Mikel from Verona, WI

Has there ever been a Super Bowl MVP for the losing team?

Chuck Howley of the Cowboys in Super Bowl V.

Jerry from Des Moines, IA

Vic, I was glad to hear Ted Thompson received a warm welcome at the shareholders meeting. As you know, he received a tremendous amount of criticism early on, hiring Mike McCarthy, the Brett Favre drama, etc. Now we have a young, ascending team that will be good for years. How would you rank TT with his peers and other successful GMs of the past?

There’s a lesson in this for fans. The lesson is that maybe somebody who’s spent his entire adult life in professional football, as a player and then as a scout and personnel director, knows more about football than somebody for whom the game is a hobby. I constantly remind myself of that fact when I write my stories. These guys are experts. They do this for a living. Yeah, they make mistakes, but not many of them, and Thompson is renowned among his peers as a guy with one of the best batting averages in the business. He’s committed to his philosophy. He makes his evaluations and sticks by them. Meanwhile, I get questions every day asking me if the Packers should sign Cedric Benson or Joseph Addai or this guy or that guy with a little name recognition that was just cut by a team whose roster isn’t as good as the Packers, and Thompson sticks with the young talent on his roster and the faith he has in his coaches to develop it. Critics call it stubbornness. Those who get it know it’s really about belief. You have to believe in the people you have and they have to feel that belief to develop the confidence they’ll need to develop their skills. The genius is in the commitment.

Hailie from Eau Claire, WI

Well, what did he do to make it tough on the rookies?

The same thing Coach McCarthy did to make it tough, as tough as you can make a shells practice, for everyone on the team: He made it long. Yesterday’s first practice of training camp lasted two-and-a-half hours. That’s a long practice. It demands that players focus their attention for a sustained period of time, and that’s especially difficult for rookies whose heads are swimming with information. As for the much-anticipated tackling drills, they were all about angles of pursuit and getting your head on the right side of the ball-carrier. Even when the pads go on, I don’t think this is going to be to-the-ground stuff, but I think the drill I saw yesterday is going to be much more effective than that fall-onto-a-pillow drill they used last year. That really turned me off. I just can’t swallow the idea of falling onto a pillow.

Chris from Eau Claire, WI

When players get a physical with the team, what does it consist of and why would they fail?

They get their body parts checked. A guy coming off knee surgery gets his knee checked. If it’s deemed to not be fully recovered, then he fails the physical. There are a couple of dynamics in play when players take physical exams: roster spots and liability. Once a player practices in training camp, he can’t go on the physically unable to perform list. He can come off it at any time in the preseason, and that’s why teams are quick to put guys on PUP to start camp. If they give them the practice go-ahead and it turns out they can’t practice, then the team would have to either put the player on injured reserve, release him or lose use of the roster spot. The liability issue comes into play when a guy on PUP with a non-football injury or a guy coming off waived injured is involved. Once you pass him on a physical, you’re saying he’s healthy and you accept liability for whatever injury he had.

Jeff from Colorado Springs, CO

One more example of playing vs. sitting that occurred to me was the 2007 AFC Championship: LaDainian Tomlinson sitting on the sideline while Philip Rivers played with a shredded knee against the Patriots.

That was painful to watch. TV kept cutting to pictures of Tomlinson sitting on the bench. Wearing his helmet seemed to make it worse. It was a mocking kind of focus on Tomlinson. I really felt bad for the guy. It severely damaged his image. I can also remember Bruce Smith missing a playoff game because he had the flu. Oh, what a beating he took from fans and media. Then there’s Dwight White, who came out of a hospital bed the morning of Super Bowl IX to participate in one of the greatest defensive performances in Super Bowl history. How about Ray Nitschke limping into the end zone? What’s that worth to the image of the Lombardi era? The moral courage people will never agree, but football players are defined by their toughness in the gut-check moments of their career. I saw it ruin the career of one of the most talented running backs I’ve ever covered, Barry Foster.

Steve from Plainfield, WI

I was impressed with the formidable appearance of the south end zone, now that the additional seats are going in. If I were the visiting team, I'd hate to be trying to go that direction in the fourth quarter. Do you think it'll have an impact on the choice of goals to defend?

Yeah, I do, but I think it’ll be mostly for whatever effect that structure has on the wind currents at Lambeau Field. We’re going to find out what that might be this season. I can’t help but believe something that tall won’t block the wind at that end and alter the wind currents in other ways. I have a feeling teams are going to want to move in the direction of the south end zone in the fourth quarter.

Dan from Catonsville, MD

I really enjoy your column. You have a knack of putting into words what most of us are thinking. What are the biggest improvements on each side of the ball this training camp must address?

The Packers must improve their pass rush and their pass defense. I’m convinced they have the talent in their secondary to improve their pass defense. Will the young players they acquired up front improve their pass rush? I think that’s the $64,000 question. The Packers need for Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy to help improve the pass rush. I don’t see much in the way of needs on offense. Most people would say the Packers need to improve their running game, but I just don’t see the running game as anything on which Mike McCarthy wants to hang the team’s hat. Alex Green is the key guy in the running game. He’s the guy that has the power and quickness to be the short-yardage back the Packers need. If they get that, I think they’ll have what they need in the way of improvement in their running game. I think the offensive line is solid. I think it’s right behind the receiver corps in terms of quality and depth. Graham Harrell looked really good yesterday, and that’s something I’m going to watch closely because I think he’s a critical figure in this training camp. There can’t be too much fall off from Matt Flynn at the backup quarterback spot, or the Packers would be forced to look for help. I’m convinced this team has fewer issues than 90 percent of the teams in the league, but it has two big ones on defense.

Andrew from Jacksonville, FL

With the NFL total wellness program announced, I am hopeful former players with various injuries will receive more support, but I am cynical enough to think it’s a measure to reduce fallout from the head trauma litigation the NFL faces. Do you think the NFL will provide any monetary health care support for non-head trauma injuries for former players after this statement?

It’s called negotiations. One action forces another action. The players sue, the league responds with support for another player program. They’ll get it done. I’m not going to worry myself about it. Nobody would benefit from the collapse of the game.

Jake from Appleton, WI

I agree with you on the question of what makes Packers practice so special with the bikes and players to ride them. Have you ever heard of any related injuries with players getting on, off or crashing the bikes provided?

No, I haven’t, but I remember being at the Falcons’ training camp at Furman in the late 1990’s when O.J. Santiago was injured in a golf cart mishap. It turned out to be a big deal.

Kris from Suring, WI

Do all of the players live in the St. Norbert dorms during training camp, or do the veterans who have houses in Green Bay stay at their respective homes?

All players live in the dorms.

Steve from Hazelwood, MO

I have watched with interest the discussion about tough vs. right to set yourself down. Just where is the defining line between tough and stupid?

The coach will decide. That’s his job.

Will from Phoenix, AZ

Agreed on strongest quarterback arms of all time, though I believe Bradshaw threw longer/more accurately than Marino or Elway. Although he was a mere blip, I think you should've also included Joe Gilliam. Not for accuracy or touch, but simply for having a cannon that I can still remember.

Joe threw the most beautiful spiral I’ve ever seen. His ball would sing as it whistled past your ear. Bradshaw’s ball sounded as though it was in re-entry, compared to Gilliam’s lighter, faster-spinning passes. The sad fact about Joe is that his was a tortured mind, not only during his playing career but throughout his life. It just never got better for Joe, and I think it’s one of the truly sad stories I’ve ever covered. I’ll never forget that night in the LA Coliseum in 1975. Ray Mansfield had to call time out in the huddle because Joe was so out of it he couldn’t even call the play. He lost his rings, he lost everything, but he’ll never lose the respect of those who knew him for having one of the best arms the game has ever known. He’ll always have that.

Bart from Sanibel, FL

When you and Mike talked about Jerel Worthy and what he does well vs. what the Packers like to do with their tackles, I heard (in my head), players, not plays. In other words, surely a smart and creative coordinator like Dom Capers will find a way to play to Worthy's strengths rather than try to simply pigeon-hole him into doing what our guys usually do. Right?

That’s right. They’ll use Worthy’s three-technique type of talents in pass rush situations. It appears, for example, that he’s been penciled in as a nickel tackle in the two-down lineman nickel scheme. The Packers wouldn’t have drafted Worthy, however, if they didn’t think he has the skills to play the Okie end. He’s big enough and strong enough to do it. I would also mention another rookie defensive tackle, Mike Daniels, who impressed me yesterday when he got off a block, shot into the backfield and made the stop. Daniels is another guy who appears to have some three-technique in him. Hey, maybe Coach Capers has plans to reduce the two-gapping the Packers do this season. That’s not something Coach Capers is going to tell us. We have to observe that for ourselves. We’ll see.

 

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