BY BILL JOHNSON
The Packers have shuffled the deck on their O-line, and I think it's the right move.
The biggest part of the move involves fourth year man Bryan Bulaga moving for right tackle to left. Left tackle is the closest to a "glamour" position on the O-line, and the personal protector of "the franchise", QB Aaron Rodgers. Bulaga originally came in at left tackle when Chad Clifton went down in 2009, with mixed results. He missed a good part of last season with a hip injury, but is regarded as the Packers most talented offensive lineman.
Along with Bulaga, guard Josh Sitton moves from the right to the left. For years, league experts have said that Sitton is the Packers best lineman and one of the best guards in the league. Thus far, that hasn't really translated to much on the field. The Packers gave up a league leading 50 sacks last season and their run game is all but non-existent. This means one of three things: Sitton is over rated, Sitton's supporting cast is awful, or Sitton is in the wrong spot. The first and easiest of these possibilities to tackle was a position move. Hopefully, the move to the left will help Sitton live up to his potential and his press clippings.
That shifts TJ Lang to right guard, with the right tackle job up for grabs. Lang is versatile and aggressive, but like Sitton needs to show more on the field. Much of Lang's production will depend on who settles next to him at right tackle.
Incumbant Marshall Newhouse would seem to be the favorite. Newhouse is solid, but their doesn't seem to be a ton of upside. Don Barclay was thrown into the mix due to injury last season at right tackle. While the running game improved with Barclay on the field, his pass blocking was dangerously inadequate at times. The Packers would love to see 2010 first rounder Derrick Sherrod come back after missing 2012 with a leg injury, but every minute he's off the field leads us to believe that he'll never return. Youngsters David Bakhtiari, J.C. Tretter, and Andrew Datko will also be in the mix, but it might be a red flag if one of those guys is the best the Packers can do.
Should this solution not have the desired effect, the next step is a personnel overhaul, which I'm guessing Ted Thompson would rather avoid.
They have to be better, right away. Noticeably better.
BY BILL JOHNSON
I love Wisconsin's new division. Nothing to complain about. I love it 100%
I love that Iowa and Nebraska will be on the schedule every season. I've always thought Iowa was more of a rival than Minnesota. I'm not an alum, and most alums disagree with me on this, but the Gophers are as close to irrelevant athletically as a Big 10 team can get.
The Iowa rivalry is special. Fans travel to both places. The teams are always pretty good. Great atmosphere. Great. meaningful games.
Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with still having the Gophs on the schedule. The Axe is cool, and the automatic win is great.
I think the series with Nebraska will become a classic. Both programs will continue to have that "old school" feel. The game atmosphere's have been electric every time they've played, and I see nothing in the future to change that.
Northwestern/Wisconsin games have always been interesting. Evanston is a short drive for Milwaukee area Badgers fans and usually a pretty easy ticket. As long as Fitzgerald sticks around they'll be competitive too.
Illinois is basically a step above Minnesota. They get better players, so sometimes they're competitive, but usually it's a planned W. The game doesn't have much juice because everyone in Chicago cheers for Notre Dame.
Purdue isn't great and I don't know if they'll ever be as good as they were with Tiller, but the memory of those classic games during the Brees/Orton era will always bring fun memories to Badgers fans.
It won''t be every season, but I would imagine they'll be plenty of Badger Red along for those first few trips to the New York and D.C. areas for Rutgers and Maryland.
The Badgers have always missed Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State intermittently over the years, so this set up won't be that different.
Finally, I'm glad that the Legends and Leaders have gone. While most student athletes lead an exemplary life, boys will be boys! Next time some high spirited lad sells his bowl game swag to buy tattoos, plots a points-shaving scheme, or gets stabbed by an angry female friend, at least fan's of other conferences won't be able to use the Big 10's division names as part of the punch line.
I'm looking forward to 2014.
By BILL JOHNSON
Menelik Watson- Offensive tackle Florida State
6'5", 310 pounds. Originally a scholarship basketball player, the British Watson is still a little new to football and a little raw, but there is a tremendous amount of upside. His basketball past suggests educated feet, a key to success as an NFL left tackle. Watson also has plenty of room for more weight as he matures. While Marshall Newhouse seems somewhat intrenched as the Packers left tackle, I am of the belief that a potential upgrade wouldn't hurt. Watson's combination of size, balance, and upside makes him an intriguing choice at 26.
I also like Watson in the first round based on what is available later. This is an offensive line heavy draft. If the Packers choose Watson, he'd likely be the fifth tackle selected. The pool of tackles will be pretty severely drained by the time the Packers second and third round picks roll around. While safeties like Matt Elam, or tight ends like Tyler Eifert are attractive choices at 26, there may be players of equal or better value available to the Packers in the second and third rounds and beyond.
At safety, my guy is Shamarko Thomas out of Syracuse. His most memorable moment from the combine was his face plant at the end of his 40 yard dash. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that the stop watches read 4.37 when he landed, the fasted time among the safeties. He's short at just under 5'9", but he makes up for it with a 40.5 inch vertical leap. It's totally unfair to say that any player is the next Nick Collins, but the number one thing that distinguished Collins at safety was his speed and athleticism. Thomas certainly has other worldly athletic ability. If the Packers have confidence in their ability to "coach up" players, Thomas would seem to be the man. I like him enough to take him in the first round, like I did with Randall Cobb, but they should be able to at least wait til the second round, maybe even the third.
In the second round, I like Stanford Tight End Zach Ertz. They will really have to sweat it out for Ertz to make it all the way to 55, so they may have to move up. Ertz possesses good height and weight (6'5" 249 pounds.) In Stanford's offense, Ertz has had ample opportunities to make plays as a receiver and a blocker. To Wisconsin fans, his ability as a receiver was on display in Stanford's Rose Bowl win over the Badgers. With Jermichael Finley starting his farewell tour with the Packers, and DJ Williams having a less than stellar start to his Packers career, Ertz could be a great new weapon for Aaron Rodgers arsenal.
Should Thomas be off the board by the time the third round rolls around, I love the notion of the Packers picking Alabama Center Barrett Jones. Jones has played guard and tackle in big time college football games, as well as center for the two time defending national champs. At 6'5" 306 pounds, Jones has the size needed to succeed as an NFL Center. To me, he seems to have the perfect temperament for the position: Well spoken, nice guy off the field that won't hesitate to take out your achilles tendon on the field. I am not sold on Evan Dietrich-Smith as the Packers starting center. Best case scenario, the Packers pick Thomas in the third round, then Jones in the fourth.
I expect on Day Three that the Packers may look for a pass rusher or running back, but I think they are interested to see what they can do with what they have at those spots. They like DuJuan Harris. Perhaps they'll resign Cedric Benson or someone of that ilk to augment Harris. As for the pass rush, Nick Perry was just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel when he was injured last season. I also see them using Dezman Moses more in 3rd and long situations. From the inside, a healthy Mike Neal finally started living up to his second round selection with 4.5 sacks in just 9 games. Depending on how the board falls, the Packers may stand pat at these spots on draft day.
The draft will reveal a number of things the tight lipped Ted Thompson won't normally say. If they invest a higher draft pick on a tight end, it indicates two things to me:They have little or no faith in DJ Williams and this IS Jermichael Finley's last season in Green Bay. Also, if the Packers draft a quarterback, I don't think it speaks poorly of Graham Harrell. It speaks poorly of BJ Coleman. Something to watch.
Join Homer and me for the NFL Draft Party on Thursday night at Club Paragon in Greenfield starting at 6pm. To those of you that can't make it, please tune in live on 540 ESPN, 100.5 ESPN, and espnwisconsin.com.
by Bill Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Here it is. This is ABSOLUTELY how the season will go. I have consulted five of the top seven seers in the world, and at least three drunken boobs. THIS IS SCIENCE PEOPLE!!!!
Week One Packers at 49ers 3:25pm kick off
The Packers will have improved versus the Niners. How couldn't they? They were flat out awful both times versus San Francisco in 2012.They'll run the ball more and better in '13. They'll have a better plan for Kaepernick (they'd better, Dom!) They will be better. The game will be great. The Packers won't win.
Final- Niners 31 Packers 27
Week Two Redskins at Packers (0-1) noon kick off
Two weeks. Two running quarterbacks. The bane of the Packers' existence. This, like so many Packers games in 2013, will be a shootout. In the end, the improved Packers defense will be the difference, turning Redskins turnovers into points.
Final- Packers 42 Redskins 35
Week Three Packers (1-1) at Bengals noon kick off
After two iffy games to start the season, the Packers get themselves back into the conversation as a contender with an impressive road win over a decent team. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry terrorize Andy Dalton, forcing the redhead into two interceptions, including a pick six for Casey Hayward.
Final- Packers 34 Bengals 21
Week Four Bye
Really? Week four? Maybe they should have another family night scrimmage or schedule an exhibition versus Austin Peay? Too early.
Week Five Lions at Packers (2-1)
One of these seasons the Lions will win a game at Lambeau. Not this season.
Final- Packers 28 Lions 23
Week Six Packers (3-1) at Ravens noon kick off
These are not your fathers Ravens, and when I'm saying that I'm talking to those of you that watched with your dad as the Ravens win the Super Bowl in February. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone, among others. Hopefully, Joe Flacco has thick skin. He and his massive contract will take an unfair share of the blame as the Ravens miss the playoffs in 2013. Big day for the Packers running game.
Final- Packers 33 Ravens 17
Week Seven Browns at Packers (4-1) 3:25pm kick off
This seems an odd choice for a CBS late game. Maybe the Browns will be better, but not much better. Packers in a romp.
Final- Packers 42 Browns 21
Week Eight Packers (5-1) at Vikings 7:30pm kick off
The first of five prime timers isn't until week eight. It's hard to believe that Adrian Peterson can be as good in 2013 as he was last season, but he always has a little something special for the Packers. The difference in this game will be the improvement in Christian Ponder. He'll be just good enough to hand the Packers and their fans another frustrating loss in Minneapolis. Adding insult, Greg Jennings has a huge game.
Final- Vikings 28 Packers 24
Week Nine Bears at Packers (5-2) 7:40pm kick off
Monday Night Football at Lambeau. Who really knows what you're gonna get from Mark Trestman and the Bears? This is a tough call, so I have to stick with history: Cutler with one too many dumb decisions. Packers win.
Final- Packers 27 Bears 23
Week Ten Eagles at Packers (6-2) noon kick off
With Chip Kelly's offense gelling about week five, the Eagles and their impressive weapons are the team that no one wants to play. The Packers don't want to play them either, and with good reason. Another barnburner leads to the Packers first home loss of 2013.
Final- Eagles 37 Packers 31
Week Eleven Packers (6-3) at Giants 7:30pm kick off
Just under a year after last season's debacle at Met Life Stadium, the Packers unleash furious vengeance on the outmanned Giants. Huge game for Aaron Rodgers makes him the favorite for the MVP.
Final- Packers 38 Giants 28
Week Twelve Vikings at Packers (7-3) noon kick off
Speaking of furious vengeance, the Packers unleash a can on Christian Ponder. Four interceptions and a fumble for the Vikes offense. Graham Harrell plays the fourth quarter.
Packers 51 Vikings 17
Week Thirteen Packers(8-3) at Lions 11:30 kick off (Thanksgiving Day)
The Lions will be battling for their playoff lives, and they'll turn in their best performance of the season. The Packers improved protection unit has a tough time keeping Rodgers upright. A blip on the radar as the Packers do not claim the Turducken.
Final- Lions 27 Packers 20
Week Fourteen Falcons at Packers (8-4) 7:30 kick off
Thanksgiving gives the Packers extra time to rest and prepare for the Falcons and it pays off. Rodgers and the Packers offense get back on track big time with a huge win.
Final- Packers 38 Falcons 24
Week Fifteen Packers (9-4) at Cowboys 3:25 kick off
A late season offensive show. A contender for 2013 game of the year. In the end, the unfortunate trend for Tony Romo continues. A turnover at the wrong time gives the Packers a hard fought win.
Final- Packers 42 Cowboys 38
Week Sixteen Steelers at Packers(10-4) 3:25pm kick off
Super Bowl 45 rematch, but it won't be that close. The Packers are rolling offensively and the Steelers can't keep up.
Final- Packers 35 Steelers 24
Week Seventeen Packers (11-4) at Bears noon kick off
This game may get flexed if there aren't any head to head match-ups that are "playoff games." The Bears might be playing for a Wild Card, but the Packers will be looking to improve their position in the conference, maybe even playing to win the division versus the Lions or Vikings. Good news. Starters play. Packers win.
Final- Packers 23 Bears 17
Well, there you have it. 12-4. NFC North Champs, and a better match-up for the Achillis heel teams then they were in the past two seasons.
by Bill Johnson (email@example.com)
Well, so much for my NL Cy Young pick.
Zack Greinke will miss the next eight weeks after doing his best imitation of a place kicker tackling a fullback on Thursday night in San Diego.
I'm searching my memory for some previous bile that might exist between Greinke and Carlos Quentin, because on the surface that "hit by pitch" was not a mound charger. So why did Quentin charge Greinke? Greinke made a mistake. Part of the reason he was so chinged up was probably anger at himself for making a big mistake.
The bigger mistake came next.
Greinke's tenacity is a huge part of what makes him great, but discretion needs to be the better part of valor. Greinke needed to wait for Quentin at the mound, allowing his teammates to turn it into a Bunkhouse Stampede, as opposed to the short MMA mismatch that transpired.
Greinke walks to the beat of his own drummer. That's not a big deal. Many athletes do.
This is at least the second time that walking to that beat has cost Greinke and his team. Greinke's decision to play basketball during the off season cost him the first month plus of his Brewers career.
Now, in trying to prove his toughness and tenacity (which I think we already knew about) Greinke has taken himself out of commission again. The Dodgers will likely be able to continue to contend in his absence, but it will be more difficult. In a season where they are clearly "going for it", this is a blow that the Dodgers have to consider unnecessary.
Carlos Quentin will receive a hefty suspension for this incident, but nothing close to the "as long as Greinke's out" suspension suggested by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.
Mattingly's suggestion, which has been brought up as an idea before in baseball and other sports, is not realistic and in this case it's not fair. Quentin's decision to charge the mound was wrong, but Greinke's decision to charge Quentin escalated the problem. If we're looking for responsibility for Greinke's broken collarbone, more lies with Greinke than Quentin. If Greinke feels that he needs to jeopardize his season and the Dodgers season to gain some "street cred" his priorities are out of whack.
He and the Dodgers will have two months to think about it.
by Bill Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I applaud Ron Roenicke's decision to replace John Axford as the Brewers closer.
It couldn't have been easy. As bad as Axford has been, Roenicke knew that Axford's next demotion with the Brewers would probably be his last. For whatever reason, Axford now looks "shot" in a Brewer uniform. Like Derrick Turnbow, it's now almost sad to watch every outing of the amicable Canadian. You want him to succeed, but common sense tells you that any small success will be short lived. He is to the point now that Cal Eldred was in his waning days as a Brewer: He can only pitch in games that the Brewers have already given up on.
So where now?
This early in the season, as bad as things have been, the Brewers still have to think in terms of turning things around. Jim Henderson will be allowed to keep the job until he falters. I wouldn't be totally opposed to giving someone else an opportunity in the ninth. Wouldn't it be nice to have options?
That seems like a foreign idea. Since the advent of the "one inning with the lead" closer, managers have been conditioned to build up their ninth inning man as if he's The Sundance Kid. The great unbeatable gunslinger. That's all well and good, but what happens when the gunslinger gets beat?
He likely ends up in Boot Hill.
Obviously, the consequences aren't as dire for the closer, but what other position in the game is held to that lofty standard? A starter giving up a run in three straight games is no big deal. Aside from the closer, and maybe the set-up man, the other relievers are shuttled around pretty regularly depending on whose been more effective recently.
Should managers look at changing the role and expectations for the closer? Should there even be a closer? Would teams be more successful if a manager used all of his relievers as an arsenal of weapons that are close to equal in value?
The "one inning with the lead" closer became the standard with Dennis Eckersley back in the late eighties. Prior to that, the games top closers weren't limited to one inning. Sometimes they would only pitch the ninth, but often closers like Rollie Fingers, Rich Gossage, Bruce Sutter, or Mike Marshall would go two, three, or even four innings. In really important situations, some managers would even bring in a starter to finish a game.
Every week, there are a number of situations in which managers would love to use their best reliever in a key situation, but can't because it's not the last inning with the lead. There are plenty of game deciding at bats that don't happen in the ninth inning. Shouldn't managers have the option to use the best pitcher they have for those spots?
They can. They just don't. I don't blame them. The bio of a major league manager in his tenth season with a team rarely includes the term "free thinker." The self preservation gene usually overpowers any crazy notion leaning toward unique thought.
Should Jim Henderson save five or six straight games, he will be built up to be the new "fastest gun in town." Then, after two straight outings where he surrenders one run in the wrong situation, he'll be carried off with his boots on like Axford.
I'd love to see a manager take a different approach, but I don't see it happening soon.