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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Now All They Need Is a Season

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Lockout, injunction to halt the lockout, appeal for a temporary stay of the injunction, refusal to stay the injunction, appeal to a higher court, approval of the temporary stay, resumption of the lockout pending yet another ruling...

Oh, and amid all this the NFL did something last week that involves the game of football. The annual draft produced the usual frenzy of hyper-hyped forecasts and judgments, but none of the decisions matter unless there's a 2011 season. Still, for a while the fans could pretend the NFL cared enough to give them hope.

As for the Super Bowl champions...

Frank: So how do you feel after the three-day workout of draft-watching?

Artie:
Not so good. I think I have some hip tightness, lateral movement problems, my motor's running hot and cold, and at the end of the day I'm afraid my stock isn't rising and I'm just a guy.

Frank:
Obviously you diligently read all the comments from NFL scouts that Bob McGinn reported in his awesomely detailed draft previews in the Journal Sentinel.

Artie:
I get a perverse kick out of all the ways those scouts, who are mostly unnamed, put the knock on even the top-ranked prospects. "He's not a blocker at all... He's got some prima donna in him... He's just not athletic enough..." And the ultimate condemnation: "He's just a guy." Jeez, you'd think nobody was good enough for the NFL!

Frank:
Remember how Bryan Bulaga's arms were too short and his hands weren't wide enough a year ago?

Artie:
I think the scouts are just slinging bull so they won't be giving clues about who their teams will draft. And they're covering their butts in case a guy really does flame out.

Frank:
Well, nobody's flamed out yet, and the first reviews of the Packers' draft are dang good. You agree?

Artie:
Absolutely. Considering that as the Super Bowl champs they drafted last in the first three rounds, before Ted Thompson started swapping some picks, it looks like they grabbed some real good players.

Frank:
Details?

Artie:
Besides McGinn's stuff, I read a lot of The Sporting News' pre-draft coverage. And right through the fifth round, the Pack's choices rated high. The first-rounder, offensive tackle Derek Sherrod, was ranked fourth at his position. So was the second-rounder, wide receiver Randall Cobb, and TSN also called him the best downfield blocker among the wideouts. Plus he has such good hands that he was a kick-holder at Kentucky.

Frank:
Hmm, if I were the drop-prone James Jones, I might be worried.

Artie:
Well, Thompson is also thinking of the future here. Depending on how the next labor agreement shakes out, Jones can become a free agent. And Donald Driver ain't getting any younger. Now the third-rounder, running back Alex Green, wasn't among TSN's top 10 but was listed as a "sleeper" pick.

Frank:
Maybe a sleeper like 2010 sixth-rounder James Starks, who emerged from injury in December to give the Packers a running game just in time for the postseason.

Artie:
In the fourth round the Pack took cornerback Davon House and in the fifth they scored big with tight end D.J. Williams. The Sporting News said he was No. 2 at his position, and had the best hands and was "best after catch."

Frank:
In the later rounds they chose another tight end and two linebackers, so they went for depth at two spots where they're already strong.

Artie:
You can never have enough depth because you never know who's gonna get hurt or when.

Frank:
As the Packers know so well from last year's string of early, major injuries. So right now you're a pretty happy fan?

Artie:
You betcha. But of course it's ridiculous to "grade" a draft before anyone has stepped on an NFL field. It takes some guys, especially at certain positions, two or three years to develop.

Frank:
But the Packers got some quick results from their 2010 draft, right?

Artie:
It was one of Thompson's best. Almost all of the seven picks contributed to the dream season. Bulaga stepped in at right tackle; defensive tackle Mike Neal and safety Morgan Burnett played well before injuries got 'em; Andrew Quarless got a lot of time at tight end; we know what Starks did; and C.J. Wilson had his moments on the D-line. And even though fifth-rounder Marshall Newhouse didn't see game action, he's still in the mix on the O-line.

Frank:
A good draft for a year in which injuries would necessitate a lot of personnel shuffling.

Artie:
And don't forget Thompson's skill at finding gems among rookie free agents, the guys who weren't drafted. Guys like nickel back Sam Shields and linebacker Frank Zombo, who made solid contributions.

Frank:
And Thompson even found a good punter in Tim Masthay, whom he signed off the scrap heap.

Artie:
Now all Ted has to do is keep being a genius—if the NFL ever lets him by going back to business.

Frank:
I couldn't care less what happens, or doesn't, for the next two months. Wake me when training camps are supposed to start.

Artie:
For the coaches and GMs, though, a lockout must be agony. Thompson can't try to work his magic with undrafted rookies or free agents, and Mike McCarthy can't get a firsthand look at new players. And there's the worry that returning guys—especially the ones who are 320 pounds when they're "in shape"—are spending their time eating wings and watching TV, and will be totally unprepared whenever camp begins.

Frank:
As the champions, with a solid system in place and very few holes to fill, the Packers are better off than most teams.

Artie:
Any team with a new coach or coordinator, or planning to install a new system, will have real trouble the longer this mess goes on.

Frank:
A mess, indeed. When the federal judge in Minnesota issued her injunction against the lockout, the owners claimed they'd suffer "irreparable harm." What the hell does that mean? They didn't have any trouble conducting the draft, and when the judge refused to stay her injunction, they quickly put in rules to resume operation.

Artie:
But then they got their friendly 2-1 ruling from the appeals court in St. Louis, so it was back to stiff-arming the players.

Frank:
And back to fans wondering how an industry that generates $9 billion can't figure out how to split the pie.

Artie:
The owners know how they want it split—more for them off the top. I'm a thousand percent on the players' side. The owners claim they're taking big financial risks, but how? Every year the value of their franchises just keeps growing. The NFL is a money-printing machine.

Frank: Seems to me a guy like Dallas' Jerry Jones could use some "irreparable harm" now and then.

Artie:
He does get that from Tony Romo—who, I believe I've mentioned, is NOT A GOOD QUARTERBACK!

Frank:
Yes, our readers know your feelings there. I wonder what Bob McGinn's scouts said about him as a draft prospect?

Artie:
Whatever it was, I'm sure they qualified it. But the sheer amount of information McGinn provides is just astounding!

Frank:
No one else covers this sport, or any other, with the depth and precision of McGinn. Sometimes I think it's a bit too precise, as in listing many guys as 6-feet-whatever and a half-inch. For example, seven of the 10 wideouts and six of the 10 TEs were half-inchers. And the weights invariably are not given in the usual five-pound increments, but as 191 or 207 or 266 or 312.

Artie:
Maybe the weights are from the NFL combine, but still, an hour later the guy goes to lunch and the precise poundage is gone. Sometimes I worry that McGinn will be found some night naked on the Hoan Bridge, baying at the moon.

Frank:
I'm sure Bob won't wind up there, but without a doubt he's unique.

Artie:
Maybe he'll just be measuring the bridge to see if the main section is 526 feet long or 526 and a half.
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