Sunday, August 31, 2008

Akron Game Notes

A sparkling day in Madison, Wisconsin was filled with drum beats, horn blasts and thousands of smiling faces. Football season had begun and it was still August. Let's delve into the game notes.

It was Hall of Fame day, and one of the days where the UW Marching Band alumni break out their off color instruments and strut up and down Camp Randall Stadium. An absolute swarm. Is their a waiting list? I mean, the looks on the faces of these old-timers, faces 30 years old and 70 years old, exude such joy. 

David Gilreath is the genuine article. In this game he set up his blocks very well on KRs and showed his ability to cut out of the first hole and maintain great speed and balance. He is a natural and fun to watch. He also caught some in-traffic punts, as usual, but as a fan it doesn't make u that nervous. He's got a playground confidence. Now, I don't understand why he played that one bouncing punt into his crotchal pocket before grabbing it with his hands, but it more than likely rolls inside the 5 if he doesn't.

Our QB is 24 years old and he is married. Our last mid-20's married QB took us to the Rose Bowl and won it! The new guy looked solid. He's big and was good in the pocket. His throws were kinda loopy, though. He threw a rainbow in the first quarter that was on target, but was pretty much a 500 ball between Garrett Graham and the two nearest defenders. Graham went up and got it and the play looked pretty good, but the throw lacked resolve. This came back to haunt the Badgers late in the second quarter, when Evridge threw a listless, loopy pass on an out route. The CB gobbled it up like a floating cupcake and almost took it to the house, if not for hustling linemen. A terrible throw at a terrible time. A coachable moment. Evridge is accurate and made mostly good decisions. Need to see improvement in Game 2.

PJ Hill looks like he lost 20 pounds. Someone must have told him that it was embarrassing to be waltzing around with that big granny fanny that he rocked last year. PJ Hill also looked really, really good. He showed great vision and quick feet. He was also really difficult to tackle. Hill ran with great forward lean. On a few plays he would run into the hole and get met 2 yards in by a defender, Hill would engage that defender and take him on a ride for 2 or 3 more yards. This was a very good day for PJ Hill, who looked like an Elite college back on Saturday. 

Zach Brown ran hard, and was very effective on the draw. My section was giddy about Johnny Clay. When 32 came running in from the sidelines we were chattering. "Johnny Clay's coming in!" He lined up in the I, almost mishandled the hand-off , and ran with his head down straight into the muck.  "There he was, Johnny Clay!" Deprecating our own expectations with mock cheers after another 3 yard run,  "Johnny Clay folks!" "3 yards and a pile of Clay!" Needless to say, the debut of the Racine Freight Train was enjoyed by all. Later in the game, Clay showed what made him such a prep standout. When he got loose, he was fast and violent. He held onto the ball and got himself a touchdown on Day 1. Good signs. 

Garret Graham is a stud. Most people know that TravB was preseason All-America. Did you know that GG is ranked #11? He made a great catch on the aforementioned play. I was surprised that we didn't go to him more often, but I think it may have to do with not wanting to tip our hand. We didn't need creative play-action to the tight end, or screen plays on Saturday. We could just outman Akron, so we did. 

Badger fans got more than just Johnny Clay on Saturday, we got Mount Oglesby on the field in the Jumbo package. He is jumbo. He wears #67 and he is 6'7". He can seriously push people around.

The Badgers WRs were just average. Gilreath had the big drop in the end zone and guys were not consistently getting open. Jefferson ran with the ball well after the catch. But today was about the O-line. A dominant performance by them. Crushing the first level, and often moving on to the second level. Akron is not good, but we did not allow penetration on any running plays. Good sign.

I'm not sure how much can be gleaned from our defensive performance. Our young DBs made no major errors, but they weren't making plays either. The first half Akron drives ended mostly because of missed throws to open receivers. That's not good. Especially because only a few missed throws seemed to be caused be D-Line pressure. We took better angles in the secondary and tackled much better that last year. But it needs to be tightened up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kregg Lumpkin

Papa Sal, how could you leave out that his first name is Kregg? Kregg Lumpkin. Astounding. It's straight out of a novel. 

The Wheel Turns Quickly

The New York Giants. Yes, they won the Super Bowl last season, and yes, they came into a frigid Lambeau Field and made the Packers look like also-rans and exposed Favre as an old man. But have you ever seen a team's chances as repeating fall apart so quickly?

Indeed, they still have Manning the Younger and Plaxico Burress to play pitch and catch, and a solid running game. But what beat the Pats in the Super Bowl was the Giants' pass rush. The rest of their defense was unremarkable. And that is gone, my friend. Both starting DEs are done for the season, in addition to the starting safety and starting linebacker who left in free agency. And those weren't just any old defensive ends-- Michael Strahan (retired) and Osi Umenyiora (on IR) were both totally dominant down the stretch. Combined with Justin Tuck, those guys created the best front four pass rush on the planet during their playoff stretch. Without that push, hoo boy, people are going to put up some passing numbers this season.

With no Strahan or Umenyiora, I think the odds are about even that the Giants even make the playoffs. Just goes to show-- in the NFL, when you lose a great player or two, the tide can turn very, very quickly.

Who doesn't want a guy named Lumpkin on their team?

I mean, seriously. Way cooler name than Wynn.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wither A.D.?

Here's a cool post about Anthony Davis, one of Wisconsin's true class acts. Courtesy of Badger Football Insider, a daily email update from If you don't get it, you should.

We need more ADs and less Rance Smiths.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Packers-Broncos Preseason Final Thoughts

Here it is, Larry King style.

- The Packers clearly have the best third-string middle linebacker in the NFL. (Yes!) Take that, Patriots.

- Brian Brohm looks atrocious. Not sure if it's because he's playing with a motley bunch of back-ups that never practice together or what. But boy, he looks awful. I hope the scouting staff is keeping a very close eye on the Buccaneers' back-ups. I will be really, really surprised if the team doesn't cut Flynn, try to stash him on the practice squad, and sign a veteran back-up.

- Why does Jordy Nelson get so few passes? If he's in the game, throw him the ball, see what he can do. I guess this is indicative of my general feeling toward the back halves of all preseason games-- I'm irritated when guys who are obviously getting cut get too much time/attention. For instance, it's irritating to me that Hodge and Bishop (both of whom appear to be very solid MLB back-ups) don't play at the same time, and instead the staff puts that free agent from UConn, the guy who drew a terrible late hit foul, out there. What's the point? Why not see if either Bishop or Hodge can play outside linebacker?

- Rookie DE Jeremy Thompson is really, really uninstinctive. On one play he had his guy beat to the outside, then cut back inside, right into his blocker, negating any advantage he had. On another, he ran right past a bootlegging quarterback. Ugh. The defensive line depth is looking poor. Jason Hunter seems to be one of those "looks good in the 2nd half of preseason games, and disappears against starters" guys. I kind of wish we could cut him, but we need bodies. The back-up defensive tackles behind Jolly and Cole just got shoved around. I wonder if Favre hadn't retired, if the Brohm pick would have gone for a d-lineman. Pickett and Harrell should move into AJ Hawk's hyperbaric chamber.

- Brandon Jackson is excellent at using, umm, his unique stature, to avoid tackles. That's twice in three games now he's ducked underneath shoulder height tackle attempts and run for solid gains.

- Looking at the back-up O-line, Barbe continues to be a very good run-blocker. Still not sure why Colledge is ahead of him. It must be mental mistakes. The other Thompson brother, Orrin, looked quite poor. He's outta here, likely on the first cut. Coston should be too, though that will probably depend on Wells's health, since he's the 3rd string center. And what happened to the Brazilian by way of Massachusetts guy, this year's fifth round draft pick, Breno Giacomini? Did he get hurt or something? He looked like a long-term Tauscher replacement, and he got zero snaps this game.

- It was good to win, I guess, but I would be feeling far better about this game had the Packers starters been able to run a little bit better, and if the defense had forced a punt or two in the first half.

Packer-Broncos Preseason Halftime Notes

Fell asleep at 8 last night (ah, sweet married life), woke up at 3 am, and am now watching the tivo'd NFL Network broadcast. First off, thanks for repeatedly telling us about the outcome of the game during your broadcast, Rich Eisen. Yeah, I know it's on a few hours tape delay, but come on.

Second, I hope nothing is seriously wrong with Sitton. He limped off the field in the first quarter. Now they're saying it's a knee issue and he definitely won't come back. Crap. I have absolutely no faith in Tony Moll, who apparently is the current backup at RG. (Although if Wells ever fixes his "trunk", Sptiz will shunt back to RG.) Collins and Woodson left too, but Woodson came back, and Collins' injury just looked like a bit of a neck stinger.

Third, about half of the "bad" runs the Packers had in the first half can be directly linked to the ineptitude of the fullbacks. Hall and Kuhn kept getting schooled by the Broncos' very solid linebacking crew, Hall especially. Should it be this hard? I know Hall is a converted LB, and it's only his second year in the league, but he's not even getting in their way. He looks really bad so far.

Fourth, this is another game that makes you worry about the defensive line depth. The Broncos offensive line is getting a lot of push, and their backs are finding gaps with regularity. On passing downs, besides an occasional Kampman rush, the Packers are generating very little pressure. And I haven't noticed any blitzes, despite all the fanfare about blitz package installation. As many have noted, how can you expect to be good at something if you never practice it? Anyhow, I guess this sort of bendy defense is what we should expect from the Packers if they're missing two of their best five defensive players (Hawk and Pickett). Also, Barnett's looked bad on several plays in space so far.

Fifth, I feel bad about those two throws on Trammon Williams at the end of the half. Single coverage on Marshall is a tough match-up in both instances. He definitely interfered with him on the first play, but on the second he was there, and would likely have made the play if Marshall hadn't pushed him off at the last instant. He needs to learn to adjust to those types of receiver pushoffs-- they're almost always uncalled. (E.g., that's how Michael Irvin got into Canton.)

Sixth, not a great two minute drill by the Packers at the end of the half. Far too many plays where the Packer receiver got close to getting out of bounds but didn't make it. Players need to learn-- in a two minute drill, unless it's fourth down, getting out of bounds is way more important than getting a few extra yards.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Television Watching Alert

For those Packer fans like myself, who no longer live in an area where tonight's Packer-Bronco will be broadcast locally, good news. If you have an expanded cable or satellite package, you can watch the game tape-delayed on the NFL Network. It comes on at 11 pm Central. Here's the NFL Network's own listing. Ladies and gentlemen, set your Tivos!

(I'm excited because this means I'll actually have something to say about the game.)

UW Football-- Season Preview

It's getting down to it now. Just about one week until the UW opener against the mighty Akron Zips. But ignoring the underwhelming nature of that match-up, I am pretty excited for this season. UW will enter the season ranked 12th and 13th in the two major polls.

They have four of five offensive linemen returning, with last year's weakest link leaving. They have an apparently healthy PJ Hill, Zach Brown, John Clay, Chris Pressley, and Bill Rentmeester in the backfield. The Badgers at long last have a starting quarterback that looks, runs, and throws like a starting quarterback, with transfer Allan Evridge finally primed to represent. Right, and the offense has the best pair of tight ends in the nation in Garret Graham, who was great last year even while playing on an injured shoulder, and the fantabulous Travis Beckum. The wideouts are green, yes, but there's some talent there, and they won't have to be dominant for the offense to excel.

The defense appears to be rounding into shape after a ton of health problems in the Spring, though last year's defensive frosh of the year, corner Aaron Henry, may miss some more time this season due to a recent surgery to clean up his meniscus. If the returning/recuperating D-linemen (Chapman, Newkirk, Shaughnessy, DeCremer) recover their previous form, and the new additions like Jeff Stehle, Juco transfer Dan Moore, O'Brien Schoenfield, frosh Brendan Kelly, and third-down rusher Louis Nzegwu, make some solid contributions, the defensive line could be excellent. Even with the back two legs of the Shaughnesillas, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, potentially missing the opener with an MCL sprain, the linebacker corps looks deep and talented. One of last year's standout frosh, Blake Sorensen, is manning Casillas's weakside spot, and should do a solid job. DeAndre Levy should be excellent on the strong side, and my personal favorite, the speedy and wisely numbered Jae McFadden (#47) has wrested the MLB position from previous favorites Elijiah Hodge and Culmer St. Jean. McFadden's elevation is mirrored in the secondary where last year's previous weakest link, Pleasant, has been replaced by Texas jackhammer Jay Valai. Transfer and Racine native Chris Maragos looks like the instinctual type of player the safety spot was missing last season. With solid competition for the corner spots between Niles Brinkley, an apparently recovered (ACL) Allen Langford, and redshirt frosh Mario Goins, the defense should be pretty solid.

Plus, the Badgers have the number one punting recruit in the nation set to belt out blasts for them, and what looks like two decent kickers set to replace the illustrious Taylor Melhaff by committee. So generally, things look alright personnel-wise.

The main questions may be more strategic and schematic. Can the defense defense the spread more effectively this season? McFadden's and Valai's insertion, as well as the naming of Dave Doeren as the D-coordinator, were likely part of the effort to turn this problem around. Will UW be able to run the ball at least somewhat effectively against top tier defenses this season? Last year, against talented defensive fronts like OSU, PSU and Illinois, the running game didn't do much (although the numbers were hampered by lots of negative sack yardage due to Donovan's inability to make quick decisions and poor pass blocking). A year's experience and improvement in the O-line, a heathy Hill (knock on wood), better talent and depth in the backfield, these things should all help. But we'll have to see. That will likely be the difference in what looks like tough match-ups against PSU, OSU, Illinois, at Michigan and at Fresno State.

And that brings us to the schedule, which is a combination of a few potential lightweights, but then a long stretch of tough games, but in somewhat favorable locales. Right now the toughest road games look like at Michigan, at Sparty, and at Fresno State at night in September. (Fresno is ranked in the top 25 and is picked to win their conference.) That doesn't seem so bad, particularly with Michigan in flux, and when compared to last season's games at PSU, OSU and the Fibs. And of course, there's the relative early season patsy line-up at home, if Marshall and Akron turn out to be iffy MAC teams, like they're predicted to be, topped off by cupcake central in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. My prediction is the Mustangs (Cal Poly-SLO's team name) will be so darn cold in November in Camp Randall, they'll be eyeing the clock as soon as the second quarter starts. But think about this stretch-- at Fresno State, at Michiagn, home against OSU, home against PSU, at Iowa, home against the Fibs, at Sparty. Can I get a home game against Northwestern or Minnesota, or an away game against Indiana thrown into that stretch? Negatory. That is an NFL-like run of really tough games, and it's the biggest worry going into the season. Will the Badgers be able to hold up mentally in that demanding stretch of games? Will they be able to stay healthy? Will a loss in one game affect the team's psyche in another, like the loss at Illinois derailed the team next week at PSU last season? Will a solid win lead to overconfidence, and a stunning drop-off (like the at Sparty game in '04)?

It's hard to predict from here. So much of college football is luck and injuries, both on your own side and on other teams. I doubt UW beats Michigan at home last year with a healthy Henne and Hart playing. But I bet UW would have taken Illinois in Shampoo-Banana with a healthy Swan and Paul Hubbard. Then there are players who develop and suddenly become stars. It's so hard to predict. Such are the whims of fate in a college football season. But that's no reason not to be excited now. Heal up, back half of the Shaughnessillas, and bring on the Zips!

Monday, August 18, 2008

I Love This Kid

Seriously. The idea of him mocking Tony Romo is priceless. God, I hope that he's good this season.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Are Badger fans now the meanest fans in the Big Ten?

Based on ESPN the Mag's rankings (in which Wisconsin is ranked as having the harshest fans) and this poorly written piece in the WSJ (, it appears that Badger fan has earned him/herself a reputation. I have only been to two games since leaving Madison 13 years ago. I don't seem to recall it being all that bad. What has happened that caused us to become so crass, cruel, etc? Or have we really?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Packer Preseason Game I-- Guard Play

The main stories coming out of Monday night's Packer preseason game against the Bengals were well covered. Rodgers makes his debut as a starter and looks pretty solid. Brandon Jackson actually looks like an NFL running back. James Jones is one tough nut. Abdul Hodge looks like the Iowa tackling machine again. The team's 7th round rookie QB may be better than its 2nd round rookie QB. All pretty standard.

After tivoing the game on Monday though, I decided to watch it again last night, trying to focus on one aspect of the game-- the Packers offensive line play, in particular the performance of the guards. That's really the one area on the offense that's open to competition. Last year, the interior of the offensive line was generally Scott Wells at center, '06 third round draft pick Jason Spitz at RG, and '06 second round Darryn Colledge at LG. Added to the mix this training camp are '08 fourth rounder Josh Sitton and '07 fourth rounder Allen Barbre, both guards. At the start of camp, Barbre was scheduled to compete with Colledge for the LG spot, while Sitton would back up Spitz at RG. But then Wells injured a muscle in his back, forcing Spitz to center for most of training camp so far. Sitton stepped in as the first-line RG and by all reports had been performing great in practice. This led to some talk of Sitton starting as a rookie at RG, and Spitz bumping both Colledge and Barbre at LG, with Wells at center.

Then came the first couple of series against the Bengals. Sitton visibly struggled. He got knocked down on a run to the right, letting his guy make a tackle for a loss. He failed to pick up an end running a delayed stunt on the pass to Driver that DD dropped. Remember how Rodgers got hit in the legs right as he threw that ball? That's because Sitton failed to switch to his new man. And remember that nifty Brandon Jackson run where Jackson ducked under the arms of the long-haired Bengals DT? Uh, yeah, that DT was only in the position to nail Jackson in the backfield because Sitton let him slither by. I also saw him get beat on another pass play, but it was a quick throw so it ended up not mattering, and saw him give up some ground on bull rushes on at least a couple occasions. Now otherwise, Sitton played pretty solid ball, not giving up any direct sacks and looking pretty mobile, but for a guy who was garnering solid praise in camp, this was disappointing.

That said, Allen Barbre played a bunch of snaps at RG and was not at all disappointing. I didn't see him give up a pressure, he looked very mobile (he was the only lineman near Jackson at the end of his 22 yard run), and he actually pancaked a couple of guys on runs.

With all the warm bodies the Packers have at the guard slots (Spitz, Sitton, Colledge, Barbre, not to mention Tony Moll, Junius Coston, and other assorted rookie free agents), the team has been saying the right things, that they'll have the best five linemen on the field. If Wells heals up, after one preseason game the top 5 look like Clifton, Barbre, Wells, Spitz and Tauscher, from left to right. Barbre looks like a serious upgrade over last season's Colledge, and he could give the line a bit more physicality and strength on run downs.

Finally, it's early still, but I'd say the bells are starting to ring for Coston and Moll. They've had their time and their shots and haven't done much.

Update--- apparently the coaching staff continues to really like Sitton. He's still playing with the ones in practice, even with Wells back at center, and Spitz has bumped both Barbre and Colledge at left guard.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Greatest. Relay. Leg. Ever?

It wasn't the greatest complete relay I've ever seen. That would be the Madison West 200 IM relay at the Wisconsin Division I high school state championships in 1997, where my older brother swam the breast, with my future co-captain Dan Tereba bringing it home. That race catapulted our team to the state championship, West's last as far as I know. And I can't say it was the best relay leg ever for certain. I haven't been watching swimming for long enough. But Jason Lezak's final leg of last night's 400 freestyle relay was easily the best single relay leg I've ever witnessed in any sport.

Lezak entered the water (his start is above), with the US trailing by about 2/3 of a body length. The French, the pre-race favorites, led at that point and with the world record-holder Alain Bernard anchoring the relay the outcome looked set. (To be completely correct, at that point Bernard was no longer the world record holder since his world record was broken during the race by the Australian lead-off swimmer.) After an initial burst, Lezak actually lost ground to Bernard. At the turn, he looked to be a full body length behind. Even if Lezak was trying to draft off of Bernard, he was so far back that the race seemed to be over. Afterwards, Lezak himself said, "I'm not going to lie. When I flipped at the 50, it really crossed my mind for a split second that there was no way. Then I changed. And I said, 'You know what, that's ridiculous at the Olympics. I'm here for the United States of America. I don't care how bad it hurts or whatever.' ... Honestly in five seconds I was thinking all these things. I got like a supercharge and took it from there."" Then Lezak, with his powerful, slower paced turnover, just kept pounding at the water, pulling himself up to Bernard over the course of the last 50 meters, only drawing even with him just inside the flags, and barely touching the Frenchman out, by .08 seconds. Gold Medal for the US.

Now, yes, Lezak's historic swim kept Michael Phelps's highly publicized goal of winning 8 gold medals in one Olympics alive. But I think it's better seen as what it was--- the fastest free relay leg in history, swum by a 32-year-old, self-coached, US team captain in his last Olympics. Undoubtedly, this was the best race of Lezak's life. A career defining moment. Remarkable.

If you missed it or you want to rewatch it, see here. (Unfortunately, there's what sounds like Chinese commentary. Lezak's leg begins around 4:45.)

If you are a Brett Favre fan

This whole thing is kind of great. The Jets are a classic NFL franchise. Better than all but the Pack and the Niners. And the Jaguars.
Also, piddly little deals like these cannot even begin to compare to the revenue storm that hurricane farbara is whipping up over the league's largest market.
He's going to cru$h. It'll be fun for a season. maybe two. Vern Coles will start in the pro-bowl and Jet fans will carry on with the incredibly gratifying tradition of watching Favre every week, with ferocity and numbers.
All we can do is watch it and hope that Aaron Rodgers finishes the season on the field. Which if he does, should be pretty distracting. So thinks TT. And me.
Of all people to turn this situation into a good one, it's Favre.
Who knows, maybe you don't have to win a championship to end your career gracefully. Maybe all you gotta do is move to NY and be bigger than the team from there that just won the superbowl. I mean jesus christ. I haven't even seen a clip of the nerd that beat Favre in the NFC Championship game since february. You know, the good Manning. Where's he? Maybe Favre sent him for beer on a 3-wheeler. Have you seen the press-conference where Favre gave a hickey to an intern from the post and the guy in the fireman's helmet chanted, "LE-ON WASH-ING-TON"? Its a party out there.
This move is gorgeous.
For now.
But the interceptions he'll throw this year will be priceless. Almost intentional. That's what I worry about. I don't know if jet fans will be able to process the blatant excitement that Favre gets from, maybe throwing it to the other team (gunslinging). But he'll make up for it by burying the dolphins twice.
He's obviously excited about the prospects. I think its gonna be great. I'll watch as many Jets games as I can. Eagerly. Which is depressing- but not for Favre and that's my point. Even if this ends badly he's going to leave with a trillion and he's just gonna be that much more famous for being the most likeable and undeniably dopest player at his position in the history of the league. He SHOULD have a party while he can still throw a ball 70 yards, and if he wont do it in Green Bay, then NY NY. It's perfect in a way.
Maybe people will forget about how unclutch he was in the second half of his career. Unless they make the playoffs- which is the best case scenario for us, not only because of the draft pick we get, but because he'll get dominated by some outstanding AFC defense and everyone in Green Bay will for a second, stop pissing about how, 'we never go deep anymore'.

Plus the team loves him. Its a perfect lockerroom for him to walk into. Bubba Franks already knows the country stations, and this is what Jerricho Cotchery had to say after their pre-season game in Cleveland, "He's gonna sleep at my house... I love me some B-Favre".
He's B-Favre now.
Gotta let Favre B-Favre.
They love him out there.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Moving On....

It is currently August 10th. The Badgers' home opener against Akron kicks off in just twenty days. The Badgers have cracked the preseason NCAA football polls, rating between 10th and the high teens. They return 9 starters on defense and 8 starters on offense, including an All-American tight end (Beckum), the university's fifth career scorer (Hill) who's apparently in the best shape of his life, and the Big Ten's interception leader (Shane Carter). We should all be getting psyched for another exhilarating year of University of Wisconsin football.It's true that the Favre saga has drained us mentally and emotionally. The Lance Smith debacle (he'll likely be sentenced to some jail time in about four days) has sapped some additional enthusiasm, and Bielema hasn't helped matters by closing most practices to the media.

But, come on now, people. 20 days 'till the first game! 20 days until we see David Gilreath return a punt. 20 days until the band plays busts out "Old Mother Leary" after a Badger touchdown (hopefully-- Akron is predicted to be at the bottom of the MAC). 20 days 'til we see John Clay make his collegiate debut. 20 days until we see Allan Evridge finally take a meaningful college snap. Ah, it's going to be beautiful. Dark days may come at Fresno State or against the Ohio A&M, but the beginning of every season is perfect. Don't tell me you can look at the picture above and not get excited. Summer may be grand, but autumn has a wonder all its own. Let's get fired up!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

And So It Ends...

16 years is a long time, even a octogenarian would agree. There's too much to say here without producing an enormously long post, so I'm going to go with bullet points, in the style of Larry King's legendarily awful USA Today columns.

- First, I feel slightly wistful. Brett was a paradigm-shifting player for the Packers, leading what was the NFL's backwater to heights many had thought were unreachable. As all the commentators beat to death, he was everything you loved about sports-- the explosions of utter brilliance, the frightening raw talent, the hilarious improvisation, the passion, determination, and grit, the pure love of competition. But he was also a complex and flawed person, just like everyone else--- mistake prone, addictive, hardheaded, a bit self-centered, ruled by emotions. The last few months showed us this more unflattering side, but I'm confident our collective memories will fade and the bitterness between him and the current management will ease. He'll be back at Lambeau, waving to a standing ovation with tears in his eyes before you know it. He'll always be ours.

- Second, the trade itself. At first blush, a fourth-rounder seems like paltry compensation. Then you realize that unless Favre gets injured, with only Kellen Clemens as his competition, Brett will certainly do enough to trigger the escalator (50% of snaps) to a third-round pick. The esclator to a second round pick seems possible too (70% of the snaps and a playoff berth), as the Jets appear capable of making the playoffs with Fave at the helm. Still it seems oddly low. Maybe what this level of recompense indicates is that the Packers were right about his value. Maybe Favre's time has come and gone.

- But then third, you have to wonder, what the hell were other NFL teams thinking? Why not take a stab at getting Favre? Arizona is more comfortable with a washed up Kurt Warner and an ineffective Matt Leinart? San Fran is psyched about Alex Smith and/or Shaun Hill? KC can't wait for Brodie Croyle? Carolina loves the gimpy Jake Delhomme? Houston feels comfortable with Sage Rosenfels and Matt Schaub? Bizarre. He may not be a guy who can carry an offense-dominated team to the Super Bowl anymore, but he's got to beat the pants off most of these guys. Plus, you have to feel the media circus that would follow Favre would also be accompanied by an increase in buzz, season ticket subscriptions, and merchandise sales.

- Fourth, I'm concerned about Favre's prospects on the Jets. NYJ added guard Alan Faneca in the offseason, but their high-draft pick LT, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, has struggled pretty badly. I have no idea who their running back/s is/are. And main wideouts Jericho Cotchery and Lavernius Coles are both undersized guys. Favre tends to do better with bigger targets like Sharpe, Walker and Driver. Plus, the Jets don't run a West Coast offense, as far as I know. Can an old dog learn new tricks this quickly? And you have to figure he'll have some problems in the two Pats games this season-- Bellichik is just too tricky. I guess he'll have Bubba as a security blanket? Anyhow, I'm worried he's going to bellyflop and that it could get really ugly really fast in New York. If he does well though, like Montana with the Chiefs, it would cement him as a national icon. His marketing potential would grow to even greater heights. Personally, my hard feelings are aside now. I know I'll be pulling for him.

- Fifth and finally, big sigh of relief. I hope Rodgers, McCarthy and the rest of the Packers can get back to playing football. I hope this colossal distraction won't throw off the team's performance. I hope Ted gets back to scouring other teams' training camps, looking for likely-to-be-cut DTs. I hope the irrational and cruel booing of Rodgers stops. At least until he actually deserves it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hasta Ra Vista, Rance

UPDATE--- I am now officially sick to death and/or bored stiff by the Favre/Packers douchebaggery. I will ignore/refuse to opine on all such non-football related "news" regarding this "story" until Favre is traded or the team formally announces that he will not be traded. Or until ESPN headquarters is hit by a decent-sized meteor. Expect no commentary on recent "developments" like McCarthy and Favre having an unexpectedly lengthy "meeting" (oooo, the drama!) and the team hiring former Bush II obfuscator Ari Fleischer to a temporary PR consulting contract (cue palm smacking forehead noise). I am done with this non-football melodrama balogna.

So getting back to the non-football melodrama in Madison, shoe-stealing, girlfriend-assaulting UW running back Lance "Rance" Smith (nee Smith-Williams) has been dismissed from the football team, will leave UW-Madison and apparently enroll elsewhere. As readers of this blog and followers of UW football know, Rance was suspended for the team's road games last season after getting into a violent public altercation with his then girlfriend, also a UW student, about a year ago. Although the suspension was surely very frustrating for Rance, he got a good deal from the Dane County justice system, being placed in the DA's first offender program, which lets first-time offenders avoid jail time and any criminal record by completing a year's worth of counseling, reporting and community service. Coach Bielema also went to bat for Rance, lobbying the chancellor to reduce the suspension, arguing that Smith was contrite and had learned from the incident.

Then, this spring, with a pending overflow in the offensive backfield, UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst went to great lengths to ensure that Rance (a rising true junior) would see the field this upcoming season. Coach Chryst essentially created a unique H-back type position for specifically for Smith, where he would line up in the backfield and in the slot and go in motion frequently, in effort to take advantage of his excellent speed and receiving skills.

But Rance betrayed this trust and blew these opportunities. As previously mentioned, he failed to comply with the first offender program, was kicked out of it, and will be sentenced for assault in ten days. He'll likely see some jail time, as the DA's office made it sound as if it had evidence of Rance continuing to have, umm, "inappropriate contact" with the victim/his ex-girlfriend. Not good. For a guy who has no academic eligibility problems, Smith is easily smart enough to have behaved and complied with the program. Unfortunately, this disappointment reflects his record on the field where Lance was a perpetual tease-- loads of speed, shiftiness and potential, but not enough consistency, toughness and follow through.

Some might ask-- how could it come to this? Did the coaches know he was flubbing the program? Was there anyone on the UW Athletic department who should have been on his case? As UW football beat writer Jeff Potrykus makes clear in the comments to this post on the Journal Sentinel's Badger blog, people at UW (including Bielema) knew that Smith in trouble with the program before the news broke, and no, it does not appear that Rance had a designated baby-sitter. He was expected to take care of his own business, like any other adult. A noble sentiment, I think-- personal responsibility. It's not something we always see a lot of in high-profile college athletics.

What remains interesting about this situation is that Bielema continues to put his neck out for Rance, apparently calling program after program, trying to find a good home for him as a transfer. Bielema-- "I know in the last 96 hours, I've probably placed as many phone calls as I ever have in my life." That's a sharp contrast to the personal responsibility approach the coaching staff seemed to show in regard to Lance's participation in the first-offender program. Personally, I think it's admirable that BB is trying to help Smith now, even after Smith has let him down repeatedly. But if I was in BB's position, I think I'd let Lance find his own way this time.

Monday, August 04, 2008

When Jay Mariotti's On Your Side...

You know you've been acting like a d-bag. See here.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

5 Things To Be Glad About

1. With Favre now reinstated and reporting, this whole thing is going to end soon, one way or another. I really hope that the Packers relationship with Favre isn't damaged irreparably.

2. Ryan Grant has signed his deal and is due to report to camp today. As the wise Mr. Man predicted, he signed a heavily incentive-laden deal. He also gets a big chunk this year, which it sounds like was the sticking point from the beginning. It seems to me that he wanted to be compensated for his performance last year, which is fair enough. Congrats Ryan, and may you continue to run fools over this year.

3. Javon Walker did not quit football. I know that there has been some animosity between Walker and Packers fans, but he is a decent enough guy and has had about the worst 2 year stretch that anyone could have and still be alive. After a New Years Eve loss to the 49ers that cost the Broncos a playoff berth, Walker had to watch his best friend on the Broncos die in his arms after being shot in their limo after a New Years Party. Then, he injured his knee again and had an incredibly disappointing season. This off-season he was found unconcious in an alley in Las Vegas after being abducted and beated senseless. He almost walked away from football and offered to return $11 million of signing bonus. Al Davis talked him out of it, and he is in camp. I don't usually have a lot of space for a) people who whine there way off my favorite team, or b) Oakland Raiders in general, but I hope the best for Javon. Nobody deserves to go through what he has.

4. The Badgers are not in the top 10. Why is this good? It means they don't have inflated expectations from everyone else, and thus can be driven from within by motivation rather than via external pressure to meet expectations.

5. Chocolate Chip Cookies.

He's Back?

ESPN has apparently been fed some info by Favre (big surprise-- he either uses them or Peter King) claiming that he's been reinstated and is arriving in Green Bay tonight. Oooo, the excitement. Will some legitimate trade offers now step up? Come on, Bears, Vikings, Ravens, Jets and Bucs. Everyone's made mistakes, everyone has communication problems, yadda yadda. We should all just relax. Favre has another year left in the tank, max, and unless the Vikings pick him up and he gets to run play-actions off of Adrian Peterson all day, he's not going to be as effective as he was last season ever again. And when he does actually retire, he will undoubtedly sign the same personal services contract with the team that's already been offered, and will always be thought of as a Packer. It's really a short term issue, and one that got totally blown out of proportion by a sporting media that has realized the NFL is its most popular sport hands-down and that had nothing to do with itself this summer. Please, just let this thing end now. Training camp has been going on for a week, and I feel like I haven't heard much of anything about how the team is actually doing. It's ridiculous. Let it end, for the love of all that is good and holy.

In other news, Grant signed yesterday and should be in camp today, though he won't play in tonight's scrimmage. He gets a fair amount of guaranteed money, which is justifiable given how impressive he was last season, but most of it is tied up in him staying healthy (roster bonuses) and performing (performance bonuses). A solid result for both sides, I think. At least one personnel headache is at an end.