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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are You Ready for Some Folderol?

The Fairly Detached Observers

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Pro sports have no off-seasons, just times when they suspend the games to get to the really important stuff—deciding who’ll get paid how much by whom. Just as fans are getting focused on baseball, the NFL power-sweeps into the picture this weekend with the two-day extravaganza of its annual player draft. The Observers will not be among those watching ESPN’s saturation coverage.

Frank: As you know, my friend, I usually do some homework before our discussions.

Artie: It’s what I depend on.

Frank: But I just couldn’t get prepared for the NFL draft.

Artie: I’m shocked! How come?

Frank: Two reasons. First, the draft makes me recall the words of a friend. She liked watching actual athletic competition but couldn’t stand all the previews and halftimes and post-game blather, which she called “collateral folderol.”

Artie: All those “what ifs” leading up to the draft sure qualify as folderol.

Frank: And second, I suffered a “sighting” last week.

Artie: Um, a sighting?

Frank: I was looking for a score update on ESPN when suddenly the screen was filled with... Mel Kiper Jr. And my blood ran cold.

Artie: How well I know the feeling.

Frank: It’s just so creepy. That glossy, swept-up hair. The endless words about who needs what and who’ll pick whom and whose stock is rising or falling. I just get very, very scared.

Artie: Some people feel that way about clowns. Maybe that’s how you’re seeing him.

Frank: Nah, if he wore a red ball on his nose it would help, at least for me. I’m convinced that Kiper isn’t a person at all, but an Artificial Intelligence creation by some mad techno-arm of ESPN or the NFL, or both.

Artie: Not a bad theory.

Frank: No human brain could a) hold all the information that Kiper spouts out, or b) seriously believe that most of it is worth absorbing.

Artie: A heapin’ helpin’ of folderol, you betcha. I myself wonder where they keep Kiper for, like, 48 weeks a year.

Frank: I have a theory. He’s at ESPN, which is owned by Disney, right? With that throwback hair, all they have to do is stitch on a beard, add a black suit and stovepipe hat and...

Artie: By God, you’ve cracked the case! They ship him to Disney World and he’s the animatronic Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents.

Frank: Still, no matter how often I say, “He’s not real, he’s not real,” I can’t look at him.

Artie: Perhaps you can deal with his words in print. A week before the draft he predicted on ESPN.com that the Green Bay Packers would use the No. 9 overall pick to take Busari “B.J.” Raji, defensive tackle out of Boston College.

Frank: The Gift of the Raji, huh?

Artie: These mock drafts change all the time, but many analyses say Raji should go in the top 10. He certainly addresses a need as the Packers shift to a 3-4 defense—you’ve got to have that anchor at nose tackle.

Frank: So he’s a giant?

Artie: Not vertically, in that he’s listed at 6-foot 1. But horizontally, at 330 pounds or so, he’s mighty fine. There were reports that he tested positive for marijuana at the scouting combine. But for me, as long as a guy’s not smoking pot on the field, big deal. Let’s worry about whether he can play.

Frank: One wide-body, check.

Artie: Also for the 3-4, the Packers need outside linebackers, or defensive ends they can convert to linebackers, as they’re planning with Aaron Kampman. The success of the Steelers and Patriots with the 3-4 is wiping out some of the old height “rules” for defensive linemen. Because the 3-4 linemen mainly plug things up, the key question isn’t “How tall is he?” but “Can he play football?”

Frank: Think of it: common sense in the NFL draft!

Artie: In The Sporting News draft preview, they list “areas of concern” for each team—high, moderate and low—and the top areas for the Packers are outside LBs, defensive linemen and offensive tackle. But there’s competition; out of 32 NFL teams, 20 had as their “high concern” defensive end, tackle or both.

Frank: Still, with the ninth pick the Packers should get a real good prospect.

Artie: But the GM, Ted Thompson, likes to “trade down” and collect another body or two. The Packers already have nine picks, the most in their division, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Thompson dealt that No. 9 for additional choices because having three mediocre guys is a lot better than having one stud, ain’a? No matter what he does, you can’t really judge a draft until two, three years have passed.

Frank: The Pack recently signed an offensive lineman, Duke Preston, who had been with Buffalo. Six-foot-five and 325, and he’s played all the line positions. But Mike McCarthy may have something else in mind. He said of Preston, “He’s got a nice frame... We see him as an athletic frame.” What, are they gonna turn him into a blocking sled for practice?

Artie: A couple years ago, the Pack went to this “zone blocking” concept, where they weren’t looking for the 370-pound monsters but rather the 320-pound “athletic types” for their quickness.

Frank: Oh, the 320-pounders are the puny guys?

Artie: It was “speed over size,” but it didn’t work. Here, if you’re talking about his “frame,” that’s size.

Frank: But McCarthy also said that if linemen are “athletic, they have the ability to gain more strength and size and be more physical.” In other words, size and speed—and wouldn’t that be what you want from anyone?

Artie: No matter what style you play.

Frank: These meandering quotes that add up to “We want a guy to be really good” raises another football topic—the retirement of John Madden. Some folks rhapsodize about him as the greatest NFL color man ever. Not to be a spoilsport, but I never figured out what Madden did that was so great, except adding “doink” to the language.

Artie: Boom!—that’s no small accomplishment.

Frank: To me, his analysis always sounded something like, “Now if you can get your running game going, that’s a good thing because then you can run the ball or pass the ball, but if you can’t run the ball then you have to pass all the time.” Maybe that’s a revelation to someone just in from Uzbekistan, but not to anyone who’s ever watched football.

Artie: “Who’s on first,” John? I think his departure proves that Brett Favre is retired for good. This was Madden’s favorite player.

Frank: And his favorite two words to say. “When you talk about Brett Favre... This is Brett Favre’s kind of football... Brett Favre is at his best when he’s just being Brett Favre.” I understand Madden’s folksy image, and I know this ain’t rocket science, but for explaining the game a guy like Moose Johnston is way better.

Artie: Or Cris Collinsworth or Ron Jaworski.

Frank: Now we have another Packer topic—the newly released 2009 schedule. Lots of talk about how it looks good early, with the opener at home against the Bears and then two 2008 stinkos, the Bengals and Rams.

Artie: But last year they had a home game against Atlanta, which was coming off a terrible year, and they lost. Still, you know they’ll win two games for sure. God bless the Lions!

Frank: The Pack’s game at Cleveland could be special. Eric Mangini is the Browns’ new coach, having been dumped by the Jets. And whom has he asked to mentor his quarterbacks in training camp?

Artie: Probably not Michael Vick, so I’ll say Mr. Favre, who helped get Mangini fired by fading out last season.

Frank: Given Brett’s penchant for un-retiring, might he be the QB the Packers face on Sunday, Oct. 25?

Artie: Nope, that’ll be the next week when they play the Vikings.

My scenario is that Brett signs with Minnesota in mid-season to replace an injured starter. Remember, folks, you read it here.

Frank: One more thing about Lambeau Field. It could host real football, namely soccer’s World Cup. The U.S. is bidding to host the Cup in 2018 or 2022, and Lambeau was named as one of 70 potential sites.

Artie: Man oh manischewitz, soccer on our tundra! But good lord, 2022? You’ll have to hold a seance to let me know how things turn out.

Frank: I’ll designate a third party. We might both be in a different league of existence by then.

Photo: The Observers’ mock draftnik