Monday, May 09, 2005

This is late from mini-camp, but had a great mini-camp update last week.

The most notable news is the play of LB Ray Thompson, who has emerged as the likely starting strong or weak side linebacker, depending on where LB Na'il Diggs plays in 2005. I noticed Thompson signed right before the NFL draft last month, but I didn't think much of the signing. It looked like roster filler. I assumed that something must be wrong with Thompson. Apparently Arizona coach Dennis Green didn't like Thompson and Arizona had been hoping to trade Thompson for a draft pick before this April's draft, but when no other team made an offer, Arizona decided to release Thompson instead, according to on April 22nd. Thompson was injured early in 2004, but apparently came back healthy during the season. He tested positive for drugs twice previously in Arizona, but he hasn't had a positive test since 2003 and he appears to have put that behind him. This was a nice bargain signing; Thompson signed for the veteran's minimum according to Thompson had a nice 2002 season; 104 tackles, 3 pass defenses, 1 forced fumble, and 3 sacks. He took a step back in 2003, only playing in 12 games, I assume because of injury. His 2004 season was unimpressive, but he did get benched for his disagreements with Coach Green. Thompson appears to have good speed, and some pass rushing ability to go along with good run support, but he doesn't appear to be an above average player in pass coverage, and the Packers could really use some improved pass coverage from their linebackers in 2005. At the point in the offseason when Thompson was signed and for the bargain price of the veteran's minimum, Thompson seems like a very quality signing and deserving of a chance at starting. He definetly doesn't lack confidence; quoted Thompson as saying "I was one of their best players on defense" regarding last season in Arizona, despite the fact that he got benched.

Defensive coordinator Jim Bates thinks S Marviel Underwood could start at safety for the Packers in 2005, according to They also mentioned S Nick Collins, but it seems unlikely that Collins will quickly make the transition to the NFL from small college ball and remains at least another season away. Underwood was the Packers 4th round pick from San Diego State. Because he came from a smaller Division I school and was a second day selection in a weak draft for safeties, I assumed he would be a longshot to make the team. But apparently the Packers like what they saw in mini-camp. It will be interesting to see Underwood play when the preseason starts. mentioned that DT Cletidus Hunt's roster spot is in danger, which seems unlikely. Hunt had an uninspiring 2004 season that could have led to his release, but he remained with the team. He isn't a workout warrior or a player that has made any of his preseason workout contract incentives in the past, so he shouldn't look too good in May practices. reported that DT Donnell Washington and DT Corey Williams could take over, but that is unlikely. It is really good to see Washington is back from a lost rookie 2004 season to provide some depth and serious bulk in the middle of the defense, but Williams appeared better suited at defensive end in 2004. reported that new OG Adrian Klemm is the new left guard, but failed to mention that he will remain the starter only until his inevitable injury. Sorry for the sarcasm Adrian, but lets see you make it through a full season first. It is really good to read in the same article that T Kevin Barry looks great and it wouldn't be a surprise to see RT Mark Tauscher move to right guard and Barry take over at right tackle. The only down side of that plan would be in 2006 because Barry is playing on a one year contract. Barry drew surprising little interest in free agency, and a strong 2005 season as the starting right tackle may push Barry out of the Packers salary range.

It is really surprising that QB Craig Nall didn't draw more interest from teams this offseason. Nall signed the Packers low qualifying offer when no other contract offers presented themselves. It is too bad for Nall; he looked great in limited action in 2004 and would be a lot better back up for all the teams keeping QB Quincy Carter, QB Tim Hasselbeck, and QB Jeff Blake around on their rosters. That is probably most playing time Nall will get from now on; he should be the 3rd quarterback behind QB Aaron Rodgers. Nall might get the backup spot if Rodgers holds out or doesn't pick up the offense quick enough, but it seems likely that Rodgers will play in most of training camp and pick up the offense in a short period of time. The real loser in this situation is QB J.T. Sullivan, who resigned with the Packers right before the draft. He was probably thinking he would be number 3, but then Rodgers fell to the Packers and now Sullivan will probably be looking for work come September.

I had ignored the fact that the Packers hadn't bothered to find a punter to challenge the feeble efforts of P B.J. Sander. The Packers appear to be counting on Sander to punt for them in 2005. Sander has the best net punting average in NFL Europe this spring, but he is battling former Packer Travis Dorsch, who the Packers showed little interest in last season. Despite favorable comparisons to Dorsch, hopefully Sander is improving and will be useful in 2005.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I wrote a review of Minnesota's offseason for, so I thought I would post it here too.

Minnesota had one big problem in 2004; defense. ranked the pass defense 29th overall and the run defense 32nd overall, however, Minnesota made some big changes to improve this sorry defense.

Coaching: The biggest improvement might be on the sidelines, with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. Cottrell was the defensive coordinator for the Jets during the last 6 seasons, but he didn't exactly coordinate a world beating defense in 2002 (according to they were 27th overall), or in 2003 (30th overall), or in 2004 (19th overall). Cottrell might not seem like an obvious improvement based on his track record with the Jets, but as Tice pointed out to his team last season, there are a lot of high draft choices underperforming on defense. A change in defensive philosophy is essential for improvement in 2005.

Defensive Line: An obvious improvement was the signing of Pat Williams. Minnesota probably paid too much for a nose tackle on the wrong side of 30, but Williams was in the middle of a Buffalo run defense that was fantastic in 2004 (2nd overall according to Chris Hovan seemed to disappoint everyone in Minnesota, he will try to salvage his career in Tampa Bay in 2005, and signing Williams is a major improvement over Hovan. I don't understand why Minnesota drafted Erasmus James. I watched almost every Wisconsin game in 2004. Sometime James was awesome and carried Wisconsin, such as he did against Michigan State and at Purdue. But James missed all of 2003 with an injury and after he got hurt in the 2004 game at Purdue, he wasn't the same player for the rest of the season. The biggest problem with James is that Minnesota already has a nearly identical player in Lance Johnstone. James shouldn't replace Johnstone or Kenechi Udeze on passing downs, however, James does add depth and could push Udeze and might be an eventual replacement for Johnstone. A defensive line with this much talent, including the best defensive lineman in the NFL, Kevin Williams, should be improved in 2005.

Linebackers: This group had to disappoint everyone in Minnesota in 2004. E.J. Henderson put up some solid numbers, but Chris Claiborne was a non-factor for most of 2004 and Minnesota had to be disappointed in the progress of Dontarrious Thomas. The Packers were very high on Thomas, but Minnesota's coaches appeared to lose faith in Thomas and I don't remember Thomas being a factor in any of the games against the Packers. Minnesota added Sam Cowart and Napoleon Harris into the mix, but I don't like either of those moves. Cowart will likely push Henderson outside, but Henderson hasn't proven to be very good in pass coverage, although this could improve the run defense. Harris is the other outside linebacker, but he isn't very good in coverage either. Harris is especially a concern; he is a talented player who took a step back in 2004 due in part to injuries, but he also contributed to an awful Oakland defense. Cowart was once a Pro Bowl linebacker, but he hasn't been the same since tearing his achilles tendon a couple of seasons ago, and he will probably never get his speed back. A big reason Cottrell's Jets defense took a big step forward in 2004 was the addition of fantastic rookie linebacker Jonathan Vilma, but Minnesota doesn't have anyone on its roster that has ever played as well as Vilma did in 2004. This unit will disappoint again for Minnesota in 2005.

Secondary: I will continue to verbally kick Packers GM Ted Thompson at every opportunity for letting FS Darren Sharper leave the Packers. He is a big play maker and if anyone available this offseason will have an impact ala New England's safety Rodney Harrison, it is Sharper. In 2004, Sharper had his lowest interception total (4) since 1999, but he played some of the season hurt and he returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns. Plus, if your worst interception total in five seasons is four, then you are doing something right. He played a step slower last season, but he blamed it on former Packer defensive coordinator Bob Slovik's request for him to bulk up last offseason so he could play closer to the line of scrimmage. Still, he is a great signing for Minnesota. Fred Smoot wasn't as good of a signing, but he is a quality starter and it will make a big difference to move Brian Williams to 3rd cornerback and remove all memory of Terrance Shaw from the roster. There are some areas of concern with the cornerbacks; both Antoine Winfield and Smoot are smaller cornerbacks, and neither player has produced a lot of pass defenses or interceptions in their careers. However, when considering the disaster Minnesota's starting cornerbacks had been before Antoine Winfield and Smoot were signed over the last two offseasons, this is a big improvement for Minnesota. One last thing, Minnesota also drafted Dustin Fox from Ohio State, who played cornerback in college and probably would have been more highly regarded if the 2005 draft hadn't been so deep with good cornerbacks. It wouldn't be surprising to see Fox play a role later in 2005.

Offense: How does Minnesota replace Randy Moss? I've taken comfort in the fact that no matter how much Minnesota improves their defense, their offense took a hit by the loss of Randy Moss. Maybe. If you look at, you'll see that over the past few seasons, Moss doesn't rate as the highest receiver each season. Actually, Nate Burleson had a higher rank than Moss in 2004. But Moss always scores a lot of touchdowns, and that is never easy to replace. For comparison, Brett Favre always ranks low with, but Favre always is among the leaders in touchdown passes. For all of Favre's faults, he consistently finds the end zone each season, which is a rare talent that can't be underappreciated. The same things can be said about Moss. Even with all the injuries in 2004, he still caught 13 touchdown passes, and his loss can't be underappreciated, despite all the other baggage he brings to a team. Can Troy Williamson replace Randy Moss? I pulled up the DPAR from on the last three players to be the second wide receiver drafted; Roy Williams 4.5 (-3.3), Andre Johnson 18.4 (0.2), and Ashley Lelie 25.4 (8.2). The numbers in paranthesis is their team's DVOA for 2004. Williams caught 8 touchdowns, Johnson caught 6, and Lelie caught 7. None of these players played as well as Moss, especially if you are comparing by touchdown receptions, but all three played on inferior overall offenses than Minnesota. If Williamson can be compared a year or three from now to those three receivers in Minnesota's top offense, then he will be a good one, but not quite an equal replacement for Moss. Maybe Moss won't be missed at all if the reason Moss was so good was because Daunte Culpepper is the best quarterback in the NFL (sorry Peyton). It will be interesting to see if the offense doesn't miss a beat without Moss in 2005.

Special Teams: Wasn't anyone in Minnesota concerned last season that the special teams was awful in 2004? ranked it 28th last season. Special teams can be a fluke from one season to the next, but this unit has been awful for years, and 2004's 28th place finish was actually the highest team finish since they finished 25th in 2001. Morten Anderson was let go to collect social security, but in his wake remain Aaron Elling and Jose "Fed Ex" Cortez. Former Packer Travis Dorsch is hanging around too, but it would be a shock if Dorsch becomes their kicker. Former Viking Doug Brien is sending his resume around the NFL, just in case Minnesota wants their former goat to return to Minnesota. Darren Bennett will continue punting in 2005, but he looked awful in 2004 when he played against the Packers. Minnesota didn't need to draft Mike Nugent to improve this unit, but doing nothing to improve it should disappoint many fans come the regular season. How do these moves compare against the rest of the NFC North? I think no team improved as much this offseason as Minnesota. The Packers had serious cap problems and had to let three starters leave; Sharper, Mike Wahle, and Marco Rivera. The Packers would have probably preferred keeping all three players. The Packers are replacing those three starters with a collection of players; Matt O'Dwyer and Adrian Klemm on offense, and Earl Little and Arturo Freeman at safety, who are all playing for the veteran's minimum salary, except Klemm who was paid $1.5 million. It would be a surprise if O'Dwyer, Klemm, Little and Freeman outplay Sharper, Wahle and Rivera in 2005. The Packers added little in the draft that will help in 2005. Aaron Rodgers will probably take over in 2006 and defensive back Nick Collins should take at least a season to adjust after playing small college ball, however, wide receiver Terrence Murphy looks impressive and could help very soon. I don't understand what Jerry Angelo and Matt Millen are doing in Chicago and Detroit, respectively. Chicago drafted another running back while barely improving an awful offensive line by spending big bucks on average tackle Fred Miller, who was cut by Tennessee this offseason. Then they added a rookie quarterback, Kyle Orton, to add to their collection of unproven young quarterbacks, while not helping the defense at all. Detroit drafted another wide receiver, but are still stuck playing Joey Harrington at quarterback/piano, or maybe Jeff Garcia, while failing to address holes at right tackle or safety. The NFC North should remain a battle between Minnesota and Green Bay in 2005, while Chicago and Detroit still try to figure it all out.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

There is a lot of Packers news out post-draft, but the most interesting news I've read is how defensive coordinator Jim Bates plays his safeties. Most teams play with a strong safety, who is ready to drop back in coverage but is very likely to cheat up closer to the line of scrimmage on possible running plays for added run support, while a free safety plays deeper and is primarily responsible for pass coverage. reported, however, that Bates plays his safeties the same, and that each safety may move up or drop back depending on the offensive formation and motion. Recently signed safeties Earl Little and Arturo Freeman are probably the two starting safeties, but neither seemed a typical strong safety because both have played primarily at free safety, and 2nd round pick Nick Collins also appeared to be a more likely free safety. Returning starting safety Mark Logan played strong safety in 2004, but he is a former cornerback, and was miscast in 2004 as a strong safety. But in Bates system, both safeties play essentially the same role, and should have similar skill sets. It had appeared that the Packers had possibly mismanaged the roster for lack of a strong safety, but the goal from the beginning was to not have a traditional strong safety at all.

It was reported as big news surrounded that QB Brett Favre missed mini-camp, but it was way over reported; Favre rarely played any snaps, or was recovering from some the previous season's injuries in the last few mini-camps anyway. Making it official gave Favre more time with his family and the coaches more chances to kick the tires on QB Aaron Rodgers. Sounds like a good idea.

What is going on with RB Ahman Green? Arrest for domestic violence and then a divorce filed the next day? Wow. Good luck Ahman, hopefully you can work through this difficult time in your life, and we will see you at training camp.

Of all the holdouts in the NFL right now, WR Javon Walker might be the most vocal. reported that Walker was doing a tour of talk radio studios to voice his case. This didn't work out well with former CB Mike McKenzie last season, but hopefully this goes better. The Packers would have to bust their salary cap to pay Walker a new contract at his current value. Someone better tell Walker to stop worring about his contract because of what TE Bubba Franks is going through this offseason. According to, Franks was the 10th best tight end in the NFL in 2004, up from his anemic 25th place in 2003. Did Franks really improve in 2004? Not really. His TD receptions jumped from 4 to 7, but he really wasn't anymore involved in the offense. Teams are probably taking a pass on offering Franks a contract because his stats are inflated by playing with Favre, who has always done a great job of helping ordinary tight ends boost their stats and play in the Pro Bowl. On the other hand, Walker was ranked as the 8th best wide receiver by in 2004, a much tougher positional competition, and he is a young superstar receiver. If the Packers let Walker play out his contract, then placed the transition free agency tag on him, Walker would be given a giant contract offer by another team the next day. You can't compare yourself to Franks; there is no comparison.

I was down on the Packers selection of CB Mike Hawkins from Oklahoma in the 5th round, because Oklahoma's secondary wasn't very good in 2004, at least compared to the rest of Oklahoma's team, but Hawkins didn't actually play for Oklahoma in 2004. He used to attend Oklahoma, but left the team for a reason unknown to me, and has spent the last two seasons in the Arena league, according to, which further reported that Packers coaches are very impressed with Hawkins in mini-camp. Hawkins is only 21, so this was the first year he was eligible for the draft; read about RB Maurice Clarett if anyone is confused why Hawkins had to wait. Hawkins might be a case of the Packers doing some outstanding scouting, however, the Packers snagged CB Jason Horton out of Canada in 2004, raved about his play in training camp, and he look overmatched whenever the rare opportunity presented itself that he got into a game. So maybe there is no reason to get excited about Hawkins either.