Musings on the Packers' D-Line
- Chris Carter's half-brother and the other Wisconsin Safeties (I like Jay Valai)
- Attempts to replace Joe Thomas at LT
- Johnny Jolly is the next Santana?
- Blackmon as the Personal Foul's eventual replacement?
- Corey Williams playing balls out in his contract year?
- Former Sooner for Third String QB
- I bet the Florida rookie leads the team in preseason rushing

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

One step forward...

The University of Wisconsin's football team began its formal practices yesterday, and Lance "Rance" Smith, UW's mercurial back-up running back from Warren, Ohio was unsuspended just in time to start practicing. That's certainly a good thing for Badger fans who have high expectations for this season. Rance also sounded quite penitent about the incident, which he basically admitted. That is, he admitted to shoving his girlfriend around over $5 in cab fare. As I said before, the one positive from that situation is you can now know for sure that he wasn't taking money from boosters.
Rance also made some vows to undergo counseling and do community service. Those activities will likely overlap with whatever plea deal he arranges with the Dane County DA's office, which I continue to predict, will lead to them dropping the charges if he plays by the rules for an extended period of time. Those were the deals given to Booker (the first time) and to Boo Wade. Anyhow, this is positive news. Rance sounds truly contrite, hopefully he's learned something, and he still has the chance to make a meaningful contribution to the team.

But as the title of this post indicates, there's still some negative news out there. John Clay, the manchild from Racine, is not practicing with the team as he awaits his summer school grades and the NCAA "clearinghouse" evaluates his entire record. The State Journal's position on this is gloomy, apparently because Clay's name isn't on the current roster. But having a player's eligibility come down to the wire is not that unusual. I read earlier that three freshman at LSU last year weren't declared eligible until almost the end of August. They were able to enroll and all contributed to the Tiger's Sugar Bowl winning team. Let's keep our fingers crossed with John. It looks very murky, and we're right to be nervous.
I, personally, have learned my lesson to not get too excited about recruits until they're actually enrolled and contributing. I suppose that should also mean I shouldn't get too nervous about other teams' recruits until they're on the field against the Badgers. But there's this particular Michigan recruit who is very worrying. Check this out. Uh oh. Thankfully, he doesn't enroll until next year. Hey, maybe he'll be ineligible.