Analysis: Many questions remain

My high school football coach, Al Fracassa, used to say that you are only as good as your last game. If that is the case, the Packers are a long way from the Super Bowl in Houston come next February. (On a side note, can you believe the Super Bowl will be played in February. How long can the season be?) Anyways, back to my column.<p>

This is why football is so beautiful. No matter what happened in Canton, the team has a new challenge to prepare for, a new opponent to look forward to. Each and every week is an opportunity for redemption. Some of the elites dismiss football as a brutal, violent game, populated by steroid monsters and criminals. But nothing could be further from the truth. Sure football has its share of bad actors, but that is true of any collection of men aged 22-35. The game continues to transcend and rise above these distractions.

Football is a worthy test of character. Can we rise each time we fall, can we overcome the small hurts. Can we run when it hurts to walk? Can we be better today than we were yesterday and do we strive to be better tomorrow than we are today? That is what makes football great and that is why it is America's game.

Preseason is not a good gauge for a team. It is an illusion, backups playing when they would not normally be, guys who can play don't, and coaching decisions are not predicated on regular season logic. But there are hints and indications from these games that shine light on what kind of season we can expect.

If you take the first couple of series as an indicator, it is going to be a long season. I know Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher didn't play, but the offensive line did not protect Favre very well or get much of a running game going. Mr. Favre was on his back twice in the first two series. They will both be back by the third preseason game, but injuries happen and if any of those front line guys get hurt, who will step up.

The defensive line didn't impress me much either. I know Gilbert Brown just got to camp and Cletidius Hunt was out for a while with an illness. And, yes, the Chiefs do have one of the best offensive lines and running games in the NFL. Priest Holmes has been on a two-year tear that ranks up there with the best. Still this is the reality of the NFL. Everyone is good and if you do not find a way to stop the opponent, say hello to vacation after New Year's.

A couple other areas of concern. Javon Walker better get on the jugs machine and work on his hands. Reports out of camp indicate he has dropped a few passes and he let a Craig Nall pass skip off his hands for and interception. Sure it was behind him, but NFL receivers need to make that catch. Concentration and focus. I think he is an exceptional talent and has the opportunity to contribute greatly, but those are catches that need to be made and the fact that is was intercepted only adds to the pain.

In addition to these individual issues, the Packers had too many penalties and they lost the turnover game. This last one is the easiest stat in sports. Hold on to the ball and force some turnovers and you are virtually guaranteed a victory, especially in games between teams that are evenly matched.

Just be thankful that it was a preseason game. I know the tackles were out and Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson didn't play. There is no doubt that the skill positions are strong and the QB is legendary. The teams' future hinges on the big guys on both sides of the ball and if this game is any indication, the future is not so bright. The two tackles will be back and barring injury, the O-line should improve. The defensive line is the big question. Are the Chiefs that good? Are Misters Brown and Hunt just a little behind due to their late arrivals on the practice field? Which of these younger guys will step up and have a breakout year?

Football is about blocking and tackling. No matter what level you play at, the team that blocks better and tackles better will win. The only maxim that trumps this one is the turnover battle. And the Packers did not win either of those battles down in Canton.

Favre looked good in his short appearance. He moved around well and put the ball where it needed to be. Not that anyone is surprised. Al Harris looks like a good pickup. He made plays and with Mike McKenzie, the Packers have a good tandem of corners to go with Darren Sharper and Marques Anderson. Is Antuan Edwards finally ready to live up to his draft position? Is he finally healthy?

Nick Barnett started out slow and he looks like he gets caught in traffic too easily, but the guy sure stepped it up as the game progressed. He made some athletic plays, which are a harbinger of good things to come. Once he gets more comfortable and plays on instinct rather than thought, he will be a force. It is too early to expect these young guys to not be a step slow and/or a little confused so early in the season.

The Chiefs got down near the end zone four times and had to settle for field goal attempts on each journey. That is a good sign that the defense has the potential to be good. Superior Red Zone Play is a sign of mental toughness. I also commend the coaching staff. They adjusted well and held the Chiefs to nine points.

It was disappointing, but understandable to see the game called. I wanted to see some of the other guys, specifically Akili Smith. When he came out of college back in 1999, I was skeptical. I only saw him play a little, but I have never feel comfortable with one-year wonders.

As Jerry Kramer told me once and I paraphrase, "It is easy to do it for one year, you get the breaks, luck is your friend, but it is tough to do it two years in a row, and the true challenge for a champion is to do it for a third year."

He was talking about the Packers run of three straight championships back in the 60's, but the concept is sound and can be applied to anything really.

A buddy of mine asked me at the time who would be the best QB of the bunch between, Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Cade McNown, Daunte Culpepper and Akili Smith. I thought McNabb or Couch would be the one. Then he asked me who would be a bust and my answer was, " Whomever the Bengals draft."

Going to an expansion team cost Couch, but I was right on Smith. But now I want to see what he is made of. Sometimes it takes being pushed to the precipice before we realize what is important. Let's see which side of him is the true Akili Smith, the record setting QB from college or the struggling QB from Cincinnati. It will be interesting.

I am still cautiously optimistic about the Packers chances. They are a good team. They have weapons on offense and a sound front five when it is on the field. The defensive line is a question mark and there are new faces in the back seven that need to jell and blend as a unit. Chemistry is so important in today's game of musical players that fans and the media often overlook it.

But this is what camp is all about and I don't want to overdue the criticism. This is the time to find all the weaknesses and work out the kinks. The team needs to take shape under the watchful eye of Coach Sherman. There's still a lot of work left to do and much to be accomplished. No need to push things. That being said, the offensive and defensive lines are the question marks that should give every Packer fan a little knot in their stomach.

Editor's note: John Lombardi is working with Vince Lombardi Titletown Legends. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt.

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