Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Packers Deciding Who Stays and Who Goes

Over the past week,  the Packers made some personnel moves to reduce their current roster to 75 players.  Among those moves were the release of notables Jarius Wynn and Anthony Hargrove.  Wynn started all 16 games last year for the Pack and posted just 3 sacks and a paltry 19 total tackles.  His release comes as no surprise to me, as the Pack clearly wanted to make changes on their D line.  They signed Hargrove in March and spent 2 early-round picks on linemen  Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels.  With Worthy seemingly grabbing hold of the starting RDE spot and with CJ Wilson holding his own during camp, Wynn was expendable.  Hargrove was let go earlier this week and with little explanation from GM Ted Thompson or Head Coach Mike McCarthy.  The prevailing thought is that the move was a combination of his having to serve an 8 game suspension and not standing out with the limited action he saw in camp.  Because Hargrove wouldn’t have been available until week 9, the Pack gave most of the reps to the other D linemen that they needed to evaluate.  He was likely brought in as insurance against an unforeseen injury.  Fortunately, that unit has remained relatively healthy and recovered quickly from any dings.

Another move that the team and Pack fans were hoping to avoid was the placement of ILB Desmond Bishop on season-ending injured reserve.  Because the league and the NFLPA weren’t able to agree on a new rule that would allow each team to bring back one player from IR before the end of the season, the old rules apply.  There was some hope that there would be an agreement and a possible return for Bishop, if he recovered well, around week 10 or so.  This opens up a big opportunity for DJ Smith, who filled in last season when Bishop recovered from a calf injury.  Smith is now the clear favorite to start at ILB in the team’s base 3-4 defense.  It also opens up a spot at a crowded position with Robert Francois, Terrell Manning, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore trying to stick.

Also placed on season-ending IR and likely to be released once the team reaches an injury settlement with them are Du’ane Bennett (RB), Johnny Jones (DL), Shaky Smithson (WR), Demarco Cosby (TE), and Ray Dominguez (G).  Smithson and Dominguez had outside chances to make this year’s team but health issues and lackluster camp performances led to their demise.  This is Smithson’s second straight year on IR at the end of camp and it is clearly time to cut the cord.
Andrew Quarless and Frank Zombo were placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) which means they will miss at least the first 6 games of the 2012 season.  Quarless suffered that gruesome knee injury in a December game vs. the Giants and is still recovering from that.  Zombo has had chronic issues with injury and he is likely being saved in the event that the OLB position becomes thin during the early part of the season.  If everyone remains healthy and effective, Zombo will likely be placed on IR or released when he is eligible to return.

The team has 4 days to make more roster moves and reduce to its final count of 53 players.  Their final preseason game is this Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Starters will see very limited action with the coaching staff needing every down to evaluate those who are on the bubble.  Some of those players are WR’s Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley who are trying to make a strong final push to convince the team to carry 6 WR’s.  It’s very possible that the Pack may feel that more depth is needed elsewhere and they are set with the 5 that they currently have.  If released, both Gurley and Borel would likely catch on somewhere else.  Because Greg Jennings and Donald Driver have battled injuries over the past few years, I foresee the team keeping one of the 2, likely Gurley.  Also pushing hard is Dezman Moses at OLB.  Because Erik Walden is serving a 1 game suspension during week 1 and due to his stellar play in trainint camp, Moses is likely to make the final roster.  He has seemingly passed up Vic So’oto for a spot on the team.  So’oto has seen his reps reduced over the past few weeks and barring an unexpected injury, I expect him to be let go by week’s end.

At QB, Graham Harrell is currently the team’s backup with BJ Coleman likely to end up on the Practice Squad.  Harrell has performed very marginally thus far and has had some fans nervous about his ability should the unthinkable happen and if Aaron Rodgers is forced to miss time due to injury.  The thought of the team making a trade for a veteran backup is looking more and more slim as each day passes.  It would require the Pack to create a roster spot for a 3rd QB and reduce depth elsewhere.  It would also likely cost a higher pick as team’s asking prices tend to rise as the regular season nears.  One thing that may calm fans’ minds a bit is to look back to 2008 when Matt Flynn entered the season as backup to first-year starter Rodgers.  Flynn played poorly in his first few bits of action and some may recall a game in Tampa when Rodgers left with a shoulder injury.  Flynn looked every bit as uncomfortable as could be but over time, he eventually settled in and became a viable signal caller.  It’s hard to say if Harrell will have the same success but it’s very clear that he needs quite a bit of development yet.  Fingers crossed that Rodgers can stay on his feet.

At running back, the team will have to decide what to do with James Starks and Brandon Saine.  Newly acquired Cedric Benson is the starting back with Alex Green backing him up.  John Kuhn returns as the team’s sole fullback.  Saine recently returned from injury and needs to have a strong showing in this week’s game at KC.  Starks is likely to miss this week’s game with a nagging turf toe injury.  Starks has battled health issues from day 1 and if the team hasn’t yet grown tired of his lack of availability, fans have.  The team has had more than its fair share of injuries over the past few years and it’s all about who is in uniform and ready to contribute.  Turf toe is a tough injury to heal while also trying to play.  Charles Woodson has had some issues with it over the past several seasons but has managed to play through it (and effectively).  Starks and the team will have to decide if he can still play through this for most of the season.  When healthy, Starks has struggled so it will be interesting to see which direction the team goes.  My rational mind says they should go with Saine and either let Starks go or PUP him if they can.  But I don’t make those decision and by Friday afternoon it could be Saine looking for a new team.  The Pack won’t keep both.

More to come as this week unfolds.  The Packers host the Chiefs this Thursday at 6pm CDT which will officially end their preseason.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brewers Season Recap Games 86-122

Oh yes, it's that time again. It's been a rough season for the Brewers and an even harder one for the fans. But, to much of the fan's credit, they are still showing up at Miller Park to show their support. If you gave up mid-season, than you missed a lot. Zack Greinke was traded to the Angels, George Kottaras was traded to the A's, and we just recently released veteran pitcher Randy Wolf. Let's take a look at the rest. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Ryan Braun is good at baseball. This should come as much as a surprise. But, for the 3rd time in a row, Braun has made the Good list when it came for review time of the Crew. Ryan ranks number one in the National League in home runs, tied for 1st in RBIs, ranked 7th in batting average, number one is slugging percentage, and ranked 2nd in OPS. Since July 13th, Ryan has 10 HR, 24 RBI, batting just over the .300 mark. Ryan did have a mini slump in the beginning of August, but all it took was a little extra batting practice to fix what was wrong, as he belted 4 HR in 3 days after his slump. Ryan has already surpassed his HR mark from last year, as he just hit his 34th HR of the year. I don't have any doubts that Ryan will not qualify for the Good list for a 4th time this season.

Carlos Gomez's recent surge. This should come as no surprise. Gomez has been great since the All-Star break. Counting from July 13th to present day, Gomez has racked up 7 HRs, 16 RBI, 25 R, 13 SB, while batting just around .280 in that span (34/121). To put things into perspective of how hot Gomez is right now, 34 of his 72 hits have come in the past two months. Every home run he hits is a new career high. His previous was 8, which he set last season. He is currently at 12, and is showing no signs of slowing down either. He's batting .254 after regulation on August 22nd, which is .009 higher than his career average of .245. With the many outfielders on our roster, as well as the ones ready to come up soon, Gomez is making a case why he isn't expendable.

Don't call it a comeback, Rickie Weeks. I know, He's still not batting at the level he should. In his defense, it's hard to get a respectable batting average after digging himself such a deep hole. But, if you just sit down and watch a few of these games, you can just tell that he is seeing the ball so much better and he is more comfortable at the dish. Let's look at a few games to be specific. August 10th vs. Astros. In this game, Weeks went 3 for 4 with 3 doubles and 2 RBI. Now, what I want to point out is that these doubles were all ripped down the left field line bounced once or twice and hit the wall. These balls were smoked of his bat. This is a good sign that his back foot, which was hurt last year, is probably at 100%. The second game I want to look at is arguably Weeks' best hitting performance of the season. It came against Philadelphia on July 25th. Weeks went 4 for 4 with 2 singles to left, and infield single to SS, and a HR. He also was hit by a pitch and he stole a bag. Weeks' stolen base numbers have never really been high over his career, but his stolen base numbers this year (8) are down compared to his career average (12).

Jean Segura's presence at SS. Jean Segura has been a nice addition for the Brewers at the shortstop position, and it's exciting to know we finally have a future at short again after losing guys like JJ Hardy and Alcides Escobar. He started off really slow at the plate, then heated up, and then cooled down again. But that is expected from a guy at Jean's age and experience. His bat will come around in due time. There's no doubt in my mind that this guy will be a bright spot in our line up in the near future. A picture says a thousand words, right? Well, a .GIF must say ten thousand.                

Moving along....

Honorable mentions: Corey Hart has continued to be outstanding at 1st base, although his bat has been off and on throughout the end of July and all through August. Aramis Ramirez has done the exact same on the other side of the infield, flashing a great glove over at 3rd base this year. 2 Gold Gloves on their way for the Brewers' infield? I sure hope so. The tandem of Jonathon Lucroy and Martin Maldonado has been something special to watch. There is never a weak spot in the lineup when it comes to our 2 catchers. It will be nice to have in the years to come. Yes, I have to name a few people from the bullpen. Kameron Loe has been absolutely lights out lately, and it deserves some attention. Since the All-Star break, Loe has only given up 4 earned runs, 0 home runs, 16 strike outs and only 5 walks with 1 save. He has also forced He has also forced 31 ground balls since the ASB, and over 90% have been outs. He has a 1.13 ERA in August. Minus one hick-up, Jim Henderson has also been very good out of the bullpen.


Nyjer Morgan's base-running. His bat is starting to come around, but his mental errors continue to keep him on the bench. I'm not for sure what the direction of our outfield is for next season, but Nyjer isn't really making a great case for him to return next season. I understand that no one is perfect and that mistakes happen, but how many times can you really allow it to happen before you finally just say enough is enough?

Ron Roenicke's pinch hitting decisions. Cody Ransom should never pinch hit for anyone other then a pitcher, and even that is a stretch. A pitcher should never pinch hit for a position player, ever. And, recently it happened, also. I'm not sure if it's just that Ron doesn't care anymore or what, but some of his decisions have made me scratch my head lately. But, what do I know?


The Bullpen: I really can't say much to you that you all haven't already heard. It's not frustrating anymore. It's not excusable anymore. Hell, it's not even comical anymore. You have your Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Billy Goat, Steve Bartman, and then you have the giant cloud that is sitting over our bullpen this season. If my numbers are right, the Brewers bullpen has blown 23 games this season. Whether they were one run games or seven run games, 23 games have been blown this season. That is really inexcusable. A team is expected to have a few blown every year. Usually anywhere between 6-10. But, 23 is just outrageous. It got so bad that Ron went to closer by committee, and that didn't even work. Since then, Axford has been reinstated as our closer. And, hopefully, just maybe our bullpen can finish off the year strong.  

To wrap things up, minus the Brewers' record and all of the disappointment with our relief pitching, there was actually a lot of good to talk about this time around. It's funny how the game of baseball works. You can have so much go right, but one thing can effect your entire season. Our offense has been great this past month. Our starting pitching for the most part has been getting the the job done. Mike Fiers has struggled a bit lately, but it happens. Gallardo has been lights out as of late. Mark Rogers and Marco Estrada are coming around as they both earned their first wins of 2012. Finally, Shaun Marcum will be returning for the Brewers this weekend vs. Pittsburgh.Our defense has been really good this year. It's just our bullpen that hasn't kept up to par with the rest of our game this year to keep us in contention. I think the focus for the Brewers at this point is push to end at .500 and to ruin a few team's postseason chances.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

Andrew Vrchota (@WSB_Andrew)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why Tarvaris Jackson Makes Sense for the Packers

If there is one thing we can conclude, it’s that Packers’ GM Ted Thompson understands the definition of insanity which is essentially doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.  Over the past 5 years, he has relied primarily on the draft and undrafted free agency to back fill his roster.  He has been chided by fans everywhere for not pulling the trigger on possible free agents or trades that could have potentially bettered the team.  The most recent such case was back in 2010 when the Pack had just lost starting RB Ryan Grant in the season opener.  With James Starks unknown and several weeks away from being healthy, that left Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn, Corey Hall and Quinn Johnson at the RB/FB position.  Rumors began to fly about the Buffalo Bills wanting to move one of their running backs and that Marshawn Lynch was on the trading block.  Adding fuel to that fire was the fact that AJ Hawk was used very sparingly in week 1 versus the Eagles that year.  The following week, Buffalo came to Green Bay and everyone sat on the edge of their seat, waiting.

That game came and went.  No deal.  Another several weeks passed by.   Still no deal.  Trade deadline approached and suddenly, Lynch was a Seahawk.  Packer fans were up in arms.  Why not add a potent piece to complement Rodgers and Co’s passing game?  Low and behold, the Pack won a Super Bowl anyway and there was some merit added to Thompson’s method.  Just when Pack fans were getting behind this theory, Thompson has added 2 big-name free agents this offseason in Jeff Saturday and Cedric Benson.  Both are expected to start and solidify positions that saw the incumbent starters not return (Scott Wells and Ryan Grant).   Thompson was clearly disappointed with the way last season ended and knew he had to do something different to make 2012 any more successful.

After 2 preseason games, it’s clear that there are more questions than answers in Graham Harrell as backup QB.  If Rodgers goes down, it’s fair to say Pack fans will be less than optimistic that Harrell can create the same output that former backup QB Matt Flynn did.  Now Flynn had his share of struggles before becoming the very able-bodied backup QB that he was.  Harrell has surely struggled and made several questionable decisions with the ball during his 2 live auditions.  He has a long way to go before he can truly be counted on to be the team’s #2.  That’s why it’s not a bad idea to take a long look at Tarvaris Jackson when he likely becomes available later this week.

Jackson, once the heir apparent to Brad Johnson in Minnesota with the Vikings, has spent 6 years in the NFL and has started many games but has never been the full time starter for an entire season.  He was seemingly on his way to gaining the team’s backing as their QB of the future when Brett Favre became available in 2009.  Jackson was shelved and spent the next 2 years watching the team yo-yo from an NFC championship appearance to a 3rd place finish in 2010.  He wasn’t brought back by the Vikes and he became a free agent.  Last year, he signed with and started 14 games for Seattle.  He has had his share of issues with consistency.  He is an athletic QB but he’s not quite mobile enough to make a living at it like a Michael Vick or Cam Newton.  He hasn’t had much success throwing from the pocket.  Based on that, what you have is a career backup who isn’t horrible but is never likely going to be great.  He has enough experience to get in there and know how to take command of the huddle.  What fans around the league say is that he can’t win games.  His win/loss record isn’t great but remember that the best-case scenario surrounding a backup QB is that he never plays.  The team doesn’t need “great” but they do need the potential for “good”.  Right now, Graham Harrell hasn’t shown enough to warrant the “good” label yet.  With BJ Coleman nothing but practice squad material, it would be wise for the Pack to consider adding Jackson as a safety net.  Aaron Rodgers has had concussion issues in the past and with the new league rules governing how those are handled, it’s conceivable that he could miss a game or 2 this season.  God forbid that happen in late December/early January.  Roster spots are an important thing to manage and the team could likely use some depth in other areas but no position is more important than the QB.  The team will have an interesting decision facing them if Jackson is released as he is expected to be.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Packers Injured, Opportunities Knock

It’s no secret the Packers are already dealing with a rash of injuries in this preseason.  Last week, 18 different players missed practice time and/or preseason game 1 versus the Chargers.  As they headed into the game against the Cleveland Browns, that same number of players were out of action.  Notables were Greg Jennings (concussion), Jermichael Finley (quadriceps), Davon  House (shoulder), Sam Shields (elbow), James Starks (turf toe), Brandon Saine (hamstring), John Kuhn (ankle), and Diondre Borel (groin).  With this many regulars out, it opens up an opportunity for some of the guys vying for a roster spot.

The running back position is especially thin and newly acquired Cedric Benson did not play in the contest.  That leaves 3 healthy backs.  Alex Green is on a “pitch count” and his reps are being monitored as he continues to return from knee surgery.  Marc Tyler will get a long look after last week’s performance at San Diego.  He is a dark horse to crack the roster but could certainly make a case for the team’s practice squad.  Ball security was an issue last week and he will need to hang onto the rock.  Lastly is Nic Cooper who had an outside chance at the PS but depending on what the team does to address the current injuries to Starks and Saine, Cooper could catapult up the depth chart. 

With WR’s Jennings and Borel out, this would seemingly offer an opportunity for Tori Gurley and Shaky Smithson to get some reps and even if it’s not in Green Bay, garner some interest around the league.  Unfortunately for Smithson, he is out with an ankle injury.  He was put on IR last year before the season began and is again battling bumps and bruises this year.  At this rate, he is likely seeing some of his last days in Green Bay.  Gurley entered training camp the favorite to grab a 6th WR spot after performing well last year on the team’s practice squad.  He has seemingly been overtaken by Borel who has proven to be more durable and has performed better overall in practices.  Borel looked good in game action last week before suffering the injury.  IF the Pack decide to keep 6 wide out’s, health may play a big factor in who is in that spot.

The injury to Desmond Bishop will likely sideline him for the season and this means the end of any talk that the team may not keep AJ Hawk.  Hawk and DJ Smith will likely start the season at ILB.  With Bishop out of the equation, this opens up an opportunity for Robert Francois, who made a few key plays last year when Bishop and Hawk were hurt in the middle of the season.  Francois likely would have been kept for special teams purposes, could find himself back on the field.  Rookie Terrell Manning will surely get a look and is likely to stick as a ST player as well.

It’s being reported that TE Andrew Quarless has his sights set on a week 1 return.  This was especially surprising to hear given the gruesome nature of the knee injury he suffered in December’s game at New York.  Quarless was high on the team’s list of hopeful’s before he went down and if healthy, would be a welcome sight in uniform.  I’m skeptical that he will be ready, however.  He will probably start the season on PUP and miss some time.  With Finley and Quarless out, it’s time for DJ Williams, Tom Crabtree and Ryan Taylor to battle it out.  If the Pack are going to keep an extra WR, they may not have the luxury of carrying 5 TE’s so one of those guys could be headed home.  It’s going to be a tough decision as all 3 have been contributors on ST and in game.  My guess is that if push came to shove, Taylor would be the odd man out.  Health will likely be the key.

On the O line, Andrew Datko can expect to see some increased reps at tackle.  Marshall Newhouse isn’t listed  as inactive today so it’s uncertain whether he gets in.  Coach McCarthy’s conservative approach with injuries has me speculating that Newhouse will be held out if there is any question whether he’s ready to return after suffering a concussion 2 weeks ago.  Datko needs to win his 1 on 1 matchups if he wants to keep his jersey.  He was marginal in last week’s game versus the Chargers and understandably so.  It’s his first in-game action since being drafted and he will need to develop.  The Pack just may not have the luxury of giving him that time.  Veteran Herb Taylor will need to put up a much better performance against a starting unit than he did last week.  Taylor had trouble all night and especially against a very active Antoine Barnes, who had 8 sacks last season. 

This conversation brings back memories of 2010 when guys were dropping like flies throughout the year.  The team went on to fill the holes and win a Super Bowl.  While that’s a somewhat comforting thought, it’s a bad sign that so many players are dinged up already.  It’s hard to practice without getting physical and MM has had to try and maintain balance between preparing his defense to play better than it did last season and to stay healthy.  This will be a key to the Pack’s success this year so hopefully the training staff and doctors can work their magic and get some of these guys back in action soon.  Week 1 is less than 1 month away.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cedric Benson's Pros and Cons

The team is getting a player who was drafted the same year as Aaron Rodgers and, in fact, was drafted before Rodgers.  He went 4th overall to the Bears.  Benson was the last 1st round pick to sign his rookie deal that year.  He played in Chicago for 3 seasons and largely underachieved.  In June 2008, Benson was arrested twice in a span of 5 weeks for DUI and released by the Bears.  He went on to sign with the Bengals in 2008.  He has spent the last 4 seasons with the team and was not re-signed when his contract ended following 2011.

One of the big concerns about Benson are his off-field issues.  In addition to the DUI arrests previously mentioned, Benson was also arrested in 2010 and 2011 on assault charges in Texas where he starred as a Longhorn running back at University of Texas.  After having met with Benson following the 2 DUI arrests and deciding not to suspend him, Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Benson for 3 games in 2011 following the last assault charge.  It was later reduced to 1 game.  It’s clear that Ced has exercised some very questionable judgment in the past and that is not something to be ignored.  He turns 30 this December and naturally has a limited shelf life as a running back.  Hopefully the more low-key environment in Green Bay along with a strong veteran presence in the locker room can elicit the best that Benson has left.  In his career, Benson has had some issues hanging onto the ball.  He has fumbled 19 times in his career, losing 11 of those.  During the last 3 years, he fumbled 13 times and losing 7 of those.  You may recall his forgettable performance in Super Bowl XLI when he rushed twice for -1 total yards and had a costly fumble before leaving the game with a knee injury.  However, Benson has also amassed 3,429 yards over the past 3 seasons and has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each.  In terms of total yards, he ranked 12th in 2011, 13th in 2010, and 8th in 2009, his best statistical season (2nd in yards/game behind Chris Johnson).  It should also be mentioned he ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts in each of those years.  He is the definition of a “work horse” running back but has never reached double digits in rushing TD’s and has only 1 receiving TD in his career.

He is likely being brought in to provide some experience and production in a backfield that currently features 10 total years of playing experience (James Starks, Alex Green, Brandon Saine and John Kuhn).  Benson has been credited with a strong work ethic and he plays hard.  His conditioning has never been an issue.  He has also proven to be a decent blocker, which is an important facet of a RB’s game in Green Bay.  The pass-heavy offensive scheme makes some scratch their heads at this signing but GM Ted Thompson marches to the beat of his own drum and has a Super Bowl win to his credit.  While he has seemingly foregone bringing in outside free agents over the past 4 seasons, Benson would mark the 2nd “big name” outsider added to this year’s team.  UFA Jeff Saturday was signed in March to replace departed Center Scott Wells.  If nothing else, it can’t be said that the team isn’t thinking outside the box in trying to improve its offense.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

2012 Training Camp Volume 8: Inside Linebackers

In Dom Capers 3-4 defense, the inside linebacker position is key in calling signals in the huddle.  That job has belonged primarily to AJ Hawk over the past 3 seasons.  Hawk has been the subject of everything from criticism of his play after being the 5th overall selection in the 2006 NFL draft to the subject of trade rumors after he played a small handful of snaps following week 1 of the 2010 season.  Every year it seems as though Hawk comes into camp “in phenomenal shape” and “ready to emerge as a top-tier player”.  What many don’t realize is that what he does do on the field isn’t all about making tons of tackles and lighting up the highlight reel like a Ray Lewis in Baltimore does.  He’s rarely out of position and is a smart player.  He has been called a “lunch pail” guy, meaning he comes in and works hard every day.  He hasn’t missed a lot of time due to injury.  There was some talk that the team overpaid him when they signed him to a new 5 year deal worth $33.75 million in March of 2011.  While that kind of money is certainly best spent on difference-making players, keep in mind that Thompson likes “his” guys.   In other words, he doesn’t give up easily on his first rounders.  With Hawk, what you see is what you get but come season’s start, he will be on the field at ILB to start the game.  What the Packers see in Hawk is worth more than any “maybe” that the other guys bring.

At the other starting ILB spot will be Desmond Bishop.  After spending his first 3 seasons as a backup LB, Bishop emerged in 2010 when Nick Barnett went down to an early season injury.  He flashed some brilliant play during preseason 2009 and many fans were clamoring him to get on the field.  When he did, he quickly made an impact.  In a 2010 matchup vs. the Vikings, Bish, as he’s called, stepped in front of a short pass from Brett Favre and he was off to the end zone.  He has great instincts and gets after the football.  He recovered the fumble in Super Bowl XLV that led to the final scoring drive and eventual win.  He’s got a good motor and in-game speed.  He’s a fiery leader and can blow up a play at any given time.  The only question mark right now is when his injured calf will allow him to get back to work full speed.  He should be back before long and there’s currently no worry that this is a long-term injury.  There’s just not enough other talent there to unseat Bishop at the other ILB spot.  This position remains unchanged as far as starters.

Also in the hunt at ILB are DJ Smith, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, Brad Jones and 2012 draft pick Terrell Manning.  The team will likely keep 3 of these players.  Manning will almost certainly be kept to develop and see what is there, which theoretically leaves 2 spots.  DJ Smith was said to be pushing hard for one of the starting spots and he played very well in relief of Bishop when he was hurt last year.  Smith is a lock.  Okay, down to 1 spot.  Based on last year, this will likely come down to Brad Jones and Francois.  Recall that Jones was a starting OLB in the latter part of 2009 and heading into the 2010 season until he was hurt and placed on IR.  Last year, Jones was used sparingly among the rotation at OLB but his value is apparent to the Pack.  As a regular contributor on special teams and with a few roster spots going to other positions (WR and QB), the team will either have to move Jones inside or they would likely have to let him walk at the end of camp.  Like Hawk, Jones isn’t a flashy player but he’s smart and has become one of the quiet leaders on the team over the past 3 seasons.  My call is that Jones is the last ILB kept and the team will likely let Francois and Lattimore go.

Francois is an interesting case because he, like Smith, was a solid contributor at ILB last season when Hawk was hurt.  He posted that nice leaping INT of a Matt Stafford pass in the Thanksgiving Day game last year.  If the Packers had it their way, they’d likely keep him but this will have to come down to their l sacrificing a spot at another position group.  It’s not out of the question but my best guess is that they let him go and hope their current crop can stay healthy.  He is sure to catch on somewhere with another team sooner than later if he hits the open market. This group will be called on often to get their hands dirty and help stop the run as well as create pressure up the middle.  While they aren’t “flashy” by nature, they will need to channel their inner beast this year in order to be more effective and get the defense off the field quickly and swiftly.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Packers Training Camp Recap Week 1

Packers’ training camp is one week old and as we head towards the first preseason game, let’s take a look at some of the highlights so far:

Charlie Peprah released
– after failing his initial physical, Peprah was released by the team.  While not a top safety in the NFL, he can play and surely could help a team in need once he heals up.  My guess is that the team didn’t intend to let him go and this was purely a medical move.  Should the team become thin at S down the road and he’s available, he will be the first call

Offensive line practices with the same starting 5 all week
– sounds pretty basic and obvious but in the past 3 seasons, Coach McCarthy and staff have been playing musical chairs to try and get the right group of guys together in time for the season.  With Jeff Saturday the lone new guy (although hardly new to the NFL, he’s a 12 year vet), the Pack appear poised to return a cohesive unit that should improve on last year’s performance and provide a boost to the run game as well as buy MVP Aaron Rodgers some more time in the pocket.  That. . would be bad for the rest of the NFL

The race is on at WR – We knew Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were entrenched at WR this season.  Donald Driver restructured his contract and has remained in the team’s plans, providing a heavy dose of savvy and class not just to the position, but to the team as a whole.  James Jones returned as well, looking to prove that he belongs in this group and is more valuable to the Packers in Green & Gold than another uniform.  He has been the subject of trade rumors.  Both Driver and Jones will enter the season as the 4th and 5th WR’s.  Lastly, who will claim what is sure to be a 6th WR spot on this year’s roster?  The odds on favorite is Tori Gurley, who spent all of last season on the team’s practice squad and turned down a few opportunities to join other teams’ active rosters to bide his time in Green Bay.  Also in the hunt are Diondre Borel, Shaky Smithson and Curenski Gilleylen, although I don’t anticipate any to survive the final cut down.  Borel has the most potential of the 3 underdogs but he will likely be the victim of a position group that is just too deep with talent.  This is a good problem to have in a pass-heavy offense and an MVP quarterback at the helm.

Jermichael Finley – Finley gets his own bullet point.  Not many have had as high of expectations as those placed on Finley over the past 3 seasons.  After missing most of 2010 with a knee injury, Finley returned in 2011 and was largely disappointing.  He was admittedly timid due to the recovery process on his knee and he had concentration issues, dropping several crucial balls down the stretch last year.  In 2012, he has a lot to prove and  has already overcome a mild concussion, suffered during one of last week’s practices.  He will be the team’s top option at TE and has to have his best year yet to bump up among the league’s elite.  Hot on his trail is the emerging DJ Williams, who much like Finley 3 years ago, is catching many an eye along with every ball thrown his way in camp.  These are your top 2 TE’s

Randall Cobb as Slash – Some of you may remember the role that Kordell Stewart played for the Steelers in the mid 90’s.  He was QB, WR, RB and even punter a time or two.  Randall Cobb has that same playmaking ability.  The idea this season is to get the ball into his hands one way or another.  Cobb played some QB in college and is a smart athlete.  He has quickly become the team’s 3rd WR and has even been seen as a. . holder?  Yes, as a holder during FG drills.  Stay tuned for more Cobb coming soon to an end zone near you!

2012 draft class – So far Nick Perry has been quietly learning his position and hasn’t had his name mentioned much while OLB Dezman Moses, a UDFA, has been all the buzz.  He carried over a great performance during OTA’s to camp and is winning quite a few of his 1 on 1 matchups.  He is making it very difficult to find his way off this team.  He’s my dark horse to stick and is this year’s Vic So’oto.  Let’s hope he can stay healthy and actually flash that potential when it counts in September.  Terrell Manning is having a superb camp and is said to be “everywhere” so far.  He is competing at the ILB spot along with 2nd year man DJ Smith and Robert Francois, both of whom saw action in games last year.  BJ Coleman is making the most of his reps as the team’s 3rd QB.  The big question remains if the team will keep a 3rd QB on the active roster or not.  If Coleman is relegated to the practice squad, he could be a hot target of another NFL team looking for a young hopeful to groom for their future.   With Aaron Rodgers seemingly the starting QB in Green Bay for the next several years, Coleman would surely listen if another team came knocking.  Casey Hayward has made a few plays and has been a bit up and down, as is expected of most rookie DB’s coming out of the 2nd and later rounds.  DL Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels have already infused some fire and pop to a D line that badly needed it.  Daniels missed another practice today (August 2) and some questions about his  health have been raised since he came into OTA’s with a shoulder injury.  With Peprah’s release, Jerron McMillian surely will be called on to play and contribute in 2012.  He is already drawing comparisons to Nick Collins who was similarly unknown drafted from a small school, but the comparisons end there.  McMillian now needs to prove he’s worthy of being named in the same company.  He will find himself competing for time to do just that with fellow “rookie” M.D. Jennings, who saw very limited action last season and is still developing himself.  Rounding out the draftees is Andrew Datko, who has been struggling lately at OT.  The 7th round pick also had injury issues at Florida State and missed some time.  He is another dark horse to be on the roster when the season opens and could be kept by default if Derek Sherrod isn’t ready to come back from his leg injury.  Coach McCarthy stated that he was concerned about the attitude of this year’s rookie class heading into camp.  He felt there was a prevailing mindset that life in the NFL wasn’t so difficult and that it was easier than previously thought.  He set out to change that mindset from day 1.  Preseason game time will tell the story of success there.

Health – The Pack have been relatively healthy to this point and have already had several players return from minor dings.  John Kuhn could soon be set to return to practice for the first time this camp.  That leaves Derek Sherrod, Desmond Bishop and Andrew Quarless as those from last year’s squad who have yet to practice in full this summer.  Sherrod and Quarless suffered late-season injuries and were expected to be out.  Bishop is battling a calf injury but is expected to be on the field sooner than later.  I expect Quarless to be placed on regular season PUP and possibly IR depending on emerging talent.  He tore his ACL and MCL, taking a nasty shot to the side of his knee during a December game at New York.  Sherrod broke his leg in multiple places just weeks later in the lone regular season loss at Kansas City.  He was not able to pass his initial physical and has yet to come close to being cleared to practice with the team.  Sherrod may very well end up on regular season PUP as well but he is expected to return and play this year.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Packers Preseason Roster Breakdown

As I started to go over the QB and RB positions, I realized that there wasn’t much to say that hadn’t already been said.  Aaron Rodgers is the starter at QB unless his arm falls off and that’s settled.   Graham Harrell will back him up with Coleman either a 3rd QB or on the PS.  The Pack have to hope Coleman isn’t enticed away by another team looking to develop just such a young talent. 

At running back, it’s James Starks, Alex Green and Brandon Saine.  Ryan Grant was not re-signed this year and remains unsigned with anyone at the moment.  John Kuhn is the lone fullback and there you have the offensive backs in 7 sentences!

Let’s turn our focus to what the roster is shaping up like so far.  Here is what I foresee at each position and keep in mind that not all of these guys will be here come Week 1:

QB:  Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell (Coleman on PS)

WR:  Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randal Cobb, James Jones, Donald Driver, Tory Gurley (R) (Borel on PS)

TE:  Jermichael Finley, DJ Williams, Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor (special teams) (Andrew Quarless on IR)

RB/FB:  James Starks, Alex Green, Brandon Saine, John Kuhn

RT: Brian Bulaga, Herb Taylor

LT:  Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith

C:  Jeff Saturday, Sampson Genus

RG:  T.J. Lang, Ray Dominguez (Greg Van Roten on PS)

LT: Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod, Andrew Datko (R)

LDE: Ryan Pickett, Mike Daniels (R)

NT:  B.J. Raji, Daniel Muir

RDE:  Jerel Worthy (R), CJ Wilson,  Anthony Hargrove (will likely replace someone who is injured)

LOLB:  Nick Perry, Erik Walden

LILB: A.J. Hawk, DJ Smith, Jamari Lattimore (special teams)

RILB:  Desmond Bishop, Robert Francois, Terrell Manning (R)

ROLB:  Clay Matthews, Dezman Moses (R), Brad Jones (special teams)

LCB:  Truman Williams, Sam Shields

SS:  Charles Woodson, Jerron McMillian

FS:  Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings

RCB:  Jarrett Bush, Davon House, Casey Hayward

ST:  Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode

Each spot is based on what I have seen and been reading since camp started.  Preseason games will begin to help shape things up much more clearly and quickly.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2012 Packers Training Camp, Volume 7: Wide Receiver

This is seemingly an easy group to discuss with the usual suspects returning and some familiar training camp faces fighting for a spot.  But there are a few moving parts that merit a deeper look into the wide receiver position.

Of course there’s Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb who are entrenched and the 1-3 guys, barring injury.  Donald “Quickie” Driver returns after his big summertime win on ABC Network’s “Dancing with the Stars”.  With questions swirling as to whether the team would have room on its roster for the 37 year old Driver, he appeared to be in phenomenal shape and showed agility comparable to a 25 year old.  That aside, his presence on the team and in the locker room is invaluable.  He restructured his contract in order to be more cap friendly and allow the team to keep existing talent and add new.  He doesn’t have the speed that he once did but he continues to find ways to get open and make incredible catches, many for TD’s.  A quick reminder is the acrobatic catch he made for a TD against the Giants last season where he caught an Aaron Rodgers zinger and managed to keep both feet in bounds as he was falling forward out of bounds.  Driver is a lock on this year’s team and returns for his 14th NFL season. 

James Jones is back and unless someone offers the Pack incredible value for him, will not be traded and will be on the roster.  He didn’t have as many opportunities in 2011 as he had in the past but he hauled in what was thrown his way and appeared to have worked on the case of the ‘dropsies’ that had plagued him throughout his career.  The reason for trade rumors is a combination of Jones entering his 6th season and seemingly haven maxed out on his output along with the number of talented youngsters ready for an NFL roster spot.  In order to get value for him, the Pack would have to move him now before his stock starts to plummet.  GM Ted Thompson is not hasty, by any means and will not likely move Jones unless another team really wants him and is willing to part with an early to mid round draft pick (3-5).

UDFA’s Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel, Antoine “Shaky” Smithson and Curenski Gilleylen are vying for an unusual 6th WR spot on this year’s team.  It’s rare to see teams keep that many wideouts but in such a prolific passing offense, WR’s are a very hot commodity.  Gurley and Borel were on last year’s practice squad and performed well throughout the season.  Gurley was said to be hauling in passes left and right as well as having blocked several punts during weekly practices.  While it’s been reported that Borel is a step ahead of him in training camp so far, Gurley is my pick to stick on the active roster with Borel a sure lock for another year on practice squad.  The team will likely have to contend with teams vying for his services throughout the year much like they did Gurley’s last year.  Gilleylen is a nice underdog story and offers fans a challenge in learning to spell and pronounce his name, but don’t expect him to make the team nor be on the practice squad.  Smithson missed all of last year after a shoulder injury landed him on IR before the season began.  His best chance at cracking the roster would be as a return man, but that job seems securely in the hands of Randall Cobb.  If he is eligible for the practice squad, expect to see him land there once final cut downs are announced.

As for the incumbent starters, what more can be said besides that they are an outstanding and dynamic group of guys.  Greg Jennings is still a deep threat and runs a great route.  His experience has allowed him to get open and find holes in the defense.  He tends to struggle a bit when defenses focus on him and the hope is that with Nelson and Cobb, the opposition will be in a “pick your poison” mode all year.  Nelson emerged as the clear #2 WR on the team last year and a top player in the league.  His speed coupled with his size allowed him to become a force in the red zone.  On more than one occasion, he shed a would-be tackler before rumbling into the end zone for a TD in short yardage.  He has even continued to contribute on special teams with his size and speed such an asset.  I expect the #1 WR role to swap between Jennings and Nelson this season as one capitalizes on the defense’s focus on the other.  Cobb has become a big story in camp this year and has been seen with the ball in his hands in several scenarios. Besides his usual WR and kick return reps, Cobb has been seen at RB, QB (remember he played some QB in college) in a “wildcat” formation and has even emerged as a backup holder on FG attempts.  The idea is to get him on the field at every turn in order to utilize his play-making abilities.

This group promises to be some of the best this team has ever seen.  There’s no reason to think, despite that defenses know the Pack are going to air it out, that this group won’t put up some lofty numbers in 2012.  Health is always a factor, but assuming everyone remains available, much of the Pack’s success on offense this year will rest right here with these fine young (and young at heart) men.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)

Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview - Can This Be The Year?

Last season proved to be yet another disappointing year for the Milwaukee Bucks.  The Bucks finished the season with a record of 31-35 due to the shortened 11-12 season.  They were pushing for a playoff spot late into the season but just could not get it done and finished below .500 for the 7th time in the last eight seasons.  For most of the season, the bucks were without a true center with an injury to Andrew Bogut, so Drew Gooden was entrusted with center position.  For the Bucks, this was an immediate position for concern in the offseason.  Gooden is a power forward, that is his true position, so the bucks needed to find an upgrade.

As draft day was approaching, there were rumors that the Houston Rockets were looking to trade up in the draft and were were willing to include center Samuel Dalembert if a trade was to be made.  Sources said that the Bucks were interested in acquiring a player like Dalembert and just before the draft they made a deal with Houston, sending the 12th overall pick in the draft to the Rockets for Dalembert and the 14th overall pick.  On paper this looks to be a great trade for the Bucks because they get the player that they desperately needed and only moved back two spots in the draft that is deep in prospects.

After the draft workouts were wrapped up, the Bucks were really interested in PF John Henson out of North Carolina.  The Detroit Pistons were also rumored to like Henson and they had the 9th pick, so many thought that Milwaukee would have to trade into the top 10 in order to secure Henson.  However, the Bucks stayed with the 14th pick and their strategy worked out perfectly as the commissioner announced the Bucks draft choice and it indeed was John Henson, a PF out of the University of North Carolina.  In the second round, the Bucks drafted Doron Lamb, a SG who played his college ball for the National Champ Kentucky Wildcats.  I always thought Lamb was one the best shooters in college, so we shall see if that can translate well into the NBA.  Looking ahead to the 2012-13 season, this is how the roster looks like for Milwaukee:

21Samuel DalembertC316-11250Seton Hall$6,698,565
17Mike DunleavySF316-9230Duke$3,750,000
11Monta EllisSG266-3185 $11,000,000
0Drew GoodenPF306-10250Kansas$6,687,400
15Tobias HarrisF206-8226Tennessee$1,482,000
31John HensonPF216-11220North Carolina$1,823,280
7Ersan IlyasovaPF256-10235 $7,900,000
3Brandon JenningsPG226-1169 $3,179,493
20Doron LambSG206-4210Kentucky$650,000
12Luc Richard Mbah a MouteSF256-8230UCLA$4,794,192
8Larry SandersC236-11235Virginia Commonwealth$1,991,760
13Ekpe UdohPF256-10245Baylor$3,524,880
19Beno UdrihPG306-3203 $7,372,000

Recently, the Bucks have also reached a deal with Joel Przybilla.  He provides that much needed depth at Center that the Bucks were lacking all of last season.  Milwaukee is also rumored to be in the market for another Small Forward as it looks like Carlos Delfino will not be resigned.  

This looks like it can be a decent roster for the Bucks, at least to be able to reach the playoffs again.  There is however a big concern at the 4.  The team is loaded with PF’s so I expect GM John Hammond will make some kind of move to clear the big cluster at that position.  Other than that, I do believe that this team can compete in the Central Division.  My starting lineup looks like this: PG Jennings, SG Ellis, SF Dunleavy/Harris, PF Ilyasova, C Dalembert.  Four of the five positions appear to be locked, but there is still a question at the SF spot.  Tobias Harris performed really well in the Summer League, so this could help make a case for the starting job.  We will have to just wait and see how this roster plays together.

Predicted Standings

1st. Indiana Pacers 50-32

2nd. Chicago Bulls 45-37

3rd. Milwaukee Bucks 44-38

4th. Cleveland Cavaliers 37-45

5th. Detroit Pistons 33-49

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 -Michael Schuster (WSB_Mike)

Follow us on Twitter for up to date news on Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks and more. Live in game commentary, breaking news, previews, and post game discussion. @WISportsBlog @WSB_Andrew @WSB_Nick @WSB_Brandon @WSB_Mike @WSB_Harrison @WSB_Jason. Finally, find us on Instagram! (wisportsblog)