Lombardi blog - April edition

Thoughts on the draft, trading for Larry Johnson, Thompson pre-draft press conference, draft preparation, Packers schedule, basketball players and football, Eddie Robinson, preseason schedule, other NFL teams going to zone blocking scheme

April 30, 2007
The NFC North
With the Lions taking Calvin Johnson, the wideout, the Vikings taking Adrian Peterson, the running back, and the Bears taking Greg Olsen, the tight end, offense is at a premium in the NFC North.

All three teams took what they believe will be impact skill players on offense. After analyzing the first round picks, all three of them are better teams today than they were on Friday. I am not sure I can say that about the Packers. Justin Harrell may become a Pro Bowler. But is he an impact player starting day one of training camp? Time will tell.

April 30, 2007
The Draft
It is impossible and imprudent to grade a draft once it is over. It takes years to see how players pan out. The only thing you can grade in the hours and days after the draft is hype and need fulfillment.

The Packers failed to draft players known to the average fan, so it was a draft that failed to live up to any hype. I would guess that the majority of fans had never heard of any of the Packer draft picks, unless they are fans of the Tennessee Vols. As for filling needs, the Packers did draft a couple of running backs, a couple of receivers, a safety and a tight end. They need playmakers on offense and they have some guys who will get a chance to prove that Ted Thompson knows what he is doing.

Thompson says he drafts the best available player and apparently he did just that. History says he never has traded up. I do not have the time to confirm that, so I will take the word of others who are reporting it. He has traded down to accumulate more picks and that makes sense. But there is something amiss here. He drafts the best available guy, but will trade down for more picks, so it seems that if he is content to trade down, he is not enamored with the best available guy whenever the Packers are picking, say it is the second or third round. Why does he not move up to get the best available guy on the board when that guy is a position that the Packers have a need?

At some point, this team needs to take a risk to improve the team, and I am not talking about the type of risk of drafting a chronically injured defensive tackle, who possesses a decent upside.

Brett Favre enters the season without a discernible talent upgrade on offense and that is a shame. Actually, he may be worse off. Ahman Green is gone, but he was not a guarantee going into training camp last year. William Henderson is too. Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson are back at receiver. Koren Robinson may be back, but who knows what shape he will be in. Nothing was expected from Greg Jennings back in July. David Martin is gone. The Offensive line is a year older, so that should be better, but the lack of playmakers is tragic from a sports perspective. How have they gotten better on offense? Maybe these rookies will blossom? Packer fans had better hope.

I was not a supporter of the Randy Moss trade. But that would have at least been a move to convince me that they are trying. Especially since it seems that a fourth rounder would have got it done. So when Favre is trying to make a play, remember that Allen Barbre, a tackle from Missouri Southern State was taken with the Packers' first pick in the fourth round. Nothing against Allen, I am sure he is a great guy and good player, but can he catch the long ball?

If things work out for the Packers, we will all be happy and Thompson will be lauded as it should be. His first draft is coming up on its third season and that is about time to grade it. Time to see how he did.

April 27, 2007
Draft Thoughts
No one has any idea who the Packers are going to draft. Ted Thompson may have an idea who he wants to draft. He may have an idea who he thinks might be available at his pick, but with trades and surprises, no one knows.

When my second daughter was coming, my wife and I went to get an ultrasound. At 20 weeks, you can with some certainty determine the gender of your baby. We never asked with any of my kids, but at that appointment we got the doc to write it down and seal it in an envelope. That way, if we broke down, we could break the seal and be in the know. We did not break down and a month or so after the birth, we found the envelope and opened it and the doc was right.

I wish we could talk to the powers that be to do the same in the draft. That way Ron Wolf could not claim he wanted to draft Ray Lewis, but the Ravens beat him to it without backup. Maybe he did, maybe he is blowing smoke. This way, we could call him on it, or bask in his genius.

As for the other big names in the draft, here is what I am hearing.

JaMarcus Russell - physically gifted. The question on him is his desire and work ethic. Some people I respect are worried he may get more famous and rich and not do what is needed off the field to succeed.

Brady Quinn - Is he a product of his coach's system, or is he the real deal? Did not play as well against the good teams on his schedule as he did against the cream puffs. From what I can gather about him he seems spoiled. It is a gut feeling, but I would not go near him, because I wonder about his mental toughness, especially if he goes to a turd team where he will get bounced around a lot. Maybe it is the Notre Dame thing.

Calvin Johnson - He is the can't miss kid, according to everyone. So whoever takes him is insulated from criticism right? Big, fast and good.

Adrian Peterson - Excellent player who is injury prone. Not the greatest combination for a position that takes a pounding.

Marshawn Lynch - the guy everyone thinks the Packers will take. Has a back problem and has some issues off the field. If those things check out positively, he will go early, maybe before the Packers draft to Buffalo.

Joe Thomas - Has no holes and will be expected to start at tackle for 10-plus years. The image he is projecting is very mature and how you wish all these guys behaved. As long as it is not a show, he seems very level headed and confident in himself.

April 26, 2007
Larry Johnson
Adam Shefter of the NFL Network is reporting that Chiefs' running back Larry Johnson is available. One team supposedly interested in LJ is Green Bay. If the rumor is true, should the Packers do it?

Reasons why they should
1. He is good.

2. He is a proven commodity as opposed to the guys the Pack have now and the draft eligible guys. They need a back and LJ makes them a contender immediately.

3. In the last year of his contract and that usually motivates players to achieve great things.

4. If he is traded, he may think he has something to prove and will perform accordingly.

Reasons to think about it
1. He is not as young as a rookie, like Marshawn Lynch. LJ will turn 28 this season and is in his fifth year. How close is he to the end of his career? Ahman Green was not much older.

2. Not sure what the Pack will have to surrender for him.

3. He is not the greatest team player. Has made waves at both Penn State and with the Chiefs. Kind of selfish based upon what I can see.

4. Johnson is in the last year of his contract and will command a big contract sooner rather than later. He may become a distraction if he does not get a new deal on his terms, or on his schedule. Word is he wants a deal bigger than Ladainian Tomlinson got two years ago for eight years and $60 million.

It will cost the Packers both to trade for him and sign him long-term. Nothing Ted Thompson has done so far in his tenure makes me think he will make such a bold move, but that is precisely why he probably will. If the Pack wants to make a big splash, getting one of the league's top backs is a sure way to do so.

April 23, 2007
Ted Thompson's Press Conference
I attended Packer GM Ted Thompson's pre-draft press conference on Monday and here are some of the things that were interesting to me:

Comments on his lack of free agent activity - Wanted to sign their own guys, which they did with Al Harris, Cullen Jenkins and Nick Barnett. He said that they wanted to re-sign Ahman Green, but it did not work out. That is code the Texans paid way too much for him. He also mentioned that they want flexibility to make some moves after the draft if any vets get let go.

Changes the team has made with the new "Good Conduct" policy - Thompson said he has made no changes in the way they evaluate talent based upon the NFL's emphasis on good behavior. This did not surprise me as much as it did with the way and speed with which he responded. There was no hesitation. It just came out. Bam. I assume that the Packers take character into account with every move they make, given the nature of the Green Bay Community, but Thompson did not even think about his answer. No obfuscation or shifty answers.

Possibility of trading up and down - Has no idea what will happen this weekend. He assumes that he will pick with the picks (nine) the Packers currently have. He does not foresee making moves and he does not foresee staying pat, he just prepares to pick with the picks he has and adjusts as the day goes by. In the past, his teams have tried to trade all day long and got no takers and then there are days that he makes a lot of trades.

Mentioned that they have fielded two calls already about making a move, but characterized those calls as "fishing expeditions."

Best Player vs. Need Pick - Thompson said that he takes the best player available as opposed to the best player at a need position. This makes sense, of course, but what if the best player on the board at pick 16 is a middle linebacker? Does he make the pick? I wonder. He has Barnett locked up and Abdul Hodge on the roster. Does he need another 'Mike' 'backer? Does he trade it, or take the next best player?

Randy Moss - He flat our refused to talk about Moss and said that it would be inappropriate to talk about a player under contract. He was very adamant about it. I think he may protest too much. One local radio guy said on the air that he thinks that it means that the Moss deal is locked up based upon Thompson's evasive response.

Evaluation of the Draft - A reporter asked if Thompson agreed with Ron Wolf who said that if you get three solid starters in a draft, it was a success. He sort of sidestepped it, but did not fight the idea that if you hit on a third of you picks, you are successful in a draft. He actually made the statement that the draft was like baseball - if you hit over .300, you are a good hitter. So now we know what Ted Thompson is comfortable with when it comes to evaluating his job performance. His first draft matures this season, so let the judgment begin.

April 18, 2007
Draft Prep
One job I used to have back when I was an office drone with the Oilers was to try and scour every newspaper and website for any rumor, prediction or mock draft. The powers that be wanted any and all information related to the draft. They were trying to get an idea what other teams were thinking, so they would be better prepared.

I do not think it ever panned out or the info helped in any way, but I soldiered on. I asked my boss once why I did it. Did the team ever make plans based upon the Mock Draft off of ESPN.com? No, but they were thirsting for info. In that way they were like all the fans out there like us. The explosion of the Internet must be driving the pro guys crazy. Every rumor has to be taken seriously until it is debunked, because whoever reported it may know something.

In the early 90's, we got faxed copies of any newspaper article that mentioned the NFL. We paid for a service that provided it. It was a cut and paste deal that usually arrived before lunch. For the local papers, I used to have to get in early, grab a copy of the sports, make copies for everyone and distribute them. When I was in my pre-teen years, back in the late 70's and early 80's, my brother and I were paid to cut out articles concerning football from the New York papers and mail them to one of the NFL teams. We got paid $50 a month to do so if I remember correctly.

Now anybody and everybody can just log on and read everything they want. Makes things both easier and harder. Easier to get the information, but more information to decipher. Cut both ways I guess. Do a Google search and you will find dozens of websites devoted to NFL rumors.

Ultimately, teams need to do their due diligence and make a decision based upon their best judgment. If they get carried away following rumors and innuendo it can distract them from finding the best players.

April 12, 2007
The Schedule
The schedule is out and it is a wicked one. The Eagles, Giants, Chargers to start out and the Bears, Broncos and Chiefs in the first eight weeks. At the Vikings and home against the Redskins are the other two games in what could be the hardest first eight games in the league. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Packers may only be favored at home versus Washington in the first eight weeks.

The second half of the season is a little more forgiving with home games versus the Vikes, Panthers, Raiders and a home and home against the Lions. Road trips to Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis are a little tougher but I could see the Packers being favored in five or six of the last eight games. It all depends on how the season progresses of course, but based upon last year's play, I would think that only the Cowboys and Bears would be favored, with possibly the Rams getting the nod at home.

I said it a couple of posts ago, but it needs to be repeated. Green Bay may have an improved team over last year and have a worse record. They have a tough schedule and unlike last year, when they fell into an 8-8 record largely on the back of an easy schedule, they will have to earn it this year.

Predicting based upon last year's records is a shaky endeavor at best. Still, those first eight games are against good teams that are above average almost every year. With the exception of the Skins and Vikes, there is no reason to believe that the other six games will not be tough on the young Packers. If they win half of them, they will have accomplished quite a feat. If they can mentally take the beating they may get in the early half of the season, they can finish stong again. If they get down out of the gate, it may snowball. Packer fans usually think the Packers will win every game, but if you are objective about it, it could be a tough fall. If they excell, they will have earned it. No one will be able to point to anything other than they played good football and beat some good teams.

April 10, 2007
Basketball Players Playing Football
There was a report in the Green Bay Press-Gazette that the Packers worked out a college basketball player. Joe Werner, a 6-6, 250 pound hoopster from Wisconsin-LaCrosse may or may not be the next Antonio Gates, but if you look at history, the Packers have had good luck with basketball players who eventually played football.

Two examples quickly come to mind. Fuzzy Thurston was a hoops player at Valparaiso before turning his attention to football. Fuzzy was an outstanding pass blocker and I am sure that his basketball experience was one of the reasons he had great feet, ideal for pass blocking. Bob Long, who played wideout for the Packers, Falcons and Redskins (and I think the Rams) played basketball at Wichita State. Both guys played football at least one year in college, but went to school as basketball recruits.

Back then, the Packers had a traveling basketball team that played around the state in charity games. It must have been pretty good with those two guys out there.

I am sure there are more, but those two guys come to mind.

April 6, 2007
Eddie Robinson
Packer fans who know history know that Hall of Famer Willie Davis played for Coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling. Coach Robinson passed away this week. I always had a respect for the man because of the success he had on the Gridiron. But my respect for him shot through the roof when I visited the Grambling campus as a scout for the Oilers in 1999. Their facilities were poor. Most high schools have better facilities. The coaches' offices were ridiculous. For him to have the success he had under those conditions is amazing. He was a great coach and a fine man.

I met him once. I was staying at the local Holiday Inn on a visit to campus and he was there for a meeting and I introduced myself. He had retired by then, but I recognized him instantly. He was kind and gracious even though he probably wanted to do something else than talk to me. I have been around a lot of famous people because of my former job, but he was one of the few that I truly was in awe of. He trancended his profession and was a truly inspirational figure.

Below are the players from Grambling who suited up for the Packers (according to Packers.com). Coach Robinson first coached in 1941 and retired in 1997. He coached in 588 games, winning 408. He would have coached all of these guys but Walt Williams.

1. Bob Barber, DE, Grambling State, 1976-79
2. Willie Davis, DE, Grambling, 1960-69
3. Walter Dean, FB, Grambling State 1991
4. Roderick Mullen, CB/S, Grambling State, 1995-97
5. Guy Prather, LB, Grambling State, 1981-85
6. Patrick Scott, WR, Grambling State, 1987-88
7. Walt Williams, RB, Grambling State, 2004-05

More Zone Blocking
Pro Football Weekly reports that the Patriots are considering the zone blocking scheme because it suits running back Laurence Maroney's style better than Corey Dillion's. If the Patriots are considering it, then it must be a smart move.

The Packers are looking smarter and smarter every day.

April 4, 2007
Preseason Game at Pittsburgh
I once traveled to Pittsburgh with the Cleveland Browns for a playoff game and found myself leaving the locker room last. The man in front of me was legendary Browns' running back Jim Brown. It is my personal opinion that Jim Brown was as good a player as ever played the game, regardless of position or era. He was a presence on those trips. He looked like he could still play and he must have been in his 60's at the time.

As he exits the tunnel in old Three Rivers Stadium, a Steeler fan hangs over the railing, flashes Brown the double bird and unleashes a storm of invective to rival any longshoreman, sailor or (appropriately) steel worker. He lets Brown have it. The F word, the C word, the SH word, and some I did not even know existed. He tells him to go somewhere hot. He just keeps it up as Brown limps onto the Browns side of the field. Brown to his credit, does not even react. I was close enough to him to sense some body movement, but there was none - and he had to hear him. The guy was loud. The anger and spittle flying out of this fans mouth was a sight to behold.

Packer fans know about the Bears rivalry. The Browns-Steelers head-to-head is just as contested. Green Bay and Chicago have really nothing in common and the passion is partly historical and partly big city versus little city. Cleveland and Pittsburgh on the other hand are mirror images of each other and that is the genesis of the hatred and spite. Two industrial, rust-belt towns fighting it out.

Three Rivers is gone, replaced by Heinz Field, but Pittsburgh is still a tough place to play. I do not know where that guy's seats are in the new stadium, but if anyone sees a rabid individual letting loose on Brett Favre, let me know. Luckily it is a preseason game and such shenanigans will be minimal ... but then again maybe not. Steeler fans are a rowdy bunch.

April 3, 2007
Here is the preliminary preseason schedule if you missed it. Some details are yet to be worked out, but it looks like a good one. Lots of intrigue and storylines to keep everyone interested even if the quality of play in the preseason is less than stellar.

Date: Aug. 9-13
Opponent: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Time: TBA
TV: state
Coach McCarthy returns home. Can the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger rebound from their down year? Is Mike Tomlin the answer in the Steel City?

Date: Aug. 16-20
Opponent: Seattle Seahawks (Gold pkg.)
Midwest Shrine Game
Time: TBA
TV: state
The original Coach Mike returns to the city that made him ... maybe for the last time as Coach of the Seahawks?

Date: Thurs., Aug. 23
Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars
Bishop's Charities Game
Time: 7 p.m.
The first of what will probably be many nationally televised games for an 8-8 team. Everyone is hedging their bets that this is the last go around for Number 4. Will this be the swan song for Jags Coach Jack Del Rio and Quarterback Byron Leftwich?

Date: Thurs., Aug. 30
Opponent: at Tennessee Titans
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: state
Have the Packers and Titans played every year in the preseason? Brett Favre versus Vince Young.

All times Central; remaining dates and times to be announced later in April.

April 2, 2007
Zone Blocking
It appears the Packers are ahead of the curve. From the Denver Post:

Zone blocking mania
"Add Oakland and Carolina to a growing list of teams that are adopting the Broncos' zone blocking scheme. Raiders owner Al Davis was reluctant to use the hated Broncos' run-game scheme, but has relented because of the Raiders' personnel. Raiders running backs LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes fit the system.

Several other teams are using the system Denver has used successfully. The trend won't hurt Denver. It means there will be more offensive linemen and running backs available around the league that know the system, deepening the pool of available players come cut-down time."

The NFL is a copycat league and just like the West Coast offense and zone blitzes, it looks like zone blocking is getting hot. According to my bad math, that makes five teams using it, Denver, Atlanta, Green Bay, Oakland and Carolina.

Packer Report Top Stories