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.

14

3

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66

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Just as it should be.

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Time Will Tell Whether This Draft Is Special

Posted May 3rd, 2015 @ 03:05pm

You can say one thing about the Pack's 2015 draft: it was unpredictable. It was kind of goofy. Unconventional. A bit intriguing. OK, that's four things.

Thompson wasn't in need of immediate starters this time around. He could afford to go after guys that he projected big upside, and that's what he did. He also took versatile, accomplished athletes who will provide an immediate impact on special teams--a unit that was miserable last year and one that has lost a good amount of players this offseason.

You could argue that the only starting position up for grabs is the other outside corner, opposite Sam Shields. Casey Hayward will try to prove he can play there, but there's no one else on the roster. Clay Matthews, for now, is the presumed starter at inside linebacker along with Sam Barrington. It would be nice to move him back outside, but I like the idea of him inside--you can move him outside on passing downs.

So it would make sense for Thompson to grab a taller, fast corner early, to compete with Hayward. Instead, leave it to Ted to take a guy at #30 who was literally not on any of our radar. What are the chances of that happening? The only defensive position you figured he'd avoid is safety, a position that was as bare as a Vikings trophy case a year ago, but is now robust. And that's where former Sun Devil Damarious Randall was listed, as a safety, his position in college. But he came to Arizona State from junior college as a corner--the team needed help at safety, so he switched. Thompson says he will be a corner so we understand why he made the pick.

Randall shot up draft boards in the final week--you never really know why that happens. Peter King had him going to Philly at #20. While a bit undersized at 5'11", Randall is fast (4.41) and as former baseball player in junior college (till an arm injury caused him to focus exclusively on football) he will have the spatial instincts to be a good defensive back. Most likely he'll be the Pack's nickel corner, if not on opening day then at some point before the weather turns. He could also step into the punt returner role on day one. A few scouts have called him a bigger Honey Badger. I'll take that.

As the second round got started, most of us watched to see if any of the inside linebackers would be there at #62. As expected, they pretty much all came off the board--all except TCU's Paul Dawson, a tackling machine who didn't like to attend meetings, pay attention and listen to his coaches. Thompson elected to pass (Dawson went to Cincinnati in the third) and instead decided to select another guy we've never heard of.

I'll say this, no one in the league is beating the Pack in a pickup basketball game. Quentin Rollins was a four year starter and point guard at Miami (Ohio), before a Ravens scout suggested he give football a try in his final season. 12 games later he was the MAC defensive player of the year, picking off seven passes, breaking up nine more and collecting 72 tackles. He showed amazing instincts for the position and was not afraid to hit. There will be a learning curve here, but barring injuries, the Pack can let him soak things up. There is a lot of upside here and he plays a position where you always want to be deep.

OK, so it's getting late on Friday night and you figure Ted has this diamond in the rough inside linebacker he's going to pluck at the bottom of the third round so we can all go to sleep easily. Nope, he nabbed former Stanford WR Ty Montgomery, a guy that ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd has been talking about for weeks as his sleeper in the draft. We know this, Ted loves him some pre-weekend wide receivers. In 7 of 11 drafts he's picked one in the second or third round.

Montgomery is like a well-fed, larger version of Randall Cobb. He's a guy who looked like a top ten pick after his freshman year with Andrew Luck. As the QB play fell off there, so did his production. But Montgomery is another potential playmaker, one who can line up anywhere on the field, including as a returner: he was second in the nation as a kick returner and averaged 20 yards per punt return.

Now you can wring your hands about the linebacker position--more on that in a moment--but when you're as close as the Pack was to the Super Bowl, you look at where you're lacking and where they're lacking most egregiously is on special teams, where they ranked dead last in 2014. These three picks should provide an immediate infusion to those units. It will likely take Cobb off the punt return unit, which I think we'd all like to see.

Ted went into the final four rounds armed with six picks and here's where we figured he'd grab a couple of linebackers, a couple of linemen, maybe a TE and a RB. The fourth round pick was textbook: Jake Ryan was a big time player and outside linebacker at Michigan until an ACL zapped him of much of his quickness. His play inside last season opened eyes and Thompson pounced on him. A two-time team captain, Ryan is tough, smart, instinctive and can tackle. The Pack think he can be a three-down player. If he can step right in, Clay can move back outside.

And then it got really interesting. What? The Pack traded up in the fifth round? Way up in the fifth round? Who could they be looking to grab? Another linebacker perhaps? A running back they fell in love with. Or maybe a QB who thought he'd be the third or fourth guy off the board, one who figured to know by Friday night where his career would start?

When Brett Hundley continued to plummet, you know he was silently steaming--having been told by his advisors that he was a second rounder, or at worst a third. A 3-year starter at UCLA, Hundley had a so-so junior year and many scouts, while marveling at his measurable and athletic ability, wondered about his decision-making, accuracy and converting from a spread offense to a pro style one. He's built like Colin Kaepernick and can run like him too, gaining more than 2,500 yards on the ground with 30 TDs as a Bruin.

Many Packer pundits are scratching their heads over this pick. Not me. First, it cost the Pack virtually nothing. They surrendered their 7th round pick near the bottom of the draft, knowing they had three 6-rounders and that whoever they might have taken would likely be available as an undrafted free agent.

Hundley will get to sit and learn at the teats of McCarthy, Clements and Rodgers and as a #3 guy this season will be an NFL redshirt. If he can become a legit backup in a year or two, we may not step out onto the ledge if Rodgers goes down with an usury. Not to mention, the Pack may find a team willing to part with a high draft pick if he looks like the real deal. I love this pick. Handley comes in with a chip on his shoulder. Even if it's a 50-50 proposition, I'll take my chances in the fifth round any day of the week.

In the sixth round, the Pack opened with John Kuhn successor Aaron Ripkowski, a fullback out of Oklahoma. You gotta figure either the kid unseats Kuhn this season or he's a practice squad guy with a chance to take over in 2016. He's a former walk-on, so he's worked his butt off to get where he is. He's another guy who could earn a roster spot on special teams--played all four units in college.

Ted finally returned to defense with his next pick. Christian Ringo has the right name to wear Green and Gold. I don't see a future Hall of Famer, like Jim Ringo, but this Ringo was super-productive at Louisiana-Lafayette, with 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season. At six feet, he's an undersized defensive end, but he has a high motor and figures to have a good chance to push some of the up and down guys ahead of him on the depth chart (I'm talking to you, Datone Jones).

The Pack finished up with an athletic tight end, another former basketball player. Kenner Backman is unusual as a new breed tight end in that he likes to block as well. He joins an uninspiring unit that is looking for someone to step forward. Rodgers and Quarless will be counted on to take charge this season but Backman could take the vacated Bostick role. Another possible special teamer, or practice squad guy this season.

The Packers won't likely be getting A's from the draft experts because there is a lot of the unknown with some of the guys Thompson grabbed early. He seemed very pleased to get the guys he got in the first three rounds in particular. He's built up enough of a draft cache to earn the benefit of the doubt.

When you're as talented as the Pack, a top three Super Bowl favorite, you can grab guys at the bottom of rounds that you think have big upside and roll the dice a bit. I think Ron Zook and the special teams coached are ecstatic with the players they will be adding.

In a few years, we'll find out just how special this draft class might really be.

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Presenting My Seven Round Packer Mock Draft

Posted April 27th, 2015 @ 07:04pm

And here it is: my annual exercise in futility where I try to get inside the mind of Ted Thompson and predict what happens over draft weekend. We know it is likely that he will orchestrate a trade or three, perhaps moving out of the first round and most assuredly not moving up.

It stands to reason he will focus on the defensive side of the ball, since the offense is locked and loaded for another high octane season. He won't ignore that side of the ball, of course, but I'll be surprised if he addresses offense before the weekend.

Round 1 (30): Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida St. Repeat after me: you don't draft for need in the first round. Yes, the Pack could possibly grab the top ILB or the fourth or fifth corner in this spot--positions of greater need, but the best value and the best player left on the board is Goldman. Raji and Guion are back, but are signed for 2015 only. Goldman would likely allow them to move on from one or both and secure the NT spot for years. He may still be there at #30 because he doesn't project as a pass rusher. But he's a stud against the run and will clear the way for the OLBs behind him to get to the QB.

Round 2 (62) Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson We may find ourselves holding our breaths on Friday night as the Pack's pick approaches, hoping Anthony falls into the Pack's laps. He would step right into the starting lineup opposite Sam Barrington and would likely allow CMIII to move back outside most of the time. Anthony is a rare athlete and one who will cause any residual AJ Hawk fans to put their jerseys away for good.

Round 3 (94) Ronald Darby, CB, Florida St. The Pack grabs Goldman's teammate here to fortify a position that lost two key contributors in free agency. Darby is a former track star who may be just scratching the surface when it comes to potential. His tackling ability and hands are the reason he's still on the board. The Pack will figure those can be taught. Speed can't.

Round 4: Lorenzo Mauldin, OLB, Louisville The run on defense continues with the productive linebacker who can beat tackles and is strong against the run. Mauldin has come a long way, living in 16 foster homes as a kid to become an all ACC performer and leader of the Cardinal defense. With Nick Perry and Julius Peppers sure things for this year only, Mauldin has a chance to step in and challenge Mike Neal for playing time beyond 2015.

Round 5 (166): Wes Saxton, TE, S. Alabama I almost put converted Oklahoma QB Blake Bell, a tight end who could be the John Kuhn of the future (or present) here, but if Saxton is still on the board he's the pick. His numbers decreased last year as his team changed its offense, but the talent is there to be a Finley-like pass catcher at tight end. He's not going to be an in-line blocker, but he will have the ability to get separation in the middle of the field and be a downfield threat down the road.

Round 6 (206) Mark Glowinski, G, West Virginia The Pack finally address depth on the O-line with Glowinski, who was projected to be a 4th or 5th rounder. He's a converted tackle who's a beast in the weight room and is an ultra-competitor. Look for Sitton and Lang to teach him on a day to day basis how to play the position.

Round 6 (210) Ben Heeney, ILB, Kansas With Hawk and Jones gone, and backups Carl Bradford, Adrian Hubbard and Joe Thomas beyond unproven, the Pack can afford to select a second inside guy. Heeney has Chris Borland written all over him (minus the concussions): he's undersized with a huge motor and a coach's dream. He's a tackling machine and given the opportunity the Packers present, could challenge for playing time this season.

Round 6 (213) Austin Shepherd, T, Alabama A prospect with upside, scouts think he has a chance to be a solid backup and the Pack could use one at tackle. Yes, Don Barclay returns from a lost season, but beyond that the team is thin and could use another developmental guy.

Round 7 (247) Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri Ted uses his final pick on a potential DuJuan Harris replacement, one that could spark the Pack's new-look special teams. Murphy is a return guy first and foremost, taking 7 to the house at Mizzou, both via kickoffs and punts. He could also become a weapon as a receiver on third down, with lots of juke-ability. Think Darren Sproles or Dexter McCluster.

This is my fifth Packers mock draft and I have nailed exactly one pick: Randall Cobb. Tell me dear readers, as you mock me in your comments below, if I hit on one of these picks, which one do you hope it is?

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