Lombardi blog: August edition

Random thoughts on preseason overall, recent Packers drafts, and more

August 31, 2007
Thoughts to end the preseason
The Packers look like they are going to have some difficulty running the ball. Neither the line nor the backs shined much the last two weeks. Injuries are taking their toll on both postitons. And if Brett Favre did not have the quickest release in possible the history of the NFL, I would forsee a lot of sacks. Those young backs are really struggling in pass protection.

The Packers may have caught a break with the potential injury to Bears rookie TE Greg Olsen. He will be a big problem for the defense if he is healthy. He is scheduled to have an MRI on his knee any day now.

Because there has not been a peep concerning the search for the next Packer President, I will assume that the job has been fillled. Since the successor to Bob Harlan/John Jones has not been revealed, it must mean that that person is currently employed by another NFL team. Consequently it must be going to Mike Reinfeldt. Only a hunch, but it makes some sense as far as I can tell.

August 24, 2007
Jags Recap
There are only a few things I want to comment on after the Jags game:

1. If Donald Driver is seriously injured, James Jones had better be as good as he has shown or else the offense will be in serious shape. Word is that Driver's injury is not serious, but I guess we will have to wait and see when he comes back at full strength. Greg Jennings may slip to third on the depth chart at this pace.

2. In spite of last week's good showing, it appears that the Packers might struggle to run the ball. Given that the Packers look better than adequate in their defensive front seven, but suspect in the secondary, this year could be a passing extravaganza.

To win, the Packers may have to pass a lot, being that they might not excel in the run game. Opponents will pass a lot, because that is where the Packers defense looks weak. So look for a lot of passes and since the clock stops on an incompletion, look for longer games.

3. There are few positions where the Packers are deep with talent. About the only two are the defensive line and kicker, which is a position that does not need it. The running and fullbacks are short in bodies due to youth and injuries. The receivers are young and if Driver is hurt, without a proven playmaker. Tight end is suspect, although Bubba Franks has looked chipper here and there. The interior offensive line is unproven, regardless of what we would like to think. The linebackers are three deep at best. Same goes for the cornerbacks which goes about two deep. Safety is the weak link. Fans had better hope that injuries do not mount as the calender flips.

It will be interesting to see how hot it is down in Nashville come next Thursday's game. Today it is 102 degrees, which will place the field temps closer to 120 degrees or more if my memory serves. That kind of heat will wear you out.

August 23, 2007
Jags Game
Looks like it might rain again, so soggy weather remains. Some things to look for in tonight's preseason game:

1. Atari Bigby will start at safety. I find it hard to believe that an undrafted free agent, who was cut by three other teams can end up a starter, but weirder things have happened. My question is three fold:

What did all those other teams miss?
What has Bigby done to get better?
Are the other guys at his position just that bad?

The list of guys passed over by other teams is legendary - Johnny Unitas, Willie Wood, Bart Starr, etc. Maybe Bigby has stepped it up. Tonight will go a long ways toward answering some of those questions.

2. Can the offense duplicate last week's performance? Jags Defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud (assuming they play) are some stout fellas. It will be intresting to see if the interior of the offensive line can get any push up front opening holes for Brandon Jackson.

3. Can Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Kampman and the rest get to quarterback Byron Leftwich like they have got to the Steelers and Seahawks QB 's?

4. Traditionally this is the game where the starters get some significant playing time. It is also the game where for the past two years, this outcome predicted the season. A lot is made of the fact that preseason games do not matter, and in reality they do not, but it seems that in the game where both teams play their good players the most, the Packers come up short.

2005 - Patriots 27, Packers 3
2006 - Bengals 48, Packers 17

Now, I know of no one who thinks Jacksonville is in the Pats or Bengals league, but hopefully the outcome of the game will be something to build on. Green Bay does not need to win, but it needs to compete.

August 21, 2007
Underwood and The Draft
With the release of Marviel Underwood, is it too early to grade Ted Thompson's drafts? It is too early to grade the 2007 draft, but what about 2005 or 2006?

Rodgers, Aaron QB: Incomplete

Collins, Nick S: Starter, followed up a solid rookie season with a drop off as a sophomore

Murphy, Terrence WR/KR: Showed some ability as a returner before a neck injury ended his career

Underwood, Marviel S: Never recovered from an injury in training camp last year - released

Poppinga, Brady LB: Solid starter - needs to keep developing

Coston, Junius C: Backup

Hawkins, Mike CB: In camp with the Vikings Montgomery, Mike DE Hurt his knee last Saturday and will have an athroscopic procedure

Bragg, Craig WR: Was with the Bears last year but did not play. Out of Football?

Campbell, Kurt LB: After being injured for most of his two years here, he is in camp with the Raiders

Whitticker, William G: Started most of the games as a rookie, but did not make the squad last year. Played in 2006 with Miami, just cut by the Redskins

Two starters, two backups and guy who was fighting for a backup spot but got injured. If Rodgers blossoms into a solid pro, this draft class will not be a total loss, but if he does not, then is this draft any better than the drafts that got Mike Sherman fired?

Hawk, A.J. LB: Solid starter on the verge of being a good one - is he a difference maker though?

Colledge, Daryn G: Starter

Jennings, Greg WR: Starter who has to prove he can stand up to the rigors of the NFL

Hodge, Abdul LB: Hobbled this training camp and may not make the squad

Spitz, Jason G: Starter

Rodgers, Cory WR/KR: Word is he is playing in Canada with the BC Lions

Blackmon, Will CB: Injured last year and expected to be a return man and backup corner

Martin, Ingle QB: Third Stringer maybe

Moll, Tony T: Solid Backup

Jolly, Johnny DT: Came into camp out of shape but has flashed some ability

Culver, Tyrone S: Buried on the depth chart

Tollefson, Dave DE: In camp with the Raiders

This year is a little more promising, but I will take a wait and see approach. Hawk was a good pick, but at #5 he should be.

Jennings should be a good pro. Colledge, Spitz and Moll are getting a lot of playing time, but they have not proven themselves completely. Hodge might get cut, same for Culver, Martin, and maybe Jolly. His future depends on how many Defensive Lineman they carry. He could be traded also. Blackmon showed some return ability against the Seahawks and may crack the lineup as a passing down corner. If Hawk, Colledge, Spitz, Jennings and say Blackmon and Moll continue to contribute, this could be a solid draft. The level of success depends on how much or for how long.

Sherman was criticized - rightfully, for failing to draft well. The 2004 draft only has Scott Wells and Corey Williams to speak of. Ahmad Carroll, Joey Thomas, Donnell Washington and B.J. Sander were picks that year. A disaster. 2003 was only a little better. Nick Barnett is the only player left. Sherman did get Al Harris for a second rounder . Hunter Hillenmeyer is playing for the Bears, but does anyone remember Kenny Peterson, James Lee, Brennan Curtin and the rest. Only Aaron Kampman remains from 2002. Javon Walker was a good pick, but got shipped to Denver.

One thing Thompson has done well is rack up picks. Right now I would give him a score of 50%. 2006 is shaping up well, but 2005 rests on the shoulders of his first round pick. If Rodgers ends up being a wise pick, it will look a whole lot better, if not, he had better hope Collins and Popinga pick it up. If Rodgers fails, is that draft any better than 2002 or 2003 or 2004? Would you take Collins and Popinga over Walker and Kampman or Barnett and Harris? I wouldn't. I am not sure I would take them over Scott Wells and Corey Williams.

Thompson is doing better than Sherman, how could he not? But is he doing good enough to get Green Bay back to the promised land? Being that he is committed to building through the draft, the draft is that much more important. With no impact free agents signed this offseason, he cannot afford to miss on too many picks.

August 19, 2007
Seahawks Game
I spent part of Sunday pouring over Saturday night's game. I had recorded it on my DVR and wanted to watch the game again to determine what or who was responsible for the severe thrashing the Packers gave to the Seahawks. I had to fight the kids off (they wanted to watch High School Musical 2), but I eventually got around to watching it again.

A couple stipulations up front:

1. The Seahawks are a concensus pick to make the playoffs, so it was not the Lions or Browns the Pack beat.

2. Both starting offensive tackles for Seattle did not play and consequently neither did quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. This takes some of the luster off the performance of the defense, but none of what the offense did.

3. It is preseason and it was raining. An emotional letdown on the Seahawks part is to be expected. They have to deal with that kind of weather all the time and to travel to Wisconsin and play in the rain and undermanned may have been too much for them to get up for.

Nevertheless, the Packers looked good in all three aspects of the game. The offense played well, the defense created turnovers, scored some points and stymied the Seahawks offense and the Special Teams, especially the return game and Will Blackmon had a big game. The cliche that came to mind was "firing on all pistons." Even Bubba Franks looked like he had some fresh legs, catching four passes.

Brandon Jackson, while not the second coming of Gale Sayers, looked good enough for folks to quit worrying about when Vernand Morency may return. He hit the holes the line made for him, ran with purpose and had a productive night. James Jones again had a good showing. He sure likes those crossing routes. My only concern is too often I see the Packers keeping six, seven, and eight blockers in on pass plays, reducing the targets Brett Favre has running patterns. It keeps Favre upright, but limits his options and with multiple defenders around a receiver, well, Brett hates to throw it away, if you know what I mean.

On defense, the pressure exerted buy the front seven on poor Seneca Wallace was impressive. Granted the Seattle line was not at full strength, but the NFL is a place where injuries happen and nobody takes it easy on you when it does. I still saw some breakdowns in the secondary, specifically with the safeties. How Nick Collins missed that tackle early is beyond me. It looks like the cornerback position and the front seven can play in this league, but the safety positon may be a weak point for the second consecutive year. I think they can be better than last year, but teams will attack the middle of field on the Packers in 2007.

Sacks and turnovers and touchdowns and big kick returns made for an excitable game. The weather tried to dampen our spirits, but the Green and Gold would not let it. As my old boss used to say, one does not a trend make, but this game was something to build on.

The only negative was with injuries.

Wide receiver Shaun Bodiford, backup fullback Ryan Powdrell, defensive end Michael Montgomery and tackle Orrin Thompson all suffered MCL knee injuries of different degrees of seriousness, according to Coach Mike McCarthy.

August 17, 2007
Jenkins vs. Jones
Yesterday, I supposed that Cullen Jenkins and Walter Jones will be a good matchup in this Saturday's game. Like last week, when I was looking forward to Justin Harrell getting a shot at Alan Faneca, only to see Fanaca not play, it looks like Jones will be a no show this weekend. Thanks to Doug Farrar of Seahawks.net for pointing that out. Jones has a shoulder problem and will not play.

August 16, 2007
Seahawks game
I am looking forward to the Seahawks game this Saturday. I am taking my oldest daughter Meagan to her first professional sporting event. She is six, so she is quite excited. My second oldest, Katie, who is five, is going with me to the Jacksonville game. My third daughter, Riley is only two, so she can wait awhile.

Some of the things to look for in this second preseason game.

1. Cullen Jenkins will be matched up against Walter Jones. It will be quite a feat for him to replicate last week's performance. Jones is as good as they come.

2. I will be holding my breathe, hoping the first team offense can spark a drive. I may be gasping for air long into the regular season. The Seahawks have a good crop of linebackers. Can Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson put the clamps on the Packer running game, or will the zone blocking scheme and Brandon Jackson flourish finally?

3. The Packers defense will be tasked with stopping Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander. If Al Harris and Charles Woodson play, can they stop Deion Branch? Will any of the Packer safeties have a good game? Mack Strong is quite possibly the best fullback in the league. Watch for some collisions between him and Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Brady Poppinga.

4. According to analysis by Footballoutsiders.com, which I found on the Fox Sports website; the Packers were ranked 32nd in special teams play last year. The Seahawks were ranked 10th. Let's see how that matchup plays out on Saturday. Green Bay needs to improve special teams, especially the coverage teams.

August 13, 2007
Aaron Rodgers
One of the interesting sub plots of the past week or so has been the good play of Aaron Rodgers. In the brief exposure I have seen both in the Family Night game and the Steelers preseason game, he has shown some ability. I do not think anyone is ready for Brett Favre to retire, but I think that Rodgers has at least put to bed the idea that he is:

1: A bust

2: Not the heir apparent to Favre

If anything, he has at least earned the right to get the first shot at replacing Favre when he does retire. He has not been going against opponents' first team exclusively, but he has shown some mobility, pocket presence and good decision making. Imagine if Favre sticks around until Rodgers' contract is up, what do the Packers do then? What will they do if the Packers struggle this year and the playoffs are out of reach early in the season? How much pressure will they be under to play Rodgers more?

I respect the way he has handled himself. A man of lesser character might have acted differently while he waited.

August 11, 2007
Steelers Game
Some observations:

1. The Packers offense had no rhythm. It established no run game while the starters were in. The Steelers were able to get ample pressure and when Brett Favre got the pass off, the Pittsburgh defenders where there to knock it down or make the tackle for no additional yards. It took five drives and almost 20 minutes for the Packers to get a first down.

The Packer receivers had trouble getting separation from the Steelers coverage guys and there were few holes for the Packer running backs. It was not until the end of the first half that the Packers, led by Aaron Rodgers, had a decent drive.

Rodgers showed me something special. He moved well in the pocket, showed some poise under pressure and made some decent throws. He displayed some savvy driving the team down the field in the two minute drill. They did not score a touchdown, but it was not his fault. I was surprised he was that fast.

2. The defense looked good against the Steelers starters. Even without Charles Woodson and Al Harris they stymied them. Things got ugly by the fourth drive with a big run by Najeh Davenport and a TD pass by Charlie Batch, but over all, the starting defense looked pretty good.

The defensive line, lead by Cullen Jenkins and Aaron Kampan did a good job getting pressure on the Steeler QBs. Granted Alan Faneca was not playing, but Jenkins was not manned up on the guard. The weak link is still the safety position. When the Steelers made plays, it could be be blamed on the safeties.

Like last year, the Packers gave up too many big plays. Probably another communication breakdown. The upside is that they were all against guys who hopefully will not play much. But if injuries were to mount, look out.

3. First round pick Justin Harrell did not get in until there was about five minutes left in the first half. It looks like the only thing he knows how to do is bull rush and was a non-factor. The only rookie who looked like he belonged was WR James Jones. He had a few nifty receptions and one nice run after the catch.

4. A penalty flag saved the Packers from an embarrassing punt return in the first quarter. The special teams, especially the coverage teams, have haunted the Packers for a while now. Pittsburgh also had a good return to start the second quarter. It is scary how bad they looked. It had better improve. Field position is too important to sacrifice. The Packers are a very young team and that effects their special teams play. The Packers did block an extra point which is good. It amazes me how Mike Montgomery was able to penetrate up the middle on the kick attempt.

5. I lost interest at halftime. Not much ever happens in the second half of preseason game that means much once the games count. From what I saw, the pundits seem to be right about the Packers. Better than average defense, no weapons on offense. It is ridiculous to worry so early in the season, but it was not an encouraging show.

August 10, 2007
Any Developments?
Am I the only person wondering how the search for the next Packer President is going? I do not expect them to hold a press conference or issue a press release every day, but why has there been no news concerning the search? I do not have an idea, nor do I think there is a conspiracy behind it. Just wondering if there has been any progress.

August 8, 2007
The First Preseason Game
The Packers will play the Steelers this Saturday in Pittsburgh and while it is a preseason game and has very little bearing on the regular season, there will be a few things to look for. For some reason they all seem to be defensive in nature.

After seeing the Steelers offense tear up the Saints early in the Hall of Fame game, it will be interesting to see how the Packers' first line pass defense handles the Steelers trio of receivers - Santonio Holmes, Cedrick Wilson and Hines Ward. I also look forward to seeing if Brady Poppinga can cover Steelers tight end Heath Miller.

Lastly, can Justin Harrell get any pass rush against Pro Bowler Alan Faneca?

Since the front line guys play very little in preseason games, the answers to these questions may remain unanswered, but will still need an answer.

August 6, 2007
Early Camp
I was out of town at a wedding most of last week and missed everything. I did watch most of the Family Night game on TIVO (if you do not have it ... get it or get a DVR from the cable company or dish people - it is the greatest thing to ever happen to television). I hesitate to put much stock in what goes on the first couple of weeks of camp. Watching practice is probably the last thing I would want to do. That being said, I have picked up a couple of things.

1. The team looked sloppy at times. That is to be expected. Usually the defense is ahead of the offense. The defense put a lot of pressure on the QB's, but since the quarterbacks are off limits, the offense still managed to get off some plays.

2. Brett Favre looked like Brett Favre. Laser throws followed by laser throws followed by a ill-advised pass that was intercepted in the end zone.

3. Aaron Rodgers actually looked respectable. I am not ready to deal Favre, but there might be hope for Rodgers.

4. It will never stop amazing me that Packer fans will fill the stadium for a scrimmage. There is no comparision in the NFL for the Packer faithful.

5. I did not catch many shots of first round pick Justin Harrell in action, but I did not see anything special in the few exposures I managed to see. I would give him an incomplete grade so far.

6. The Packers introduced the coaching staff before the game. How many coaches does a team need? They have 21.

The 1965 Lombardi era Packers had six assistant coaches.

The 1996 Packers had 13 assistants.

John Lombardi

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 johnlombardi22@yahoo.com.

Lombardi blog archives:
July 2007 edition
June 2007 edition
May 2007 edition
April 2007 edition
March 2007 edition

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