Category Archives: Features

20

April

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

As we sit here waiting…and waiting…and waiting for the NFL draft to come around, now is as good a time as any to look back on Packers general manager Ted Thompson’s draft classes.

This draft will be Thompson’s 10th. Let’s rank his first nine classes best to worst, even if it’s still too early to judge some of the more recent classes.

  1. 2005. How do you not put the draft where Thompson selected Aaron Rodgers and Nick Collins in your top slot? I scratched my head when Thompson took Rodgers (apparently he couldn’t find a trade partner in time), but, unlike 23 other general managers, Thompson pulled the trigger and rescued Rodgers from the green room at Radio City Music Hall. It might have been a bit of a head-scratcher at the time, but now the Packers have the best quarterback in the league. The Packers would probably still have one of the best safeties in the league if Collins didn’t have his career shortened by a neck injury. Thompson’s first draft was 2005 and was a helluva way to start off as the new general manager. I suppose if you’re a glass-half-empty type of person, you could say Thompson’s drafts have all gone downhill since.
  2. 2009. After taking B.J. Raji ninth overall, Thompson traded back into the first round to nab Clay Matthews. He also picked up T.J. Lang in the fourth and Brad Jones in the seventh. Yeah, Raji fell off a cliff last season, but let’s not forget what he did to help the Packers win a Super Bowl. When Matthews is healthy, he’s one of the most dynamic defensive players in the game. Grabbing a starting guard in Lang and solid backup/fringe starter in Jones later in the draft gave 2009 a slight edge over…
  3. 2008. I probably would have given 2008 the nod over 2009 if not for Brian Brohm, a complete bust of a pick in the second round. But Thompson did end up finding his backup quarterback/oh-crap-what-if-Aaron-Rodgers-flops option later with Matt Flynn in the seventh round. Before finding Flynn, Thompson took Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finely and Josh Sitton. Yeah, that’s a helluva haul.
16

April

Packing The Stats: The Importance of Pre-Draft Visits

Packing the StatsSo it’s not exactly a busy week in the world of the NFL (try as they might to might to make it a year long sport), and there isn’t really anything going on until the draft; the Combine and Pro Days are essentially over, free agency has definitely hit that point where teams are now waiting to see what pieces they manage to pick up in the draft before signing anyone new and basically the headlines are now composed of DeSean Jackson missing the Redskins voluntary training camp (i.e. not all that voluntary after all so it would seem) and Aldon Smith trying his best to impersonate a terrorist at an airport.  Needless to say the media dull Packers are even more boring, apparently Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb are going to the Kentucky Derby…which is great and all but in all honesty I don’t really care.

There is however something going on that you should care about…if only a little.  That event is the annual tradition of pre-draft visits.  Essentially, every NFL team is allowed to invite 30 players from the college ranks to their facilities for whatever reason; sometimes potentially draftee’s are just going to get a medical update on an recent injury, some go through positional drills or even chalk board stuff (made famous by Jay Gruden’s QB camp series on ESPN) or even just a more in depth interview for the front office/coaching staff to really get to know a player.  Frankly, the Packers rarely make the news with their visits, as opposed to the Cleveland Browns, who essentially ignored the QB workouts and are instead inviting all big QB prospects for pre-draft visits instead (which is brilliant and idiotic all at the same time, got to love the Brown’s MO).

So who exactly do the Packers invite for visits and does this mean anything in regards to the draft as a whole?  Below is a list of every confirmed report of a pre-draft visit I could find going back 3 years (I chose 3 years because that’s all the data I could find, deal with it).  Also listed is each player’s alma mater, their ultimate draft pick and which NFL team initially signed them.  Two players, Jakar Hamiliton and Brandon Hardin (listed in italics) were both undrafted rookie free agents that initially signed with other teams but were released and then signed with the Packers.  I would wager that the Packers do indeed use their full allotment of 30 players, but some of these visits will never be reported (especially if they are unknown players with unknown agents), so keep in mind that this list is almost certainly incomplete.

15

April

Cory’s Corner: Julius Peppers is No. 56…remain excited

I’ve never seen a number unveiling get this much excitement.

And for those of you that may not know, Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next season for the Packers.

Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next fall as he will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position called the elephant.

Julius Peppers will be wearing No. 56 next fall as he will play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position called the elephant.

That’s quite a change for someone that was consistently coming off the edge as a defensive end in a three-point stance wearing No. 90.

But Peppers isn’t just an end. Thanks to Dom Capers and his crazy names, which have brought us the ‘Psycho’ defensive package, Peppers will be playing a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker called an elephant.

Personally, I don’t care if you call it strawberry shortcake because the name of Peppers’ position is meaningless. His stats and his motor speak for themselves. He’s been under double-digit sacks in a season just four times in his 12-year career.

The thing I like about Peppers most is his drive. I realize that he’s 34 and might be reaching the final leg of a strong NFL career. But the last time he didn’t play a full 16-game season was in 2007. That really says a lot to me. Especially for a guy that has played through a sprained MCL in his left knee, a broken right hand and a right knee sprain among other things. And the season that he suffered his right knee sprain was in 2007, a season in which he tallied his lowest sack output of his career with 2½. Yet he still managed to lead the Panthers in quarterback hurries.

Peppers is a guy that the Packers desperately needed. He’s a guy that will come in and not only contribute with a pass rush that has been forgotten, but he’s a vocal veteran that wants to win.

That’s a great combination for a team that has youngsters like Nick Perry and Datone Jones, who the Packers are counting on to break out and flourish.

Is it fair to compare Peppers to the 31-year-old Reggie White when he signed with Green Bay? No way. And I’m surprised I’ve seen people even make that comparison because it’s not not even close. White was a once-in-a-lifetime pass rusher who may never be copied again.

But that doesn’t mean Peppers doesn’t have plenty to play for.

14

April

Historical Perspective: Vince Lombardi’s Offense Was More Complex Than You Think

Vince Lombardi ran a precision offense that may be remembered incorrectly within his legend.

Vince Lombardi ran a precision offense that may be remembered somewhat incorrectly within his legend.

Former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi is arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NFL. However, I believe that his legacy is actually underrepresented in the annals of fame.

Lombardi is often credited for having his teams seek perfection. As part of this perfection, the legend suggests that his offensive playbook was more simple than his peers. But, since his players ran the smaller offensive category to perfection, it was the winning formula en route to five NFL championships over a seven-year stretch.

The legend perpetuates the notion that the Packers Power Sweep was the main driving force for the 1960s dynasty. They swept their way into the history books.

Pundits today also continue their accounts by suggesting that the modern game has surpassed Lombardi and he wouldn’t be able to compete with the contemporary sophistication.

Granted, Lombardi’s offense wasn’t as open as Tom Landry’s multiple-shift and intricate “System” at the time, but it was much more complex than history seems be crediting him.

I have always been a great fan and student of Lombardi’s playbook. It started when I was a young child and was given a copy of his posthumous book “Vince Lombardi on Football,” edited by George L. Flynn. Throughout the book, Lombardi painstakingly teaches the reader, down to the finest detail, the mechanisms of executing his football plays.

Allow me to highlight some of Lombardi’s offensive philosophies and play calls to demonstrate that his offense was quite contemporary and multiple for the time, and to also showcase how some of his staples are still present in today’s modern NFL.

Exhibit A: The Passing Tree

Sid Gillman is often called the “father of the modern passing game.” He was among the first to standardize receiver routes and attach them to precision timing. The routes were perfectly constructed to match the quarterback’s drop back with the break of the receivers to mesh in a completion.

He was one of the reasons the AFL exploded on the scene with wide-open passing attacks. The game would never be the same after his imprint.

Before Gillman, oftentimes receivers only ran a few routes to match their skill set and simply would try to “get open” and then look for the ball.

13

April

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers football.

Last season it was Mike Daniels. The season before it was Randall Cobb. If the Packers are going to contend for a Super Bowl in 2014, at least one player will have to make the leap from potential to breakout star.

Here are the top contenders:

WR Jarrett Boykin
Boykin is probably at the top of most people’s most likely to break out lists. He was successful last season and he has Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. Teams will be ready for him in 2014, though. If he’s going to make the leap, he’ll have to do a better job of getting separation.

DL Datone Jones
Unlike Boykin, Jones is probably near the bottom of most people’s lists. Fans soured on Jones late last season and, apparently, so did the coaching staff as fellow rookie Josh Boyd got more snaps down the stretch. I still have high hopes for Jones and I think he can fulfill those hopes. You need to be patient with young defensive linemen. They rarely break out in their rookie seasons. Let’s see what year two brings for Jones.

CB Davon House
We’ve been waiting for House to take the next step for a while now, haven’t we? If he doesn’t take it in 2014, he probably never will. House’s size appears to make him an ideal fit in Green Bay’s defense, but whenever he strings together some good plays, he follows it up with a couple of stinkers and winds up on the bench. With Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward on the roster, House doesn’t have much room for error.

LT David Bakhtiari
We all groaned when Bryan Bulaga went down and the rookie Bakhtiari ended up starting at left tackle. By the end of the season, those groans turned into “Huh. That kid can play.” Yes, it was a good debut for the kid whose last name I hate spelling, but his ceiling is higher than just a feel-good, surprising rookie playing well in a tough spot. The Packers offense can be a whole lot better if Bakhtiari transforms from promising rookie to left-tackle anchor.

TE Brandon Bostick
Based on what little I’ve seen of him, Bostick seems to do everything well except catch the ball. He especially seems to struggle with drops in traffic. If he develops his hands, especially in tight spaces, I like what he can do in the passing game.

12

April

Cory’s Corner: Packers games are family reunions

The Packers have one of the thickest histories in pro football. This fall will mark the team’s 95th season.

Packers fans may look odd in the cold with strange headgear but they packed Lambeau Field last year to 106.9 percent capacity. There were an average of 77,947 fans a game in a season that had its ups and downs.

Packers fans may look odd in the cold with strange headgear but they packed Lambeau Field last year to 106.9 percent capacity. There were an average of 77,947 fans a game in a season that had its ups and downs.

Which is why what is going on in Buffalo is so sad. After the Bills owner and founder Ralph Wilson passed away March 25, questions have been swirling as to not only the next owner but also if the Bills will remain in Buffalo.

The Bills are a team that is very similar to the Packers. The Green Bay-Appleton TV market is 70th in the nation while Buffalo is 51st. Both are tiny compared to the rest of the league. After Jacksonville, which is 47th, the next highest market is Cincinnati at 34.

They both have rabid fan bases that welcome the arctic cold each winter with a smile and a brat and no matter how the team does, seats are always hard to find.

However, there is one major difference between Buffalo and Green Bay, and that’s ownership. The Packers are in a sense owned by everyone, which makes it absolutely impossible for the team to do anything like selling or moving. However, Buffalo is not. And depending on if Jon Bon Jovi’s group or Donald Trump’s group purchases the Bills, Toronto could be the next city to get an NFL franchise.

How weird and awful would it be if the Packers moved to a place like Los Angeles? The Packers not only have deep roots in the NFL but they also have strong roots in Green Bay and Wisconsin as well.

It’s actually pretty remarkable that in 2014, Green Bay with nearly 105,000 people, is able to not only have an NFL team but in large part does it better than the Giants, Jets, Bears, Eagles and Cowboys. Those coincidentally are four of the top five markets in the country — minus L.A.

Green Bay and Buffalo may not draw from large financial pockets to maintain constant inroads in an ever-changing NFL landscape. Both teams could make buckets more money if they were in a larger city. (It still baffles me that Portland, OR, which is 22nd for market size, is without an NFL team).

10

April

Xs and Os: The “Smoke” Route

Aaron Rodgers uses the "Smoke" route to steal some easy yards.

Aaron Rodgers frequently uses the “smoke” route to steal some easy yards from defenses.

The plays that quarterbacks call in the huddle are not always the plays that get executed at the snap of the ball. The “smoke” route is a sight adjustment that allows the offensive to steal some free yards from the defense.

The “smoke” route has become a staple in modern NFL, and even college, offenses these days. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sometimes runs the “smoke” play at least once during every game he plays.

What is the “smoke” route?

Basically, it’s a quick hitch throw to a receiver that is not called in the huddle. It’s usually performed after a running play has been called.

The quarterback will see that the wide receiver is being matched up with off-man coverage, which has the cornerback at least 5-7 yards off the receiver.

Rather than going through with the running play, especially if the box is stacked, why not try for a few free yards to the outside? The cornerback is practically begging for this throw by aligning in off-man coverage.

It’s not a verbal audible, but rather a silent one. Once the quarterback and receiver both see the off-man coverage, they will make some sort of eye contact and a gesture to indicate the “smoke” is on. The gesture is only known between the receiver and quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers throwing a "smoke" pass with the laces out.

Aaron Rodgers throwing a “smoke” pass.

At the snap of the ball, the quarterback takes a one step drop and immediately fires the ball to the receiver on a short hitch route.

This happens very quickly, and the quarterback may not have time to get the laces right, which is why you may see them throwing the ball without the use of the laces.

Only the quarterback and the receiver know the “smoke” is coming. Everyone else runs the play as called, which is why you often see the offensive line run blocking during such a play.

The “smoke” isn’t a viable option for every snap of the ball, and certain conditions should be met before the quarterback calls it.

 

 

 

Conditions for calling the “smoke” route:

1) Defense is in off-man. There has to be a 5-7 yard gap for the quarterback to quickly throw the ball with little risk of interception.