Sunday, July 25, 2010

Closing Out the Decade...

Greetings, G-Force.

Next weekend, the Packers report to Lambeau Field, which will not only start the 2010 season, but it'll also begin a new decade of Packer football. So, in closing of the last decade, below, I've listed my top 10 road games, home games, my best pick by round and my 53 man All-Decade roster. While doing so, I was reminded of many great memories, but also the disappointment that followed. Hope that we get over the top in the next decade! I'd enjoy feeling super again.

Road Games

10.) 12.03.01 - Green Bay at Jacksonville. It was MNF. It was vintage Favre in a game that the Packers absolutely had to win late in the '01 season. Down 21-7 in the 3rd Quarter, Favre became the magician. Grabbing the victory with a 6 yard TD run. For the game, good ol' Brett threw for 362 yards & 3 TD's with 0 interceptions in a crucial 28-21 December victory. This was arguably Favre's greatest comeback as a Packer. For die hard Packer fans of the early 2000's, this was one of those "I remember where I was when" moments.

9.) 12.31.06 - Green Bay at Chicago. NYE. Sunday Night Football. Prime time. Many thought this would be Favre's last game. At Lambeau South. The Bears were the elite team in the NFC. The Packers had won 3 in a row, however earlier in the year, the Packers were demolished by the hated Bears in the season opener, 26-0. The Packers returned the favor, 26-7. It was important as it was really Nintendo Nick's coming out party and it truly set the tone for what was to come in the 2007 Season.

8.) 11.21.04 - Green Bay at Houston. Sunday Night Football. 2004 remains the most polarizing season in my Packers memory. With high expectations entering the season, the Packers began 1-4. However, 4 games later, the Packers were 5-4 and back in the mix of the Division race. Playing an energized, upstart Dom Capers led Houston team who was reveling in the moment of a rare prime time game, the Packers were frustratingly trailing 13-3 as the game entered the 4th Quarter. With Walter Williams as his RB, Favre went to work. First, he found Driver on a beautiful 24 yard TD. Then, 383 yards later & a Ryan Longwell 46-yard FG at the buzzer, the Packers were 16-13 victors.

7.) 11.02.03 - Green Bay at Minnesota. Sunday Night Football. At 3-4, the 2003 Season was beginning to appear as though it was lost. We lacked continuity. Favre had an injured thumb. Oh, and we were playing in the disgusting dome that now wears the name of a shopping mall. Using a balanced offensive attack, the Packers outlasted the 'queens on the road to keep the 2003 season alive. Ahman went for 189 total yards and a receiving TD. Favre threw 3 TD's, including 2 to Javon Walker in what was the start of a fun 11-game relationship between Favre & Walker.

6.) 11.04.07 - Green Bay at KC. At 6-1, the Packers were unexpectedly making believers and were looking like Super Bowl contenders. Wrapping out a remarkably tough back-to-back stretch with games at Denver & at KC over a 6 day span, the Packers pulled out an incredible 33-22 victory. Down 22-16 in the 4th Quarter, Favre did the impossible as he connected with Greg Jennings on a 60 yard bomb to reclaim the lead. As KC was driving for the victory, Sir Charles jumped in front of a Damon Huard pass and returned it 46 yards to seal the victory. I'm pumping my fists just recalling this game!!!

5.) 09.30.07 - Green Bay at Minnesota. The day in which Brett Favre broke the TD record on a 16-yard strike to Jennings. The Packers looked to have sealed the victory on a vintage Favre pump fake and rocket to the right sideline where he hit a streaking James Jones in stride to make it 23-9. However, after silly game management, the Packers found themselves needing a late game stop to preserve the victory. We walked off winners as Ras-A-tari picked off Kelly Holcomb and the Packers moved to 4-0.

4.) 11.16.03 - Green Bay at Tampa Bay. My Dad flew in for this one & we made the trek across the Everglades from Miami. At 4-5, the Packers season looked all but dead as we headed into the defending Super Bowl Champions. Favre's thumb was in horrible shape. So bad that he did not even throw for 100 yards. But, the Packers set the tone for the rest of the season as they established an incredibly punishing ground game. Averaging 5 yards a carry, the Packers pounded the ball down the throats of the then-mighty Bucs defense. With Najeh Davenport grabbing crucial late game 1st downs, the Packers escaped after a 4th Quarter TD by Ahman Green. A last play interception by Darren Sharper gave the Packers a 20-13 win.

3.) 10.29.07 - Green Bay at Denver. Monday Night Football. At 5-1 & after a bye, the Packers headed to the Rockies to take on the Ray Nutler (I'll tell the story as to why he's no longer Jay Cutler later) led Donkeys. Leading 13-10 in the closing moments of the 4th Quarter, the Packers defense looked like they were ready to fold however due to a shocking play-calling decision by Mike Shanahan, the Donkeys settled for OT. On the first play of OT, the Packers won 19-13, when Brett Favre hit Greg Jennings for an 82 yard TD in what was one of the more epic plays of my lifetime. Freakin' stoked! So sweet!

2.) 12.24.04 - Green Bay at Minnesota. Christmas Eve. The winner won the Division. The Dome was rocking as the horn was blowing. It was a back & forth contest and midway thru the 4th, Chris Claiborne picked off Favre and returned it for a TD giving Minnesota a 31-24 lead. As the Packers looked to tie the game late in the 4th, they faced 4th down at the 3 yard line where Favre hit Driver for the tie! It was Favre to Walker in OT that put the Packers in scoring position & allowed Ryan Longwell to hit a short game winner. Driver finished with 162 yards, while Favre threw for 365 yards. 34-31, Green & Gold!

1.) 12.22.03 - Green Bay at Oakland. Monday Night Football. It's one of the most emotional games in my lifetime. Shortly after the death of Favre's father, the Packers played the Raiders in a MUST-WIN game. Favre was magical. 22-30. 399 yards. 4 TD's. 0 interceptions. 41-7 Green Bay over Oakland. It was a showcase for the Packers organization. Bonding during difficult times. Experiencing triumph during tragedy. As a team, we played nearly perfect for 4 quarters. It was a beautiful night to be a member of the G-Force. Wesley Walls, Donald Driver, Javon Walker & Robert Ferguson all made catches that were beyond extraordinary. One team. One purpose. Life over death. Victory. Packer football. True Story. As an organization, we rule!

Home Games

10.) 12.08.02 - Minnesota at Green Bay. Sunday Night Football. The rival Viqueens entered Lambeau on Sunday Night at 3-9, while the Packers were marching to the divisional title in the inaugural season of the NFC North. It was freezing. Small rain. And Minnesota was getting the breaks early. Early in the 2nd Quarter, the Packers trailed 13-0 and entering the 4th Quarter, the Packers trailed 22-13. Dealing with injuries, the Packers turned to Tony Fisher & Robert Ferguson to make plays. Fisher ran for 96 yards and the winning score. Ferguson had 105 yards on 6 catches and 2 TD's. It's noteworthy that the Packers were heavily aided by officiating when Donald Driver drew a phantom pass interference penalty on the game winning drive.

9.) 10.14.01 - Baltimore at Green Bay. The Ravens entered Lambeau as the defending Super Bowl Champions. Both teams entered the game at 3-1. And Ray Lewis was talking mad noise prior to the game - comparing himself to Ray Nitschke. Always one to attempt to intimidate, on this day, it did not work. Instead, it was the 3-time MVP that showed he was the most dominate player on the field. In what is one of Favre's best moments as a Packer, the Packer legend threw for 337 yards and 3 TD's. He completed 27 of 34 attempts. Antonio Freeman was his main target as he grabbed 9 balls for 138 yards and a TD. While the final score, 31-23, indicates a close game - the Ravens required two late scores after trailing 31-10 midway through the 4th quarter.

8.) 01.13.02 - SF at Green Bay. Wild Card Game. Unlike many of the great Packers-49ers game over the last 25 years, this one was not a shoot-out. It was a dog fight. Neither team never got into it's offensive rhythm. It was a nail biter throughout. An efficient Favre went 22-29 for 269 yards and 2 TD's. But, it was an interception by Drive-By Tyrone Williams that was the big play. Midway through the 4th, the 49ers looked to be grabbing control of the game, however Williams picked off a tipped ball when Jeff Garcia slightly missed TO. A 4th quarter TD run by Ahman Green was the nail in the coffin, 25-15!

7.) 11.15.09 - Dallas at Green Bay. At 4-4, the season looked lost unless the Packers could somehow salvage a victory against a hot Cowboys team. The previous week, the Packers looked awful in a loss to the hapless Yucs from Tampa. This day was reserved for Sir Charles. In many ways, this game was the one that brought his name to the light of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Woodson intercepted a pass near the goal line & set up another TD with a sack and a forced fumble that was recovered by CM3. Woodson also had a terrific forced fumble of Roy Williams in the open field. Aaron Rodgers played terrific over the last 1.5 quarters of the game, completing a number of vital 3rd down passes. Although this game belonged to Sir Charles & the defense, it seemed to change the attitude of the Packers offense for the rest of the year. 17-7 - victory for the good guys.

6.) 09.08.08. Minnesota at Green Bay. Monday Night Football. From 1992-2007, we knew you would be the QB of the Green Bay Packers and for the most part, you knew what to expect. But, the season opener of the 2008 season brought a different vibe. A newness that offered uncertainty. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the NFC, the Packers had gold in Aaron Rodgers. While his numbers weren't spectacular - he threw for 178 yards, he was remarkably efficient. He went 18-22. 1 TD. 0 interceptions. Throw in a rushing TD and Rodgers had made his statement in a 24-19 Packers victory!

5.) 11.26.00. Minnesota at Green Bay. Monday Night Football. The game forever known as "HE DID WHAT!?!?" It was Mike Sherman's first year and the Packers were still seeking a post-Holmgren identity. At 3-5, the Packers were facing the 7-1 Viqueens. Playing in a steady rain for most of the game, the Packers were constantly playing catch-up. A Favre underhand flip to Ahman Green tied the game at 10 late in the 2nd Quarter. The Packers tied it on an Ahman Green TD run in the 4th. But, in the end, it looked like the Viqueens would prevail as Gary Anderson set up for a short FG. Mitch Berger bobbled the snap and inexplicably flung it in the air a la Gary Yepremian. The ball landed in Drive-By's hands. The Packers had survived. In OT, it was Favre to Freeman in the form of a miracle, 26-20.

4.) 09.23.07. San Diego at Green Bay. Entering the '07 season, the Chargers were viewed as a Super Bowl contender. The Packers were largely an afterthought. This game gave the G-Force the confidence that the '07 had the makings of a special season. The team showed character. A certain tenacity that we had not seen since the end of the '03 season. Favre was tremendous. Hitting 8 different receivers he blazed 369 yards & 3 TD's. Jennings, Jones and Driver were all dynamite as well. Trailing 21-17 late in the 4th, Favre hit Jennings on a slant that Jennings took 57 yards to the HOUSE! A late Nick Barnett interception proved to be the dagger! 31-24, Packers.

3.) 01.04.04. Seattle at Green Bay. Wild Card Game. After sneaking into the playoffs, Favre said to the media, "Start Believing." He backed it up against Seattle as he fired for 319 yards and a TD. Javon Walker was big all day as well going for 111 yards. But this game is remembered for Matt Hasselbeck proclaiming, "We want the ball and we're going to score." Well, Seattle didn't score. And a couple of possessions later - on crucial 3rd down - the Packers brought the blitz. Hasselbeck read it correctly. Al Harris guessed right on the audible and picked it off for a game winning TD. Famously, Wayne Larrivee echoed "Dreadlocks wading!" 33-27.

2.) 12.28.03. Denver at Green Bay. Sure, this game was cool as the Packers stomped the Donkeys 31-3. Ahman eclipsed 200 yards and had a 98 yard TD run. But, that's not what made this day special. 12.28.03 might be one of the most unique days in the HISTORY of LAMBEAU FIELD. At one point in the 4th Quarter, the fans weren't even watching the game. Instead, we were facing the box seats watching the Arizona Cardinals hosting the Minnesota Viqueens. Arizona trailed 17-6 late in the 4th quarter. Everyone in the Lambeau stands was fully aware that the Packers season was soon to end unless the Cardinals pulled off a miracle. I'll never forget a man with a headset standing up and yelling, "Touchdown, Arizona!" The Lambeau faithful applauded. Moments later, "they recovered the onside kick!!!" Soon, we were all staring at the box seats as they flipped their TV's to face the stadium which elevated the energy & mystique of Lambeau. On the final play, it was Josh McCown to Nate Poole from 28 yards to give the Packers a playoff berth. Ecstasy. Hugging strangers. Kissing cheeks. Slapping hands. Pure bliss. I'd argue that it's one of the heaviest buzzes in the HISTORY of LAMBEAU FIELD!!!! Seriously, amazing!

1.) 01.12.08. Seattle at Green Bay. Divisional Playoffs. Favre's last win as a Packer. Picturesque day at the storied theater we call Lambeau Field. Just thinking about it nearly brings a tear to the eye. Trailing 14-0 early, the Packers fought with great joy. Ryan Grant rushed for 201 yards and 3 TD's. Favre threw 3 TD's.

Best Draft Pick By Round:

1.) Aaron Rodgers - 2005
2.) Chad Clifton - 2000
3.) J-Mike - 2008
4.) tie: Willie B. - 2006, Josh Sitton - 2008
5.) tie: KGB - 2000, AK-74 - 2002
6.) Johnny Jolly - 2006
7.) Mark Tauscher - 2000

Putting together a 53-man All-Decade Roster was extremely difficult as I wanted to keep a realistic amount of players at each position.

QB: Favre as the starter. Rodgers as the back-up.
RB: Ahman Green as the starter with William Henderson as the FB. Back-ups: Ryan Grant and Najeh Davenport. Tony Fisher is the 3rd down back.
WR: Donald Driver & Greg Jennings are the starters. Freeman, Walker, and Bill Schroeder are the back-ups.
TE: Bubba Franks is the starter. Donald Lee & J-Mike are the back-ups.
OL: Tauscher, Clifton, Wahle, Wells, Rivera are the starters. Sitton, Flanigan, Spitz & Colledge are the back-ups.
K: Ryan Longwell
P: Josh Bidwell
KR: Allen Rossum
LS: Rob Davis
DL: AK-74, KGB, Cullen Jenkins & Ryan Pickett are the starters. Vonnie Holliday, Cletidus Hunt, Santana Dotson, Johnny Jolly, Russell Maryland & Grady Jackson are the back-ups.
LB: CM3, Nate Wayne, and Nick Barnett are the starters. Nail Diggs, AJ Hawk, and Hannibal Navies are the back-ups.
CB: Sir Charles & Ras-Al are the starters. Ras-Mike, T-Mon, and Drive-By Ty are the back-ups.
S: Sharper & Nintendo Nick are the starters. LeRoy Butler & Ras-A-tari are the back-ups.

I'm looking forward to training camp & the start of the new decade. We have the core to be the team of the decade. Lets do this!


Talkin' S-Mac.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

10 Questions that Need Answers

Greetings, G-Force.

It's July. Thus, training camp is near. Real close. As the anticipation for the 2010 campaign nears peak levels, my Packers addiction is craving answers to 10 critical concerns heading into training camp.

10.) Who can out-battle J-Bush for one of the vital Gunner positions on Special Teams? If J-Bush is going to make it for a 5th year, he will have to prove that he's the elite gunner on the team. Bush can expect steep competition from the likes of P-Lee, the U-HAUL, Josh Bell, Brett Swain, and potentially Anthony Levine. Call it wishful thinking but I am of the opinion that if Bush does not stand out in the preseason games as a special teams gunner, he won't make the team. Could he be trade bait? After all, last year, the Titans signed him to a tender. I wonder if there is still interest.

9.) Is Jordy Nelson, James Jones or Andrew Quarless ready to make an impact? Mike McCarthy has displayed a unique ability to design plays that create mismatches. Ted Thompson has attempted to provide McCarthy with players that would enable McCarthy to construct formations that offer a variety of options. Thompson spent a 3rd round pick on James Jones. After a bright rookie year, Jones has regressed due to injuries, competition and opportunity. This is a make or break year for Jones. Nelson was a 2nd round pick. He's yet to develop as the Packers had hoped. If Jones & Nelson can both show significant progress, it'd be fun to see the Packers have 5 legitimate weapons (Jennings, Driver, Jones, Nelson, and J-Mike), which would allow McCarthy to effectively spread defenses out as he did in 2007.

Andrew Quarless, on the other hand, is kind of an enigma to me. I'm excited he's a Packer, but I can't figure out his role in the offense. Unless the ultimate goal of the Thompson/McCarthy game plan is to use a double-TE set that runs J-Mike & Quarless down the seam against LB's on opposite sides of the field. That'd be wicked, if Quarless is ready to make a remote impact as a rookie.

Presently, I'm imagining Week 11. After the bye. At Mall of America Stadium, what a joke the Viqueens are, playing at Mall of America Stadium. Are you kidding me? (Sorry for the rant, but I had to get that out of my system). But, I'm envisioning Week 11. On the road. McCarthy unleashing a newly manufactured 3-TE set which appears to be a running formation, however the intent is to find either J-Mike or Quarless running one-on-one against a slower LB or a smaller DB. In 2008, remember that it was not until Week 9 at Tennessee - after the bye week - that McCarthy allowed us to see what J-Mike could do as a rookie.

This could get interesting. But, first, Quarless must display that he's available for at least a minimal role as a rookie. It'd be nice to see a glimpse of his ability in the preseason games.

8.) Can the Packers get production out of a back-up RB? Over the last two years, Ryan Grant has quietly averaged 1,228 yards and 8 TD's. He's lost 4 fumbles in 637 touches over that span as well. Meanwhile, he's done this without a consistent complimentary back. Batman provided a good change of pace at the end of last year, but he was not resigned and presently the RB staple consists of B-Jack, James Starks, Kregg Lumpkin, and Quinn Porter. At this stage, those names aren't going to frighten the opposition. B-Jack is what he is. He has become a reliable blocker, who isn't a flashy runner. Normally, he'll adequately get to the 1st down marker (except for the 2007 NFC Championship Game when he had 3 blockers and only Antonio Pierce in his way - no I still have not forgot. It's forgiven, but not forgotten). However, thus far, we have not been able to depend on Jackson as a reliable #2 RB.

No matter how you look at it, James Starks is on a list of the top 10 players to be curious about during the early portions of training camp. In order, for me, that list goes:

1.) Brad Jones
2.) Ryan Pickett
3.) Morgan Burnett
4.) Patrick Lee
5.) James Starks
6.) Mason Crosby
7.) Mike Neal
8.) Justin Harrell
9.) Jordy Nelson
10.) Bryan Bulaga

Of course, my apologies go out to Anthony Levine, I'm pulling for you!!!

I might be feeling dreamy, but Starks could hold a crucial role for the Packers in 2010. I don't know a lot about him, so I'm anxious to witness his flavor.

Kregg Lumpkin is a guy that I've wanted to like. However, another preseason of injuries and/or fumbling will mean the end to his career as a Packer.

For what it's worth, Quinn Porter wore #3 in college. For those of you that know me, you understand both its importance & my fascination.

7.) Are either Morgan Burnett or Ras-A-tari ready to finalize the excellence in our starting secondary? Nintendo Nick = Pro Bowler. Sir Charles = Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Ras Al = When healthy, Pro Bowler. T-Mon = LEGIT playmaking corner.

When healthy, Ras-A-tari has occasionally been the perfect compliment to Nintendo Nick. He's been a hard-hitting, run-stopping S who periodically picks off a pass. Don't overlook that over his last 36 games, he's picked off 10 passes. However, health & consistency have been major issues. While he's still unsigned, his twitter page promises that he'll be in camp.

It might not matter whether Bigby is at camp as Morgan Burnett looks prime to make an impact. He's signed and mentally prepared to participate in a big way. Burnett has the size at 6-1, 209 to play at this level. And in college, he was an elite playmaker with 14 picks over a 3 year career. You also have to admire that Burnett recognizes and appreciates his surroundings. I couldn't be more ecstatic that he's a Packer. He looks the part. It just feels like he's going to have a long career. Props to TT for trading up to get him. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Burnett:

What has been the most exciting part about being a Packer so far?
The tradition and history and knowing you have a chance to be part of something great. Walking in everyday seeing the great legends on the wall and just playing along with veterans and guys in the locker room.

6.) Can the Packers find a KR/PR to switch the field? The Packers have not returned a kickoff for a TD since 2000. Nor has it seemed as though we ever threatened to take one back to the house. The health of Willie B. remains in question. While it sounds as though he'll be available for training camp, he is recovering from a torn ACL. For the better part of the last decade, the Packers have lost the special teams battle in the return game. To a degree, regardless of whether Willie B. returns or not, this remains a concern. In 2008, Willie B. averaged a mere 21 yards per return. Scary. We need improvement. Fast.

I'm not convinced that we have this player on the roster. If Sam Shields performance in college is any evidence, he won't be able to handle it. Dude has trouble catching the ball. Hate say it, but I saw it for years down here in Miami. And it was a consistent topic in both the newspapers and on talk radio. So much so that they changed his position from WR to DB. Great speed. No hands.

It sounds like Starks might be given an opportunity. If Starks is unable, we might be left with Jordy Nelson once again. And while Nelson did average 25.4 yards per return last year, he was far from a game changer. I compare Nelson as a KR to Mike Prior as a PR. You know that he's running straightforward and you like it...but as a fan, you're not even thinking about the possibility of him returning a kick for a TD. Though I should mention that he did return one for a TD that was negated due to a penalty.

5.) Sticking with Special Teams & field position: Have the Packers solved our kicking woes? Simply put, Mason Crosby must perform better from the right hash or the Packers will have a gaping hole in their kicking game. In 2009, Crosby hit 75% of his FG's which was only better than 6 other kickers in the NFL (assuming that they had attempted at least 15 attempts). That's pathetic. In his first three years, Crosby has made 79.5%, 79.4% and 75% of his FG's. To compare, as a Packer, over his first 4 years, Ryan Longwell made 80%, 88%, 83%, and 87% of his kicks.

Further, at Punter, we have struggled for performance since we lost Craig Hentrich. Hopefully, either Chris Bryan or Tim Masthay is the solution to our troubles. Or else, once again, the Packers will struggle for field position.

4.) If Ras-Al is unable to play starting Day 1, are either Josh Bell, P-Lee or the U-HAUL capable of playing at this level. So far, P-Lee has been an absolute disappointment. Hopefully, he can stay healthy and show that he has the ability to meet the expectations that were placed on him as a 2nd round pick. Meanwhile, the U-HAUL not only has to show that he can elevate, but he must also fulfill his obligations of acting responsibly as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Bell got off to a rough start with his performance at Pittsburgh, but he deserves a 2nd chance this preseason. Also, presently, it's tough to rely on Willie B. as a CB with his injury. At a minimum, either Bell, P-Lee or the U-HAUL must be able to step in and perform as an integral part of the Packers dime defense.

3.) How do we replace Johnny Jolly? The loss of Jolly cannot be understated. In many ways, Jolly was a the praying mantis of the Packers defense, as he led all DL in the NFL with 11 passes defensed, 4 more than anyone else in the league. Many times, I've stated that Jolly is the 4th best defender on our roster. The other 3 are all Pro Bowlers.

In an effort to replace Jolly, the Packers have moved Ryan Pickett to DE. They also drafted Mike Neal. The Packers also hold out hope for CJ Wilson & Jarius Wynn, who were both late round draft picks over the last two years. And don't forget about Justin Harrell. I'm still holding out hope for Harrell. This is the last chance for him to salvage anything out of his NFL career. In the 3-4 rotation, it'd be great if he could give us 10-15 plays a game. I'm optimistic that Harrell will finally be able to stay healthy and with that, I believe he'd be able to make the DL rotation.

I'm not convinced that Pickett is the fit as a 3-4 DE, so much of my attention will be on Mike Neal. Neal must be able to play DAY ONE! If not, the Packers defense will have suffered a MAJOR blow. Jolly brought intensity & personality. From all accounts, Neal is a muscle maniac. For whatever reason, wrongfully, he has not garnered much attention from the WI state media. From what I read, Neal has pass-rushing skills. He definitely has the size and strength to play a 3-4 DE. Lets hope he has the talent.

2.) Can anyone other than "the Claymaker" get to the QB? Ted Thompson made two extremely gutsy decisions this offseason: 1.) He did not draft/sign an OLB across from Clay. 2.) He did not sign a proven veteran QB to back-up Rodgers. The first decision might be an immediate need. The second was an insurance policy. For now, I'm not going to focus on the QB spot, rather the spotlight has turned to Brad Jones. Yes, Brad Jones. Brad Jones must be able to get to the QB. The man with a common name is charged with one of the more difficult tasks in football. In 7 starts, he had 4 sacks. In college, he had 9.5 sacks over a 4 year career. Last year, he made a number of fine plays against run at the line of scrimmage and finished with 28 tackles in his 7 starts. Averaging 4 tackles a game as an OLB in the 3-4 is respectable, but what's unacceptable is that he melted down against Arizona. While in no way is he solely responsible for giving up 51 points in the playoff loss, the Cardinals clearly thought that they could attack Jones' side of the field. They did not respect his pass rush and they ran right at him every time that they had the chance. Additionally, he was nowhere to be seen on Pittsburgh's game winning drive. For much of the drive, he was not on the field as Brady Poppinga was in his place. Unacceptable.

At 239 lbs, Jones is light for a 3-4 OLB. Nonetheless, the precedent was set by Greg Lloyd - who weighed 228 lbs - that in the Dom Capers style of 3-4, an undersized OLB can flourish. In Capers 3 seasons coaching Lloyd, Lloyd made the Pro Bowl every year. For the record, during his 12 year career, Lloyd made the Pro Bowl 5 times. It's also worth mentioning that Lloyd was named an All-Pro three times during his career, twice when he was coached by Capers. Lloyd was also named the AFC Defensive Player of the Year under Capers' tutelage. Does Jones have the fiery mentality that is required out of a stallion 3-4 OLB? We'll find out soon enough.

Capers has compared Jones to Chad Brown. Brown is comparable in height & weight at 6-2, 245. It's noteworthy that Brown showed significant improvement from his first to his second year under Capers' direction. Brown started 9 games his first year and grabbed 3 sacks. In year two, he came full bloom to the tune of 90 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles. If Jones produces those numbers, the Packers defense will garner great results.

Shine On, Brad Jones.

1.) Do we have the OL depth to protect Aaron Rodgers in case we suffer injuries? Injuries to our OL; it's almost not a matter of "if" but a matter of "when." It's almost unrealistic to expect Clifton & Tauscher to stay healthy for 16 games. In the early portions of last year, our OL was miserable. For a while, it appeared as though the Packers might challenge the NFL record for putridity with regard to the most sacks surrendered in a season. We had two major concerns: Health & Allen Barbre. Clifton's injury forced Colledge to play LT. Barbre proved to be a Barbie Doll and not a starting RT in the NFL. This year, the Packers have 1st round draft pick Bryan Bulaga as a back-up at LT. Hopefully, he's up to speed. In many ways, this will be determined after two preseason games, assuming he does not miss training camp due to a contract dispute. This year, the Barbie Doll is all but eliminated from discussion as TJ Lang will be the back-up RT. Lang performed admirably when forced into duty at Tackle last year. He was playing with limited reps and showed that he has a fighter's personality. He's gritty, tough-minded. He reminded me of a young Tauscher. While, at times, Jared Allen pushed Lang around, Lang did give a working man's effort. Lang is not a LT. He'll feel more at home at RT and his results will also be more prosperous.

Presently, I'd argue that Rodgers is the 2nd best player in the NFC - behind Drew Brees. Protect him. Keep him upright. Get the ball out of his hands. With the weapons he has at the skill positions, Rodgers might be in line for an MVP award. Seriously.

12 days until the troops report and we prepare for combat. I'm amped. Pack in '10!

Power to the Packers,

Talkin' S-Mac.