Packers XLV

What Does the Loss of Nelson Mean?

Posted August 25th, 2015 @ 12:08am

Question: How do you take the air out of the festive 11th Frame at the Park Tavern? Answer: Announce that Jordy Nelson has likely suffered a torn ACL. What was a festive, lively room, watching the Pack glide down the field on the opening drive in Pittsburgh, quickly turned funereal.

For me, it wasn't a 'damn, there goes the Super Bowl feeling;' it was more of a 'damn, it's so much fun watching him lock in with Rodgers and strike week after week. I'm gonna miss that' feeling.

With the news that Nelson is lost for the season, we regroup, take a deep breath and consider what it means for the 2015 Packers. I went to two Las Vegas websites: vegasinsider.com and oddsharks.com and both still list the Pack as Super Bowl favorites, even after the Nelson injury. That speaks volumes to the talent on the squad, more specifically, to the talent of #12.

The Packers lost a top five receiver to be sure, but with the talented Davante Adams ready to step into the Nelson role, there is every reason to expect him to post big numbers and take the pressure off of Randall Cobb, who will see significant double coverage until and unless Adams steps in and produces. We've all heard the praise being rained down on the second year receiver. The not normally effusive Mike McCarthy called him the MVP off the offseason and Rodgers echoed that praise.

If Adams takes that giant second year step, the Pack should have two guys who can catch between 80-90 balls apiece. It's what happens next that will determine how lethal this offense is. Third round pick Ty Montgomery will likely get the first shot at being the #3 receiver. Jeff Janis may threaten him a bit, if he continues to progress and make plays when the lights are on. If one of those two hits, the Pack will be just fine at the receiver position.

You get the feeling Richard Rodgers may become a bigger part of the offensive equation, too. Much has been made of his progress in his second season. We've seen some nice plays from him early and the other Rodgers seems to be developing some confidence in his fellow Cal Bear. There's no doubt the team could use more production from their tight end, particularly in the red zone, where they absolutely must improve.

The offense could also be tweaked a bit to add more screens into the mix. Eddie Lacy is up to the challenge as a receiver and I would think we'll see more than a handful of third down conversions come through the air to #27.

The Packers would appear to have lost some of their quick strike ability with the loss of Nelson and there's no way one guy will replace his production. But with Rodgers at the controls, you have to believe he'll spread the wealth and keep the offense humming.

It's just a little uncomfortable when you're relying on so many, pardon the expression, 'green' players to step up. Adams, Montgomery, Janis and Rodgers. These are the guys that need to be ready for their close-ups. There won't be any veteran signings at this point. That's not the way Ted rolls. These are his guys. Now it's up to them to prove his point.

 

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Ten Things I'll Be Watching For in the Preseason Opener

Posted August 10th, 2015 @ 05:08pm

We're about set to start the four week grind where the main aspiration is to get through them without injuries to any significant players. As we see every year, it's not possible (Bulaga and Raji are only the most recent casualties). So knowing that health is the main thing we want to see, here are ten other things I'll be focusing on in Foxborough.

1. Somebody better check the damn footballs before the game. OK, that was a bonus. Here we go.

1. Mike McCarthy on the sidelines, sans headset. This is the first game PPC (post play calling). It is bound to feel very strange for the Pack's head coach. OK, maybe he'll still wear a headset, but he won't be calling the plays. Not a big deal in the preseason, but it's the most significant storyline for this team heading into the season. I have little doubt that Tom Clements will handle the job seamlessly, particularly since Aaron Rodgers is afforded significant input as he steps up to the line before each play. But McCarthy will need to figure out what to do during the game. How much to communicate with Dom Capers and Ron Zook. The preseason should allow him to start to get comfortable in his new gamely shoes.

2. Special Teams. Speaking of Zook, he takes over a unit that finished dead last in the league last year and was singularly responsible for the loss in Seattle. Is Zook up to the challenge? I have my doubts. What I don't doubt is that each unit will look significantly different from a year ago. There's a competition at punter (update: Packers cut Mandell on Monday) and rookie Ty Montgomery will look to secure the kick returner position. The Packers are younger at key special teams positions like the secondary, LB and WR. The preseason will provide much needed reps as the four units start to come together.

3. Raji's Return. Don't know how much he'll play, but BJ Raji's return from injury should bolster the defensive line this season. He's playing for a contract and all reports out of Titletown indicate that he looks good and is hungry (I mean look at him, of course he's hungry). With a couple of line mates suspended for the first game or two, Raji will be counted on to complement Mike Daniels and fortify the defense's front line. Looking forward to watch the big man shake off the rust.

4. The wide receiver battle, after the top three. It's probably safe to say third round pick Montgomery will be the #4 receiver, but what happens after that? We all thought second year guys Janis and Abbrederis would step up and claim their roster spots, but so fat that has not happened. With the starters likely to get very little action, those two guys need to start making plays. Right now, Myles White is the #5 guy. But he plays mostly inside like Cobb and Montgomery, so Janis or one of the underrated guys has a chance to earn an outside spot. Can't see the team carrying six unless a couple of guys really step up in the next month. That means a bunch of guys could be fighting for one roster spot, barring injury.

5. Tolzien's Command. For the first time, Scott Tolzien enters a season as the unquestioned backup. Since Rodgers is no lock to get through 16 games unscathed, Tolzien needs to show that he's ready to prove he's a worthy understudy to the MVP. He's been with McCarthy for enough time that progress needs to be evident. He'll get plenty of playing time in the preseason to show us. Rookie Brett Hundley and Matt Blanchard will also see duty, but Hundley sounds like he's nowhere near ready. Blanchard will likely outplay him and earn a roster spot somewhere else.

6. The Rookie Corners. Let's face it, most of us watch preseason games to see the rookies for the first time. When the season ends, we gear up for the draft and then once the team has its new players and we hear all about what they can do, we want to see for ourselves. The Pack's first two picks are guys with not a ton of experience at cornerback, so we should get a good long look at Damarius Randall and Quentin Rollins. Randall looks like he'll step into the dime corner spot, which means he's an injury away from being on the field about half the time. Since he was drafted, we've heard he has a nose for the ball--I'm looking forward to seeing how he holds up. Rollins likely won't be counted on much this season, but these four games will be huge for a guy who two years ago played basketball only in college.

7. The Linebacker Mess. Injuries have hit the outside linebacker position. What? Nick Perry and Mike Neal are hurt? Shocking. Clay Matthews' knee is also a concern, though we should hear more about that as the week goes on. It's likely all three will miss the preseason opener, so we'll see a lot from Andy Mulumba (back from the ACL), Jayrone Elliott and Adrian Hubbard. With the starters' injury history, there's a real opportunity for one or two of them, if they can be productive. On the inside, the Packers list Sam Barrington and Nate Palmer (!) as the starters. We know Matthews will be inside a lot in base coverage as well, but they need to show something, with rookie Jake Ryan lurking behind them, along with Carl Bradford, Josh Francis and Joe Thomas. The depth chart inside could be kind of volatile over the next four weeks.

8. Brett Hundley. OK, as I said earlier, he appears to be miles away from being ready to run an offense. But the most surprising move the Pack made on draft weekend was trading up for the former UCLA QB, a guy who some thought would be a first round pick a year or two ago. I don't know how much time he'll get in the first game, but I want to see what he looks like. A couple of years of tutoring from McCarthy, Alex Van Pelt and Rodgers could do wonders. His athletic ability is off the charts and he appears to be an eager learner. A nice combination.

9. Year Two for Richard Rodgers. It's trendy to say the Pack is rock solid in 10 of the 11 offensive positions, but the tight end is a black hole. Rodgers has a chance in the preseason to remind folks that he's just getting started and is feeling a lot more comfortable in his second season. He is earning Aaron Rodgers' trust in the red zone and with Andrew Quarless' potential suspension looming, he could have a much more productive season than most predict. With defenses trying to account for Lacy, Nelson, Cobb and Adams, Rodgers will have a chance to make a lot of plays. The preseason is a good time to give him reps and get him the ball.

10. The Rise of Rip. One of the interesting roster battles may come down to Pro Bowl FB and fan favorite John Kuhn vs. rookie Aaron Ripkowski. The team could end up keeping both, if they don't keep three tailbacks. But Ripkowski has an opportunity to be on the receiving end of the passing of the torch if he can show off his blocking abilities in the preseason. He's off to a slow start, but should get ample opportunities, starting Thursday night to show he belongs.

Now, for those wondering, "Packer Preview" returns for a 20th season on KFAN on Sunday, September 13th from 7-8am (and podcastable at kfan.com and iTunes). Also we will have a Packer viewing party on Sunday, August 23rd at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park to watch the Pack against the Steelers at noon. Hope to see some of you there.

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Appreciating Brett

Posted July 15th, 2015 @ 05:07pm

If you plug my name into YouTube, you'll no doubt find a short video of me disposing of my Brett Favre bobblehead, using an oversized golf club. That bobblehead sat on my desk for years while I worked in sales at KFAN, a constant taunt to Vikings fans of what we had and they didn't. I decapitated it shortly after the news that Favre would become a Viking.

You familiar with Ross Bernstein's classic "I Love Brett Favre/I Hate BrettFavre flip book? There's a chapter with my thoughts in there. I'll let you guess what side of the book I'm on. http://www.bernsteinbooks.com/books/love_hate_favre.aspx

Here we are five years later, with Favre about to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame this weekend. If Ross were writing the book today, I'd ask to be on the flip side.

The ending was bitter, but that's the way things often go in sports. Favre would do things differently if he had a second chance and the Packers might have too. Big picture, getting Rodgers on the field secured another generation of contention and the rare seamless transition from Hall of Famer to Hall of Famer. Of course, we didn't know that at the time.

My radio show on KFAN coincided with Favre's rise. After getting turned away in '95, I got the green light for "Packer Preview" in the fall of '96 and we all know what happened that season (This website started in the fall of '10 and we all know how that season ended. Maybe I need to come up with something new this fall...maybe a Monday morning "Packer Review" podcast?).

Favre's incredible seasons in Green Bay are the reason my show took off; I have no doubts about that. We tuned in every week, knowing we were watching greatness, but also knowing that he provided the unexpected every now and then, for better or worse. There were more highs than lows. We all have our favorite moments. Mine was being at the Metrodome when he hit Greg Jennings in the end zone to pass Dan Marino for the all time touchdown record. To do it in the Vikings' house, a team in constant search of a quarterback, made it even sweeter.

We read about Favre today, seemingly at peace with his life after football; family man, hunter and professional putterer around his 465 acre estate in Mississippi. Now we all wish for him good health in his middle age and beyond, precisely the thing that he will always be remembered for. A quarterback who refused to play injured, whose starting streak will never be challenged.

I won't be there this weekend, but I will be at Lambeau on Thanksgiving night. I'll dig deep into my hat basket and dig out my Favre hat to wear that night. It hasn't seen the light of day in around 8 years. But I'll wear it proudly that night--to recognize the guy most responsible for resurrecting the Pack from a quarter century of relative anonymity.

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Just as it should be.

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