Green Bay Packers: Packin' On Some Beef
Frank: What's the verdict from your fan's perspective? A-plus? B-minus? Straight C?
Artie: On paper the choices seem all right. But they always do before anyone's set one cleat onto the freakin' practice field!
F: Let alone the Lambeau tundra.
A: No one really knows about a draft, and nothing can be proven for like three years. But that never stops the armchair scouts and ESPN gasbags. Their theme song should be the Johnny Mercer classic, “Fools Rush In.”
F: One view of Ted Thompson's 11 picks seems unanimous: Whatever the position, the Packers were going “big,” looking for “size,” aiming for more “toughness.”
A: Hell, just about everybody's big in the modern pro game. And wasn't it just a couple of years ago that the frenzy was over getting more speed and athleticism?
F: The new mantra is that the playoff debacle in San Francisco and the last two drubbings at the hands of the Giants happened because the Packers were “too soft.” Call me crazy, but I don't remember the 49ers getting most of those 579 yards in January between the tackles. Wasn't it that speedy young quarterback who did a lot of the damage by being quicker than the defense and escaping out on the wings?
A: My biggest question, as always, is which one of these picks will be the first guy to break down with a season-ending injury?
F: Ah, ever the optimist. A good bet might be the second-rounder, Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. From what I read, he's been an injury magnet the last couple of years.
A: And from what I've read, that goes against the team's solemn determination to reduce the kinds of injuries that plagued 'em last year. So they take a guy who sounds like he already has a walker and an IV unit attached!
F: Lacy had turf toe in 2011 that required surgery, elbow and hand problems last season and chest, knee and hamstring stuff that kept him from working out for scouts in February and March. Those are the kinds of things that can easily recur.
A: And yet because he was backing up Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson at 'Bama until last year, Lacy's had relatively little wear and tear in terms of his total carries. So if he can stay healthy, he could be just what the Pack needs in terms of a power back.
F: That's a big “if.”
A: It always is; witness what happened with first-rounder Nick Perry last year. The linebacker was supposed to give them balance on the opposite side from Clay Matthews, but he went on injured reserve after six games.
F: No matter how brilliant your draft seems, luck is always part of keeping guys on the field.
A: I think the Pack may have hit it big with the other running back they drafted, Johnathan Franklin of UCLA. He set the school rushing record with more than 4,400 yards and averaged 5.6 a carry.
F: And they tapped UCLA for their first-rounder too—defensive end Datone Jones. I found it amusing that, at 6-4 and 280 pounds, he was referred to by a Packers assistant coach this way: “We don't need him to get too much bigger.” How much bigger can he get without losing some of the speed and agility he already has?
A: I've read commentary that Dom Capers, in running his 3-4 defense, hasn't had enough of the “physical” players he needs to really make it work.
F: Um, aren't we going into Capers' fifth season in Green Bay?
A: But it gets back to injuries. Perry is his kind of player, but if he can't stay on the field... and on the line, Jerel Worthy wrecked a knee late last season.
F: But again, what's with all the mania for “size”? Are we returning to the days of the Flying Wedge? Seems to me that Teddy Roosevelt got that banned a few years back.
A: I'm expecting to see George Halas on the sidelines again this year. Back to Lacy; I'd say Alabama's offensive line last year was better than the Pack's and a few other NFL teams'. Now Lacy's coming into a different situation.
F: Ted Thompson addressed the O-line with a couple of fourth-round picks—both 300-plus pounds, but so what? Who isn't that heavy on an NFL line?
A: What's really heavy on the O-line is the responsibility to keep Aaron Rodgers vertical. If the $110 Million Dollar Man goes down, it won't matter how tough anyone else is.
THE WONDERLIC OF IT ALL
F: This mania about “toughness” has even hooked the Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn, who normally covers the Packers dispassionately, even clinically. In the last year or so I think his columns have had a “blood and guts” tone fairly often.
A: I began noticing that myself during last season. At the same time that Roger Goodell is trying to take the hitting out of the game, McGinn seems like he's going the other way.
F: But the clinical aspect is still there. I notice all the half-inch increments in his statistics on the draft picks' heights, and the listings of “307 pounds” or “194 pounds.” Now, are those based on everyone's latest meals?
A: I'm waiting for Bob to ask how the Pack could possibly take one of the offensive linemen because his hand-spread was 9 ½ inches instead of 9 2/3. "What were they thinking?"
F: Bob did indeed note David Bakhtiari's "small hands" in his post-draft report card.
A: Um, two-thirds is bigger than a half, right?
A: Getting back to “Fools Rush In,” I devoured all the pre-draft commentary by McGinn's many anonymous scouts, even though what they say beforehand is a smokescreen because they're trying to throw other teams off—”We don't like this guy at all,” and then their team grabs him.
F: Hearing that, I'm glad I skip all that stuff.
A: But I loved what two scouts said about fourth-rounder Bakhtiari. The first said, “I don't love him... he's soft.” The second said he was “really athletic, mobile and tough.” Now wait a second! How is he both soft and tough at the same time?
F: The world of scouting is mysterious indeed.
A: It's like they're doing that Annie Get Your Gun duet—”Anything you can scout, I can scout better... No you can't!... Yes I can!”
F: You sure know you're classic tunes.
A: And here's something else about those scouts: I think those guys should take the same Wonderlic intelligence test that the draftees take, and McGinn should list the scouts' scores along with the players'.
F: The test is 50 SAT-type questions in 12 minutes...
A: “If one train is traveling east at 84 miles per hour and another is traveling west at....”
F: I guess. I wonder if your proposal might get people wondering how certain Fairly Detached Observers would do on the Wonderlic.
A: We'll match our scores against any scout's! And I'll personally guarantee double figures... at least low double figures.
GOOD THINGS BREWING
F: The Brewers got stifled by the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw on Sunday, but the last time they came back from a road trip they were 3-8, and this time they returned at 12-11.
A: To be even one game over .500 at this point is all right, considering the patchwork lineup they've been working with.
F: Subs at the corner infield spots—and it's fortunate that Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt have played so well.
A: Plus some real good signs on offense with Carlos Gomez going into this week hitting .338 and Jean Segura at .349. And Gomez returned home with a .374 on base percentage. You could have added up his last two years' OBP and not gotten that high!
F: But Rickie Weeks continues to struggle, coming back home at .172—and bounced as the fill-in cleanup hitter after going .093 with two RBI in 11 games.
A: It's like we're right back to last year. Back then it was easy to say that he hadn't really recovered from that serious ankle injury in 2011, but what's his excuse now?
F: Kyle Lohse continues to be the hard-luck guy in the starting rotation, with a 2.53 ERA but a 1-2 record because of scanty run support. But the team ERA has shrunk by roughly a full run in the last two weeks; it's 4.04 going into this week's series with Pittsburgh.
A: First-place Pittsburgh after the Pirates took a series from St. Louis.
F: But Pirates fans must be thinking this looks just like the last two years—which sank into second-half collapses.
A: So those fans are probably saying, “Wake me up when the kids are back in school, and we'll see.”
F: By the way, last week when I was back on Long Island I saw the Dodgers play the Mets at Citi Field. And you know how at every game I always look for something I've never seen before...
A: Like Segura somehow starting a play on second base and ending it on first?
F: Yeah, sure wish I'd seen that one! Anyway, some games the utterly unique sights are tough to find, but this time it was obvious. The Dodgers' starter was Hyun-Jin Ryu, a rookie left-hander from Korea...
A: What, that roly-poly dictator lets 'em play baseball? I thought he was strictly an NBA guy.
F: South Korea. Anyway, the Dodgers' pitching coach came out to the mound a couple of times, and walking next to him was a little guy in a blue windbreaker. The first time I thought he was the trainer, but all they did was talk, and then I realized he was Ryu's interpreter!
A: I reckon the Dodgers' new zillionaire ownership can afford it. But jeez, why would the lefty need to know any more English than “Up and in, low and away”? That's all there is to pitching, ain'a?
OUT OF THEIR MISERY
F: It's the off-season for the Bucks and their fans now that LeBron & Co. completed the four-game sweep.
A: An off season is exactly what it turned out to be. Now comes the time for a lot of questions—who'll be the coach, who they can get in the draft, but most importantly about which of the three main guards will be back—if any.
F: Monta Ellis has the choice on an $11 million option for next season. J.J. Redick will be an unrestricted free agent. And Brandon Jennings, your favorite Bucks target, will explore the market for an offer that the Bucks would have to match to keep him.
A: And don't forget Mike Dunleavy will be unrestricted too. I sure hope Ellis stays, and you know how I feel about Jennings. Can we call you a cab, Brandon?
F: If Sunday's Game 4 was his last as a Buck, it wasn't a pleasant farewell. Jennings played only 22 minutes, shot 1 for 7, scored three points and didn't play down the stretch.
A: Boylan was making a statement, even if it was his last as the Bucks' coach. Jennings had four years to develop into a true point guard, but his shot and his distribution skills never showed enough consistency.
F: I noticed a couple of telling comments about Jennings. Steve Kerr, as quoted by Bob Wolfley in the Journal Sentinel, complimented Jennings when “he's focused on distributing,” then added, “But he gets a little shot-happy, and that's when Milwaukee starts to get into trouble.”
A: That's putting it kindly. Mr. Kerr is a gentleman indeed.
F: And during my trip I found this comment in the Newark Star-Ledger's playoff preview. A writer named Dave D'Alessandro said this about Jennings: “The Bucks' pocket rocket is the ultimate headache, though for which coach remains a nightly question.”
A: I couldn't agree more. I hope the headache relocates next season.
Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has lost a little toughness over the years.