A.J. Hawk – I have come under some pressure and criticism for not being in love with A.J. Hawk as a draft pick. There is some truth to the idea that taking Hawk with the fifth pick is not how I would have done it. Yet my feelings about the young man have been somewhat misconstrued. I apologize for not being clear on what I feel about Hawk. So let me clarify the situation.
I do feel that Hawk was a great college player. He has all the intangibles. He is smart, instinctive, tough, a student of the game and a natural leader. He is a football player. What I question about him comes from watching him in the Notre Dame game. As a player, he made a dozen tackles and made plays all over the field, but I noticed a difficulty with getting off or around blocks. He got stoned by the Irish linemen more times than I care to see. If the Packers' interior linemen can occupy the guards and tackles, allowing Hawk to roam free at the second level, then he can use his football instincts, quickness and agility to pursue the ball carrier and make plays.
I never intended to question his ability to play in the NFL, only point out that I think the Packers could have been better served to draft a different player (like Vernon Davis), or trade down and still have as much of a chance to get an impact player. Of all the linebackers, drafted in the top five picks since 1982, only four, Junior Seau, Carl Banks, Cornelius Bennett and Willie McGinest have risen to the level of play that I feel warrants a top five pick. A total of 17 linebackers have been picked in the top five and only four have had the kind of career that you would expect from a guy drafted in the top five. Drop down to pick 11 and the following players went before then: Wilbur Marshall, Brian Urlacher, Dan Morgan and last year's rookie sensation, Shawne Merriman. By my calculations, 16 linebackers were selected between pick six and pick 11. Results were pretty much the same. Seau is a Hall of Famer, so he tilts things that direction, but the others are all pretty much the same. Plus, their salary cap number would be less.
Teams have just as much of a chance to hit with a later pick when it comes to linebacker. Throw in one of more additional picks and the chances of improving the team are better. That is my take. I never really took the time to lay all this out and I should have.
A.J. Hawk is a Packer, and therefore he is a member of the team and I will follow him as I would any other player on the team. The draft will be a distant memory as soon as I end this missive. My feelings were not a question of being against Hawk, but rather hoping for more.
Vernon Davis – It is reported that Davis told his agent that when the Packers were on the clock, he hoped that Green Bay would pass on him. He apparently wanted to go to San Fran. Some of this may be an attempt to endear himself to the 49er fans, and some may be truth. Maybe the Packers knew this and this contributed to their pick. If he wants to go catch passes from Alex Smith and not Brett Favre then he needs his head examined. San Francisco may be more cosmopolitan than Green Bay, but he is missing out by not playing for the best franchise in the NFL. I have said it before: if you are good anywhere else, you are a good football player, in Green Bay, you are a superstar.
Mini-camp – Mini-camp is good for a few things. It introduces the new things to players. Since most things are new this year, it gives everyone a jump on learning the new scheme. It lets the rookies and new players a chance to adjust to the facilities and surroundings. It is a good, low pressure way of getting to know everyone. It is a chance for the coaches to set a tone and to begin building a team and developing chemistry.
Because the practices involve no contact, there is very little football-wise that can be learned by watching the drills. The players that can run will run. The athletes will look athletic and you can judge arm strength and touch on the quarterbacks. But throw on pads and things change. It is next to impossible to learn anything about linemen, linebackers and running backs without contact and full pads.
Javon Walker's money – I guess Javon Walker is happy today. He got a new contract in Denver. According to ESPN, Walker will get a five-year extension worth about $40 million. Walker will play out the final year of his current contract this year, plus receive a $1 million roster bonus. The extension will kick in next year. The extension includes $15 million in option bonuses, $10 million in 2007 and the other $5 million in 2008. He gets to save face with the bonus this year and will get a ton of money if he returns to form. The Broncos are covered if he struggles. They can cut him after the end of this year with little impact on the cap if he does not regain his Pro Bowl status.
If he had been a little more patient here in Green Bay, he would have probably gotten something along the same lines from the Packers and been able to avoid all of this turmoil. The trade did little for him. He got the million-dollar bonus but did monumental damage to his image. The league is changing at a rapid pace and I worry that this kind of thing will become more of the norm and less of a random event.
Are the Packers any good? – For the Packers to challenge this season, they will have to have a load of pieces fall into place. That is asking a lot. They have question marks at a multitude of positions. Running back is populated by a bunch of guys coming off injuries. The center of the O-line is populated by rookies and guys too green to count on or too fat to have much faith in. They have one wide receiver who has shown he can do it for 16 games.
Defensive line is a hodgepodge of overachievers, underachievers and never-will-bes. Linebacker looks deep, but is it too much to count on rookies, second-year guys, free agents and Brady Poppinga coming back in time? Safety could be a position of strength with Nick Collins, Mark Roman and the new guy from Seattle, Marquand Manuel. But if Collins has a sophomore slump, Manuel turns out to be a backup, like he was in Seattle, and Roman continues to have an up-and-down career here, it could be tough. Corner could be another bright spot if Charles Woodson can stay healthy and Ahmad Carroll handles getting benched with maturity (he has yet to show much). The kicking game is in flux, with a question mark at punter, kicker and with the return game.
A new coach may inject a sense of urgency and accountability into the team and the new scheme on offense may improve the run game. The defense could help by replicating last year's performance, but it is asking a lot to expect each of these question marks to be answered in the positive. The potential is there and none of the other teams in the NFC North have really improved themselves on paper. New staffs in Minnesota and Detroit may jump-start those franchises, but they both have new quarterbacks to work with and are in some turmoil as I write. Chicago may also have a new QB, with Brian Griese making more money than last year's designated starter, Rex Grossman. Minnesota has some front office issues, and Detroit has been penalized by the league for violations of the off-season conditioning program. That could work in their favor, if the Lions can exorcise they dead weight that is fighting the new regime. If they continue to have grumbling and discord in the ranks, it could be a long year under their new, hard-nosed coach, Rod Marinelli. The Bears defense makes them the front-runner, but they are by no means a lock.
Ultimately, I have no idea how the Packers will fail. There are too many factors to still be determined. I look forward to training camp and the pre-season to see how it all shakes out.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. 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. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.