Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Around the NFC North Camps

Well, now that some training camps have started I thought it would be interesting to look around to see how some of our division rivals are doing:

Detroit Lions
Kitna became the laughing stock of the league by saying the Lions were going to win 10 games this season. Yes, they did draft Calvin Johnson, but he still isn't signed and per the web, he's not even close. He stays out too long and he won't get a chance to get to know a complex Mike Martz offense and will be fairly useless his rookie year. The OL still hasn't gotten any better from last season and thus no running game and poor pass protection. Poor poor Lions.

Minnesota Vikings
Well, Tarvaris Jackson is looking absolutely brutal so far. He apparently is allergic to completing passes to his own teammates. It is looking more and more like Brooks Bollinger is going to be the starting QB come opening day. If Brooks is your starter, your offense is screwed, well, same can be said of Tarvaris. RB Chester Taylor got hurt and rookie RB Adrian Peterson isn't dazzling anyone so far. The Vikes D apparently looks good, but look at what they are going up against for an offense.

Chicago Bears
The Bears get Lance Briggs back, after his proclomation that he will never play for them again. Real good chemistry there. They lose thug DT Tank Johnson for his gun charges and that leaves a big hole in the DL. They are counting on the ancient Adam Archuleta as their answer at safety. Plus, they still think Rex Grossman is their answer at QB.

Meanwhile, the Packers draft picks are playing fantastically, the OL is blocking very well and the LB and secondary have made marked improvements. So far, things are looking great.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Time to talk Packers (finally)!

It's been a real boring summer for football news, and as well it should be. The Packers moved along with mini-camps and coaches and the GM talking up players and such. We are finally within 2 days of training camp so there is something to actually discuss.

The biggest news is that RB Brandon Jackson
has finally signed and will be reporting to camp on time. This is a huge win for the Packers, and Jackson. RB's who hold out from camp come in behind the curve and just never seem to catch up, so it's almost a wasted season. Jackson can come in from the start and learn the system. We still have to get DT Justin Harrell and WR James Jones signed, but I think they will both be finished up fairly soon. The Steelers signed their pick (#15 overall) to a deal already, so the market is set for Harrell, it's just details at this point. Jones is admitedly a project, so I wasn't expecting much from him this year anyways.

Let's take a look at the roster to see what we should be looking for in camp:

With Favre returning, we are set at QB. I've heard all the negative talk about how he's fading and blah blah blah. But he's still the best QB in the division, so suck on that you fans of the rest of the NFC North.

The running game is going to be the biggest key this year. The OL all returns with Clifton reportedly in the best shape he's been in since Sapp cheap-shotted him several years ago. With a year of the zone blocking system under their belts and Colledge, Spitz, Wells and Moll all taking part in the offseason lifting program in Green Bay this offseason, look for the blocking to improve quite a bit. Last year we saw some flashes of what they can do, just need those to increase and be more consistent this season. The running back duo of Morency and Jackson should provide a surprising 1-2 punch. While both have questions around them that neither can be a featured back, but there is no expectations of that. It's a RB-by-committee approach, so they should see equal time with McCarthy going with whomever is hot that day.

The offensive line needs to improve it's pass blocking from last season, and they should. Last year there were games with 3 rookie OL in and the Packers had to use a max protect package far too often. It limited the passing game as only 2-3 receivers could go out at any given time. Easy defense for most teams (except the Vikes, they sucked at pass coverage). Again, given the former rookies now have that year under their belts and a solid offseason, they need to step it up.

The wide receivers are an uninspiring bunch after superstud Donald Driver and surprise 2nd yr man Greg Jennings. Jennings needs to build on his spectactular first half of his rookie season and be more consistant. As for the rest of the WR corps, it's a crapshoot. Jones, as I mentioned earlier, is a project and not really counted on for big things. Ferguson is a waste of a uniform, and the rest of the group hasn't really shown anything. Need to have someone step up their game and show they belong.

With the drafting of DT Justin Harrell, the Packers have one of the better DL in the NFC. After Kris Jenkins was moved to DE, the line overall excelled in stopping the run, being one of the best units in this category over the last 4 games last year. Harrell will add even more interior run-stopping ability and give us unprecidented quality depth at that position. Uber-DE Aaron Kampman should see a similar season this year as his 15.5 sack season last year. Definately the strength of the team is the front 4 (or 8 in our case)

The linebackers are an interesting group. MLB Nick Barnett is underappreciated in Packer circles with many gleefully pointing out his faults. He's been in 4 different schemes in 4 seasons, and he has thrived. Now he gets the same scheme for the first time in consecutive seasons so he should only be better and start turning into the playmaker we need him to be. AJ Hawk. He lived up to the billing last year and should be even better this year. Brady Poppinga is the interesting case study here. He's fast and has that "never ending motor", he certainly has the physical ability to play at a high level, but injuries have kept him from getting there. The constant theme with all of these guys is their less than stellar pass coverage. This is a definate area that needs to be addressed in camp.

Speaking of pass coverage, how about that elite duo of CBs Al Harris and Charles Woodson? These guys define shutdown and the team looks for them to help lead the defense. The nickle back position is a bit sketchy, but the Packers have several promising young CBs in Walker and Blackmon who look to fill this spot. The safties, *sigh*, are another story. After a brilliant rookie season, Nick Collins regressed last year. One argument for that was he had to make up for the absolute piss-poor play of Marquand Manuel. To say Manuel sucked is an insult to hookers everywhere. Many Packer fans hope that Marviel Underwood, who was outstanding last camp and preseason before being lost to injury, steps up as the starter. I am simply hoping that Manuel goes from terrible to average. That would be a big improvement. The safety position absolutely needs to improve this season or we'll be seeing a lot of the big pass plays being given up again.

Special teams
The punt and kick return units were dreadful last year and need to improve big-time this year. We were one of (if not the) worst kick return units last year. The young WRs need to step up in camp and show they have some return ability. The draft this year was geared towards getting players who were special teams standouts so let's see if that translates to better kick returns and coverages.

I fully believe that P John Ryan and K Dave Rayner will still be our starters. Both are young guys who will only get better and both have loads of potential.

There's my pre-camp thoughts on the team. We have a lot of question marks, but certainly we have some solid bases to build around. Let's hope for no major injuries and that Harrell and Jones sign soon. Go Pack!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Back from vacation

Hi all,

Haven't posted in a while as I've been on vacation in South Dakota with the wife and kids. While the drive out there really isn't all that interesting (I mean it is really, really boring), once you get to the Badlands and Black Hills, it is completely worth it.

The Badlands was awesome. I haven't been out here since I was 2, so it truly was like seeing it for the first time. Just breathtaking scenery and awe-inspiring. You feel like you are on a different planet. My kids really loved climbing around the rocks and getting "lost". We also saw a rattlesnake there, which was cool.

Definately the cutest thing we saw all trip were the prairie dogs. The kids absolutely loved them and wanted us to stop and pull over everytime we passed by one of the prairie dog towns. These towns were huge! Some of them were the size of about 10-12 football fields big. To think that these tunnels are all interconnected and that the prairie dogs know them all is amazing.

Next up was the infamous Wall Drug. You've seen the signs on the road "1365 miles to Wall Drug" out in the middle of Arizona, Texas, WV or wherever. I know I've seen bumper stickers for it on cars in Nashville. Well, it certainly was an interesting stop. We got the free ice water and the insanely good donuts. We didn't stay too long as, well, it's a store and restaurant when you get down to it. A really big and fairly interesting one.

We then spent a couple of days tenting in Custer State Park. That place is outstanding. The kids got to pan for gold, go swimming in really clear lakes (we're talking almost Boundry Waters clear), and we all went to what was my favorite part of the trip: Mount Rushmore.

I've always been impressed with this monument and the story behind it. The sculptor who started it, Gutzon Borglum had 9 different versions of the monument in mind and constantly changed his vision as the work unfolded depending on how the rock in the mountain was. He never saw it finished as he died just prior to the completion.

I took this picture moments before a hail storm hitting us here. Yep, we get there and 10 minutes later a hail storm hits with hail coming down about 1/2 inch in diameter. It was really cool and the kids absolutely loved it. They kept running out in it (along with several other kids there) to get the larger hailstones. Needless to say, we had to buy some souvenier t-shirts for them to wear.

The park is full of animals, while we were there the park had approximately 950 elk, 950 big horned sheep, 1000 prongers and 1000 buffalo. The buffalo were what the kids were most looking forward to on the trip. One evening we drove on the Wildlife Trail Loop and encountered a herd of about 150 buffalo next to and in the road, they were majestic. Buffalo of all different ages were about and the one in the picture was one of the biggest ones. He came right next to our van and I could have reached out and petted him he was so close. But, given that I don't believe in possibly provoking a 1 1/2 ton animal, I kept the window closed as he came by.

One night we drove up to a fire watch outpost on a 6000 foot hill (or would that make it a mountain?). The gravel road going up was just wide enough for 2 cars to pass by each other, and the top had just breathtaking views. It seemed as though you could see for over 100 miles. We got there just prior to sunset and the views just got better.

Later on in the trip, Adam got to dig at the Mammoth site in Hot Springs which was a very cool place. The building for the site surrounds the entire dig, so there's no slaving under the hot sun. Sweet!

We also visited the Mitchell Corn Palace which frankly was disappointing. The inside is just a meeting hall and a gym. Pfft, a bit overrated if you ask me.

Overall it was a fantastic trip and one that we likely will do again with the kids someday.