Jim from Cedarburg, WI
How much does sentimentality play into roster decisions? I'm looking at Donald Driver being very close to Packer receiving records, but he is making lots of dollars and has been injured a lot more lately than years ago. With Cobb showing he belongs and Swain being a very good special teams player, is Driver's time with the Packers almost at an end?
I’ll answer the second question first: no. Now the first question: I remember doing an interview with Mike Ditka back in 1992. He talked about having made the mistake of holding onto players too long, and how difficult it is to cut the guys that had won for you. I said to him, “You know what Lombardi did.” He said, “Yeah, Lombardi did it the right way.” In other words, get out of town before you have to cut them. Sentimentality isn’t the issue; loyalty is. Coaches have no problem doing what’s necessary when it involves players who are in the business of professional football. Hey, coaches are in the business of professional football and they get cut, too, right? When it involves players of esteem, long-term players that won for you and made you a long-term coach, that’s a different matter. The best story I can tell along those lines involves a player who’s now a coach in the league. His name is Dwaine Board. Board was a fifth-round pick in 1979. He was a training camp sensation with the Steelers, but the final cut came down to Board or Dwight White, who had come out of a hospital bed the morning of Super Bowl IX to help turn in one of the greatest defensive efforts in NFL history. Noll knew what he should do, but he couldn’t do it; his heart wouldn’t allow him. So it was suggested to the worst team in the other conference, the 49ers, which would finish 2-14 under rookie head coach Bill Walsh that season, that Board would be a good guy to claim off waivers. The 49ers claimed Board and he helped lead them to Super Bowl titles in 1981 and ’84. Yes, even coaches go soft at times.
Ric from Longmont, CO
I appreciate the column. You mentioned that the preseason gives a team insight into areas of concern. Are there alarm bells ringing with respect to the number of sacks allowed thus far in the Packers preseason?
I would have to believe they’re a concern. I think we saw evidence of that yesterday when T.J. Lang was installed as the starting left guard. The two sacks Derek Sherrod allowed on Friday dropped him out of the competition.
Tanner from Greenville, WI
I know we are doing a lot of one-on-ones in preseason, but our secondary is getting shreaded so far in these two games. Does anything you see worry you about the Packers going into the regular season? What worries you most?
I have no worries about the secondary. I think that’s one of the two strengths of this team. This is truly a contemporary team. It passes the ball and defends the pass. My concern would be the 50 yards rushing Beanie Wells had in the first half of Friday’s game, and the four sacks the Packers allowed. Those stats, in my opinion, are meaningful. They go to your two lines and I’m big on being good upfront. I think we need to see a strong effort upfront on Friday to feel good about those situations.
Gerald from Karlsruhe, Germany
Is there still enough time to find a good defensive end, like Jenkins or somebody else, to bring in more power against the run? How fast can a defensive lineman learn the Packers schemes? Howard Green showed it can go fast but is this standard?
The great thing about the 3-4 is that the way linemen are used does not put them at the premium they are in a 4-3. You’re not asking them to get into the gap, beat their man off the ball, penetrate into the backfield and disrupt. In other words, you’re not asking them to be playmakers. You’re asking them to engage the blocker and don’t let him move you. You’re asking your linemen to be big and strong, and there’s not a lot of scheme in that. It’s great if you can find a guy that can engage, hold the point and then shed the block and chase – B.J. Raji can do that – but that’s a bonus. Dom Capers wants his guys upfront to engage the block and hold the point. The answer to your question is, yes, you can find those guys because the 4-3 teams cut those guys. The 4-3 teams want their tackles to do more than hold the point, and the guys that can’t do more than hold the point tend to be released or tucked away on practice squads, and 4-3 tackles are 3-4 ends. Don’t push panic buttons about Cullen Jenkins. I really think that’s being overplayed.
Lynn from Los Alamos, NM
What is an Aussie-style pooch kick?
It’s an end-under-end punt. The punter kicks the front of the ball, which causes the nose of the ball to turn back toward him. Kicking the front of the ball also takes velocity off the kick and the combination of the lost velocity and the end-under-end rotation of the ball causes the ball to land softly, which is conducive to downing it near your opponents’ goal line instead of seeing it bounce into the end zone for a touchback. As I’ve written, special teams has produced more dramatic creativity than any other phase of the game over the last 20 years. It really was a new frontier.
Marin from West Lawn, PA
Based on his performance against Arizona, do you believe the Packers might give Chastin West a look as a kick or punt-returner, if the receiving spots are spoken for?
I don’t know what kind of return ability or kick-coverage ability West has, but there’s no doubt in my mind that whatever chance he has of making this team rests with special teams. He has to be able to contribute something on special teams to make this team. He reminds me of Keenan McCardell, except West is faster. He’s a big, rangy receiver, as McCardell was. He has the same kind of good hands and knack for the game. McCardell was a 12th-round pick of the Redskins and kicked around the league for years before his career rooted. He then became the game’s quintessential possession receiver. I used to joke to him that I looked in the dictionary for the definition of possession receiver and I found a picture of him. So why did it take McCardell so long to root his career? Because he lacked deep speed and he didn’t offer much in the way of return ability, but he did offer one thing on special teams: sure hands, and that’s what got him his break. You could count on McCardell to catch the punt; he wasn’t gonna do much with it, but you knew he was gonna catch it. The Browns needed somebody to do that in 1995, which got McCardell some playing time at wide receiver, too, and that launched his career. Just as quickly, his return days were over, but that short stint as a return man helped kick-start his career. Yes, it would sure help West’s career if he could show some added value on special teams. Young, bottom-of-the-roster receivers that don’t play special teams are almost never activated on game day, so what good are they? That’s the mentality.
Mike from Boston, MA
When Mike McCarthy retires or leaves Green Bay, do you think we'll all remember him as a Lombardi or a Holmgren? Is he even good enough to come close to Lombardi?
Nobody is good enough to come close to Lombardi. Bill Belichick won three Super Bowls in four years and some started comparing Belichick to Lombardi and I think that’s what caused the housing bubble to burst. Lombardi is Lombardi. Everybody else is somebody else. Now, here’s what you got: You got an outstanding coach. You got a guy who can coach like nobody’s business. I’ve never seen practices better than the ones I’m watching this summer. This coach is every bit all about football as Lombardi was. Lombardi would love this coach. As I watched and listened to the left guard drama unfold on Monday, I realized I was in the presence of a master. That’s how you do it: You challenge your players to be better. You never bury them, but you never baby them, either.
David from Maineville, OH
I’ll be watching the Packers in person for the first time this Friday. What do I need to look for, watch and pay attention to on both sides of the ball?
Watch the play upfront. Do the Packers win the battle of the line of scrimmage? I know the Packers can pass and defend the pass, but can they win upfront? That’s a question that has to be answered. If you wanna watch the game to be entertained, watch the ball. If you wanna watch the game to find out what kind of team the Packers might have this season, watch the line play.
Kevin from Orlando, FL
As training camp wears on, now that we have Ryan Grant back and with the emergence of James Starks and rookie Alex Green now in the mix, where does John Kuhn fall into place? I would sure like to see him getting the ball at the goal line again.
Kuhn is a specialty back. Mike McCarthy has plays just for him and those are plays you’re not going to use much in the preseason because they’re not considered to be within your base offense.